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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

Critic Reviews

"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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  • Story
  • PC
  • 08-16-13

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.

2 of 3 people found this review helpful

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Not really anything new.

What did you like best about The Signal and the Noise? What did you like least?

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.

What was your reaction to the ending? (No spoilers please!)

"Is that all there is?"

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

N/A

Could you see The Signal and the Noise being made into a movie or a TV series? Who should the stars be?

No

Any additional comments?

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.

5 of 8 people found this review helpful

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  • William
  • Leawood, KS, United States
  • 11-19-12

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

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I loved it

I teach statistics and this book is one of the best stats books I have ever read. the examples are amazing

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learning about statistics has never been that...

learning about statistics has never been that much fun. obviously doesn't substitute for learning the mathematical part of it, but a good compliment to motivate the dry stuff.

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will make you think, but sort of hypocritical

the narration was horrible. while Silver has interesting ideas, he frames them in too neat a way. many of his ideas or the issues he raises with models are not cut and dry. yet, in a book about being suspecious toward easy answers, he ironically forces the readers into a similar trap.

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Teaching Humility

This book worked hard to paint an accurate picture of the probabilistic reality we inhabit, and the approaches we can take to understanding it. I really liked how Silver stuck to a his premise throughout the book.
The takeaway for me was that we will never be able to make predictions or forecast with absolute certainty but with the right tools and a detached, objective mindset we can learn to understand our own predictions and forecasts, and use them in responsible and progressive ways.

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  • Michael
  • Somewhere around the world
  • 09-05-17

Ok but hodge-podgey

The narrator was pretty good and had the necessary amount of nerdiness in his voice for this topic.

This book was decent. I've read a few things like this already so I didn't feel like I learned a lot that was new to me. The author told many stories and sometimes they were really long and had little to do with the topic. The whole book kind of rambled over different themes. Rather than address a particular topic of statistics and psychology, it was more about historical events and situations, eg, baseball, chess, poker, terrorism, politics, stocks. This gave it less of an academic feel, and more of a 'clever-blogger' feel.

The chapter on climate predictions was quite good, and honest, something rare and refreshing, and judging by some book reviews, quite infuriating to the disciples of the Church of Climatology, even though it was still ultimately pro-climate change. But dictatorships have never permitted anything that can be construed as dissent, so it's understandable.

Ultimately this book could have been much shorter by simply explaining Bayes Theorem, defining signal and noise, and giving a few examples. But I think he really wanted to tell baseball and poker stories...

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Not quite worth the read.

Felt lacking in substance, depth, and story. Stuck with it in hopes of getting something out of it as background knowledge for teaching my statistics class. Got a few things, but not as much as I had expected/hoped.

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Noise. Waste of time.

This book wasn’t for you, but who do you think might enjoy it more?

Someone who might want to use reading some useless trivia to waste their time.

What could Nate Silver have done to make this a more enjoyable book for you?

Maybe get to some prominent position in life and accumulate some wisdom, not useless trivia.

Who would you have cast as narrator instead of Mike Chamberlain?

It was fine to have him narrate. Not wasting time of a good narrator on a poor book.

What reaction did this book spark in you? Anger, sadness, disappointment?

Waste of time.

Any additional comments?

Waste of time.