April 14, 2014


The Original Nate Silver Also Thinks Pundits Are 'Stupid' : Bill James on "moneyball" in 2014 and backward political thinking (MARC TRACY, 3/31/14, New Republic)

MT: What would be an example of a field where the knowledge wasn't particularly well structured, but then it got better structured?

BJ: Thinking about economics is greatly better organized now than it was 60 years ago. We all know--well, there's a large segment of the public that doesn't know anything--but there are millions of Americans who have a very sophisticated understanding of how the banking system works, how an economy works. Our thinking about technology is still primitive, but is far, far ahead of where it was even when I was a young man. In politics, on the other hand, we've made no progress at all. People who are perceived as learned experts go on television and say stupid s[***], and nobody says, "Boy, that's really stupid." Don't you find that to be true?

MT: Well, yes.

BJ: I don't mean conservatives or liberals.

MT: I know exactly what you mean, and it's funny, because this sentiment has been much discussed recently because another person--a friend of yours--says much the same thing, and just launched a new website. Have you been following the discussion surrounding Nate Silver?

BJ: Sure, and I'm very impressed by what he's been able to do.

MT: Does some of the pushback resonate with what you faced 25 years ago?

BJ: No. The public's thinking about politics and the general analytical thinking about politics is probably more backward than sportswriting was 30 years ago.

MT: Why is that? The stakes seem, if anything, higher in politics.

BJ: Because people think they know things. The greatest barrier to understanding things is the conviction that you already understand them. People are so convinced that they understand politics. It creates huge barriers to understanding.

MT: But weren't people convinced they knew things in baseball as well?

BJ: Not as convinced. And--this is a point I stole from Nate: Baseball teams play 162 games a year. In politics, you have a couple elections. [In baseball all the games] act as a self-correcting method. In baseball, if you're a great team, you lose 65 games a year. It teaches you constantly that you don't understand things and you're still working on it. In politics, you have great infrequency of elections, allowing extremely sloppy analysis to flourish, because the correction cycle is so slow.

Posted by at April 14, 2014 5:42 AM

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