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The Signal and the Noise: Why So Many Predictions Fail-but Some Don't

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Most Helpful Favorable Review

21 out of 25 people found this review helpful.

A Brief Summary and Review

*A full executive summary of this book will be available at newbooksinbrief . wordpress . com, on or before Monday, October 15, 2012. Making decisions based on an assessment of future outcomes is a natural and inescapable part of the human condition. Indeed, as Nate Sil...
*A full executive summary of this book will be available at newbooksinbrief . wordpress . com, on or before Monday, October 15, 2012. Making decisions based on an assessment of future outcomes is a natural and inescapable part of the human condition. Indeed, as Nate Silver points out, "prediction is indispensable to our lives. Every time we choose a route to work, decide whether to go on a second date, or set money aside for a rainy day, we are making a forecast about how the future will proceed--and how our plans will affect the odds for a favorable outcome" (loc. 285). And over and above these private decisions, prognosticating does, of course, bleed over into the public realm; as indeed whole industries from weather forecasting, to sports betting, to financial investing are built on the premise that predictions of future outcomes are not only possible, but can be made reliable. As Silver points out, though, there is a wide discrepancy across industries and also between individuals regarding just how accurate these predictions are. In his new book `The Signal and the Noise: Why So Many Predictions Fail--but Some Don't' Silver attempts to get to the bottom of all of this prediction-making to uncover what separates the accurate from the misguided. In doing so, the author first takes us on a journey through financial crashes, political elections, baseball games, weather reports, earthquakes, disease epidemics, sports bets, chess matches, poker tables, and the good ol' American economy, as we explore what goes into a well-made prediction and its opposite. The key teaching of this journey is that wise predictions come out of self-awareness, humility, and attention to detail: lack of self-awareness causes us to make predictions that tell us what we'd like to hear, rather than what is true (or most likely the case); lack of humility causes us to feel more certain than is warranted, leading us to rash decisions; and lack of attention to detail (in conjunction with self-serving bias and rashness) leads us to miss the key variables that make all the difference. Attention to detail is what we need to capture the signal in the noise (the key variable[s] in the sea of data and information that are integral in determining future outcomes), but without self-awareness and humility, we don't even stand a chance. In the final stage of the book Silver explores how the lessons that he lays out can be applied to such issues as global warming, terrorism and bubbles in financial markets. Unfortunately, each of these fields is a lot noisier than many of us would like to think (thus making them very difficult to predict precisely). Nevertheless, the author argues, within each there are certain signals that can help us make better predictions regarding them, and which should help make the world a safer and more livable place. If you are hoping that this book will make you a fool-proof prognosticator, you are going to be disappointed. A key tenet of the book is that this is simply not possible (no matter what field you are in). That being said, Silver makes a very strong argument that by applying a few simple principles (and putting in a lot of hard work in identifying key variables) our predictive powers should take a great boost indeed. A full executive summary of this book will be available at newbooksinbrief . wordpress . com, on or before Monday, October 15; a podcast discussion of the book will be available shortly thereafter.

posted by popscipopulizer on October 4, 2012

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Most Helpful Critical Review

5 out of 7 people found this review helpful.

I teach probability and statistics and really wanted to like thi

I teach probability and statistics and really wanted to like this book, but Nate Silver is NOT on expert on statistics and probability and makes some pretty big errors as a consequence. Chapter 8 completely fails in its explanation of the controversy between classical a...
I teach probability and statistics and really wanted to like this book, but Nate Silver is NOT on expert on statistics and probability and makes some pretty big errors as a consequence. Chapter 8 completely fails in its explanation of the controversy between classical and Bayesian methods. In other chapters, Silver seems to believe that anyone who revises his/her beliefs based on new information is using Bayes's theorem. Bayes's theorem involves reasoning based on how likely the information is if the hypothesis is true versus how likely the information is if the hypothesis is false.

posted by ProfJane on January 23, 2013

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 20, 2012

    Some good, some bad

    Silver does a great job in many areas of his book but seems to have a difficult time separating his political beliefs from the science he presents. If you can get past his obvious political biases you will find this a great read. Just be prepared to shut off the part of your mind that keeps wanting to point out that he contradicts his own premise on many occasions. If he edited out his political statements I would rate this a 5.

    2 out of 11 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted November 30, 2012

    So far so good...!

    Still reading; it's a bit of a slow read but Mr. Silver has a very active mind. Fascinating to read where it takes us as readers. Not what I expected at all...!

    1 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 1, 2013

    Definitely worthwhile, but not light reading

    I was inspired to do some research on Bayes' theorem after finishing the text. Footnotes and references make up a large part of the book, but are gathered at the end, not within the text.

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  • Posted January 18, 2013

    I finished reading "The Signal and the Noise" a couple

    I finished reading "The Signal and the Noise" a couple of weeks ago, and although I enjoyed it as I read it, I find that it is already fading into the background of other related books that I have read. Occasionally I come across a book that requires re-reading and pondering, but this is not one of them. On the other hand, if you are new to this discussion, Mr. Silver does a good job of organizing and summarizing the problems with making accurate and reliable predictions.

    My summary of the book (and of the field of predicting the future): Predict that tomorrow will be pretty much like today, and you will have a very high accuracy rate, but you'll be BOOOOORRRIIINNNGG. Predict great and dramatic changes, and you will usually miss, but if you do it in an authoritative and entertaining fashion, you'll get lots of attention anyway.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 15, 2013

    Worthwhile but wordy and repetitive

    Some very interesting and useful concepts are explained. In particular the usefulness of Bayes Theorum for refining predictions is clearly set forth. The book needs editing. The same ground seems to be covered over and over. If you are short of time you could read just those chapters that deal with an area of your interest: gambling, weather, epidemics, or terrorism. I predict that 20% of those who start the book will not finish it.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 11, 2014

    No text was provided for this review.

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