I think the public editor at the NYT is just right when she admonished Nate Silver for offering a bet with Joe Scarborough.
Nate made a mistake. Here's my take.
1. I am educated, with a math degree. I've spent decades writing software. To do what I do requires a precise kind of thinking, but there's also an art to it. So when I read Nate's analysis, I recognize and appreciate it. I think Nate is one of a small number of young folk who make me optimistic about the future. I appreciate that he uses statistical methods, and I understand what you can and cannot do with stats. It's possible that Romney will win when there's an 80 percent chance of Obama winning. But, according to Nate's model, four times out of five, Obama wins. He's not 100 percent sure of it. But he's sure enough to put his honor on the line. As a believer in Nate, and a supporter of Obama, I am relieved. But -- if Nate said it was the other way around, 80 percent likely that Romney would win, I wouldn't even think of trying to discredit Nate. Instead, I'd be depressed about the future of the world. A fundamentally different way of processing negative information. :-)
BTW, self-educated people are just as educated as formally educated people. Not drawing a distinction between people with and without degrees.
3. Making bets with such people accomplishes nothing.
4. I have had to deal with gangs of Internet trolls for years. It happens to everyone who takes a leadership role. The more you accomplish, the more inundated with garbage you get. When I realize all the things I didn't do because I didn't have the stomach for dealing with these people it makes me really angry. If I had it to do over again I would not let them stop me. I've developed new procedures that keep them out of my way. They seem to work. Knock wood.
5. Nate may think it's possible to teach Scarborough something. If he wanted to learn, he would buy Nate's book, or take a course in stats, or listen instead of rejecting strange ideas. But that's not who he is. No matter what you say to him, his mind is not going to change. You can't open the door for him. You can't show him how wonderful your world is. He's not looking for new delights. Sad, isn't it, but there are lots of people like that. They will never become Nate Silver fans. That's life!
6. You have to be satisfied by informing people who understand the process you use, or whose minds are open to new ideas.
7. The trolls will insult you for this. They will say you are not open to new ideas. Maybe they believe it. I don't know why they do it. But you'll never figure it out, no matter how hard you try, because they are truly different from you. So different that you can't communicate. So give up trying.
8. I think the Times has had this problem for generations. Long before there was an Internet.
9. Their isolation, their aloofness, could be functional, might be a response to this reality. I've often wondered why NYT people can be such assholes. Now I have an idea. They only let certain people into their discussion space. There are only certain people they listen to. Nate is to be commended for having a broader circle that influences him. But that doesn't make the Times wrong. They are probably just reacting to the reality that there have always been low-roaders like Scarborough. People who try to stop things they don't like or understand. Tune them out. But I think they go too far, and tune out things they should be listening to, that's not meant to harm them, or stop them. But too much time may have passed for the Times, organizationally, to be able to tell the difference between a troll and someone with strange wonderful ideas.
That's why I agree with the public editor that the bet he offered to Scarborough (which he, predictably, slimed) was a bad idea. Not something to be repeated.
On the other hand, the Times could find ways to open up a bit more and let some strange ideas in. They suffer for being too cloistered. And those of us in their community suffer too.