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
"Nate Silver's The Signal and the Noise is The Soul of a New Machine for the 21st century." (Rachel Maddow, author of Drift)
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.
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.
people interested to hear about past events but not necessarily in a fun or entertaining manner
No, but it did turn me off from this writer
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.
The Signal and the Noise talks about why schemes to beat Wall Street or take down Vegas fail miserably. The noise is what Rumsfeld called "Unknown Unknowns" or Will Rogers called "What we know that ain't so". Things we just fail to comprehend or things we think we know but don't understand correctly. Signals are the true underlying causes that if understood can lead to good predictions. It it was easy, everyone would beat the market and Vegas would be a dust town.
A really smart book on why predicting stuff is hard and a really good argument for an open mind. Seeing the world as it really is, rather than how we want it to be, is the hardest thing we will ever do. But we really should try harder.
One of the best audiobooks I've listened to so far
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.
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
Great narration. Nice to find someone who takes a dispassionate view of events.
Why We Make Mistakes
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.
It was clear and generally well presented (accessible to a wide audience). I was well aware that people generally are not good at making predictions, relying too heavily on their heuristics and biases (e.g. failure to use prior probabilities as called for by Bayesian statistics); and the importance of putting "band widths" around probability estimates. I also thought that much too much text was devoted to each of the major topics covered (e.g. weather forecasting, political forecasts, economic forecasts, picking stocks, gambling/poker strategies, etc.). These sections could have been considerably shorter.
"Is that all there is?"
Generally disappointing, in that it did not expand my knowledge -- though I don't fault the book, as I've read widely in this area.
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