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137 of 142 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars More noise than signal, 28 Nov 2012
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This review is from: The Signal and the Noise: The Art and Science of Prediction (Hardcover)
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'). The exception is the section on poker, which delivers the strongest message in the book: good gamblers think in probabilities (rather than dead certs) - when these probabilities diverge from the odds on offer by a suitable margin, they may place a bet. Bad poker players lose a lot more than good poker players make. The best is the enemy of the good...

Of course, the point of the book is that there is no silver bullet - good prediction requires detail, nuance, hard work, honesty and humility. It would be wrong to expect a check list for success at the end, and naturally, there isn't one. Even so, you are left with a craving for clarity.

'The Signal and the Noise' is a pleasant enough read, but it is mostly anecdote. Rather ironically, you are left to sort out the signal from noise yourself.
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Showing 1-1 of 1 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 23 Oct 2013 13:12:22 BDT
Last edited by the author on 23 Oct 2013 13:13:04 BDT
edward says:
assume he set out to write a chatty, non-challenging book, but the result is light on substance and structure."

The chatty no challenging approach is awful pages of waffle between the meet ,makes this book increadibly tedious to read in places i had read 5 books while reading this book. Although certainly worth reading.
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