Nate Silver: What I Read

The polling guru tells us the sources he loves and what he hates most about punditry.

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How do people deal with the torrent of information pouring down on us all? What sources can't they live without? We regularly reach out to prominent figures in media, entertainment, politics, the arts, and the literary world to hear their answers. This is drawn from a conversation with Nate Silver, author of The Signal and the Noise and creator of The New York Times' FiveThirtyEight blog.

I have three homes: Twitter, Memeorandum, and Real Clear Politics. I check all three as soon as I am up (pre-coffee) and throughout the day. I might wake up, check, then snooze if there is not immediately breaking news. On Twitter, I follow a good mix of folks so there is not too much noise. Memeorandum uses algorithms to determine which political stories are high in online chatter at the moment. I’ll refresh Real Clear Politics to see if there are any new polls to note, especially during an election season. I’ll check these on whatever device is closest: iPad, laptop, etc.

I also follow some blogs I find interesting, like The Atlantic, Marginal Revolution, Andrew Sullivan, New Republic’s Nate Cohn, Real Clear Politics’s Sean Trende, Jonathan Bernstein, Monkey Cage, The Guardian’s Harry Enten.

Before bed, I will Google "polls Romney Obama" and sort by time. It’s fun to be the first to comment on a new poll or have the latest information.

My favorite media personalities are Chuck Todd, a data geek, John Heilemann, for political narrative, and Dave Weigel at Slate. There are also a lot I don’t rate, and that is in part why I thought there was a market for FiveThirtyEight. In terms of my least favorite media personalities, if I have learned one thing from the blog, it’s not worth getting in fights with readers and bloggers. I try to keep a good rapport with both and lead by setting a positive example. But, I do name names in the book. You’ll have to buy a copy.

Football, I guess, is my guilty pleasure. Sunday afternoons are my respite. Also, playoff baseball and the NCAA tournament. The footprint of the book is so big, that pretty much any news is fair game. It’s hard to have a clean work-life break.

In my view, the most nauseating aspect of political punditry is the classic news media bias: every new event is a game changer. A consensus of polls is more important than an outlier. Daily political news is not a tennis match, although that is how it is portrayed. The media echo chamber is not reality. Even though I live in a New York media bubble, I usually remember that my lens is different from that of the average voter. What separates my blog from many other blogs is we’re data driven, but that is a loaded term. The more subtle answer is we set consistent rules and procedures for evaluating new information. We don’t run around like chickens with their heads cut off. The literal process is helped by having a temperament of discipline. I try not to hyper ventilate.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.