“The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing”

Nate Silver finally relaunches FiveThirtyEight with the backing of ESPN:

Our methods are not meant to replace “traditional” or conventional journalism.3 We have the utmost admiration for journalists who gather original information and report original stories. Our staff includes alumni from traditional news organizations like The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Guardian and The Washington Post (along with others from digital news organizations, blogs and from outside journalism entirely).

Still, I would never have launched FiveThirtyEight in 2008, and I would not have chosen to broaden its coverage so extensively now, unless I thought there were some need for it in the marketplace. Conventional news organizations on the whole are lacking in data journalism skills, in my view. Some of this is a matter of self-selection. Students who enter college with the intent to major in journalism or communications have above-average test scores in reading and writing, but below-average scores in mathematics. Furthermore, young people with strong math skills will normally have more alternatives to journalism when they embark upon their careers and may enter other fields.

This is problematic. The news media, as much as it’s been maligned, still plays a central a role in disseminating knowledge. More than 80 percent of American adults spend at least some time with the news each day. (By comparison, about 25 percent of Americans of all ages are enrolled in educational programs.)

Meanwhile, almost everything from our sporting events to our love lives now leaves behind a data trail. Much of this data is available freely or cheaply. There is no lack of interest in exploring and exploiting it: Google searches for terms like “big data” and “data analytics” have grown at exponential rates, almost as quickly as the quantity of data itself has grown.

And yet, as I describe in my book, “big data” has not yet translated into widespread gains in economic conditions, human welfare or technological growth. Some individual companies and industries, and some branches of science, have employed data in constructive ways. But “Moneyball” stories are more the exception than the rule.

Beautifully designed site. Between this and Grantland there’s almost no reason to visit ESPN.com anymore, aside from scanning scores and headlines.

Comments on this entry are closed.