Generation driven to find reality amid false fronts

Last week, Nate Silver of fivethirtyeight.com, announced he was leaving his partnership with the New York Times to take his unique brand of data-driven journalism to the goliath sports network ESPN. He’ll still be covering national elections with poll analysis, a real boon to sister network ABC, but the bulk of his number crunching will occur in the world of sports.

Erik Hare had a good post on this topic the other day, the thrust of which I’ll expand today.

Some of the discussion about Silver’s rise to prominence since 2008 has been about how “right” he has been. His data models combine the polling results of all the major pollsters, factor in other influential data sets, such as economic indicators, from which emerges a remarkably accurate prediction about the behavior of voters on election day. He almost perfectly tracked and predicted the results of the 2012 election, of course. Silver has also done some interesting analysis of trends in all kinds of sports data, which is how he ended up at ESPN. As a sports fan, I’ll be fascinated to see what he can do to help me win at fantasy football.

Still, though, that last sentence shows the rub. Why is that so important? Nate Silver has so much talent, why is he spending it on ESPN?

Well, he’s not giving up politics, for one. ABC is going to enjoy having Silver on their network in 2014 and 2016. And the truth is that Silver’s data driven reporting has exposed a glaring problem: most of what the national media does is BS. I don’t mean liberal BS or conservative BS. I mean regular BS. Punditry is far more lucrative than real, fact-finding journalism, and much easier, and — apparently — more popular. Biased journalists pretending not to be biased are seen as credible, while those with a stated point of view doing actual leg work, Glenn Greenwald for instance, are attacked and discredited.

If you read between the lines, that could be why Silver is taking his talent elsewhere.

There’s a line in an old song, “There’s no way to make losing look like winning, kind of like an honest politician, the kind you never find anymore. In fact, let’s face it, the sports page is the only place to go if a fella wants to know the score.”

I don’t know for sure, but I’d gather Silver is going to ESPN for the same reason I backed off of political organization after last year’s election to focus on hosting a radio variety show. When the most important things in a society are corrupted by nonsense, sometimes the way to change them is from the outside. I came to view political work as akin to to the task Spock faces at the end of “Wrath of Khan.” He has only so much time in the engine room before the radiation kills him. A person has only so much time in politics before the BS turns you into something other than what you were.

And this will be the defining attitude of an entire generation of Americans, soon to face a much more ambiguously daunting world than the baby boomers did.

Silver’s most important work might not come from breaking down player stats, but he’s ready to dive into more important topics at any time. And that should continue to make the pundit class nervous, which is what they deserve.

Comments

  1. The best organizing experiences I’ve participated in never had anything to do with ideology or materialism. They’ve been about people becoming something, not getting or obtaining something. Too much of current politics, especially within unions, are overly distributive. Personally, I can’t stomach ideology or anything to do with distributive materialism.

    Values and relationships are where organizing should focus. Ideology and materialism are a plague. Some of these groups are becoming like mental slavery. I’d rather just stick to my current hourly job than join all the noise again. Its becoming like a contest for people to prove which brand they are. Why are people and places brands all of a sudden? No one is just being anymore.

  2. I appreciate your thoughts Trevor.

    As Jean-François Revel said – “A human group transforms itself into a union when it suddenly responds to a suggestion rather than to reasoning, to an image rather than an idea, to an affirmation rather than to proof, to the repetition of a phrase rather than to arguments, to prestige rather than to competence.” All not good…

  3. I know what you’re saying Ranger.

    I’m referring to creating opportunities for people to organize themselves and each other rather than hipsters trying to steer a numbers game for their ideological purpose. Right now I see a lot of privileged hipsters trying to prove which brand they are at the expense of actual humans having an opportunity to organize around their own friggin’ issue. That’s just how I personally perceived Aaron’s post within my own experience and the context.

    Its not just unions, politics, left, or right either. Its the whole BS thing. Urbanism or hyper-regionalism creative class BS is another good example. There’s the Richard Florida’s, and then there’s the people in a church basement somewhere dealing with a concrete local issue. How many of the Richard Florida’s actually do anything besides flying around talking about themselves, and then blog about flying around talking about themselves?

    Better to be in the basement than a Richard, in summary.

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