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

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

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 30. 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.
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Publisher's Summary

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 30. 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 listen.

©2012 Nate Silver (P)2012 Penguin Audio

What the Critics Say

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

What Members Say

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  •  
    Oren Bernstein Israel 04-11-14
    Oren Bernstein Israel 04-11-14
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    "Shallow and sloppy"

    Nate Silver isn't an expert on statistics. As he explains himself in the book, he's an enthusiast who happened to strike gold when he applied statistics to fields where the competition was very weak. Silver's lack of expertise is very much in evidence throughout the book, in the form of two flaws: shallowness and inaccuracy.

    Let's start with the shallowness. Most of the book is taken up by descriptions of various fields where statistical prediction has been applied with differing degrees of success: earthquakes, weather, politics, sports, and so on. The main point of these sections seems to be that pure statistics isn't enough -- you need specific knowledge of the problem in order to make predictions. That's a good point, though fairly obvious; to illustrate it, much time is spent simply describing these various fields. We get a description of how contracts work in baseball, a taxonomy of types of poker player, some information on the planning stages of the 9/11 attacks, and more.

    Silver doesn't know very much about any of these subjects, so the result is a shallow and unfocused collection of trivia. Worse still, Silver's knowledge of statistics -- the subject of the book -- isn't very good either, so that topic gets a similarly vague treatment.

    Worse still is the inaccuracy that plagues the book. I can't speak for the sections on baseball or terrorism, but I noticed many glaring flaws in the explanations of statistics. One important mistake is the treatment of the concept of bias. Bias is an important technical term in statistics, but Silver talks about it as though he were using the colloquial usage, in which bias is always a bad thing to be eliminated. In fact, bias is often useful and important in solving practical problems in statistics.

    Another, particularly annoying mistake was the description of David Hume's ideas about induction. Silver insultingly claims that Hume's idea was that if a claim is not known with 100% certainty, it is a mistake to give it anything other than a 50% chance. This is obviously nonsense and unrelated to Hume's actual thoughts, which should have been given a much more thorough treatment if they were to be mentioned at all.

    Despite all this, it's a reasonably entertaining book, and the narrator does an excellent job. But I wouldn't recommend it if your goal is to finish the book knowing more than you did when you picked it up.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Ramzi Springfield Gardens, NY, United States 11-29-13
    Ramzi Springfield Gardens, NY, United States 11-29-13 Member Since 2013

    Ramzi

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    "A lot like listening to the news for 15 hours"
    This book wasn’t for you, but who do you think might enjoy it more?

    people interested to hear about past events but not necessarily in a fun or entertaining manner


    Has The Signal and the Noise turned you off from other books in this genre?

    No, but it did turn me off from this writer


    Any additional comments?

    Very long details about historical events and how people failed in predicting them, which is quite obvious, since if those events were predicted they wouldn't have happened. It's good Audible has 2X speed so I was able to reduce my time wasted listening to this book. In short it's a book that has no added value whatsoever.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    PC Los Altos Hills, CA 08-16-13
    PC Los Altos Hills, CA 08-16-13 Member Since 2012
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    "Waste of time. Should launch abridged version"

    This book emphasizes how data should be addressed as the title says. Distinguishing between the signal and the noise that comes along. Though the author involves many endless examples along his personal interest, not many gives concise illustration of how interpretations should be made and how people failed in avoiding them. The poker, baseball, basketball, weather, and other topics give little or no insight on what the reader should be doing, which is not productive after 15+ hours of listening.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Malcolm Charlotte, NC, United States 12-05-12
    Malcolm Charlotte, NC, United States 12-05-12
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    "A case study in Statistics"
    Where does The Signal and the Noise rank among all the audiobooks you’ve listened to so far?

    One of the best audiobooks I've listened to so far


    Any additional comments?

    Nate Silver gives an advanced, yet comprehensible lesson in statistics using exciting real world examples of how statistics were used correctly or incorrectly in each case. Topics range from earth quakes to political elections, which he is most recenty famous for.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Michael Plano, TX, United States 11-30-12
    Michael Plano, TX, United States 11-30-12

    Audio Books!!

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    "Great listen"
    Would you consider the audio edition of The Signal and the Noise to be better than the print version?

    I haven't read the print version; I'm a listener exclusively.


    What other book might you compare The Signal and the Noise to and why?

    Good to Great, Jim Collins: The idea, that research and analysis is key, before a conclusion can be drawn is a theme in these books.


    Have you listened to any of Mike Chamberlain’s other performances before? How does this one compare?

    He has a very good reading voice. I'm not sure if I've listened to him before, and as a reader he doesn't stand out among the good readers, but he's definitely in that group.


    If you were to make a film of this book, what would be the tag line be?

    This isn't that kind of book; there is no story for to film.


    Any additional comments?

    This was exciting to listen to; I really appreciate good analysis before conclusions are drawn, and I feel like Nate did a great job in applying his claimed principles throughout the book.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    William Draper Sacramento 11-05-12
    William Draper Sacramento 11-05-12

    sneaky12u

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    "Timely and interesting"
    What made the experience of listening to The Signal and the Noise the most enjoyable?

    Great narration. Nice to find someone who takes a dispassionate view of events.


    What other book might you compare The Signal and the Noise to and why?

    Why We Make Mistakes


    Which character – as performed by Mike Chamberlain – was your favorite?

    None


    Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?

    Sometimes.


    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    William Leawood, KS, United States 11-19-12
    William Leawood, KS, United States 11-19-12 Member Since 2011

    Bill K

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    "Entertaining and instructive"

    A guide to logical thinking and alalysis of data that should be required reading for everyone. Covers somewhat different territory from that first plowed by Freakonomics and Super Freakonomics, but just as insightful.

    2 of 3 people found this review helpful
  •  
    fred LAKE OSWEGO, OR, United States 10-30-12
    fred LAKE OSWEGO, OR, United States 10-30-12 Member Since 2010

    I'm Trying to see the world with my ears.

    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Blessed are the Quants for they shall inherit the"

    .....Nate Silver is the wunderkind who burst onto the scene with his blog that supplied intellectual elbow grease to issues of probability analysis . In his new book he wanders like a modern day Socrates searching for those with true wisdom . And he finds it--among modest , hardworking , humble folks across an array of industries and government institutions . A wonderful read.

    5 of 8 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Mitch Buena Park, CA, United States 12-02-12
    Mitch Buena Park, CA, United States 12-02-12

    I am a documentary film producer from Los Angeles.

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    "You must have the patience for useless details"

    While missing the point.
    This book is very hard to follow. It feels like there is not enough material and the author is blowing time and filling pages with useless details.

    I'd rather go for something by Michael Lewis or Malcom Gladwell

    3 of 5 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Joseph Yeh Berkeley, CA United States 08-15-14
    Joseph Yeh Berkeley, CA United States 08-15-14 Member Since 2010
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    "Good material- somewhat boring delivery"

    This is a book worth reading even for applied mathematicians/statisticians for whom the theories presented in the book are basic knowledge. That being said, the delivery was a little flat for someone who listens to audiobooks for entertainment while commuting.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
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