Part 2—Slowest children from Yale: As we began to tell you last week, Jeremy Peters (Michigan 2002) is one of the slowest of the New York Times’ many slow children.
Today, Election Day itself, he writes an analysis piece about MSNBC and Fox. Some of his findings are well worth reviewing. But some of his efforts are so pathetic that the caring reader is forced to say this, with genuine sympathy in his voice:
“Bless his (and his editor’s) heart.” We will return to this pitiable piece before the week is done.
The children are pushing a ton of twaddle as the campaign reaches its end. Yesterday, we looked with pity on poor Chris Cillizza, who longed for the day when he and his guild had access to only one poll, not to many.
Cillizza seemed clueless about the way polling works—and about the very way information is gathered. But then, that’s much the way Dana Milbank seemed in Sunday’s Washington Post.
Cillizza prepped at Loomis Chaffee before moving on to Georgetown. Milbank attended public school before moving upward to Yale.
How do these children become so slow, emerging from such privileged backgrounds? We’re not sure—but on the morrow, we’ll be paying a visit to Stanford!
Like Cillizza, Milbank was angry, very angry this Sunday with the New York Times’ horrid Nate Silver. Unlike Cillizza, he even named Silver by name, punishing him for the very bad work he has done reviewing the polls.
Milbank started by mocking Karl Rove, who is predicting that Romney will win. Then, he moved onward to Silver.
That said, all the children have written this column in the past week or so. As you know: When the children get their ideas, they tend to acquire them en masse:
MILBANK (11/4/12): Rove is an easy target because his motive—conveying a false sense of momentum for Republicans—is so transparent. But he has plenty of company among prognosticators who confidently predict that which they cannot possibly know.Milbank was Skull and Bones at Yale. Setting aside that fine pedigree, it’s hard to get a whole lot dumber than the passage we have just quoted.
There’s Nate Silver, a statistician-blogger at the New York Times, who predicts with scientific precision that President Obama will win 300 electoral votes and beat Romney by two percentage points in the popular vote. He gives Obama a 79 percent likelihood of winning.
I give Silver a 50 percent likelihood of being correct.
The truth is anybody who claims to know what is going to happen on Election Day is making it up and counting on being lucky.
Let’s start with the picture Milbank paints of the deeply ridiculous Silver, the daughterless Rappaccini of this modernized science tale.
According to Milbank, Silver is a prognosticator who has “confidently predicted” the outcome of this election. He had made his prediction “with scientific precision,” Milbank says, piling up the scorn.
According to Milbank, Silver is someone “who claims to know what is going to happen on Election Day.” Anyone who makes such a claim is “just making it up,” Milbank thunders.
Showcasing his own expertise with numbers and statistics and such, Milbank gives Silver “a 50 percent likelihood of being correct.” This almost seems to suggest that election polls give us no reason to believe that one outcome is more likely than the other.
Why then would anyone take them?
If you thought Cillizza’s column was the dumbest one ever, we’ll make this suggestion: You need to consider the forms of reasoning Milbank put on display in his piece. Let's start with his claims about Silver.
In fact, has Silver “confidently predicted” the outcome of the election? Has he ever “claimed to know” who is going to win?
Rather plainly, he has not. Whatever you think of Silver’s work, he explicitly states, every single day, that he doesn’t know who is going to win! Let’s use Milbank’s own words, as if to help this very slow child go back over his work:
On the day to which Milbank refers, Silver was “giv[ing] Obama a 79 percent likelihood of winning.” But uh-oh! Right next to that number at Silver’s site, he was giving Romney a 21 percent chance of winning!
(Mathematically, 79 percent plus 21 percent adds up to 100 percent.)
Even an average child would know: This tells us that Silver didn’t claim to know who was going to win! He was saying that Obama was more likely to win.
Obama was more likely to win. That meant he didn’t know!
Who but a very slow child of the press corps could get confused in this manner? Mother and father sent him to Yale—but none of the learning stuck!
Cillizza couldn’t understand why we’d want to review several polls when we could look at just one. In turn, Milbank thought that a statement of probability equals a statement of certainty.
On Sunday, these very slow children of the press corps offered these sad thoughts in the same Outlook section! But let’s not leave our slowest child from Yale without examining his thoughts about what a close election means.
As the pundit continued to muse, his efforts became even more pitiable:
MILBANK (continuing from above): The truth is anybody who claims to know what is going to happen on Election Day is making it up and counting on being lucky. For that reason, this has been a humbling election for people who follow politics. We have filled countless hours of airtime and gone through untold gallons of ink over the past six months, but we are essentially where we were when we started: It’s a dead heat, with the likeliest voters appearing to favor the challenger but the battleground states appearing to give a narrow edge to the incumbent.In fairness, Milbank’s chain of reasoning is a bit fuzzy here. But for some reason, he seems to think it’s “humbling for the pundit class” when an election remains very close right through its final weekend.
There have been ups and downs—it appeared that Romney’s campaign was collapsing in September, only for the Obama campaign to swoon after the first presidential debate—but the 48-percent-to-48-percent tie in the Gallup tracking poll this week is basically the same as it was on April 20, when Gallup had Romney with 46 percent and Obama with 45 percent.
Though this outcome is humbling for the pundit class, it’s depressing for the country. It means that Americans remain evenly split, and that, for at least two more years, our government is likely to remain bitterly divided—with neither side able to claim much of a mandate to fix the nation’s problems.
Let’s be clear: At first, it seems that Milbank might mean that pundits are humbled when they can’t figure out who will win. But instantly, he seems to imply something different. He seems to imply that it’s the job of the press corps to forge a consensus among the voters.
Why has this election been “humbling for people who follow politics?” Because, despite all the ink they have spilled, “we are essentially where we were when we started: It’s a dead heat.”
It sounds like Milbank thinks it’s the job of the pundit class to help voters break that tie!
Whatever! Milbank wrote like a very slow child in this very sad column. In fairness, he was mainly reciting some cant at Silver’s expense—a bit of standard group cant the other children had been typing all over the press corps.
The children always do this! If one child yells, “invented the Internet,” all the children must shout the same thing, no matter how much they may be forced to abandon their once-beloved logic.
Did they prep at Loomis? Emerge from Yale? People, that was then! When the children have Standard Group Stories to tell, none of that prolegomena matters! Indeed, we had noticed the proof of that point Friday night, watching Our Own Liberal Former Rhodes Scholar clown about that selfsame Karl Rove.
Tomorrow: Slowest children from Stanford
Editor’s note: We’ve changed the heading of this series to keep pace with the mounting slowness.