Thursday, March 27, 2014

Jar Jar Pielke

Meesa gonna normalize those costs, boss.

So Roger has joined Nate Silver over at the new 538, and the reviews are not good.

There's not really much to say about Pielke. He is what he is. His posts are error-ridden, cherry-picked and logically incoherent, which will surprise no one who has read his blog (or his twitter feed.) (Although I wish I had come up with Ryan Cooper's description of Pielke's output: "the Breakthrough Institute program for hippie-punching your way to fame and fortune.")

The real question of the hour is how Nate Silver, who became the intellectual crush of thinking people everywhere by taking a hard-nosed statistical approach to the squishy world of political analysis, has now seemingly embarked on a career, as the poet said, of "peddling freakonomics-lite contrarianism."

I guess we're seeing another example of successful people not understanding why they were successful in the first place, and either totally neglecting the stuff that made them great or overdoing it to the point of nausea.

You can point to Silver's hiring of Pielke as a mistake, but really, why is he making that mistake? There are a number of factors:

A) He does not have expertise in this area himself.
B) It is a lot more time consuming and difficult to become an expert in climate science and policy than, say, the dynamics of running for Congress.
C) He wanted a contrarian take, which he wrongly believes is what people are looking for from 538.

Unlike politics and sports analysis, where contrarianism is easy and fun because they are saturated with sloppy methodology and magical thinking, climate science is populated mostly by an elite group of highly trained specialists, and that makes successful contrarianism much, much harder.

One can imagine how this might be done. You could get someone very, very good at statistics (not Pielke, obviously) and go through important climate papers, and see what shakes out. One of the troubles with that, obviously, is that to all but a select few, that sort of thing is boring as hell.

Or you could do what I do, and what a lot of other much better informed and more witty people do, and be a contrarians to the contrarians. That's far easier. Their mistakes are glaring, their personality disorders, amusing and dramatic. Since many of the worst offenders are public officials and those that are not get a relentless stream of free publicity from the right-wing hate machine, in contrast to the scientists many people know who they are.

But perhaps Nate did not like all the competition in this space, or perhaps he is shy of embarking on a course which, yet again, would enrage reality-phobic conservatives. But for whatever reason, the new 538 is looking like a caricature of the old 538, leaving bewildered former admirers to ask, do you really not see the difference between the great stuff you were doing before, and the shlock you're putting your name to now?


  1. Hippie-punching? I love it - captures the BTI crowd and Pielke beautifully.

    Your link is to David Roberts who used the term to describe the appalling BTI.

    Here is the Ryan Coper link.

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