The election of Donald Trump has already precipitated many shattering takeaways and consequences, but the quick sting of embarrassment that follows being completely wrong about everything should not be counted among them.
Let me explain. Like many of you, I’ve spent the past week and a half developing grudges. This is not all I’ve been doing, but I happen to believe in (and succumb to) the motivational power of spite. One person who got my blood boiling in the days following the election was this guy—a Princeton University neuroscience professor and polling expert named Sam Wang, who carried through on his promise to eat a bug if Trump won more than 240 electoral votes. His original predictions were published by the New York Times.
In an appearance on CNN last Saturday, Wang dipped a “gourmet-style” cricket in honey and ate it.
At the time, I felt no glee for this man publicizing his minor post-election discomfort, only more frustration and bafflement. I feared, you see, that Wang, whose incompetence at his job had contributed to the misinformation of the American people, would emerge from this epic fuckup as a man of his word.
Even Wang, in his CNN appearance, seemed to have some scruples about what he was doing. “I think that the eating bug thing is in itself sensationalist and keeps us off important policy issues, such as Supreme Court appointees,’ Wang said.
I had pretty much forgotten about this when I came across an article in the New York Times, published on Friday, by one Sam Wang titled, “Why I Had to Eat a Bug on Camera.” The right explanation, of course, is that he didn’t and no one asked him to. Eating ones words is generally something one endures privately and, with any luck, learns from.
Incredibly, though, Wang’s article is replete with defensiveness and, even more daring, further suggestions for how pollsters and analysts can improve the very important and academic art of future telling.
As a result, we get sentences like this:
“Did we lull voters and the news media into a sense of complacency about the election? In hindsight, it would have been better to express Mrs. Clinton’s polling margin as equivalent to a 2.2 percentage point lead — and that the true margin could be higher or lower by several points. That would have better conveyed the race’s uncertainty.”
“The pattern of polling errors provides a clue to why Mr. Trump’s victory came as a surprise.”
“I suggest that we retire the concept of the ‘undecided’ voter.”
“As Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight has pointed out, errors are often correlated.”
But not, apparently, with considering professions one might be better suited for.