I was not on the Nate Silver fan train the way many people are, I thought it was wishy-washy to predict a presidential race with 68 percent confidence in October of 2012 when I called it 100 percent in July. His stats averaging led him to be no more accurate than a European betting service using nothing but money and every other statistical modeler was correct also, so technically he was nothing special. In this segment, he was latched onto by people who were just looking for new ways to affirm their political bias, a common plight among science media.
When he went out on his own, I thought it a smart capitalist move for a die-hard liberal. He was clearly a brand in his own right and doing more for the New York Times than they were doing for him.
Roger Pielke, Jr. is one of the most balanced scholars out there, something of a rarity in environmental studies to those of us outside the field. He is literate in climate science but understands the real world of policy and decision-making also and has not been afraid to call out bad claims and bad models when they are bad and talk about good ones when they are good. Science 2.0 has done that as well and taken lumps from people who engage in that sort of George Bush-ian 'you are with us against the climate deniers or against us' black-and-white thinking.
But when partisan media lets you into the inner circle, there are rules and he broke them early on. He wrote a piece similar to what he has written many times, in this case puncturing the oft-repeated claim that the cost of natural disasters was rising due to global warming, in defiance of claims on Mother Jones and Think Progress and everywhere else that blames everything on global warming. Nate Silver and crew immediately had no use for him. The New York Times and the Obama administration criticized Pielke and...well, you can stop right there. Silver got into this business because he wanted to help Senator Obama become the Democratic nominee over Hillary Clinton in 2008, so when Dr. Holdren, the president's Science Czar, criticizes your science, FiveThirtyEight is going to cut ties.
It's no surprise to people outside the political sphere that Pielke's career at FiveThirtyEight is over quickly. What is a surprise is that it ever started.
Keith Kloor at Discover spoke with him about the experience and Pielke pulled no punches:
"What was a surprise was the degree to which the negative response to the piece was coordinated among some activist scientists, journalists and social media aficionados. I think that took everyone by surprise."
As one of about five people in science media not on the far left, I can assure you it did not take anyone by surprise.
"For me, if the price of playing in the DC-NYC data journalism world is self-censorship for fear of being unpopular, then it is clearly not a good fit for any academic policy scholar."
Obviously, most academic scholars thrive in that environment, that is why academia is so far out of the mainstream politically now. Stereotype threat and overt discrimination insure that few without proper liberal credentials are getting tenure. What is strange is that political science academia used to be considered biased left but now, compared to science academia, it is positively balanced. Many non-science academics have recognized the 'icy chill' effect of bloggers and social media looking for their outrage of the day - stick to the party line on climate policy or you will be back writing on Blogger.
"Even so, it is remarkable to see people like Paul Krugman and John Holdren brazenly make completely false claims in public about my work and my views. That they make such false claims with apparently no consequences says something about the nature of debate surrounding climate."
The real world has your back on this one, Roger. A former Enron advisor and a Doomsday Prophet who endorsed world government and forced sterilization to stave off mass starvation that never happened are not anyone's beacons of evidence-based reasoning. In an advisory team stuffed full of UFO believers, one that has always included a guy who thinks girls can't do math and now includes a former journalist who got famous running the anti-science activist site Union of Concerned Scientists, Dr. Holdren is the worst of them all.
Pielke, Jr. doesn't seem to be jaded by the experience. He recognizes, as we all do, that even though science academia is far out of the American mainstream, it isn't scientists that were calling for him to be fired, most of them consider arguments on their merits: "it is only a few climate scientists who have engaged in the “mob-like attacks” (it was actually mostly journalists and bloggers)". This is an accurate assessment. I wrote an uncomfortable book called Science Left Behind, which punctured the myth that anti-science beliefs were a right-wing thing, and though Science 2.0 is 95 percent left, everyone I spoke with here, and every outside scientist I interviewed and mentioned the work to, said it needed to be written. They recognize the problem. That is why the book is about social authoritarian progressives manipulating science rather than liberals, who make science work - and the book was vilified by progressives who need to hide under the liberalism umbrella to engage in their social engineering, not liberals.
It's a good interview and Kloor does something very few modern science journalists do; he asks the awkward questions, even of people whose work he happens to like.
Pielke thinks that perhaps Silver should have had more "editorial backbone" but the guy has exactly the right amount of backbone for topics his audience wants to read - Daily Kos is cheering because they accomplished what they set out to do, engage in the politics of delegitimization of anyone outside their thought control and suppressing discourse about the one area of science they happen to embrace. If the Tea Party did it, we would be outraged.
Roger Pielke Jr. on FiveThirtyEight and his Climate Critics By Keith Kloor, Discover
H/T Real Clear Science
Images: Roger Pielke, Jr. credit Wikipedia and Nate Silver image by Randy Stewart from Seattle, WA (Wikimedia Commons)