The Signal and the Noise by Nate Silver
Why Most Predictions Fail but Some Don't

92%

18 Critic Reviews

...not lacking in confidence or pointlessly self-effacing, but calm and honest about the limits to what the author or anyone else can know about what is going to happen next.
-Guardian

Synopsis

"Nate Silver's The Signal and the Noise is The Soul of a New Machine for the 21st century." —Rachel Maddow, author of Drift

Nate Silver built an innovative system for predicting baseball performance, predicted the 2008 election within a hair’s breadth, and became a national sensation as a blogger—all by the time he was thirty. He solidified his standing as the nation's foremost political forecaster with his near perfect prediction of the 2012 election. Silver is the founder and editor in chief of FiveThirtyEight.com.

Drawing on his own groundbreaking work, Silver examines the world of prediction, investigating how we can distinguish a true signal from a universe of noisy data. Most predictions fail, often at great cost to society, because most of us have a poor understanding of probability and uncertainty. Both experts and laypeople mistake more confident predictions for more accurate ones. But overconfidence is often the reason for failure. If our appreciation of uncertainty improves, our predictions can get better too. This is the “prediction paradox”: The more humility we have about our ability to make predictions, the more successful we can be in planning for the future.

In keeping with his own aim to seek truth from data, Silver visits the most successful forecasters in a range of areas, from hurricanes to baseball, from the poker table to the stock market, from Capitol Hill to the NBA. He explains and evaluates how these forecasters think and what bonds they share. What lies behind their success? Are they good—or just lucky? What patterns have they unraveled? And are their forecasts really right? He explores unanticipated commonalities and exposes unexpected juxtapositions. And sometimes, it is not so much how good a prediction is in an absolute sense that matters but how good it is relative to the competition. In other cases, prediction is still a very rudimentary—and dangerous—science.

Silver observes that the most accurate forecasters tend to have a superior command of probability, and they tend to be both humble and hardworking. They distinguish the predictable from the unpredictable, and they notice a thousand little details that lead them closer to the truth. Because of their appreciation of probability, they can distinguish the signal from the noise.

With everything from the health of the global economy to our ability to fight terrorism dependent on the quality of our predictions, Nate Silver’s insights are an essential read.
 

About Nate Silver

See more books from this Author
NATE SILVER is a statistician, writer, and founder of The New York Times political blog FiveThirtyEight.com. Silver also developed PECOTA, a system for forecasting baseball performance that was bought by Baseball Prospectus. He was named one of the world's 100 Most Influential People by Time magazine. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.
 
Published September 27, 2012 by Penguin Books. 545 pages
Genres: Business & Economics, Political & Social Sciences, Computers & Technology, Science & Math, Humor & Entertainment, Professional & Technical, Education & Reference. Non-fiction
Bestseller Status:
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Peak Rank on Nov 25 2012
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Critic reviews for The Signal and the Noise
All: 18 | Positive: 16 | Negative: 2

NY Times

Above average
Reviewed by Noam Scheiber on Nov 02 2012

Statistics can dazzle with their aura of authority, yet reality is relentlessly messy. Genuine understanding, as even Silver knows, is more than a numbers game.

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NY Times

Excellent
Reviewed by LEONARD MLODINOW on Oct 23 2012

Mr. Silver 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.

Read Full Review of The Signal and the Noise: Why... | See more reviews from NY Times

Guardian

Excellent
Reviewed by Ruth Scurr on Nov 09 2012

...not lacking in confidence or pointlessly self-effacing, but calm and honest about the limits to what the author or anyone else can know about what is going to happen next.

Read Full Review of The Signal and the Noise: Why... | See more reviews from Guardian

WSJ online

Above average
Reviewed by BURTON MALKIEL on Sep 24 2012

...he takes the reader on a whirlwind tour of the success and failure of predictions in a wide variety of fields and offers advice about how we might all improve our forecasting skill.

Read Full Review of The Signal and the Noise: Why... | See more reviews from WSJ online

LA Times

Excellent
Reviewed by Alex Koppelman on Sep 30 2012

But a book about politics is only about politics. Silver's aiming for something bigger here: He wants to change how we think about predictions in every aspect of our lives.

Read Full Review of The Signal and the Noise: Why... | See more reviews from LA Times

The Washington Post

Excellent
Reviewed by Brad Plumer on Sep 26 2012

There are fascinating chapters on how weather forecasting has improved over time, on poker tips, and on why seismologists can’t predict earthquakes.

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The Boston Globe

Excellent
Reviewed by Jordan Ellenberg on Sep 29 2012

...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.

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Slate

Excellent
Reviewed by Matthew Yglesias on Oct 05 2012

The asides and digressions are sometimes delightful, as in a chapter about the author’s brief adventures as a professional poker player, and sometimes annoying, as in some half-baked musings on the politics of climate change.

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The Washington Post

Excellent
Reviewed by John Allen Paulos on Nov 09 2012

The strength of the book lies in the abundance of relevant detail Silver provides about each field and his analysis of why predictions are generally much better in some fields than others.

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Book Forum

Excellent
Reviewed by Chris Wilson

...Silver’s book is a useful gloss on the tricky business of making predictions correctly.

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Esquire

Excellent
Reviewed by Stephen Marche

What is most refreshing about The Signal and the Noise is its humility. Sometimes we have to deal with not knowing, and we need somebody to tell us that.

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Philly.com

Excellent
Reviewed by Sharon Bertsch McGrayne on Oct 23 2012

Trust Nate Silver to write a wise but entertaining book in which the heroes are baseball coaches, poker players, gamblers, weather forecasters, and chess-playing computer scientists...

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PolicyMic

Excellent
Reviewed by Robert Albrechtin

Silver’s analysis is easily digested and the book makes for a breezy, informative and often fun read (no easy feat for a book dealing in Bayesian reasoning).

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Inside Higher Ed

Excellent
Reviewed by Joshua Kim on Nov 18 2012

My favorite chapters in Silver's book were about his previous life as a high stakes online poker player.

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The Breakthrough

Excellent
Reviewed by Roger Pielke Jr on Sep 17 2012

...Silver has written an enjoyable and ambitious book.

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Books & Review

Good
Reviewed by Cole Garner Hill on Nov 07 2012

...trumpets that same humble, as close to objective truth as possible worldview. Silver recognizes that objectivity is likely impossible, but says that we can come close to attaining by becoming more accurate prognosticators.

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Political Books

Good
Reviewed by Editor on Nov 21 2012

...is an entertaining and lucid exploration of the world of forecasting and predictions.

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The Scholarly Kitchen

Good
Reviewed by Kent Anderson on Oct 25 2012

It’s a book for a fan of statistics and statistical thinking, a person who tries to make sense of things.

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