To some extent, Silver became a proxy for discussions about the possibilities and pitfalls in big data. Those who agreed with Silver’s approach said his work demonstrated irrefutably that opinion-based punditry was dead, unable to compete with the claimed objectivity of statistics. Those who challenged Silver pointed out that a range of models co-exist and not all can be correct.

For his part, Silver told The Observer, “I’d be the first to say you want diversity of opinion. You don’t want to treat any one person as oracular.”

Science reporters know that, and the explosion in big data offers a way for newsroom managers to rethink how they can use those journalists’ reservoir of knowledge. There aren’t many science writers left at American newspapers, unfortunately, but they should be called in on big-data stories wherever they exist.

 

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Declan Fahy , PhD, is an assistant professor in the School of Communication at American University, Washington, D.C, where he teaches a course in health, science and environmental reporting. His research examines emerging methods, models and styles of science journalism.