The Signal and The Noise
by Nate Silver

November 7, 2022
T. Alex Blum
The Signal and The Noise
by Nate Silver

Don’t Want a Recession? Root Against the Phillies in the World Series is the title of an article that appeared in Forbes Magazine a few days ago, pointing out that the last four times the Phillies have won the Series have all been associated with disastrous financial years in our history including 1929, 1930 (Great Depression), 1980 (Gas Crisis) and 2008 (needs no explanation).

Insofar as we are about to experience two highly consequential election cycles in our country, and in many other countries around the world (Brazil, the UK, to name a few), and recession is being widely predicted in the press, I figured this might be a good time to go back and read The Signal and The Noise by the famous statistician and pollster Nate Silver, developer of the 538 polling site, podcast, blog, etc. and multiple statistical models widely used in professional sports and other analytics applications. This book is about the science (and lack thereof) of forecasting and the business of making predictions, the process of sorting through the noise to find the real information contained in all the numbers and statistics that we are overwhelmed by every day. The book contains all sorts of fascinating examples of events unforeseen, despite overwhelming evidence (the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor), and foreseen, in error (various hurricanes, epidemics, overpopulation, etc.).

In the marketing business, we are deluged every day in every trade blog and publication by predictions from so-called experts and pundits about where the business is going, what innovation is going to revolutionize the industry (VR, AR, the metaverse, NFT’s...), and what companies, technologies, platforms, agencies, production methodologies, are about to either dominate or become non-existent.

How long have we been subjected to predictions of the effects of cord-cutting and the imminent demise of ad-supported TV? And look what has happened – streaming services have become ad-supported TV.

This book was published in 2012, and is fascinatingly topical today, perhaps even more because of the lessons Silver himself learned when the predictions he made in the 538 about the outcome of the 2016 election turned out to be significantly off the mark.

The bottom line is - prediction is hard, even more so in a world where the pure volume of information we are exposed to every day is so overwhelming. At the very least, I want to have some understanding of what to pay attention to, and what to disregard, and this book gave me some understanding of how to make those judgments in my daily consumption of information.

I felt just a little bit smarter after I read this book, and that made it a good investment of my time. Maybe it will be for you as well.

Explore More Content

Related Articles