Unkown Blogger Pursues a Deranged Quest for Normalcy

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Foxes ruled by Hedgehogs

Posted by ubpdqn on October 21, 2012

I am currently reading the “The Signal and The Noise” by Nate Silver. This is another wonderful book that sits well with “Thinking fast and slow” and “The Black Swan”.

In the spirit of the limitations of expert predictions I append an excerpt from “Occasional Notes” from the New England Journal of Medicine 1995.

The assertion of the President’s physician stands in contrast to the available information (when view through the lens of late twentieth century medical knowledge). See the following graphics. This is not an indictment on the physician but was motivated by the difficulties of seeing signals from noise. Further, even if the President’s blood pressure had been deemed a risk for his cardiovascular well-being there were no effective treatments at the time. Ganglion blocking drugs were just emerging. These durgis would have rendered a man battling with the residual significant paralytic effects of poliomyelitis subject to postural hypotension: potentially rendering upright activity impossible.

The President’s blood pressures, electrocardiography and urinalysis tell a story of prolonged hemodynamic loading with effects on the heart and the kidneys.

“The Signal and the Noise” encourages us to think like “Foxes” rather then “Hedgehogs” or, perhaps, to at least to listen to the former over the latter. This post is inspired by my first taste of this book. There was no explicit prediction failure in the little case study above. However, declarations such as “we didn’t see it coming” seemed to be within the spirit of the intensely human endeavour of trying to discern the “signal” from the “noise”.


I am increasingly aware that I am a very very small fox ruled by powerful hedgehogs in my microcosm. My hope is that we are all more open to the limitations of our reason, our models and their assumptions and insightful and reflective enough to learn from our failures as well as more realistically appraise our apparent successes.



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