Bursting Nate Silver’s bubble

Back on May 20 I expressed skepticism in these columns that Nate Silver would succeed in his admirable, boldly expressed goal of Changing the Face of American Journalism with his visionary new fivethirtyeight.com news website under ESPN.

Well, it’s Tuesday, June 17, 2014:  The U.S.-established government in Iraq is collapsing; Islamist extremists threaten to conquer Baghdad and massacre scores of thousands in the process; Ukraine has slid into civil war, Russia is chafing at the bit to intervene and Russia and the United States have worse relations than at any time since the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962.

At least you picked the right team to win. Go USA.
At least you picked the right team to win. Go USA.

Meanwhile, China is throwing its weight around in the South China Sea and alarming the neighboring nations of Japan, the Philippines, Vietnam and Indonesia.

All this is going on around the world and when we turn to fivethirtyeight.com, what do we read on the home page?

“Southern Burritos are Filled with Good Things, But Wrapped in Uncertainty”

“Elitist, Superfluous or Popular? We Polled Americans on the Oxford Comma”

“World Cup Crib Notes: Day 6”

And here’s a red hot one:

“Whoever Fills Cantor’s Shoes Shouldn’t Bank on Becoming Speaker”

And for a real page-turner, look at Silver’s own “Primary Surprises” story, where he splurges on his usually beloved statistical graphs to try and draw meaningless parallels between the frequency of poll upsets like Eric Cantor’s defeat in his House primary and the occurrence of earthquakes in California.

Can’t you just see the editors at the Washington Post and Politico losing sleep over missing that?

Admittedly we did have on June 11, “The Ukrainian Conflict Has Stunted Ukraine’s Economy Far More Than Russia’s.”

Nate Silver signing copies of his book. Hey Nate, perhaps put down the burrito and start doing some news. (Wikipedia)
Nate Silver signing copies of his book. Hey Nate, perhaps put down the burrito and start reporting some news. (Wikipedia)

Now if the Ukrainian conflict hadn’t stunted Ukraine’s economy that would be news.

This isn’t a story. It isn’t news. It’s an obvious, labored platitude.

This is a title – and subject – more farcical than “Dog Bites Man”

The lesson of all this farcical ineptitude is clear. The Peter Principle is at work again. The Suits at ESPN in their desperation to leap on to the latest fad plucked Silver out of his numbers-crunching statistical analysis comfort zone and dropped him into a real job directing coverage of the real world which he knows nothing about. So he’s sunk like a stone.

A good manager hires staff with skill-sets different from his own. But the only hires Nate Silver has made are his bosom buddies who share his age, prejudices and ignorance. They’re as out of their depth as he is.

The message to the ESPN Suits is clear. They should shut down the whole sorry fivethrityeight.com adventure before they start losing real money on it. And it doesn’t take a crystal ball to see that they soon will.

Otherwise, ESPN should just convert the web site into a tame, typical “100 celebrities with the biggest toes on their left feet” Lowest Common Denominator (LCD) web site at once.

It’s that or watch another $100 million go down the drain.

Unlike Disney, after its John Carter and Lone Ranger movie fiascoes, ESPN don’t have the Marvel Superheroes movie franchise to rescue them.

I have a brilliant, bold new story idea for fivethirtyeight.com: “Will Nate Silver and fivethirtyeight.com Ruin ESPN?”

Statistical analysis suggests they might.



4 thoughts on “Bursting Nate Silver’s bubble

  • February 3, 2017 at 9:19 AM

    For all the people screeching “you’re just jealous of silver” to anyone who said a cross word, you’d think some of silver’s nay sayers would have been proven wrong.

    And yet Silver just posts more and more clickbait, with less and less data, and abysmal accuracy.

  • June 20, 2014 at 9:08 PM

    Bursting Martin Sieff’s bubble: The writer of this article thinks fivethirtyeight.com should go away because he doesn’t like the content (or perhaps there is some jealousy). Without any statistics on quantity of readers, advertisers or other metrics, Martin judges Nate Silver’s project a failure. Unlike this lazy article, that site actually does some research. Martin, you are better than this.

    • June 22, 2014 at 9:26 AM

      Dave, you’re better than to give Sieff an excuse for his unintelligence. Nate Silver isn’t trying to out-post the Washington Post; he’s trying to put a statistical spin on all things quantifiable, some of which one might not have ever entertained as being statistically analyzed.

      But I agree with you: sheer envy never reared its nasty head as explicitly as this article from Sieff. Could it be that he’s jealous Silver — despite many volleys hurled by others of Sieff’s ilk — famously correctly picked virtually every state’s results in the last Presidential election? Mmmm, could be!!

    • February 3, 2017 at 9:16 AM

      Care to comment on Silver now? Sounds like this guy is old enough to remember when John Zogby was the hot stats kid and saw him do the same thing Silver did.

Comments are closed.