I was going to ignore Leon Wieseltier's get-off-my-lawn attack on young whippersnapper Nate Silver's preference for data-driven journalism, but this jumped out at me:
Many of the issues that we debate are not issues of fact but issues of value. There is no numerical answer to the question of whether men should be allowed to marry men, and the question of whether the government should help the weak, and the question of whether we should intervene against genocide. And so the intimidation by quantification practiced by Silver and the other data mullahs must be resisted.But there is very much a "numerical answer to the question of whether men should be allowed to marry men" -- or at least the opponents of gay marriage strongly suggest that there is. Those opponents argue that gay marriage harms society -- specifically, they say that children suffer harm from not having two opposite-sex parents. How do we know this is nonsense? We can look at the lives of children raised by gay couples and compare their well-being to that of children raised by married heterosexuals. If gay marriage were harming the children of gay couples, we'd know it, but it isn't. And it's good that we have studies showing a lack of harm, because if we were high-mided and Wieseltierian and chose to remain above the tawdry collection of data on this subject, the anti-gay right would generate all sorts of anti-gay-marriage data and drive the debate with it. (Perhaps Wieseltier needs to be reminded of the preposterous statistics about gay people's health that have been circulating online and elsewhere for several decades -- "the lifespan of a homosexual is on average 24 years shorter than that of a heterosexual" and all that.)
There is also very much a "numerical answer" to "the question of whether the government should help the weak" according to critics of government aid programs:
The War on Poverty, which President Lyndon Johnson declared nearly 50 years ago, has "failed miserably," House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan said Thursday -- and he wants to figure out what approaches would work to get Americans out of poverty....Rebuttals to this argument also rely on statistics. That's because we're not discussing this on the basis of morality, as Wieseltier airily suggests; we don't simply assume that government has a responsibility to help the weak because the right incessantly argues that it can demonstrate the failure of any such efforts -- with data.
"Next year marks the fiftieth anniversary of the War on Poverty. We've spent approximately $15 trillion and the question we ought to be asking ourselves is, 'where are we?' With a 15 percent poverty rate today -- the highest in a generation -- and with 46 million people in poverty, I would argue it's not working very well."
And as for genocide: Does Wieseltier seriously believe that we regard intervention as an unquestioned duty? If so, how does he explain the fact that we intervene in some genocides and not others? Why does he suppose that is? I'd argue that our leaders consider morality, but also calculate the potential cost in blood and treasure, while pondering poll numbers for or against intervention. I don't what the hell Wieseltier's explanation would be.