The Signal and the Noise

I started following Nate Silver’s blog after I saw him in an interview about six months ago. He’s a young statistician and writer at The New York Times. His expertise is in the science (and art) of prediction. I was impressed with his confidence and just how successful he’d been at predicting political elections. In the 2008 U.S. Presidential election Silver correctly predicted who (Obama or McCain) would win 49 of 50 states. He was wrong only on Indiana, which went to Obama by 1 percentage point. In last Tuesday’s Presidential election Silver correctly predicted who would win all 50 states. So I’m fascinated by his mind. I’d like to get into it and understand how he thinks, how he sees, so I can hopefully improve my own thinking.

Luckily, Silver has just published his first book, The Signal and the Noise. The title refers to the two aspects you typically encounter when reading or interpreting information. There is the signal you’re looking for and then there’s all the noise that surrounds it. The opening paragraphs are gems that temp anyone with a hunger for knowledge:

This is a book about information, technology, and scientific progress. This is a book about competition, free markets, and the evolution of ideas. This is a book about the things that make us smarter than any computer, and a book about human error. This is a book about how we learn, one step at a time, to come to knowledge of the objective world, and why we sometimes take a step back.

This is a book about prediction, which sits at the intersection of all these things. It is a study of why some predictions succeed and why some fail. My hope is that we might gain a little more insight into planning our futures and become a little less likely to repeat our mistakes.

And so I begin the book tonight with the idea of providing you a review eventually.

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