Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Two Cultures Cage Match

No human investigation can be called real science if it cannot be demonstrated mathematically..............Leonardo da Vinci

As quoted in de Pater, Imke; Lissauer, Jack J.. Planetary Sciences (Kindle Locations 1338-1339). Cambridge University Press. Kindle Edition.

The restoration of Nate Silver's 538 has provoked a reactionary spasm of Leon Wieseltier of The New Republic. Catherine Thompson of Talking Points Memo:

The New Republic's literary editor Leon Wieseltier ripped Nate Silver's newly relaunched FiveThirtyEight website on Wednesday, urging readers to resist the "intimidation by quantification practiced by Silver and the other data mullahs."

Silver's venture relaunched on Monday under a fox logo -- an allusion to Greek poet Archilochus' saying “The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing.” If Silver is the fox, he considers the opinion columnists he loathes to be the hedgehogs, and FiveThirtyEight to be the antidote to the chattering class' blathering.

"Plenty of pundits have really high IQs, but they don’t have any discipline in how they look at the world, and so it leads to a lot of bullshit, basically," he told New York Magazine.

Wieseltier blasted Silver for that "slander," arguing the data guru has more of the hedgehog in him than he'd ever admit.

Wieseltier goes on to label Silver more hedgehog than he admits - but I'm not sure that's actually an insult. Knowing "one great thing" is no mean accomplishment. Not least if it happens to be statistics.

On the other hand, I think history has only partially endorsed the Leonardo epigraph.