Nate Silver

One thing that I’ve really grown to enjoy as a (relatively) young professional is the opportunity to hear successful professionals speak. In college, we would often have the opportunity to hear authors, publishers, professors and activists come and speak through what was called the “Major Speaker Series.” As a web developer in NOVA, we had “Refresh DC.” And I’m sure most of you are familiar with “TED – Ideas Worth Spreading.”

At ESPN, we’re very fortunate to have similar events called “Newsmaker.” Since I started working there in 2010, I’ve made it a point to attend as often as possible. And I’ve gotten something out of every one, from Mark Murphy to Billy Crystal, Maureen Dowd to the Farrelly brothers.

This past week, I had the opportunity to attend a Q&A with Nate Silver, the famous statistician, sabermetrician and author of the blog “Five Thirty Eight.” Nate spoke on a number of subjects, from the recent Baseball Hall of Fame vote to the 2012 Presidential Election, and each of us received a copy of his newest book, “The Signal and the Noise.”

I’ve never much cared for math, and the thought of reading a book on statistics makes me yawn. But one thing I came across in what little I’ve yet read was the a concept of which I’ve thought much about recently:

“The instinctual shortcut that we take when we have ‘too much information’ is to engage with it selectively, picking out the parts we like and ignoring the remainder, making allies with those who have made the same choices and enemies of the rest.” [p. 3, 4]

To me, that really cuts to the heart of what I feel to be the reason why public discourse is so heated today. We have access to more information than we’ve ever had before, and yet rather than being more knowledgeable for it, ignorance reigns supreme. People are so gung-ho to prove themselves right, they grab any internet factoid or rumor they deem relevant and ignore the rest – so long as it aids their position. There’s precious little time spent gathering knowledge, and even less for reflection.

But at any rate it’s a Sunday night, and I hope to get a few more pages in before bed. And sign up for the next “Newsmaker.”