The fierce and rapid unraveling of FiveThirtyEight's reputation at Nate Silver's new nest will (non-statistically speaking) probably turn out to be a wildly propitious consequence of unintent. All the incoming fire has, I'm sure, boosted Silver's embryonic readership beyond his most extravagant estimations; but more than that, Silver is inching close to publicly conceding error--a generally unthinkable act in the universe of infallible opinion journalism, even the data-driven kind--which improves (non-statistically speaking) the likelihood of his getting things right, or at least more right, the next time.
In short, Silver is learning. To wit, "[W]e see value in running a rebuttal to Roger [Pielke's] article.... We appreciate your patience.... [W]e want to get this right.... We’re listening and learning."
In what seems like a flanking maneuver to heave Pielke overboard (and thus, as you can see, provide me the opportunity to flagrantly mix metaphors), FiveThirtyEight contacted HuffPost's Michael Calderone to offer "an apology for what they characterized as unacceptable behavior by Pielke," who had sent a vaguely "threatening" email to a climate scientist critical of Pielke's work. Further, Silver has transcended his earlier sarcasm against criticism of FiveThirtyEight's stumbles; he now promises to balance his site's climate-science record with a rebuttal from, well, somebody who doesn't play selective games with statistics.
Pre-rebuttal in FiveThirtyEight, Silver graciously links to climate scientists John Abraham and Dana Nuccitelli. Abraham is stern--"[Pielke's] inexact phrases, extensions of his own work beyond their application, and inclusion of non-weather-related disasters are some of the reasons his conclusions are not taken seriously by myself and other climate scientists"--but Nuccitelli is devastating:
Pielke isn't criticized because of a lack of "purity," he's criticized because he consistently provides a skewed representation of the body of peer-reviewed science.... On FiveThirtyEight he's done even worse, making a number of false claims, including about his own research. That's why those who care about accurately representing the scientific literature criticize Pielke, and why people are concerned about the direction in which FiveThirtyEight is moving. Looking for counter-intuitive results in the data doesn't work well in areas like climate science, where the experts have already done a better and more thorough job of analyzing the data.
There's an important lesson for FiveThirtyEight to learn here--sometimes conclusions are counter-intuitive because they're wrong.
It seems Silver "gets" that, which means he is learning.