Noise: A Flaw in Human Judgement ~ by Kahneman, Sibony, Sunstein

This book could have been a textbook in one of my graduate courses in Public Administration. It’s well enough written and enjoyable IF you are motivated to read it.  For most readers, it’s  not a book to cozy up with on a stormy night. It’s pretty much straight forward reporting of the problems we have with decision-making and using good examples to demonstrate.  The all-nonfiction reading group chose it for the month of September, 2021 and that’s why I read it.  

Noise:  A Flaw
in Human Judgement 

by Daniel Kahneman, Oliver Sibony, Cass Sunstein
2020 / 386 pgs 
Read by Jonathan Todd Ross 
Rating: 7 / Social Psychology
(Both read and listened)

But it got a few good reviews and it sold well because of Kahneman’s name and his own book, “Thinking Fast, Thinking Slow.”  He won the Nobel prize in economics (2002) and Michael Lewis wrote a biography (“The Undoing Project,” 2018) of him and his long-term work-mate, Amos Tversky.  

I think the major thrust of “Noise” is to answer the question of how to reduce errors in judgement which are due to “noise.”  This noise in various forms shows up all manner of activities,  medicine, law, business, education, investing and insurance adjusting to name a few.  

Why do “experts” disagree? Why do studies disagree and show different outcomes? What are the “noisy” errors? Why do interviewers choose the candidate they do? There are many kinds of judgmental decisions.  When extraneous material gets is used or information is used the wrong way or is not consistent, the Kahneman book calls it Noise. 

 I was actually bored up to Chapter 4 because it was virtually all information I already knew- thank goodness these chapters were short.   In Chapter 5 there was new material and the presentation was clear and well organized so I decided to finish it.  (The book is a recent release – it includes mention of Covid-19.)

Because I studied this in my college days eons ago (personnel) and I worked with parts of it throughout my career (educational testing) and the reading groups I was involved with. This made it quite relevant to something I’d done. But the forensics, courtroom and medical parts were certainly not boring even if I had never been involved with those fields.

But although much of the information is old, it does need to be repeated because a lot of people don’t believe it and think their gut-level or intuitive judgement is better than mechanical ways. These folks resist change.  Or there are workers who demand to be able to make judgement calls in some instances. And then too, sometimes we just have to make judgement calls.  Do we need rules or standards to get these things accomplished?

Rules and standards are different things – rules mandate behavior, standards are more like guidelines. That comes at the end and it’s very interesting – I’ve thought some of it, but Kahneman’s book clarified it and put it into words.  Like how carefully some things have to be worded. 

Meanwhile some behaviors have changed – I’ve not been or heard of a solo job interview in years. They’re all done by panel and use pre-formatted questions.  At school we had a dual grading system, similar to what was presented in the book, and that usually worked quite well. The reading groups I belonged to used a “mean” for the averaged ratings, but we could see where some readers generally rated higher than others and I’m sure there was some personal internal inconsistency quite often (“I was in a bad mood.”) .   

The thing which made it really like a grad school social science textbook was the reliance on new vocabulary. (Science and social science books seem to do that.) Also, like a textbook, there were little “summary” sections at the end of each chapter. The graphs and tables were helpful as were the appendices.   

The book itself is long and it tends to get repetitive and the style changes along the way,  but there are three authors, so of coarse these things happen when you actually produce something together.  But it’s all good information for folks working in academic or situations which call for evaluative or policy decision making, especially by groups.  A lot of these people know what’s written out here – it’s time they put it to fuller use.

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1 Response to Noise: A Flaw in Human Judgement ~ by Kahneman, Sibony, Sunstein

  1. Pingback: N is for November | Becky's Books –

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