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

Good Morning Everyone!  Today I have something special in the form of a guest post from my good friend Tom! Check it out:

The Signal and the Noise

Summary:

A non-fiction semi-manifesto by Nate Silver, famous founder of FiveThirtyEight and "statistical savant". Silver takes the reader on a journey through a brief history of human knowledge and information (from the printing press to the digital age), and how the "noise" is increasing exponentially over the past few centuries. The book then ventures into a detailed description, one per chapter, of multiple prediction fields. 

The subjects include areas of successful prediction (elections, weather, sports betting... for some), areas still struggling to master prediction (earthquakes, economics, financial market...for most), and finally delves into critical topics and the use of Bayes theorem as a guiding principle for areas such as global warming, epidemics/pandemics, and foreign conflicts/wars. Silver leaves the reader with guiding principles for navigating the digital age - for the sake of spoilers those are omitted from this review. (Summary and book cover courtesy of goodreads.com)

Review:

This book is excellent - I will be reading it again. While the chapters covering the complex topics above are very detailed, Silver covers it in a palatable fashion. The book reads much like a conversation, just with someone who is remarkably intelligent. It is as much about data and numbers as it is about figuring out how the world works - and that doing so is very difficult.

Silver uses a line early on about being a fox versus a hedgehog.  To elaborate, a fox changes its approach based on outcomes and new information, whereas a hedgehog sticks to one thing. If there is one thing you can take away from this book, it is to never allow yourself to be "stuck in your ways". 

Rating: 5 stars!

Who should read it? Nerds! I say that with pride. Also anyone who believes that the bounty of information in the digital age can be used to produce better outcomes for society, but that navigating this gargantuan quantity of available content and data requires more cagey thinking and processing.

About the Guest Poster

Tom Moran.JPG

Name: Tom Moran

Why did you choose this book?

Silver's book triggered a shift in my philosophy about life, work, learning, and surviving in the information age. His "be a fox" (life strategy, not looks) mentality advocates using new information properly - consider the context, account for the info properly given the context, but don't overreact or disregard because it doesn't align with what you view as true. He identifies the trouble with many studies whose claims are not repeatable, the amazing prediction science involved in weather, climate change, politics, sports betting, and the troubles of predictions in areas such as economics, finance, earthquakes, among others. In short, Nate Silver is a rock star and it's worth getting greater insight into his view of the world. 

 What are your favorite books?

  • "The Signal and The Noise”
  • “Night, Man's Search for Meaning”
  • “Crashing Through”
  • “Between a Rock and a Hard Place” (read in 2007, well before the film added "127 Hours" to the title)
  • “The Tipping Point”
  • “Born to Run”
  • “The Checklist Manifesto”
  • “Flash Boys”
  • “Moneyball”
  • “Hatchet”

What are you reading now or what do you plan to read next?

Just finished “Nickel and Dimed”, moving on to “Devil in the White City”, and “This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate”. 

Thank you Tom for the great guest post!  You read a lot more non-fiction/business than I do so this has inspired me to add some variety to my "To Be Read" list!