Nate Silver – The Signal and the Noise

the signal and the noise

Riding high on the success of his correct predictions for the 2012 Presidential race and other forecasts at his blog FiveThrityEight blog, Nate Silver’s The Signal and the Noise hit the street with word-of-mouth advertising that are a publisher’s wet dream. The book has quickly became a best-seller and thrusts a usually academic topic forecasting and thrusts it into the usually banal national conversation focused on infotainment palaver (e.g. like Freakonomics did with economics back in 2007).

Silver delves into a wide range of topics examining them through the lense of their predictions and the success (or lack there of) in being able to forecast the future. From a wide range of topics like meterology (a winner over the last 30 years), political polls, economics, climate change, poker, baseball, and terrorism to name a few, Silver meets with respected figures on all sides of the issues. Hell, he even interviews Rummy and his infamous “unknown unknowns” quote from 2002.

The main take away I got from his book was to adopt a more probabilistic view of the world as he demonstrates through a Bayesian lense. As one who abhors the binary reduction most of life is shoe-horned into, to be able to read and intriguing book which argues for a more through account of our lack of ability to deal with ambiguity – I can’t recommend this book enough to read for anyone. Rummy was right to an extent, it’s just a shame he was a neo-con, neoliberal enforcer. Silver, time and again, wants the reader to delve further into metacognition in an attempt to identify our biases, increase our objectivity, research and then test our own hypothesis and views of the world around us. Data is rapidly multiplying each moment in the 21st century – a lot of it is noise which requires better tools to find the signal.

Go to you local library and get on the waitlist for it if can’t afford to buy a copy.

And no – the excuse of “I don’t have time” doesn’t work – cut out one hour of TV or internet a night to read a chapter.

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