The Corner

Rise of the Datanauts

Hey Jonah: Late on this, sorry — busy with house stuff. That graphing app is nicely done. It’s also a trend marker, the trend being to more quantitative journalism. It is gradually becoming less and less the case that you can make your point, and get it widely accepted, by just eloquently sounding off. People want to see data, and if you can offer a good visual presentation of your data, so much the better.

As a math geek, I find this cheering; though as a lazy and disorganized person, much happier free-associating after half a bottle of wine than juggling spreadsheets after a megadose of Adderall, I see a downside for the anecdotal/impressionistic bloviator.

It’s definitely a trend, though, and for the general level of understanding and decision-making, surely a good one. One reason Steve Sailer has such a following — the Stevosphere, people are calling it — is his quantitative approach, which he honed through years of grunt work as a market-research analyst. I doubt Steve really is, as he boasts, “the only Republican that knows Microsoft Excel,” but he sure is deft with it. Unfortunately Steve tends to concentrate on those datasets polite people are supposed to ignore, and that keeps him on the fringe.

A younger generation of commentators is coming up with good data-retrieval skills and knowledge of the great databases that social scientists and institutions (both public and private) have assembled this past few decades. My friend Razib over at Gene Expression is always urging me to run checks with the General Social Survey datasets before sounding off. I swear I will start to do so real soon. And look at the stuff The Inductivist pulls out. If the GSS had some decent graphing tools built in instead of those clunky bar charts, you’d be seeing a lot more of this.

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