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The Signal and the Noise

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The Signal and the Noise

Why So Many Predictions Fail – But Some Don’t

Penguin Press,

15 min read
10 take-aways
Audio & text

What's inside?

Why is making predictions so difficult? And why do some predictions come true?

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Editorial Rating



  • Innovative
  • Applicable


During the 2012 American presidential race, predictions varied wildly about who would win. Yet Nate Silver correctly predicted the results in all 50 states. Here, Silver discusses predictions and forecasting in fields ranging from epidemiology to gambling. The book is dense with information, and it is, quite simply, beautiful. It is clearly written and explains complex concepts well, with ample honesty, humility and dry humor. Silver’s insights will serve those who seek to do a better job of reading the future, as well as futurists, investors, candidates and policy makers. getAbstract could demonstrate its forecasting ability by proclaiming that the book will do very well, but given that it is a bestseller, that doesn’t take a crystal ball.


Information Explosions

Johannes Gutenberg’s invention of the printing press in 1440 sparked the first massive expansion of access to knowledge, changing the availability of information. Before Gutenberg, scribes copied books by hand; each volume cost about $20,000 in today’s prices. Copying books was so expensive it was hard to keep books in existence, let alone expand access to them.

After the advent of the printing press, books dropped to about $70 each and became “exponentially” more common. As with the first days of the Internet, these early books varied in quality. As in the web’s early days, access to information grew faster than people’s ability to make sense of it and sort good information from “mistruths.” Consequently, people became more sectarian: They clung to positions they agreed with and ignored the rest. This ensures only ignorance. Instead, try to consider an issue thoroughly and learn to sort “signal” from “noise.”

Good Predictions

In 1987, Philip Tetlock of the University of Pennsylvania started studying whether academic experts predict events with any more accuracy than political scientists. Tetlock found one “subgroup of experts” ...

About the Author

Nate Silver is the owner and editor-in-chief of ESPN’s FiveThirtyEight blog and is a special correspondent for ABC News.

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