November 12, 2012

30 Quotes from The signal and the noise by Nate Silver

Jon Stewart suggests that Nate Silver, statistician, blogger at FiveThirtyEight and author of The Signal and the Noise: The Art and Science of Prediction, should ask people to bow down to him and that he should call himself  Lord and God of the Algorithm. Why?

In the 2008 US presidential election, Nate Silver correctly predicted the winner of 49 of the 50 states. He also predicted the winner of all 35 U.S. Senate races that year. In the 2012 presidential election, he correctly predicted the winner of all 50 states and the District of Columbia. His predictions of U.S. Senate races were correct in 31 of 33 states.

Here are some interesting quotes from Silver's book:
  1. The story data tells us is often the one we'd like to hear, and we usually make sure it has a happy ending.
  2. Before we demand more of our data, we need to demand more of ourselves. 
  3. There are entire disciplines in which predictions have been failing, often at a great cost to society.
  4. Some stone-age strengths have become information-age weaknesses.
  5. We can never make perfectly objective predictions. They will always be tainted by our subjective point of view. 
  6. A belief in the objective truth -and a commitment to pursuing it- is the first prerequisite of making better predictions. 
  7. Prediction is important because it connects subjective and objective reality. 
  8. We are undoubtedly living with many delusions that we do not even realize. 
  9. We must become more comfortable with probability and uncertainty. 
  10. We must think more carefully about the assumptions and beliefs that we bring to a problem. 
  11. A certain amount of immersion in a topic will provide disproportionally more insight that an executive summary. 
  12. The signal is the truth. The noise is what distracts us from the truth. 
  13. I am convinced that the best way to view the financial crisis is as a failure of judgment -a catastrophic failure of prediction.
  14. Precise forecasts masquerade as accurate ones. 
  15. If you have reason to think that yesterday's forecast was wrong, there is no glory in sticking to it. 
  16. New ideas are sometimes found in the most granular details of a problem where few others bother to look.
  17. Dynamic systems give forecasters plenty of problems. [...] So do nonlinear ones. [...] When you combine these properties, you can have a real mess. 
  18. The track record of science as a whole is a remarkable one [...] it is probably safe to conclude that the same method attempted over and over with little variation is unlikely to yield different results. But science often produces "unpredictable" breakthroughs. 
  19. Extrapolation is a very basic method of prediction -usually, much too basic. 
  20. In many cases involving predictions about human activity, the very act of prediction can alter the way that people behave. th
  21. The most effective flu prediction might be the one that fails to come to fruition because it motivates people toward more healthful choices. 
  22. While simplicity can be a virtue for a model, a model should at least be sophisticatedly simple. 
  23. We can never achieve perfect objectivity, rationality, or accuracy in our beliefs. Instead, we can strive to be less subjective, less irrational, and less wrong. 
  24. Recently, [...] some well-respected statisticians have begun to argue that frequentist statistics should no longer be taught to undergraduates. [...] In fact, if what you read what's been written in the past ten years, it's hard to find anything that doesn't advocate a Bayesian approach.
  25. There is strong empirical evidence that there is a benefit in aggregating different forecasts. 
  26. This is another of those Information-age risks: we share so much information that our independence is reduced. 
  27. Perhaps the central finding of behavioral economics is that most of us are overconfident when we make predictions. 
  28. In science, progress is possible. In fact, if one believes in Bayes' theorem, scientific progress is inevitable as predictions are made and as beliefs are tested and refined. 
  29. The March toward scientific progress is not always straightforward, and some well-regarded (even "consensus") theories are later proved wrong- but either way science tends to move toward the truth. 
  30. Under Bayes' theorem, no theory is perfect. Rather, it is a work in progress, always subject to further refinement and testing. 

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