Nate Silver, editor of 538, the online magazine of data based journalism, was once considered a bringer of empirical light and truth to a world that had, hitherto, struggled in intuitive darkness of expert opinion. What Moneyball was to sports, his enterprise would be to politics. But last week, 538 made the Republicans favorites, by a field goal, to take the U.S. Senate in the next election.
Silver has now fallen in the esteem of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, which notes that Silver has, in fact, been wrong in the past. This will not come as news to any who based their NCAA bracket on his calling the odds of Duke beating Mercer as 92.9 percent.
Paul Krugman has also gone on record with his displeasure but says that Silver’s critics:
… are getting the problem wrong. It’s not the reliance on data; numbers can be good, and can even be revelatory. But data never tell a story on their own. They need to be viewed through the lens of some kind of model, and it’s very important to do your best to get a good model. And that usually means turning to experts in whatever field you’re addressing.
It isn’t wrong to rely on experts, then. You just need to go to the right experts.