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The Grand Mathster: Nate Silver

 We’re at best amateur forecasters, but somehow we knew that The Signal and the Noise: Why So Many Predictions Fail--but Some Don't would be a big deal. It started when our own Darryl Campbell held up the book up and said, "This is going to be important." As more of our team read it, we agreed.

Granted, our methodology was, by author Nate Silver's standards, more "hedgehog" than "fox"--more gut instinct than data driven. Still, we're proud of the entirely verifiable fact that we voted The Signal and the Noise into the top spot on our September 2012 Best of the Month list. As Darryl wrote then, "In today's metrics-saturated world, Silver's book is a timely and readable reminder that statistics are only as good as the people who wield them."

Now that the 2012 election is over, and Silver's taking victory laps from his home turf at the New York Times to MSNBC to the Huffington Post to The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, the signal's clear that Silver is just that good, and not only at political forecasting. He also looks at the role predictions can play in gambling, sports, and weather. More importantly, as discussed in an exclusive Amazon Q&A, he explains how our human nature is both an asset and an obstacle in interpreting data. "The book, in some ways, is about accepting our flaws, as well as recognizing the things that we're good at."

In honor of The Signal and the Noise ranking at No. 17 on Amazon’s 2012 Best Books of the Year list, let’s dig into the data. Here’s a (mostly) objective look at the numbers guy by the numbers:

  • 538 – The configuration of the electoral college (435 representatives, 100 senators and three electors from the District of Columbia), the inspiration for the name of Silver’s blog
  • 74 – Nate Silver's overall author ranking on Amazon (based entirely on the sales of this book).
  • 64 – Number of days The Signal and the Noise has held a spot on Amazon’s Top 100 Best Sellers list.
  • 50 – Number of states that Silver correctly forecast in the 2012 presidential election. Although he improved his presidential forecast score, he did misjudge 2 of 33 Senate races by predicting Republican wins in North Dakota and Montana.
  • 49 – Number of states that Silver correctly forecast in the 2008 presidential election. Indiana was his only miss as Obama won the state by a 1 percent margin. He accurately predicted all 35 U.S. Senate race outcomes that year.
  • 34 – Age of Nate Silver: statistician, poker and baseball buff, author and “the other winner” of the 2012 presidential election.
  • 2 – Peak position on Amazon’s 100 Best Sellers list. It’s currently ranked at No. 15.
  • 1The Signal and the Noise rank in Business & Investing books both for hardcopy and Kindle versions.
  • (All rankings are accurate as of Nov. 19, 2012.)


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