It all started when Silver took a shot at op-ed columnists, explaining that “They don’t have any discipline in how they look at the world, and so it leads to a lot of bullshit, basically.” Shortly after that, Krugman fired back in a column saying that Silver’s new FiveThirtyEight.com was long on numbers, short on analyzing them. Krugman has since written a few more columns piling on FiveThirtyEight, culminating with “So far [FiveThirtyEight] looks like something between a disappointment and a disaster.”
Silver, of course, decided to swing back. He wrote that when FiveThirtyEight was under The New York Times umbrella, Krugman enjoyed the site. But now things have suddenly changed:
During FiveThirtyEight’s tenure with The New York Times, Mr. Krugman referred to FiveThirtyEight or to Nate Silver 21 times. Over all, 15 of these references were favorable, as compared to five neutral references and one unfavorable one. But Mr. Krugman’s views of FiveThirtyEight have changed since it re-launched March 17 under the auspices of ESPN. The columnist has mentioned FiveThirtyEight four times in just nine days, all in negative contexts.
The unfortunate thing about Silver’s column is it seems to back up Krugman’s criticisms. Silver cited a bunch of stats and then didn’t have much to say about them. While Krugman might have been quick to proclaim FiveThirtyEight a terrible site, Silver’s attempt to strike back only made him look petty.
No matter who came out looking better, what this boils down to is two smart men behaving stupidly. Criticism has its place, but Krugman could’ve waited to see how FiveThirtyEight shaped up before rushing to tear it down. Of course FiveThirtyEight isn’t as strong as it was under the Times; it’s not the same site. And while it has been a bit underwhelming, any undertaking of its size needs time to find a voice.
As for Silver, a bully is only as strong as his victim’s response. Instead of penning a whiny, defensive piece, Silver should’ve just kept his nose down and let Krugman’s over-the-top attacks flutter in the wind.
That didn’t happen though, and so here we are — waiting for the next punch in a fight that will never have a winner.
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