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The Signal and the Noise: The Art and Science of Prediction Paperback – 18 Apr 2013


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Product details

  • Paperback: 544 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin (18 April 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0141975652
  • ISBN-13: 978-0141975658
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 2.3 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (125 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 8,621 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Review

Outstanding... I was hooked (Tim Harford Financial Times)

One of the more momentous books of the decade (The New York Times Book Review)

A lucid explanation of how to think probabilistically (Guardian)

The inhabitants of Westminster are speed-reading The Signal and the Noise... They will find the book remarkable and rewarding (Sunday Telegraph)

Is there anything now that Nate Silver could tell us that we wouldn't believe? (Jonathan Freedland)

Fascinating... our age's Brunel (Bryan Appleyard Sunday Times)

A surprisingly accessible peek into the world of mathematical probability (Daily Telegraph)

The Galileo of number crunchers (Independent)

A 34-year old Delphic Oracle (Daily Beast)

About the Author

Nate Silver is a statistician and political forecaster at The New York Times. In 2012, he correctly predicted the outcome of 50 out of 50 states during the US presidential election, trumping the professional pollsters and pundits. He was named one of TIME's 100 Most Influential People in the world, and one of Rolling Stones' top Agents of Change. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.

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Customer Reviews

3.9 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

143 of 148 people found the following review helpful By Robert Macdonald on 28 Nov. 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Mr Silver clearly knows what he is talking about, but I'm less sure he knows how to talk about it. I assume he set out to write a chatty, non-challenging book, but the result is light on substance and structure.

The Nobel prize-winning physicist Niels Bohr famously said 'Prediction is very difficult, especially if it's about the future'. This pretty much sums up the first half of the book. Yes, the detail about the financial crisis, weather forecasting, earthquakes etc is mildly interesting, but in relation to prediction, you will be wading through a lot of noise to extract the signal ('human nature makes us over-confident predictors', 'without either good theory or good empirical data, you may as well just guess','the most confident pundits are usually the worst' etc).

The substance of the book comes in twenty pages in the middle, where Silver introduces Bayesian logic (I learnt in maths classes at school when I was fourteen so it wasn't new to me, and it doesn't need 200 pages of build up). The best section is where Silver contrasts Bayesian logic to Fisherian logic. Fisher created the maths that is used almost universally in medical and social science research to prove the efficacy of a treatment or theory. Silver explains how flawed this maths is - which is presumably why two thirds of the positive findings claimed in medical journals cannot be replicated. This is pretty heady stuff.

Silver claims that the second half of the book is about how to make predictions better. It is mostly more examples of failure, this time in chess, investment, climate and terrorism, with a few asides that might be considered signals ('testing is good', 'groups/markets tend to make better predictions than individuals').
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50 of 54 people found the following review helpful By RobK on 8 Dec. 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is a book about prediction and the use of statistics to forecast future events such as earthquakes and the outcome of elections. When it's good it's a lucid and enjoyable read which makes some important points about the art of prediction, with the chapters on political punditry and economic forecasting stand out as especially good. Unfortunately this is let down by a number of problems. These include the interminable and really quite tedious chapters on poker, baseball and chess (I really don't know why the chess one is in the book at all), and the inclusion of a number of serious errors and misconceptions in the chapter on epidemiology. This last is a subject that I think I have some knowledge of, and it's disturbing to see straightforward and important factual errors - the definition of the basic reproductive rate used is badly wrong, for example (if anyone's interested the correct definition is that it is the number of new infections produced by a single infectious host *in a population of completely susceptible hosts*), and the interpretation is also wrong (it's not correct that any disease with basic reproductive rate >1 will go on to infect all susceptible hosts in the population). These are not nit-picking little errors - it's the equivalent of getting the definition of interest rate seriously wrong in a discussion of economics. These are fundamental concepts and the errors tell us that the author did not properly understand the subject that he's writing about.Read more ›
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Nish Pfister VINE VOICE on 16 Aug. 2013
Format: Paperback Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Nate Silver comes with big credentials, and that's why his name is big on the front cover and not the title. After all, he is the man who succeeds in predicting election outcomes. In the first half of the book, we are treated to his preferences in life: baseball and statistics, slagging off economists, appreciating hard working weathermen, the disasters of trying to predict earthquakes, and more baseball. He goes into intricate details when it comes to baseball. He is also quite good at mentioning his successes. And others' failures. The first half of the book is strange, not really a story, not really scientific, just lots and lots of examples of people trying to predict things and the failures and successes. And lots of baseball detail.
As an aside: it shows how far the American use of the English language (or at least Nate Silver's use of it) has drifted away from British English.
In chapter 8 then we are introduced to his central tool, Bayes' Theorem. To see it applied to betting and games like chess and poker, makes for interesting reading. I must say that his informal, un writerly style of writing is an easy enough read, even so I skipped lots. You could probably learn the essentials of his approach in a book a quarter of this one's size, or less: what are the possibilities and the limits of predictions and what are the tools that can be applied. What comes out well is the importance of critical appraisal and the dangers of wishful thinking and self delusion. There are also some interesting thoughts on correlation and modelling, especially their limits.
May be it does need all those examples, and who doesn't like to read how stupid the bankers behaviour was to get into such a mess.
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