The Signal and the Noise

Esignalandthenoisever since the election of 2012 I had planned to read Nate Silver’s book.  I loved the way he used the best of big data analysis to better understand electoral behavior.  I hoped his book would better explore this area.

This book is supposed to be about the accuracy of predictions.  Essentially, it’s an introduction to probability and statistics.  Silver focuses on the worlds of weather and poker to discuss the many ways that people ignore probabilities and/or can’t calculate them fast enough in real life situations.

I had hoped that there would be more discussion of political forecasting, but I suspect that it’s a subject too complex to explain with the simple metaphors and stories of this book.  Because Silver glosses over the math and theory involved, it’s hard to take the discussion beyond the most basic probability examples.

Personally, I found this a good introduction to probability and statistics, but I could hardly see the average reader making their way all the way through this book.  I’m very thankful that I read Thinking Fast & Slow afterwards, as it provided a much more thorough explanation of the psychology of why people lack the ability to instinctive understand probability.

As an aside, for a book that focuses so much on accuracy and is so hard on those who fail to achieve it, I found it odd that he would include a 2004 terrorist attack in Canada.  After some research, it appears he was referring to airline bombing that occurred 20 years before.

I enjoyed this book, but not as much as I expected.  I did a lot though, so it was well worth the read.


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