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The Signal and the Noise: The Art and Science of Prediction Hardcover – 27 Sep 2012


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Product details

  • Hardcover: 544 pages
  • Publisher: Allen Lane (27 Sept. 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1846147522
  • ISBN-13: 978-1846147524
  • Product Dimensions: 16.2 x 4.5 x 24 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (126 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 202,315 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Review

Outstanding... fun to read... Silver has produced a signal that is a pleasure to follow (Tim Harford Financial Times )

Engagingly written... wholly satisfying... one of the more momentous books of the decade (The New York Times Book Review )

Fascinating... Statisticians are to our age what engineers were to the Victorians, the makers of the particular forms of truth we value and crave. Nate Silver, to pursue the analogy, is being tipped to be our age's Brunel (Bryan Appleyard Sunday Times )

Balanced, intelligent and erudite (Spectator )

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

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, author of Nudge )

The inhabitants of Westminster are speed-reading The Signal and the Noise by Nate Silver, the New York Times statistician who called the election with cool accuracy. They will find the book remarkable and rewarding (Sunday Telegraph Matthew d'Ancona )

The Galileo of number crunchers (Independent )

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

A whirlwind tour of the success and failure of predictions in a wide variety of fields... 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 )

Engaging... Silver displays a knack not just for mining data but for explaining his thinking in an accessible manner (Bloomberg )

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 )

Engaging and sophisticated... [An] entertaining popularization of a subject that scares many people off (Slate )

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, Bloomberg columnist and former Director of the Office of Management and Budget under President Barack Obama )

Nate Silver is a new kind of political superstar. One who actually knows what he's talking about...he's singlehandedly shown that most political punditry is about as effective a method of truth-seeking as the ducking stool (Observer New Review )

About the Author

Nate Silver is a statistician and political forecaster at The New York Times who became a national sensation in the United States when his predictions during the 2008 presidential election trumped most mainstream polls. He is a contributor to The New York Times Magazine and has appeared as a commentator on CNN and MSNBC. He has spoken at TED and SXSW, and was named one of TIME's 100 Most Influential People in the world.

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Customer Reviews

3.9 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

144 of 149 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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51 of 55 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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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer #1 HALL OF FAMETOP 50 REVIEWER on 11 Nov. 2013
Format: Paperback Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
The feel of this book says a lot about the author. If you are lauded as one of the world's most influential people by Time magazine at just turned thirty it would be easy for it to turn your head. It would also be tempting to cash in with a very populist tome or emphasise one's superiority by getting all academic.

This book is neither and it may disappoint the lay reader and statistician alike. However, Nate is not just an excellent statistical analyst, he is a good communicator and there is a sense that he wants to share what he knows in a very unassuming manner. It may lack the wow of Freakanomics or the learned tone of Black Swan but for me, this book informed and educated far more than either.

One might expect that an individual who correctly predicted the outcome of 49 out of 50 states in the 2008 US election and then 50 out of 50 in 2012 would be full of 'can do' but the author doesn't big things up and talks as much about the limits of predictive science as the possibilities.

Nate illustrates the potential and constraints on predictive theories by considering subjects ranging from gaming to the weather and from the stock market to world events. All pitched at a level that seems designed to inform rather than sound clever and communicate rather than evangelise.

This is a lengthy read at 450 pages plus notes but I didn't find it plodding although the discursive style might cause some to want him to get to the point and feel bereft of hard conclusions. However, to me this rather underscored where he was coming from.

Nate's own achievements were something of a footnote and the book is very much not about him. That modesty and the clear desire to share gives the impression of a very likeable individual, not what one would expect of an individual who had achieved so much within a dozen years of high school. A thoughtful and thought provoking book.
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