Separate Signals from Noise

draft notes for a one-page quick-start "Think Better" module:

"Don't over-interpret the noise!"

... in a Nutshell

Observations are imperfect — they come with errors. Clocks may be fast or slow; people lie when asked questions in a poll; sources get confused; cosmic rays flip bits in computer memories; enemies use jammers or camouflage; data compression fuzzes up images; translators introduce ambiguity or overlook nuance. Information theory is the math to describe, in ideal circumstances, signals and noise.

In real-world situations, however, often the math doesn't apply. Sources of noise come and go unpredictably, new phenomena emerge, and deceitful opponents change their strategies to maximize confusion. Instead of blind trust in arcane formulæ, wisest is to be aware and consider:


Don't over-react! Short-term fluctuations may well be random noise, not indicative of long-term change.

(cf Science and Pseudoscience (2001-10-06), Expert Political Judgment (2010-05-13), Signal and Noise (2012-12-25), Pearl Harbor (2017-10-20), ...) - ^z - 2020-02-01