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The Signal and the Noise: Why So Many Predictions Fail—But Some Don't

Nate Silver.
Publisher Penguin  
Format hardcover
ISBN 9781594204111
Pages/Publication Date 534/2012
Daedalus Item Code 29739
This item is not available.
Statistician Nate Silver built an innovative system for predicting baseball players' performances (PECOTA) and became a national sensation as a political blogger at FiveThirtyEight.com, where he forecast the 2008 presidential election results within a hair's breadth. Now blogging for the New York Times, Silver has become one of the nation's most influential political forecasters, correctly predicting the voting results of all 50 states and the District of Columbia in the 2012 elections. Here Silver examines the world of prediction, focusing on how we can distinguish a true "signal" of meaningful statistics from a universe of noisy data. Both experts and laypeople mistake confident predictions for accurate ones—yet overconfidence is often the reason for failure, argues Silver, identifying a "prediction paradox": the more humility we have about our ability to make predictions, the more successful we can be in planning for the future. 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 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—the signal from the noise—and notice a thousand little details that lead them closer to the truth.

"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.... [This] could turn out to be one of the more momentous books of the decade."—NYTBR

"Lively prose—from energetic to outraged ... illustrates [the author's] 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."—NYTimes

"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."—Boston Globe

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