If You Read Only One Critique of FiveThirtyEight

on Friday, Mar. 28th

A lot of digital ink has been spilled in the wake of the launch of Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight, which aims to use data-based journalism to do away with sloppy punditry. Many of those pixels have focused on the greenness of the writing staff and click-bait articles that have become the subject of ridicule.

Last night Silver was on Jon Stewart’s program The Daily Show, and you could almost taste the flop sweat*.

Now I have a certain degree of faith that something worthwhile is going to emerge from FiveThirtyEight, it just might not be what any of us–Silver included–thought it would be. A good first step would be to consider the criticism offered up by Malcolm Harris (@BigMeanInternet) in the pages of AlJazeera America:

When commentators, journalists or guys at parties presume to explain, they start from the presumption that they already understand both sides of the argument and have come to a definitive conclusion. There are times when this “Actually …” mode is not only appropriate but also enjoyable. When eminent astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson rants on Twitter about the inaccuracies of space as depicted in the movie “Gravity,” everyone can laugh as a charismatic hedgehog pokes his spikes into pop culture. And though “Tyson Explains It All” would probably do well on premium cable, he sticks to his one big thing. When foxes start explaining, however, it’s time to check on the henhouse.



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