Feb 03

The Signal And the Noise-Book Review

The Signal And The Noise, By Nate Silver, The Penguin Press, New York, copyright 2012 isbn 978-1-59420-411-1, 534 pages, Cover price: $27.95

The Signal And The Noise

I’m no math whiz but I love analysis. This book has little math but much useful insight on how to view and analyze data and information.

Nate Silver became famous for his predictions about the most recent presidential election in his 538 blog and columns for the New York Times.

The book is highly readable and one almost does not realize that they are in the hands of a master teacher. You just learn a ton of useful ways to think about analytical problems.

People looking for a more detailed explanation of how Nate built his election models will be disappointed. Conversely, if statistics, formulas, and detailed mathematical explanations scare or bore you , have no fear, those items are not present.

This places the book in a somewhat awkward spot, not tech and yet analytical. Once you “get it”, it becomes quite enjoyable.. As I told my wife, as I got to the the 8th chapter, I was getting to the “good part” where Nate goes into what is perhaps the most technical part of the book with an explanation of Bayesian statistics and the difference from conventional frequentist statistics that most of us have learned in school.

While, in truth, I was hoping for a “bit more” of math, and or computer code, to help me learn how to apply the techniques which are so well explored in the book, I was very satisfied with what I got. My frustration is due to my desire to translate theory and examples into code and personal utility on various projects I’m working on. So, in short, a personal issue.

What is very well done is to explore a wider variety of “problem spaces” such as baseball prediction, political prediction, the financial meltdown, Texas Holdem betting strategy, predicting terrorist activity, climate change and picking correct data vs noisy or biased data, and how to tell the difference. The examples are explained in sufficient detail so you learn a great deal about how to approach similar problems and how to evaluate similar data and conclusions. You will certainly view your investment process in a different and more informed manner.

I strongly recommend this book for anyone interested in day to day evaluation of life choices,which should be everyone. The book would also be a good college text for learning about “statistical thinking”.


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