The online feud between Paul Krugman and Nate Silver is becoming, as they say, epic. Since Silver re-launched his FiveThirtyEight site at ESPN, Krugman--though not Krugman alone--has been butchering his former Times colleague for "sloppy and casual opining with a bit of data used, as the old saying goes, the way a drunkard uses a lamppost--for support, not illumination." Ouch.
And if you think that one bites, you should read Krugman's link to finance professor Noah Smith, who, though a self-confessed "big Nate Silver fan," methodically dismembers the latter's new venture as one that on the effects of climate change "sucks," on the labor market is "pure hedgehoggery," and in general "is significantly less data-driven (and less sophisticated) than Business Insider or Bloomberg View or The Atlantic."
Only mild-mannered academics can be this vicious. Still, they have a point. As long as Silver stuck, while at the Times, to the less model-adaptable field of politics, his statistical talents were evident. But now that he--through hired and occasionally incompetent help--has entered elaborately complex areas such as climate change and marcoeconomics, Silver has stumbled.
The good news is that Silver now seems to be aware of this, as much as anyone. His riposte yesterday to Krugman was cheeky and sarcastically quantitative, but also quite telling:
A New York Times columnist has expressed substantially more negative sentiments about FiveThirtyEight since it left The New York Times, according to a FiveThirtyEight analysis..... Krugman’s views could reflect a decline in quality for FiveThirtyEight. The web site has brought on almost two dozen new employees and contributors. And it has expanded its coverage beyond politics into sports, economics and other areas.... But Mr. Krugman’s views of FiveThirtyEight have changed since it re-launched March 17 under the auspices of ESPN. The columnist has mentioned FiveThirtyEight four times in just nine days, all in negative contexts.
Silver's second and third sentences seem to admit more of a self-aware failing than any unfounded, Krugmanesque hostility. Nowhere does Silver defend against any of Krugman's or Smith's charges--the substance of which has Silver far more worried, I'm sure, than the harshness behind them.