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Daniel Kahneman — Noise: A Flaw in Human Judgment

Noise: A Flaw in Human Judgment (book cover)

Imagine that two doctors in the same city give different diagnoses to identical patients — or that two judges in the same courthouse give markedly different sentences to people who have committed the same crime. Suppose that different interviewers at the same firm make different decisions about indistinguishable job applicants — or that when a company is handling customer complaints, the resolution depends on who happens to answer the phone. Now imagine that the same doctor, the same judge, the same interviewer, or the same customer service agent makes different decisions depending on whether it is morning or afternoon, or Monday rather than Wednesday. These are examples of noise: variability in judgments that should be identical.

In Noise, Daniel Kahneman, Olivier Sibony, and Cass Sunstein show the detrimental effects of noise in many fields, including: medicine, law, economic forecasting, forensic science, bail, child protection, strategy, performance reviews, and personnel selection. Wherever there is judgment, there is noise. Yet, most of the time, individuals and organizations alike are unaware of it. They neglect noise. With a few simple remedies, people can reduce both noise and bias, and so make far better decisions.

Daniel Kahneman is the Eugene Higgins Professor of Psychology, Princeton University, Professor of Public Affairs, Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, and the winner of the 2002 Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences. Kahneman is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the National Academy of Sciences. He is a fellow of the American Psychological Association, the American Psychological Society, the Society of Experimental Psychologists, and the Econometric Society. He has been the recipient of numerous awards, among them the Distinguished Scientific Contribution Award of the American Psychological Association, the Warren Medal of the Society of Experimental Psychologists, and Hilgard Award for Career Contributions to General Psychology, and the Award for Lifetime Contributions to Psychology from the American Psychological Association. He lives in New York City. He is the author of New York Times bestseller Thinking, Fast and Slow.

Shermer and Kahneman discuss:

  • the replication crisis in social science since his 2011 book Thinking, Fast and Slow,
  • the difference between cognitive biases and noise,
  • the problem of the reification of cognitive concepts like “bias” “heuristics” “noise”,
  • noise = variability,
  • determining causality in social science,
  • How rational or irrational are humans?
  • bounded rationality,
  • default to trust or distrust?
  • default to belief or skepticism?
  • rules and standards,
  • scales and patterns and sources of noise,
  • objective ignorance,
  • medical noise,
  • hiring noise,
  • diagnostic DSM noise,
  • racism or noise or both?
  • false positives: stop and frisk,
  • debiasing programs,
  • Expert judgment & superforecasting. To be a superforecaster you should agree with the following statements:

    • “People should take into consideration evidence that goes against their beliefs.”
    • “It is more useful to pay attention to those who disagree with you than to pay attention to those who agree.”
    • “Nothing is inevitable.”
    • “Even major events like World War II or 9/11 could have turned out very differently.”
    • “Randomness is often a factor in our personal lives.”
  • And you should disagree with these statements:

    • “Changing your mind is a sign of weakness.”
    • “Intuition is the best guide in making decisions.”
    • “It is important to persevere in your beliefs even when evidence is brought to bear against them.”
    • “Events unfold according to God’s plan.”
    • “Everything happens for a reason.”
    • “There are no accidents or coincidences.”
To Be a Superforecaster…
  • Take into consideration evidence that goes against your beliefs.
  • Pay attention to those who disagree with you.
  • Remember that nothing is inevitable.
  • Recognize that even major events like 9/11 could have turned out differently.
  • Acknowledge the role of randomness in life, and that accidents and coincidences do happen.
  • Remind yourself that changing your mind is a strength and not a sign of weakness.
  • Recall that your intuitions are usually not the guide in making decisions.
  • When evidence is brought to bear against your beliefs, be willing to change your mind.

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This episode is sponsored by Wondrium and Brilliant:

Wondrium (sponsor)
Brilliant (sponsor)

This episode was released on June 19, 2021.

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