Nate Silver’s much anticipated (at least by some of us) new venture, launched recently. In his manifesto he describes it as a “data journalism” effort, and for those of us who have followed his work over the last five years – from the use of sabermetrics in baseball analysis through the predictions of presidential politics – there is plenty to look forward to. Apart from the above topics, his website is focusing on other interesting areas such as science, economics and lifestyle, bringing data-driven rigor and simple explanation to the understanding of all these fields. It follows the template of the blog he ran for the New York Times as well his bestselling book, The Signal and the Noise: Why So Many Predictions Fail, But Some Don’t. As a market researcher, I found much to like in the basic framework he has laid out for his effort.
In critiquing traditional journalism, Nate describes a quadrant using two axes – Qualitative versus Quantitative, and Rigorous & Empirical versus Anecdotal & Ad-hoc.
He is looking to occupy the mostly open top left quadrant, while arguing that opinion columnists too often occupy the bottom right quadrant and traditional journalism generally occupies the bottom left quadrant. For someone with such a quantitative background he is not dismissing the qualitative side at all. On the contrary, he argues that it is possible to be qualitative and rigorous and empirical, if one is careful about the observations made (and cites examples of journalists such as Ezra Klein, who occupy the top right quadrant).
For those of us in market research the qualitative versus quantitative dimension is, of course, very familiar. Somewhat less so is the second dimension – rigorous and empirical versus anecdotal and ad-hoc. But this second dimension is especially important to consider because it directly affects our ability to appropriately generalize the insights we develop. As practicing researchers, we know that qualitative research is excellent for discovery and quantitative is great for generalizations. But we also know that is not always the way things are done in practice....