the_signal_and_the_noise_by_nate_silver_book_cover_001The Signal and the Noise: The Art and Science of Prediction by Nate Silver

My rough summary:From the man that predicted a safe win for Obama when others foretold defeat, a book that makes probability interesting and isn’t just about politics, or the rise of ‘moneyball’ baseball stat-heads in the game – it covers all sorts of areas and make you consider if you would wear a sandwich board declaring your predictions.

Some quotes:

  • In many walks of life, expressions of uncertainty are mistaken for admissions of weakness.
  • We focus on those signals that tell a story about the world as we would like it to be, not how it really is. We ignore the risks that are hardest to measure, even when they pose the greatest threats to our well-being.
  • Perhaps the only greater threat is the risks we think we have a handle on, but don’t. In these cases we not only fool ourselves, but our false confidence may be contagious.
  • At the turn of the twentieth century, for instance, many city planners were concerned about the increasing use of horse-drawn carriages and their main pollutant: horse manure. Knee-deep in the issue in 1894, one writer in the Times of London predicted that by the 1940s, every street in London would be buried under nine feet of the stuff.
  • When we play poker, we control our decision-making process but not how the cards come down. If you correctly detect an opponent’s bluff, but he gets a lucky card and wins the hand anyway, you should be pleased rather than angry, because you played the hand as well as you could. The irony is that by being less focused on your results, you may achieve better ones. [CC note: I like how this is a rational, game-playing extension of Stoicism’s ‘don’t worry about what you can’t control’ philosophy.]

How I’ve used this book: Not enough! It’s one of my most annotated books and is filled with vivid stories that illustrate tricky concepts. Mostly it has helped me feel more able to stop making assumptions, or question assumptions.