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A Note from Steve Carr, One Book One Northwestern Faculty Chair

May 31, 2017

The year of exploring the broad expanse of fields that rely on data to make outcomes predictions concluded with the number of campus-based events at an impressive 70 and total attendance that exceeded an astonishing 14,000 students, faculty, guest-specialists, staff and community members. We illustrated in so many different ways how predictions, both profound and trivial, are made as best as we can on the basis of best available information.

For example, it’s been fun this year to follow championship sports tournaments to their conclusions and to see how reliable were FiveThirtyEight.com’s predictions as the succession of eliminated teams grew in each case. Sometimes Nate Silver’s organization had been very reliable in getting it right, but – no surprise – sometimes there were unforeseen factors that threw them off. As we write this synopsis, the Golden State Warriors sit at a 90% chance of becoming the NBA champions. Sounds like that is going to happen, but recall how the predictions in the closing weeks of the U.S. Presidential race went from “as sure thing” to “maybe not” to “surprise!”. Similarly, NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center says there may be as many as 17 named storms this coming Atlantic hurricane season, but does that mean you should abandon your family plans to vacation this August in Orlando?

We hope this year’s One Book programming has encouraged you to continue learning about how we try to manage our respective futures based on the predictions we make.

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