Late October 2012: The Unarmed Dylan Byers of the Politico Engages Nate Silver in a Battle of Wits on Twitter!
Dylan Byers @DylanByers: Honest Q: People are aware that RCP poll aggregate also predicted 49 of 50 states in 2008 & also missed Indiana, right?
Nate Silver @fivethirtyeight: .@DylanByers: We have a lot of readers because we use data to cut through the drivel that you obsess over. Not because we make predictions.
BGrueskin @BGrueskin: It's hardly a fair fight when @fivethirtyeight takes on @DylanByers
J. Bradford DeLong @delong: @DylanByers Honest Q: Are you really unaware that RCP's Obama up by 2.4% in Ohio right now is the same reality as Silver's 75% Obama chance?
Dylan Byers @DylanByers: @delong that was exactly my point, brad
J. Bradford DeLong @delong: @DylanByers that not your point. Your point was coffee-drinking NPR types would be shocked to learn that many think Silver highly overrated
Dylan Byers @DylanByers: @delong if he and RCP (poll aggregation) say the exact same thing, then why is Nate Silver so special?
Jamison Foser @jamisonfoser: @DylanByers @delong Maybe you should ask the people (conservatives only, of course) you quoted attacking him?
michael de la madera @actongriscom: @jamisonfoser Every time @DylanByers touches his keyboard @fivethirtyeight goes up in my estimation as journalist AND human being. @delong
michael de la madera @actongriscom: @jamisonfoser @DylanByers Oh, so that´s the issue: why is Nate so special. Gotcha. Hilarious. #HowToMakeFriendsAndInfluencePeople @delong
Jamison Foser @jamisonfoser: .@DylanByers Ooh! My turn! Why do you quote only 2 people, both conservatives, but suggest the critique of Silver is broad consensus?
Jamelle Bouie @jbouie: If @DylanByers has a problem with Obama’s high odds in Silver’s estimation (or in Linzer’s or Wang’s), he has a problem with the polls.
Christopher Hayes @chrislhayes: @mckaycoppins @DylanByers this is parody, yes?
Let's go back to the videotape. Dylan Byers's claim was not "Nate Silver is just a poll aggregator like Real Clear Politics". Dylan Byers's claim was considerably different:
Dylan Byers: Nate Silver: One-term celebrity?: [S]hould Mitt Romney win on Nov. 6, it's difficult to see how people can continue to put faith in the predictions of someone who has never given that candidate anything higher than a 41 percent chance of winning…. [T]his may shock the coffee-drinking NPR types of Seattle, San Francisco and Madison, Wis. [but] more than a few political pundits and reporters, including some of his own colleagues, believe Silver is highly overrated.
[David Brooks:] If you tell me you think you can quantify an event that is about to happen that you don't expect, like the 47 percent comment or a debate performance, I think you think you are a wizard. That's not possible…. The pollsters tell us what's happening now. When they start projecting, they`re getting into silly land.
Brooks doubled down on this charge in a column last week:
I should treat polls as a fuzzy snapshot of a moment in time. I should not read them, and think I understand the future. If there’s one thing we know, it’s that even experts with fancy computer models are terrible at predicting human behavior.
On MSNBC's "Morning Joe" today, Joe Scarborough took a more direct shot, effectively calling Silver an ideologue and "a joke."
Nate Silver says this is a 73.6 percent chance that the president is going to win? Nobody in that campaign thinks they have a 73 percent chance — they think they have a 50.1 percent chance of winning. And you talk to the Romney people, it's the same thing…. Both sides understand that it is close, and it could go either way. And anybody that thinks that this race is anything but a tossup right now is such an ideologue, they should be kept away from typewriters, computers, laptops and microphones for the next 10 days, because they're jokes.
And Byers did not bother to find and quote any of the many, many who would have said that Silver is doing something interesting and useful in aggregating poll data.
Nor has Byers spent any time pointing out that the Fox/CNN bloviating about Mittmentum is inconsistent with Real Clear Politics's state-level polls.
Instead, Byers pretended Silver was out there all alone believing in a (small) Obama edge. As somebody emailed me, Simon Maloy says: "Nate Silver predicts who might win the election using math. Mark Halperin says who 'won the week' using bullshit. Nate Silver is the problem."
But in the midst of all his self-embarrassment, Dylan Byers does--finally--ask an interesting question: If Real Clear Politics's aggregates and Nate's aggregates are the same, what is the point of reading Nate?
I think that there are four pieces to the answer:
Nate has the New York Times's servers and bandwidth behind him. For example, right now Sam Wang's Princeton Election Consortium site is hosed--but Nate Silver's http://fivethirtyeight.blogs.nytimes.com is up.
Nate places the poll numbers in proper context. Real Clear Politics's numbers are useful only if you already know that (a) Ohio is the key state of key states, and (b) a 2.4% lead in the average of polls means much more--has much less sampling error--than a 2.4% lead in a single poll.
Nate writes very well and very often.
Nate has a voice, and a consistent voice, and a rational voice. Real Clear Politics is simply an aggregator--and an aggregator of stuff that is largely bullshit. Right now at the top of RCP I see 16b stories that teach me nothing or actively misinform--Zeleny and Connelly, Martin, Graham, Mellman, Cost, Conroy, Lowry, Bai, Morrissey, Ignatius, Babbin, McCormack, Brandus, IBD, Denver Post, Nashua Telegraph--and only five that carry information--Reich, Trende, Bouie, Cohn, and Economist. That's a low ratio.
If you are a highly-informed reader, you could get much (but not all) of what you get out of Nate Silver out of RCP. But if you are not, Nate Silver is really something very special--a national treasure