FiveThirtyEight’s more popular name is simply “Nate Silver’s blog.” Nate Silver is statistician who gained fame for his incredibly accurate prediction models in the 2008 elections. The blog was a licensed feature of the New York Times for a while before being bought by ESPN in 2014. Silver describes the blog as a “data journalism site” and FiveThirtyEight comprises a team of 20 odd writers who cover topics like sports, politics, science, and lifestyle. I think of FiveThirtyEight as among the most thoughtful journalistic outlets that exist.
As an example, they had an article this weekend on “The Sumo Matchup Centuries in the Making.” They started by covering a controversial final match between Yokozuna Hakuho (below) and Yokozuna Harumafuji where Hakuho used a technique derisively called henka, where he side-stepped his opponent and had him crash out of the ring, to win his 36th grand tournament. Winning the 36th tournament cemented Hakuho’s place among the greatest sumo wrestlers of all time. It was just a pity that this happened amid controversy about his final victory. (I was interested in reading this because I had seen the finals of a tournament in May 2014 where Hakuho had won his 29th grand tournament. He was well on his way to becoming the Jack Nicklaus/Roger Federer equivalent of Sumo.)
The article compares Hakuho with a legendary sumo wrestler nicknamed “Raiden” from the 18th century. They used data from sumo records and ran various analyses to conclude that, criticism on his victory aside, Hakuho deserves his place among the best sumo wrestlers ever. Articles on this blog aren’t just about anecdotal opinions (granted, in this case, it would be hard to have too many anecdotes about a 18th century legend). They are about taking the data that is available and digging deeper to uncover a level of insight that wouldn’t be obvious if we just took a cursory glance.
I use this article to illustrate the consistent greatness of the work done by the FiveThirtyEight team. They have taken journalism to a whole new level in the past few years. And, I, for one, am very grateful to them for that.