Nate Silver Relaunches FiveThirtyEight Under the Auspices of ESPN
This is “What’s Making Me Happy This Week,” a weekly feature inspired by the Pop Culture Happy Hour podcast. It’s pretty self-explanatory.
What’s Making Me Happy This Week is the launch of a new website, FiveThirtyEight. Actually, it’s the re-launch of an existing website that was originally founded by Nate Silver, author of The Signal and the Noise: Why So Many Predictions Fail – But Some Don’t. Sports fans know Silver as the creator of PECOTA, a system for forecasting the performance and career development of Major League Baseball players, or as a writer and managing partner of Baseball Prospectus. The rest of the world learned Silver’s name on the heels of his uncanny 2008 U.S. election predictions, which led to him making Time Magazine‘s 2009 list of the World’s 100 Most Influential People.
The FiveThirtyEight blog moved from a personal site of Silver’s to the New York Times, where it lived for several years including 2012, when their election model “called” 50 out of 50 states right in the 2012 presidential election. It wasn’t all about politics though. As Silver explained in his introductory piece on the new FiveThirtyEight, he feels like the election forecasts were overrated “because they didn’t represent the totality, or even the most important part, of our journalism at FiveThirtyEight. We also covered topics ranging from the increasing acceptance of gay marriage to the election of the new pope, along with subjects in sports, science, lifestyle and economics.”
The new site launched on Monday, ready with a full slate of content in five major subject areas — politics, economics, science, life and sports. Silver controls the content, though it runs under the auspices of ESPN. In this way he is to FiveThirtyEight what Bill Simmons is to Grantland. You will see Silver’s fingerprints on everything they publish – I’m sure he handpicked each of the twenty journalists working for the site – but hopefully the site will be allowed to develop organically, as Grantland did, in the image of its founder but not completely beholden to him. Eventually star writers will emerge from Silver’s shadow, like they did on Grantland.
You might be asking, what exactly is FiveThirtyEight? The only way to understand that is to peruse the site, and read the intro letter. But in short, it’s a home for “data journalism.” That is, journalism based on cold hard evidence. If that’s something you think is lacking online – and I, like Silver, think it is – the site is for you. And despite making his name in predictions, Silver says that “Relatively little of [FiveThirtyEight’s] coverage entailed making predictions. Instead, it usually involved more preliminary steps in the data journalism process: collecting data, organizing data, exploring data for meaningful relationships, and so forth.”
But let’s not forget about those wonderful predictions. On the first day of the re-launched site the featured article was Silver’s March Madness predictions. Their model is everything I could have hoped for – a composite of five computer power ratings combined with two human rankings. Most importantly, it was explained in rigorous detail. I found myself enjoying the process of thinking about March Madness as much as actually making my bracket picks. I have a feeling I’m really going to like this site.
And that’s What’s Making Me Happy This Week.