The Problem With Pundits

by Stuart Shapiro

It could be argued that after President Obama, the biggest winner in the election was Nate Silver.  Silver predicted all 50 states correctly (beating this guy by one) four years after going 49 for 50.  Meanwhile, many TV pundits blew it big time (see here for a catalog of their misses).   Silver more than get it right though; he is turning the field of punditry upside down:

Buzzfeed thinks that Silver’s critics target him because he favors Obama. Washington Post Blogger, Ezra Klein, takes a more therapeutic interpretation, pointing to a caustic op-ed in Politico to argue that Silver threatens the very existence of pundits, since the success of his models make their opinions an antiquated information source.

And it is a field that needs to be turned upside down.  A few years ago, Philip Tetlock wrote a book about predictions by experts.  He found that most experts could not outperform non-experts but the ones that did the worst were the ones most likely to be on television or in newspapers.  Hopefully, 2012 will be the start of journalists paying more attention to people like Silver (and political scientists who nailed the election) and less attention to the blowhards that frequently get quoted.

About Stuart Shapiro

Stuart is a professor and the Director of the Public Policy program at the Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy at Rutgers University. He teaches economics and cost-benefit analysis and studies regulation in the United States at both the federal and state levels. Prior to coming to Rutgers, Stuart worked for five years at the Office of Management and Budget in Washington under Presidents Clinton and George W. Bush.

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