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The Signal and the Noise: Why So Many Predictions Fail-but Some Don't [Hardcover]

Nate Silver
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Oct. 2 2012
"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. The New York Times now publishes FiveThirtyEight.com, where Silver is one of the nation’s most influential political forecasters.

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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Review

One of Wall Street Journal's Best Ten Works of Nonfiction in 2012

“Mr. Silver, just 34, is an expert at finding signal in noise… Lively prose — from energetic to outraged… illustrates his dos and don’ts through a series of interesting essays that examine how predictions are made in fields including chess, baseball, weather forecasting, earthquake analysis and politics… [the] chapter on global warming is one of the most objective and honest analyses I’ve seen… even the noise makes for a good read.”
New York Times

“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…could turn out to be one of the more momentous books of the decade.”
New York Times Book Review

"A serious treatise about the craft of prediction—without academic mathematics—cheerily aimed at lay readers. Silver's coverage is polymathic, ranging from poker and earthquakes to climate change and terrorism."
—New York Review of Books

"Mr. Silver's breezy style makes even the most difficult statistical material accessible. What is more, his arguments and examples are painstakingly researched..."
Wall Street Journal

"Nate Silver is the Kurt Cobain of statistics... His ambitious new book, The Signal and the Noise, is a practical handbook and a philosophical manifesto in one, following the theme of prediction through a series of case studies ranging from hurricane tracking to professional poker to counterterrorism. It will be a supremely valuable resource for anyone who wants to make good guesses about the future, or who wants to assess the guesses made by others. In other words, everyone."
The Boston Globe

"Silver delivers an improbably breezy read on what is essentially a primer on making predictions."
Washington Post
 
The Signal and the Noise is many things — an introduction to the Bayesian theory of probability, a meditation on luck and character, a commentary on poker's insights into life — but it's most important function is its most basic and absolutely necessary one right now: a guide to detecting and avoiding bullshit dressed up as data…What is most refreshing… is its humility. Sometimes we have to deal with not knowing, and we need somebody to tell us that.”
Esquire

[An] entertaining popularization of a subject that scares many people off… Silver’s journey from consulting to baseball analytics to professional poker to political prognosticating is very much that of a restless and curious mind. And this, more than number-crunching, is where real forecasting prowess comes from.”
Slate

“Nate Silver serves as a sort of Zen master to American election-watchers… In the spirit of Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s widely read “The Black Swan”, Mr. Silver asserts that humans are overconfident in their predictive abilities, that they struggle to think in probabilistic terms and build models that do not allow for uncertainty.”
The Economist

"Silver explores our attempts at forecasting stocks, storms, sports, and anything else not set in stone."
Wired

"The Signal and the Noise is essential reading in the era of Big Data that touches every business, every sports event, and every policymaker."
—Forbes.com

“Laser sharp. Surprisingly, statistics in Silver’s hands is not without some fun.”
Smithsonian Magazine
 
“A substantial, wide-ranging, and potentially important gauntlet of probabilistic thinking based on actual data thrown at the feet of a culture determined to sweep away silly liberal notions like ‘facts.’”
The Village Voice

“Silver shines a light on 600 years of human intelligence-gathering—from the advent of the printing press all the way through the Industrial Revolution and up to the current day—and he finds that it's been an inspiring climb. We've learned so much, and we still have so much left to learn.”
—MLB.com
 



Nate Silver’s The Signal and the Noise is The Soul of a New Machine for the 21st century (a century we thought we’d be a lot better at predicting than we actually are). Our political discourse is already better informed and more data-driven because of Nate’s influence. But here he shows us what he has always been able to see in the numbers—the heart and the ethical imperative of getting the quantitative questions right.  A wonderful read—totally engrossing.”
—Rachel Maddow, author of Drift
 
“Yogi Berra was right: ‘forecasting is hard, especially about the future.’ In this important book, Nate Silver explains why the performance of experts varies from prescient to useless and why we must plan for the unexpected. Must reading for anyone who cares about what might happen next.”
—Richard Thaler, co-author of Nudge 
 
“Making predictions in the era of ‘big data’ is not what you might imagine. Nate Silver's refreshing and original book provides unpredictably illuminating insights differentiating objective and subjective realities in forecasting our future. He reminds us that the human element is still essential in predicting advances in science, technology and even politics... if we were only wise enough to learn from our mistakes.”
—Governor Jon Huntsman 
 
“Here's a prediction: after you read The Signal and the Noise, you'll have much more insight into why some models work well—and also why many don't.  You'll learn to pay more attention to weather forecasts for the coming week—and none at all for weather forecasts beyond that.  Nate Silver takes a complex, difficult subject and makes it fun, interesting, and relevant.”
—Peter Orszag, former director of the Office of Management and Budget
 
“Projection, prediction, assumption, trepidation, anticipation, expectation, estimation… we wouldn’t have 80 words like this in the English language if it wasn’t central to our lives. We tend not to take prediction seriously because, on some level, we know that we don’t know. Silver shows us how this inevitable part of life goes awry when projected on a grand scale into the murky worlds of politics, science and economics. Dancing through chess, sports, snowstorms, global warming and the McLaughlin Group, he makes a serious and systematic effort to show us how to clean the noise off the signal.”
—Bill James, author of The Bill James Baseball Abstracts
 

About the Author


Nate Silver is a statistician, writer, and founder of The New York Times political blog FiveThirtyEight.com. Silver also developed PECOTA, a system for forecasting baseball performance that was bought by Baseball Prospectus. He was named one of the world’s 100 Most Influential People by Time magazine. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.


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Customer Reviews

4.5 out of 5 stars
4.5 out of 5 stars
Most helpful customer reviews
19 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Brief Summary and Review Oct. 2 2012
By A. D. Thibeault TOP 100 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover
*A full executive summary of this book is available at newbooksinbrief dot com.

Making decisions based on an assessment of future outcomes is a natural and inescapable part of the human condition. Indeed, as Nate Silver points out, "prediction is indispensable to our lives. Every time we choose a route to work, decide whether to go on a second date, or set money aside for a rainy day, we are making a forecast about how the future will proceed--and how our plans will affect the odds for a favorable outcome" (loc. 285). And over and above these private decisions, prognosticating does, of course, bleed over into the public realm; as indeed whole industries from weather forecasting, to sports betting, to financial investing are built on the premise that predictions of future outcomes are not only possible, but can be made reliable. As Silver points out, though, there is a wide discrepancy across industries and also between individuals regarding just how accurate these predictions are. In his new book `The Signal and the Noise: Why So Many Predictions Fail--but Some Don't' Silver attempts to get to the bottom of all of this prediction-making to uncover what separates the accurate from the misguided.

In doing so, the author first takes us on a journey through financial crashes, political elections, baseball games, weather reports, earthquakes, disease epidemics, sports bets, chess matches, poker tables, and the good ol' American economy, as we explore what goes into a well-made prediction and its opposite.
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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
By Amazon Customer TOP 500 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
You will hear a lot more about this book now that the author is becoming famous for his accurate prediction of the US election.

The book makes a compelling case for why we all need to learn more about statistics in order to better understand the world, and it also helps you learn at least the basics of what you need to know.

The first half explains why we often make enormous mistakes in our reasoning because we see patterns which aren't there - the apparent signal which is really an accident of the noise (there is no man in the moon - we just interpret random craters and flood plains that way). It makes a convincing case why we need to read on.

Once he has got us to understand how we make so many errors, he introduces us to the way out: Bayesian statistics.

I had tried before to get the idea behind Bayesian statistics but until I read this, I was not doing so well because I don't have the spare time to learn another whole branch of mathematics. By using many real world examples from sports and gambling, he leads us step-by-step, without equations, to understanding the basic principles and gave me the ability to see where I might be going wrong. You might need some more books before you can work the math yourself to come up with the kind of outstanding bets Nate Silver has made, as he tells us how he was able to beat the odds at betting on baseball thorough the use of statistical reasoning, but at least you'll know where you and others are going wrong and have some idea on how to start on better answers.

The title of this review is based on my sad realisation that the kind of people who want the simple answers that Silver demonstrates are not there are not the kind of people who read this type of book where better answers are to be found.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good examples, but the ideas are nothing too new March 25 2013
Format:Hardcover
Silver's book provides great examples on real-world statistical patterns (or lack thereof), and how they often are not as simple (or comfortable) as they appear. Topics include poker, baseball, elections, terrorism, global warming, chess, hurricanes, and earthquakes, but the underlying ideas are covered in somewhat older (and more well-known) literature such as Taleb's 'The Black Swan'.
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3.0 out of 5 stars Good but for traders, not rich fishing ground April 1 2014
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
There was much noise about Nate Silver's power of "prediction" in the arena of U.S. political horse races. His own passionate mastery weighing data and opinion to form valuable probabilistic assessments from sports to politics indicated he himself was a signal. Grounded odds commentary in a sea of superficial punditry and knee jerk betting. The gift of this well written, easy to follow work is it adds to the education on the probabilistic nature of probably everything.

Interviewing leading lights in diverse fields, the book romps from climate to earthquakes to terrorism to markets. He draws from his own card-counting all-nighters in the early days of online poker to both chaos and complexity theory to illustrate the lessons. All good. The limited 3 stars given here is only from the point of view of a trader. This one area gets quickie sound bytes. It makes a few valid points about the strength of the prediction of the Efficient Market Hypothesis. The near impossibility of "beating the market" over the long term - the tangle of noise in the short term. As if hedging his bets, he alludes parenthetically that passing "inefficiencies" ARE likely being profitably exploited. He gestures an especially dismissive sneer toward "chartists", quips more confidently about index funds, and hurries on to change the subject.

Our loss. While there are authors who HAVE contributed with more depth/balance to probabilistic approaches to market theory and trading, so much more can be done in this area. Markets surely form one of the historically richest examples of noise versus signal. Of the roles of luck and skill, the interaction of myth and fact. The caldron of complexity that makes up a market and causes "agreed" prices to endlessly ebb and flow.
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Most recent customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars An Interesting Perspective on Making Predictions
In this intriguing book, the author discusses the making of predictions/forecasts in a variety of different fields. Read more
Published 2 months ago by G. Poirier
5.0 out of 5 stars The methods book for everyone
In this book, we get to know Nate Silver and how he became a prediction superstar, as well in the field of baseball, as in election predictions. Read more
Published 3 months ago by Simon Poirier
4.0 out of 5 stars Very interesting look at difficulties in distinguishing signal from...
Points out just how difficult it is to sort the wheat from the chaff - and just how important it is to do so.
Published 4 months ago by Debra A Galarneau
5.0 out of 5 stars a very informative and thorough book
This was a very worthwhile read. It replaced a significant part of my cynicism about the way data is often reported with a more scientific and thoughtful understanding
Published 4 months ago by SaAnita
4.0 out of 5 stars Easy and Entertaining Read
The book is well written and flows nicely. Some interesting content to consider. Along the same lines as Outliers or Freakonomics, easily enjoyable.
Published 6 months ago by Paul Dickin
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting
Well written and interesting, I thought it would have been boring since its mostly statistics and forecasting but it kept me interested right to the end with some useful insights
Published 9 months ago by Scott
5.0 out of 5 stars Comment
I have not read this yet but I have wanted this and am pleased to have it on my shelf.
Published 12 months ago by Mary Elizabeth Kenny
5.0 out of 5 stars Great read
Insightful and fascinating - definitely recommend for people interested in the idea behind probabilistic modelling. Read more
Published 15 months ago by Omichild
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