The Signal and the Noise

The Signal and the Noise

Why Most Predictions Fail-- but Some Don't

Book - 2012
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"One of the more momentous books of the decade."-- The New York Times Book Review

Nate Silver built an innovative system for predicting baseball performance, predicted the 2008 election within a hair's breadth, and became a national sensation as a blogger--all by the time he was thirty. He solidified his standing as the nation's foremost political forecaster with his near perfect prediction of the 2012 election. Silver is the founder and editor in chief of the website FiveThirtyEight.

Drawing on his own groundbreaking work, Silver examines the world of prediction, investigating how we can distinguish a true signal from a universe of noisy data. Most predictions fail, often at great cost to society, because most of us have a poor understanding of probability and uncertainty. Both experts and laypeople mistake more confident predictions for more accurate ones. But overconfidence is often the reason for failure. If our appreciation of uncertainty improves, our predictions can get better too. This is the "prediction paradox": The more humility we have about our ability to make predictions, the more successful we can be in planning for the future.

In keeping with his own aim to seek truth from data, Silver visits the most successful forecasters in a range of areas, from hurricanes to baseball, from the poker table to the stock market, from Capitol Hill to the NBA. He explains and evaluates how these forecasters think and what bonds they share. What lies behind their success? Are they good--or just lucky? What patterns have they unraveled? And are their forecasts really right? He explores unanticipated commonalities and exposes unexpected juxtapositions. And sometimes, it is not so much how good a prediction is in an absolute sense that matters but how good it is relative to the competition. In other cases, prediction is still a very rudimentary--and dangerous--science.

Silver observes that the most accurate forecasters tend to have a superior command of probability, and they tend to be both humble and hardworking. They distinguish the predictable from the unpredictable, and they notice a thousand little details that lead them closer to the truth. Because of their appreciation of probability, they can distinguish the signal from the noise.

With everything from the health of the global economy to our ability to fight terrorism dependent on the quality of our predictions, Nate Silver's insights are an essential read.
Publisher: New York : Penguin Press, 2012.
ISBN: 9781594204111
Branch Call Number: 519.542
Characteristics: 534 p. : ill. ; 25 cm.


From the critics

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Sep 28, 2017

An interesting read if you're looking for some basics about statistics and probability.

Silver does a good job of maintaining a narrative throughout the book. He ties it together nicely with a sort of call to action to think more critically about predictions as you move forward.

Nov 23, 2016

Interesting book but I tired of it quickly. I could skim chapters once I understood the perspective of each subject covered in the chapter.

VaughanPLKasey Nov 09, 2016

The Signal and the Noise is the most practically applicable statistics book I am aware of that also manages to be accessible.

Throughout the book, Silver explores various uses and misuses of statistical analysis, illustrating what makes the difference between a good prediction model and a bad one, by looking at some of the most successful statistical analysts out there, from his own experience with baseball statistics and elections analysis, to climate change science and weather forecasting, beating the stock market (or not), and poker strategies.

If nothing else, the book will convince you that these things have little-to-nothing to do with luck.

Jan 27, 2016

I really liked this book, but I can't give it a five stars. Here's what I feel:
- What I liked:
The topic of predictions is right up my alley professionally and personally. A lot of the topics he covers about limitations of predictions as well as how to improve them are something I live day to day.
Nate Silver's interests seem to closely reflect mine personally. I'm not a big baseball fan, but I'm a soccer fan and I can totally abstract a lot of his baseball commentary to soccer issues.
I love the connections and references he makes. He refers to other books that I've read (and recently), and he also goes back in time to Kasparov vs. Deep Thought (and Deep Blue) which I followed very closely when those were current affairs.
There are a lot of topics that he explains in reasonably simplistic terms which improved my understanding of the topics.
This is the best explanation of the poker bubble that I've ever read or heard.

-What I didn't like
The book is too long - at least 20-25% too long in my opinion. There are some points he just goes on repeating and belaboring.
The books is mostly organized as a series of "vignettes on prediction" the way I see it. The overall organization was a little confusing to me, not sure if I was missing the takeaways from sections or if I was supposed to draw some own conclusions from the different examples. The attempts to cross-reference prior examples only confused me more. I understand this is not intended to be a text book on predictions, but I had trouble crafting an overarching storyline.
The characters in the different anecdotes mostly flit in and out and in a lot of cases we don't hear enough to care about them. Even in non-fiction, I like it more if the characters in the anecdotes are more developed that we see things from their point of view (whether we agree or disagree)

Nov 13, 2015

Outstanding look at how we make predictions and how we can improve our ability to see into the future using big data

Shauna_M Apr 24, 2015

It's election time! Win your office election pool (that's a thing, right?) with some forecasting help from Nate Silver.

Dec 27, 2014

A look at statistical analysis and randomness with our inability to make predictions due to the complexity of dynamic systems. The narrative and layout is a bit disjointed but is otherwise an insightful read. Easily confirms my personal bias that most pundits have little idea of what they are talking about. Worth reading if you are interested.

Oct 16, 2013

The book has relevence but is way too academic for people who have no background in math or who have no interest in gambling or chess or baseball. It took me a month to slog through it all. I would have appreciated a condensed version that explained the basic concepts, for which I had to dig so deeply. What I came away with was an even deeper suspicion of science than I used to have. Science needs friends not enemies!

Nov 19, 2012

Excellent analysis, with enormous relevance for understanding not only highly accurate election forecasting (for which Silver is best known), but also weather forecasting, terrorism forecasting, accurate forecasting of the effects of CO2 accumulation in the atmosphere. I probably would have given it five stars were it not for the extensive sections on sports and gambling, subjects I find terminably boring. Then again, that could interest a lot of you in reading this book!


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