Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Why I am optimistic about 538

As people may or may not know, Nate Silver has launched an independent website.  Some of the people whom I respect the most on the internet (Noah Smith, Paul Krugman, Andrew Gelman) have pointed out some of the teething problems, where the inclusion of either more data or more model information in the article would have been helpful. 

In essence, I think that the website is trying to balance a number of things at the same time:
  1. Use of predictive statistical models
  2. Accessible journalism
  3. Thought provoking/contrarian views
  4. A diverse body of topics
All of these elements can be important, but there can be a steep learning curve as to where the value is to the news consumer.  For example, Andrew Gelman points out in the sports column (as I best understand it -- I know nothing about sports and I am going entirely on the model comments) that he is having trouble figuring out the underlying model which makes interpretation more complicated.   In the comments, there was a request for the correlation matrix, which is deadly reasonable in the statistics field but might not appeal to the median reader.

So why am I optimistic?  Because Nate Silver has tended to be very data driven in his endeavours.  I have a strong prior expectation that the initial offerings are, at least partially, a test to see where he can add value relative to other media services (both on and off of the web).  Under these conditions, a good empirical tester would deliberating try out approaches and opinions that will likely fail.  Because that is the only way to get actual data on what works and to find unexploited niches. 

If people constantly want more statistics and articles with well described models (or links to well described models) do well then I bet we will see a lot more of them.  Or at least I hope so. 

So I am going to wait for about 90 days and then see what the site looks like.  I could be wrong about this approach -- but I am willing to put my opinion out there and see if the data support it going forward. 

No comments:

Post a Comment