March 20, 2014

Nate Silver has committed his first big #fail on #climatechange

Roger Pielke Jr. is perhaps better described as a climate change obfuscationist than an outright denier. Still, as Think Progress puts it, for the self-promoted data guru Nate Silver to hire Pielke as a contributing science writer is troublesome indeed.

Pielke has been labeled a climate skeptic, with skeptic not used in its good sense, by Foreign Policy magazine, as further reinforcement of the concern. There's also the fact that, as Joe Romm reports, Pielke has a history of abusing the process of release of draft documents on climate change issues.

Now, Romm can sometimes be overstated. And, can be more hyperbolic than Al Gore at times when he's not overstating the analysis.

On the other hand, Pielke and his reputation are a known quantity, and have been for years. Silver, as a self-described data wonk, surely knows at least something of Pielke's reputation.

And, a degree of obfuscation like his? Most climate scientists continue to reject it, normally more and more forcefully. And, Silver, if he's as much a data wonk on climate science as he professes to be elsewhere, should already know this, too. Per that link, people like Pielke add a layer of smog to communication about climate change issues.

And, while I may not be quite as harsh on Andrew Revkin as Romm is, I'm not anywhere near a blank-check fan of his, either. That just adds to this situation.

Also, I do know that Pielke lies, when he claims on his own blog, that the Breakthrough Institute, of which he is a member, is a "progressive" organization. It's not. It's leaders are all contrarians as much as anything, who use allegations of liberal "heartlessness" and "ladder raising" as a wedge and a cudgel.

The piece on how liberals are trying to deny the developing world massive hydroelectric dams, etc. is a perfect example. It's laden with straw men. No, most western liberals are just trying to inform the developing world of the risks as well as the rewards, based in part on western experience.

I was interested in what the new FiveThirtyEight would be like when it landed at ESPN. I saw some interesting non-sports stuff, and some Nate Silver puffing Nate Silver stuff. Gee, shock me; he and Neil deGrasse Tyson should maybe exchange notes on that.

But now, to the degree I read much more over there, I'll be keeping an eye on other writers, too, to see if Silver's having them write in part to be controversial for controversy's sake.

I've Tweeted him on this, as I'm sure many others have. Let's see if he puts any comment on the FiveThirtyEight homepage within the next 48 hours. (Per my "Biggus Dickus" piece, he has responded, and not in the most desired way.)

Let's also see if Silver reports on the new White House climate data initiative. (Let's also see if this is anything more than a smokescreen to OK Keystone XL, for that matter.)

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Beyond that, with a four-day sample and applying informal Bayesian analysis (which should be called LaPlacean analysis) FiveThirtyEight seems to be a mix of an occasional very good story, a few "decent cut above" stories, a fair amount of straight news reporting with little crunch of data and with nothing to distinguish it from the mainstream media, and some teasers with no value, like one that said it would analyze Baseball America's 100 Top Prospects list, and all it was was a number-crunching of historic MLB WAR generated by all persons in each slot from 1-100. I thought it was going to be actual analysis of this year's top 100. Big, big fail with an NAIA-level head fake there.

On the "Bayesian"? Nate's had months to know who he wanted in staff, who he had actually hired, etc., and to shake at least a few bugs out before going live.

Ergo? My adjusted odds of FiveThirtyEight getting significantly better in the next 90 days? Twenty percent.

Doorknob, I love intellectual judo.

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