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The Signal and the Noise: Why So Many Predictions Fail — but Some Don't (2012)

by Nate Silver

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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3,179834,139 (3.83)34
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. Drawing on his own groundbreaking work, Silver examines the world of prediction.
  1. 20
    Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman (BenTreat)
    BenTreat: Integrates some of the analytical techniques Silver describes with common irrational patterns of decision-making; Kahneman's book explains how to use some of Silver's techniques (and other tools) to avoid making decisions which are not in one's own best interest.… (more)

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» See also 34 mentions

English (81)  Danish (1)  German (1)  All languages (83)
Showing 1-5 of 81 (next | show all)
Interesting, but not interesting enough to drag me through to the end. It got repetitive, shallow and obvious early and seemed to refuse to go deeper. ( )
  zot79 | Aug 20, 2023 |
It goes without saying that "popular statistics" book is mostly an oxymoron. On the one hand, statistics is largely a very dry field. On the other hand, those of us who do understand statistics (and even freaks, like my husband, who enjoy statistics), find any attempt at popular statistics largely too elementary to be interesting. Nate Silver doesn't just walk the fine line in the middle, he eliminates it and writes a completely novel statistic book that is appealing to both the mathematician and the math hater: this book fascinates.

Nate Silver focuses on the forecasting in areas that are difficult to predict: weather, climate, earthquakes, poker, politics, chess and sports. Each of these areas is individually interesting -- I had never spent much time considering online poker, for instance, and the chapter focusing on poker is not just mathematically-focused, but also an expose on the world of online poker and the life and times (or at least the two year subset thereof) of Silver's 6-figure gambling career. In addition, his overall thesis, which seems to be that we should use Bayesian analysis to think probabilistically about the world and continually evaluate our probabilities both builds naturally and has far-reaching applications.

I feel like I have spent years of my life trying to explain to medical students (and more advanced physicians who should really know better) why every time a paper is published with a p ( )
  settingshadow | Aug 19, 2023 |
Reading this book is like going for a walk with Nate Silver while he discusses finding the signal in the noise in situations from his life and that he has researched for you. The subjects are wide-ranging. All are centered on the idea of prediction, but prediction is defined loosely enough to cover almost any analytical problem. Topics include the 2oo8 financial collapse, the inaccuracy of predictions in politics and economics, baseball statistics, weather forecasting, earthquake prediction, predicting next year’s influenza variant, professional poker, chess, Bayes theorem (explained with unusually clear charts), and the difficulty in predicting military and terrorist attacks (as the author says, Where our enemies will strike us is predictable: it’s where we least expect them to.). ( )
  markm2315 | Jul 1, 2023 |
The signal and the noise is all about prediction. It starts with the subprime mortgage financial crisis and discusses the combination of perverse incentives and overconfidence that caused the rating services to fail to accurately portray the risks of those securities (primarily the assumption that even with housing prices astronomically high, the risk of default of each individual mortgage was completely independent rather than affected by the economy). Next he looks at television pundits and the fact that more television appearances is negatively correlated to forecast accuracy. Here he gives a solid introduction to Philip Tetlock’s work on forecasting, which can be found in more depth in his book Superforecasting. He touches on baseball, an information-rich environment, before moving on to irreducibly complex problems like the weather, seismic activity, and the economy where you fundamentally can’t get anywhere near enough raw data or information on interactions between data points to paint a complete picture.

The second half moves towards giving you an idea how to approach problems probabilistically and how to improve and refine your process over time. He starts with simple problems like sports and poker before moving onto more complex problems like terrorism and global warming.

I wouldn’t consider this book a complete guide to rational, evidence based decision making (ignoring that it doesn’t give you the math), but it’s a pretty accessible introduction to the topic and is largely technically sound. It’s a solid place to start. ( )
  jdm9970 | Jan 26, 2023 |
Liked it a lot, more than I was expecting to. I knew Silver was expert at election and sports forecasting, but he clearly has a wide breadth of knowledge about stats and prediction in general. Good story teller, although the poker chapter went a little longer then I needed. One of those book where it's fun to look at the footnotes afterwards. ( )
  steve02476 | Jan 3, 2023 |
Showing 1-5 of 81 (next | show all)
The first thing to note about The Signal and the Noise is that it is modest – not lacking in confidence or pointlessly self-effacing, but calm and honest about the limits to what the author or anyone else can know about what is going to happen next. Across a wide range of subjects about which people make professional predictions – the housing market, the stock market, elections, baseball, the weather, earthquakes, terrorist attacks – Silver argues for a sharper recognition of "the difference between what we know and what we think we know" and recommends a strategy for closing the gap.
added by eereed | editGuardian, Ruth Scurr (Nov 9, 2012)
What Silver is doing here is playing the role of public statistician — bringing simple but powerful empirical methods to bear on a controversial policy question, and making the results accessible to anyone with a high-school level of numeracy. The exercise is not so different in spirit from the way public intellectuals like John Kenneth Galbraith once shaped discussions of economic policy and public figures like Walter Cronkite helped sway opinion on the Vietnam War. Except that their authority was based to varying degrees on their establishment credentials, whereas Silver’s derives from his data savvy in the age of the stats nerd.
added by eereed | editNew York Times, Noam Scheiber (Nov 2, 2012)
A friend who was a pioneer in the computer games business used to marvel at how her company handled its projections of costs and revenue. “We performed exhaustive calculations, analyses and revisions,” she would tell me. “And we somehow always ended with numbers that justified our hiring the people and producing the games we had wanted to all along.” Those forecasts rarely proved accurate, but as long as the games were reasonably profitable, she said, you’d keep your job and get to create more unfounded projections for the next endeavor.......
added by marq | editNew York Times, LEONARD MLODINOW (Oct 23, 2012)
In the course of this entertaining popularization of a subject that scares many people off, the signal of Silver’s own thesis tends to get a bit lost in the noise of storytelling. The asides and digressions are sometimes delightful, as in a chapter about the author’s brief adventures as a professional poker player, and sometimes annoying, as in some half-baked musings on the politics of climate change. But they distract from Silver’s core point: For all that modern technology has enhanced our computational abilities, there are still an awful lot of ways for predictions to go wrong thanks to bad incentives and bad methods.
added by eereed | editSlate, Matthew Yglesias (Oct 5, 2012)
Mr. Silver reminds us that we live in an era of "Big Data," with "2.5 quintillion bytes" generated each day. But he strongly disagrees with the view that the sheer volume of data will make predicting easier. "Numbers don't speak for themselves," he notes. In fact, we imbue numbers with meaning, depending on our approach. We often find patterns that are simply random noise, and many of our predictions fail: "Unless we become aware of the biases we introduce, the returns to additional information may be minimal—or diminishing." The trick is to extract the correct signal from the noisy data. "The signal is the truth," Mr. Silver writes. "The noise is the distraction."

» Add other authors (12 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Nate Silverprimary authorall editionscalculated
Chamberlain, MikeNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Dewey, AmandaDesignersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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This is a book about information, technology, and scientific progress.

It was October 23, 2008.
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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. Drawing on his own groundbreaking work, Silver examines the world of prediction.

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"Nate Silver's The Signal and the Noise is The Soul of a New Machine for the 21st century." —Rachel Maddow, author of Drift

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 FiveThirtyEight.com.

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.
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Penguin Australia

2 editions of this book were published by Penguin Australia.

Editions: 0141975652, 1846147735


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