The bullshitters’ war on Nate Silver
I thought it was just a last minute sign of desperation on the Republican pundits part when they began to attack Nate Silver (author of the fivethirtyeight website, but it continues, and even led to some finger wagging from the public editor of the New York Times. The NY Times public editor didn’t like that Silver offered a bet of $1,000, later raised to $2,000 where the winner would get to choose the charity where the funds would be donated.
On whether the offer of a bet on Twitter is unbecoming of someone connected with the NY Times, I am firmly on the ‘no’ side, and I agree with Alex Tabarrok who described in epic detail, how betting is a tax on bullshitting (amen!):
My best parse of the argument is that by betting Silver has given himself an interest in the election and this hurts his credibility. Nothing, however, could be further from the truth.
A properly structured bet is the most credible guarantor of rigorous disinterest. In order to prove his point, Silver is not required to take the Obama side of the bet! At the odds implied by his model (currently between 3 and 4 to 1) Silver should be willing to take either side of a modest bet. Indeed, we could hold a coin toss, heads Silver takes the Obama side, tails he takes Romney.
In fact, the NYTimes should require that Silver, and other pundits, bet their beliefs. Furthermore, to remove any possibility of manipulation, the NYTimes should escrow a portion of Silver’s salary in a blind trust bet. In other words, the NYTimes should bet a portion of Silver’s salary, at the odds implied by Silver’s model, randomly choosing which side of the bet to take, only revealing to Silver the bet and its outcome after the election is over. A blind trust bet creates incentives for Silver to be disinterested in the outcome but very interested in the accuracy of the forecast.
Overall, I am for betting because I am against bullshit. Bullshit is polluting our discourse and drowning the facts. A bet costs the bullshitter more than the non-bullshitter so the willingness to bet signals honest belief. A bet is a tax on bullshit; and it is a just tax, tribute paid by the bullshitters to those with genuine knowledge.
The war on Nate Silver is the epic war of bullshitters against mathematics, something that Paul Krugman has weighed in on as well. No more evidence, in my opinion, serves to explain why the pundits–particularly those on the Romney side–are bullshitters except to listen to how often they cite national polls as evidence that the race is a ‘dead heat’ when they reassure each other that their man still has an equal chance of winning as the ‘other’ candidate.
It’s amazing that they are bullshitting as hard as they are, but more amazing is their ability to criticize and accuse of partisan bias someone who is actually making a model for how the election actually occurs. I mean, it’s almost like they don’t remember that it is possible to win the popular vote and still not become president (paging Al Gore). That was
so many years ago 12 years ago. To paraphrase my fellow blogger, #despair.