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June 25, 2013 10:16 AM Is Nate Silver Just Paying Those Politico Guys to Say Dumb Things?

By Andrew Gelman

How could these guys at Politico say such foolish things about how Politico gets caught up in promoting “total nonsense” but that’s all OK because of “the market”? The usual explanation for smart people acting stupid is love, religion, or political ideology. But in this case I don’t see John Harris and Jim VandeHei being motivated by love or religion, and it seems to be part of their shtick that they don’t have much of an ideology.

So here’s my theory. Nate Silver is immensely successful. Nate Silver is a god. But overexposure goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall. That is: to stay on top, Nate needs to be continually contrasted with easy-to-hate enemies. But this isn’t so easy. There are no more polls to unskew, and at this point even the fools know to be careful not to tangle with Nate.

So what does Nate do? He has to create some enemies. He’s floating high, so the enemies can’t be any bottom-feeding bloggers. The solution is brilliant. He pays off the staff at Politico to pick a fight with him. And this reminds us of what we all love about 538. Nate cares about the truth, not about sound bites. Nate’s secure in the knowledge that his site gets the hits. So he can just sit there smiling while the Politico guys take swings at him. It’s brilliant, really.

And what do the dudes at Politico get out of this? Beyond whatever Nate is paying them under the table, they get some short-term attention (as in this blog post!), also maybe they get on the short list for being hired by whatever new venture Tucker Carlson might be planning. Win-win-win.

[Cross-posted at The Monkey Cage]

Andrew Gelman is a professor of statistics and political science and director of the Applied Statistics Center at Columbia University.
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