The Signal and the Noise: Why So Many Predictions Fail – But Some Don’t

The Signal and the NoiseThe Signal and the Noise: Why So Many Predictions Fail – But Some Don’t by Nate Silver

CB 158 .S54 2012

“Human beings have to make plans and strategize for the future. As the pace of our lives becomes faster and faster, we have to do so more often and more quickly. But are our predictions any good? Is there hope for improvement?

In The Signal and the Noise, Nate Silver examines the world of prediction, investigating how we can distinguish a true signal from a universe of noisy, ever-increasing data. Many predictions fail, often at great cost to society, because most of us have a poor understanding of probability and uncertainty. We are wired to detect a signal, and we mistake more confident predictions for more accurate ones. But overconfidence is often the reason for failure. If our appreciation of uncertainty improves, our predictions can get better too. This is the prediction paradox: the more humility we have about our ability to make predictions – and the more we are willing to learn from our mistakes – the more we can turn information into knowledge and data into foresight.

Silver examines both successes and failures to determine what more accurate forecasters have in common. In keeping with his own aim to seek truth from data, Silver visits innovative forecasters in a range of areas, from hurricanes to baseball, from the poker table to the stock market, from Capitol Hill to the NBA. Even when their innovations are modest, we can learn from their methods. How can we train ourselves to think probabilistically, as they do? How can the insights of an eighteenth-century Englishman unlock the twenty-first-century challenges of global warming and terrorism? How can being smarter about the future help us make better decisions in the present?

Sometimes, it is not so much how good a prediction is in an absolute sense that matters but how good it is relative to the competition. Competition is essential to making forecasts better – but it can also make them worse if forecasters compete with the wrong goals in mind. The more accurate forecasters recognize that prediction is still a very rudimentary – and risky – science. They are motivated by truth rather than by politics, and they notice a thousand little details that bring them closer to it. Because of these attitudes, they can distinguish the signal from the noise.

With everything from the health of the global economy to our ability to fight disease dependent on the quality of our predictions, Nate Silver’s insights are an essential read.” – publisher description


(Fabulous) Fibonacci Numbers

The (Fabulous) Fibonacci Numbers

By:  Alfred S. Posamentier and Ingmar Lehmann

QA 241 .P665 2007

“The discussions of Fibonacci numbers in nature, art, architecture, and music are very thorough. The authors also cover other interesting mathematics connected to the Fibonacci numbers, such as Pascal’s triangle, the golden ratio, and Lucas numbers. ” —C. Bauer, York College of Pennsylvania, Choice Reviews 

The Artist and the Mathematician

The Artist and the Mathematician: The Story of Nicolas Bourbaki, the Genius Mathematician Who Never Existed by Amir D. Aczel

QA 29 .B692 A29 2006

“…Recognized as a world-renowned mathematician credited with the emergence of rigor in modern mathematics, Bourbaki in reality was a collective allonym created by a group of 20th-century French mathematicians. Aczel relates how a secretive group, all members connected to École Normale Supérieure in Paris, first gathered in 1934 to write a rigorous work on mathematical analysis. … In addition to carefully revealing the initial structure, goals, and work process of the Bourbaki group, Aczel documents both its rise (unexpected success?) and fall. The Bourbaki group definitely had considerable impact in mathematics, which has been reduced over time. Nonetheless, the story of Nicolas Bourbaki is both an interesting and important story in the history of mathematics … and Aczel does it justice. ” —  J. Johnson, Western Washington University, CHOICE Reviews