One of my first classes in college was a religious studies seminar focused on a deep reading of an Isaiah Berlin essay, "The Hedgehog and the Fox."

"The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing."

Berlin divides the world into two types of thinkers, putting, among others, Pascal, Hegel, Nietzsche into the hedgehog camp and Erasmus, Shakespeare, Balzac, and Joyce into the fox camp. He then spends a good deal of time on how Tolstoy's "War and Peace" shows that Tolstoy was a fox who wished he were a hedgehog. (I hadn't read any Tolstoy at the time and barely any of the other writers mentioned, so I barely absorbed any of this. Wikipedia gave me a refresher. But enough stuck for me to keep that idea in the back of my head.)

Ezra Klein's Vox just launched their teaser site. Nate Silver's FiveThirtyEight is about to launch their new site on March 17th.

Now I don't know either Mr. Silver or Mr. Klein, but seeing the new FiveThirtyEight adopt Berlin's fox as a logo makes me think he's got it all backwards. Vox's tagline seems to be "understand the news", but I'd say they've got it exactly backwards too.

Silver is a classic hedgehog — he's built a single model of presidential elections and uses that to explain everything that happens in them. But judging by his logo choice seems to think that he should be a fox. Klein is a classic fox — he has the bloggers mentality of gathering many little charts and bits from all around the web and throwing them all together. But by his tagline and all the talk about evergreen explainers and context for news he seems to think he should be a hedgehog.

This is not an argument about which way is better. The world can be explained through model building or heuristics or both.

For all the praise of how accurate and great Silver's statistical model was, I think people really overlooked how great he was as a writer and explainer. The tone of FiveThirtyEight all through the 2012 election cycle was calm and reassuring. "Don't worry" he said, this is how the world is and whatever this new bit of news is doesn't change that and this is how you understand it in context. That's a hedgehog-like grand theory of how the world works.

And for all the attention Klein has gotten for his "wonkiness," a lot of what made Wonkblog really shine was his ability to pick and popularize just the right chart (generally made by someone else) or nugget of information for the current moment. It was a foxy ability to digest lots and lots of mutually incompatible information and ideas and understand which ones applied to the current situation.

Traditionally the news business seems to have been all fox and no hedgehog. Reading lots of news stories that present very specific narratives can lead to a nuanced internal model of how the world works. The hedgehog view of the world has belonged to engineers and scientists and grand political theorists.

It's really exciting to see both of these ventures reaching accross that "divide" and I can't wait to see what's coming.