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The Signal and the Noise: Why So Many Predictions Fail-But Some Don't Hardcover – 27 Sep 2012

3.9 out of 5 stars 143 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 534 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Press; 1 edition (27 Sept. 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 159420411X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1594204111
  • Product Dimensions: 16.3 x 3 x 24.1 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (143 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 882,121 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

Review

One of "Wall Street Journal"'s""BestTen Works ofNonfictionin 2012
Mr. Silver, just 34, is an expert at finding signal in noise Lively prose from energetic to outraged illustrates his dos and don ts through a series of interesting essays that examine how predictions are made in fields including chess, baseball, weather forecasting, earthquake analysis and politics [the] chapter on global warming is one of the most objective and honest analyses I ve seen even the noise makes for a good read.
"New York Times"
Not so different in spirit from the way public intellectuals like John Kenneth Galbraith once shaped discussions of economic policy and public figures like Walter Cronkite helped sway opinion on the Vietnam War could turn out to be one of the more momentous books of the decade.
"New York Times Book Review"
"A serious treatise about the craft of prediction without academic mathematics cheerily aimed at lay readers. Silver's coverage is polymathic, ranging from poker and earthquakes to climate change and terrorism."
" New York Review of Books"
"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"
"Nate Silver is the Kurt Cobain of statistics... His ambitious new book, "The Signal and the Noise," is a practical handbook and a philosophical manifesto in one, following the theme of prediction through a series of case studies ranging from hurricane tracking to professional poker to counterterrorism. It will be 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"
"Silver delivers an improbably breezy read on what is essentially a primer on making predictions."
"Washington Post"
"The Signal and the Noise" is many things an introduction to the Bayesian theory of probability, a meditation on luck and character, a commentary on poker's insights into life but it's most important function is its most basic and absolutely necessary one right now: a guide to detecting and avoiding bullshit dressed up as data What is most refreshing is its humility. Sometimes we have to deal with not knowing, and we need somebody to tell us that.
"Esquire"
[An] entertaining popularization of a subject that scares many people off Silver s journey from consulting to baseball analytics to professional poker to political prognosticating is very much that of a restless and curious mind. And this, more than number-crunching, is where real forecasting prowess comes from.
"Slate"
Nate Silver serves as a sort of Zen master to American election-watchers In the spirit of Nassim Nicholas Taleb s widely read The Black Swan, Mr. Silver asserts that humans are overconfident in their predictive abilities, that they struggle to think in probabilistic terms and build models that do not allow for uncertainty.
"The Economist"
"Silver explores our attempts at forecasting stocks, storms, sports, and anything else not set in stone."
"Wired"
"The Signal and the Noise is essential reading in the era of Big Data that touches every business, every sports event, and every policymaker."
" Forbes.com"
Laser sharp. Surprisingly, statistics in Silver s hands is not without some fun.
"Smithsonian Magazine"
A substantial, wide-ranging, and potentially important gauntlet of probabilistic thinking based on actual data thrown at the feet of a culture determined to sweep away silly liberal notions like facts.
"The Village Voice"
Silver shines a light on 600 years of human intelligence-gathering from the advent of the printing press all the way through the Industrial Revolution and up to the current day and he finds that it's been an inspiring climb. We've learned so much, and we still have so much left to learn.
MLB.com


Nate Silver s "The Signal and the Noise "is The Soul of a New Machine for the 21st century (a century we thought we d be a lot better at predicting than we actually are). Our political discourse is already better informed and more data-driven because of Nate s influence. But here he shows us what he has always been able to see in the numbers the heart and the ethical imperative of getting the quantitative questions right. A wonderful read totally engrossing.
Rachel Maddow, author of "Drift
"
Yogi Berra was right: forecasting is hard, especially about the future. 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, co-author of "Nudge
"
Making predictions in the era of big data is not what you might imagine. Nate Silver's refreshing and original book provides unpredictably illuminating insights differentiating objective and subjective realities in forecasting our future. He reminds us that the human element is still essential in predicting advances in science, technology and even politics... if we were only wise enough to learn from our mistakes.
Governor Jon Huntsman
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, former director of the Office of Management and Budget
Projection, prediction, assumption, trepidation, anticipation, expectation, estimation we wouldn t have 80 words like this in the English language if it wasn t central to our lives. We tend not to take prediction seriously because, on some level, we know that we don t know. Silver shows us how this inevitable part of life goes awry when projected on a grand scale into the murky worlds of politics, science and economics. Dancing through chess, sports, snowstorms, global warming and the McLaughlin Group, he makes a serious and systematic effort to show us how to clean the noise off the signal.
Bill James, author of" The Bill James Baseball Abstracts
""

About the Author

Nate Silveris the founder and editor in chief of FiveThirtyEight.com."


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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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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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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
If you are really into measuring signals in noise this isn't for you. If you want to be told, page after page, how brilliant the author is at, for example, football (US) statistics then you will find something of interest. Don't expect to find any useful information on regression; Bayes; predictor-corrector; Kalman; entropy; ... or just about anything to do with prediction.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Silver has some good ideas, and he is to be commended for scruplously footnoting his references, but there are some mistakes (the "cows would rate this" was from an S&P analyst,not Moody's) and he utilises heuristics he criticises elsewhere (lazily claiming the industrial revolution happened, just like that, in 1775 with the excuse "it is a nice round number").

My two main criticisms for non Americna readers is that it is quite US centric (I don't care about baseball, and the general moneyball story is impossible to avoid) and the main philosophical stuff (which was most useful and ineresting to me) makes up a small portion of the book, the majority with various examples where he makes the same arguments with interview of different people that are somewhat non-questioning.

He gives some useful examples throughout the book, covering meteorology, earthquakes, transmision of viruses, but it still feels as if it could have been cut. The stuff on Bayes is interetsing but really skates over the issue of how you come up with a Bayesian prior when you can't iteratively improve them because you do not have many data points. Given the time he spends looking at the financial crisis, this is a flaw as it reduces the "wow, Bayes is really useful" impact when it cannot offer that much resolution to the problem of predicting economic and financial crises, the key predictive failure he cites.

Even so, as a way of getting people to think a bit more deeply about what it is to make a prediction and how to know if it was well constructed, and how to integrate concepts of epistemology, it is a useful introductory book.
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