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What the Fox Knows (fivethirtyeight.com)
253 points by libovness on Mar 17, 2014 | hide | past | web | favorite | 47 comments

Seems like a great blog rollout strategy in general - every section already has several posts (not sure if they are manually backdated or what) - you could easily spend your whole afternoon on the site, which seems great for "launch day" and way more effective than "The blog is launched! Tune in next week when our actual content starts rolling in".

Just a quick glance seems to indicate this will become a staple in my RSS list and a great complement to my current favorite non-tech blog (Grantland).

Hopefully it has a more reliable RSS feed than Grantland, which I've basically stopped getting updates from (I switched to monitoring Twitter for it).

Do they even have a feed? I've been trying to find it on their site, and if they have one it must be pretty well hidden...

It's on WordPress.com now, so just find what you want to RSS ingest and add feed/ to the end of it. Case in point; if you want all of Down Goes Brown:


It might not work for everything, but it should work for a lot of things.

It takes a long time to get to the great ending.

We are going to screw some things up. We hope our mistakes will be honest ones. We hope you’ll gain insight and pleasure from our approach to the news and that you’ll visit us from time to time. We hope to demonstrate the value of data journalism as a practical and sustainable proposition.

It’s time for us to start making the news a little nerdier.

For anybody else in this field, I would caution you against accepting this knowledge as canon:

> And news accounts routinely estimate the number of attendees at political rallies.

In my experience, news organizations routinely over-estimate the attendance of events to which the reporter sympathizes, and dramatically under-estimates the attendance of events to which the reporter does not.

As someone who attends a lot of rallies encompassing both 'left' and 'right'-leaning movements, I can say that I've witnessed this first hand. I attended an event in Annapolis to oppose some gun control measures last October. The attendance, by my count, was nearly 4,000. I can prove by the testimonial registry that we had over 1400 people not only in attendance, but that provided testimony before the legislature. At the same event, those in favor of the rally were protesting as well. They had, by my count, a few dozen supporters in attendance. Their testimonial registry was exactly 22.

The Baltimore Sun and Washington Times reported attendance for both camps at 'about equal', which a 'few hundred in attendance for either side'.

When protesting in support of the fourth amendment, or in support of free speech rights for the media, those numbers were conversely inflated.

These claims don't pass a 3 min google test. Baltimore Sun:

The governor's testimony before the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee came after at least 1,500 gun-rights advocates rallied outside the State House in opposition to the legislation...

Meanwhile, advocates on either side of the issue packed the hearing room and an overflow room downstairs. Hundreds more stood in a line that extended down a stairway to the floor below.

Legislative aides said they had never seen such an outpouring of people seeking to testify on a bill. By an overwhelming number, they were signing up in opposition to the governor's proposal.


This[1] was the most egregious article I can find with my own 3 minutes of Googling, though I admit that it can be read in a way that presents the information without bias, though I think some of the ambiguity is intended to mislead.

"Hundreds testify for, against proposals on assault weapons, licensing" is a sort of true statement, except that exactly 22 is not hundreds.

I remember more biased reports from the time, but I can't find them now. So while there's some validity to your point, I've seen it happen enough to say confidently that those estimates are best-guess estimates, and those estimates are subject to bias.

[1] http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2013/feb/6/gun-rights-ad...

There was more than one report on the matter, though I'm having a hard time finding the claims I initially complained about.

I'll try to revisit this after my dentist appointment with some evidence, or a retraction.

In my experience, news organizations routinely over-estimate the attendance of events to which the reporter sympathizes, and dramatically under-estimates the attendance of events to which the reporter does not.

Hence why you use Bayesian analysis in the first place.

If the NCAA bracket model is an indication, Nate Silver does not intend to disclose the actual model used to make his predictions, just like his election models. He tells you what elements he's mixing but not how.

I expect he will also continue to fail to quantify the performance of his models against other benchmarks. In the case of the NCAA how much value does his more complex model add compared to each of the rankings he uses as inputs alone?

He does state he's going to be releasing code on GitHub. We'll see how much that is.

> Our logo depicts a fox (we call him Fox No. 92) as an allusion to a phrase originally attributed to the Greek poet Archilochus: “The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing.” We take a pluralistic approach and we hope to contribute to your understanding of the news in a variety of ways.

As commenters pointed out in an earlier New York Mag article (http://nymag.com/daily/intelligencer/2014/03/nate-silver-int...) and that Silver alludes to via hyperlink, the "hedgehog vs. the fox" quote could be interpreted as coming out in favor of the hedgehog:


> The fox knows many tricks; and the hedgehog only one; but that is the best one of all.

I think if 538 had picked a hedgehog as its mascot, it would still make sense: it's the pundits/prognosticators who have "many tricks", whereas Silver is proposing just one good trick -- empirical data analysis -- which happens to be effective and valuable in all contexts.

Nate Silver discusses the Fox/Hedgehog division in his excellent "The Signal and the Noise" frequently, and he largely takes on the meaning proposed by Phillip Tetlock in his book on expert political judgement.

The idea that Tetlock puts forward is that pundits divide into two categories, Foxes and Hedgehogs. Hedgehogs explain the world and make predictions according to one large all encompassing principle. Foxes don't, and apply different principles to different circumstances. Tetlock concludes, and Silver endorses this, that Foxes are better at understanding the world than Hedgehogs.

An example might be the (proposed) principle that free markets lead to increased prosperity. A hedgehogy capitalist might state the above as a broadly applicable principle. A foxy capitalist might opt for something like: "yes, many times increased freedom makes us prosper, but sometimes it doesn't, it depends, let's talk about the specifics".

I take this to be an argument about complexity. The fox side of the argument is roughly that the world is more complex than most people allow for, and one principle or world view will usually not cover an area of knowledge well.

Phillip Tetlock was in turn referencing the work of Isaih Berlin in his famous essay "The Hedgehog and the Fox" (1953) which as far as I know is where this old Greek aphorism acquired it's modern meaning.


>I take this to be an argument about complexity. The fox side of the argument is roughly that the world is more complex than most people allow for, and one principle or world view will usually not cover an area of knowledge well.

I don't think there is a clear division between those two. Both, the fox and the hedgehog use only one view– their own to seperate signal from noise. The fox side is just more open to integrating conflicting point of views into their worldview.

What I mean to say is that in the end both use only one trick, one skill- filtering information. This of course doesn't mean that the metaphor is wrong, just that it's wrong to think that the fox doesn't filter information the same way the hedgehog does.

BTW, this reminds me of something from Laozi "Through what do I know the nature of all things? Precisely through them." While the things are many, the principle of understanding them through themself remains singular.

It seems likely that there is a way to cram disjoint types of information filtering into this mental framework.

I really find this type of verbal meta- rearranging to be incredibly unhelpful. It reminds me strongly of arguments that atheism is a religion, or that abstaining from a choice is a choice. It's a kind of word-lawyering that never improves my understanding, only muddying the meaning in the previous formulation. Perhaps it's just me.

Considering the (lack of) alternatives I fear that using language to argue about meaning in language is the best I can do :S.

But seriously, I think talking about what _exactly_ something is meant to represent isn't "lawyering", it's essential for a serious discussion. I got another quote, too: "The boundaries of our language are the boundaries of our thoughts".

Telepathy would propably be better though, I agree.

Let's reduce the fox's many points of knowledge down to a single principle, to make him more symmetrical with the hedgehog. Ok, why?

Chunky bacon, of course.

It's more an issue of domains, and how they're defined.

>> quote could be interpreted as coming out in favor of the hedgehog:

Silver is adopting an analogy to describe modern journalism, and the analogy largely fits. Traditional political pundits spent a lot of time in 2012 crafting narratives that fit with what they felt was blowing in the wind. In this case of using the analogy the hedgehog sucks.

However, Archilochus was definitely praising the idea of the hedgehog in his poem. A good analogous English saying would be, "Better a live chicken than a dead duck".

It's just branding.

Is this site working for anybody? It's been down all morning for me despite others seemingly able to access it.

It's DNS propagation :)

The best-laid plans...

I wonder if this is some kind of DNS issue. My coworkers seem to be having no problem with it - but Chrome can't find it on Starbucks wifi.

The DNS is a bit... scattered. https://www.whatsmydns.net/#A/fivethirtyeight.com

Working fine here.

His bookcase is organized by color? I'd never be able to find a single book in my library if I did that.

I organized one of my bookcases by spine color. It's a really easy way for me to find books because I can just think of a book and the spine color comes to mind. Furthermore, because the colors are grouped, my eye goes to the right section instantly.

This may not work for everybody, but I love the speed of access and the way my bookshelf looks as a result.

Edit: I have done this with my icons in the past, too: http://flickr.com/photos/porkfriedrice/3753844018/

I've seen people do this with their phone home screens as well, so you just swipe to the colour of the icon you're looking for.

I organize mine by size, so I have my own version of crazy.

Spine size or cover font size?

It could be height (I used to do that as a kid).

My bookshelf has adjustable heights and putting all the tall books together means I make the best use of space.

Come to think of it I do that too. Ikea Ivar shelves!

Mine are by genre/topic, then by size and subtopic, at least on my big topical bookcase. We're not crazy!

There was a whole bookstore in S.F. that did this for a few weeks as an art project - http://www.superherolife.com/journal/archives/000453.html

I have organised mine by colour in the past also. It does impair discovery, but I tend to glance at my bookshelves more often than I hunt through them for a particular book.

Yeah. On the other hand, mine are disorganized and not easy to navigate except by me. They used to look like this: https://jseliger.wordpress.com/2009/09/07/bookshelves-office... and a photo of Neil Gaiman's are there too FWIW.

I've been out of town recently so I've stayed in a few hotels with cable. I don't have cable in my apartment back in DC.

Something I noticed last night while watching ESPN is that they must have mentioned FTE a dozen or so times within an hour. Are they backing FTE? I even saw an interview on ESPN with one of the cofounders.

I KNOW what the fox knows.

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