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Noise Paperback – 18 May 2021
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‘Noise may be the most important book I've read in more than a decade. A genuinely new idea so exceedingly important you will immediately put it into practice. A masterpiece’
Angela Duckworth, author of Grit
‘Noise is an absolutely brilliant investigation of a massive societal problem that has been hiding in plain sight’
Steven Levitt, co-author of Freakonomics
‘The greatest source of ineffective policies are often not biases, corruption or ill-will, but three “I”: Intuition, Ignorance and Inertia. This book masterfully demonstrates why the three “I” are so pervasive, and what we can do to fight them. An essential, eye opening read’
Esther Duflo, winner of a 2019 Nobel Prize and co-author of Good Economics for Hard Times
‘In Noise, the authors brilliantly apply their unique and novel insights into the flaws in human judgment to every sphere of human endeavour… Noise is a masterful achievement and a landmark in the field of psychology’
Philip E. Tetlock, co-author of Superforecasting
‘Get ready for some of the world’s greatest minds to help you rethink how you evaluate people, make decisions, and solve problems’
Adam Grant, bestselling author of Think Again
‘Kahneman, Sibony and Sunstein have discovered a problem as large as an elephant: noise. In this important book they show us why noise matters, why there’s so much more of it than we realize, and how to reduce it. Implementing their advice would give us more profitable businesses, healthier citizens, a fairer legal system, and happier lives’
Jonathan Haidt, author of The Righteous Mind
‘An electrifying exploration of the human mind, this book will permanently change the way we think about the scale and scope of bias’
David Lammy, MP for Tottenham and author of Tribes
The new book from the authors of ‘Thinking, Fast and Slow’ and ‘Nudge’
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‘Noise’ here, is about – well, noise, in the decision-making process and the decisions themselves. Noise is the diversity of decisions or conclusions on the same question. By way of a simple illustration, if we have a case in which a 40-year-old man, with a family of five, is convicted of stealing a loaf of bread, and two judges are asked to decide the sentence on him, one says jail for a day and the other says jail for a month. The different outcomes are the noise that conceals the correct judgment. One of them must be wrong.
The authors show why understanding noise is important. In their discussions, they question the utility and differences between rules and standards and how they might be applied to reduce noise in decision-making. They pose the question: ‘Who counts as disabled, such that they should qualify for economic benefits reserved for those who are unable to work?’ The authors maintain that if the question is phrased in this way, ‘judges will make ad hoc decisions that will be noisy and unfair’. They show how standards and rules approach may often result in less noisy, and fairer judgments. ‘If doctors are given clear guidelines to decide whether patients have strep throat, their decisions might be fast and relatively straightforward.’
This book is a primer for all decision makers, not only in the professional fields, but also in administrative work, and even all of us making decisions in the domestic settings. But, if leaders of domestic organisations use algorithms either to replace human judgment or supplement it, would that be desirable? Are we – should we – be prepared to displace discretion for rules? That, perhaps is a matter of distinguishing two different situations. The first is one where the facts are the same. The second is where the facts are not uniform. Even if we were to disagree with some of the claims of the authors, this is a book that will stimulate the mind of every decision maker.
Agreeing with other reviewers, this book does start off fairly slow (as it is meant to be holistic) but it does recommend the practice oriented reader to jump to the solution-ing part of the book if they are already convinced of the issues that "noise" (i.e. large variability between expert decision makers despite similar facts) causes in institutional decision making such as Judicial judgment, insurance underwriting, asset valuation, etc.
I would go so far as to recommend the practice-oriented institutional decision maker go to the last chapter "review & conclusion" and start from there because it will allow you to pick and choose items of strategic interest since some of the solutions suggested may already be familiar to you depending on your background (E.g. Managers who invest in applied psychological research for judiciaries, investment analysis, etc).
Personally, I found it useful to compare notes with these veteran researchers in decision making to ensure our methodologies were sound and also enjoyed their step-by-step approaches to implement organisation-level protocols (i.e. to affect all individual judgment makers in an organisation) to both detect and minimise the interference of "noise" in high-risk/ high-impact decision making. This then allows the reader to better figure out what methods need to be added to their standard operating procedures to improve.
All the best, and I hope this review helped.
Most helpful customer reviews on Amazon.com
Consider that the following studies listed in the Notes to the Introduction all used p-values:
(2) Child Protection and Child Outcomes: Measuring the Effects of Foster Care
(4) Refugee Roulette: Disparities in Asylum Adjudication
In Chapter 1:
(14) A Survey(!!!) of 47 Judges (dated 1977) (Survey vs. Random Control Study)
(16) Extraneous Factors in Judicial Decisions cites a p-value <.0001 on page 5
... and similar p-value references associated with judges' differential and variance in sentencing: related to food breaks, nearby NFL Team winning recently, birthdays, outside air temperature. IMHO, the identification of these explanatory factors based on p-values are bogus and illustrative of John Ioannidis' 2005 paper: Why Most Published Research Findings Are False.
It is disconcerting that these scholar authors utilize many questionable references to architect a thesis about what is more commonly known as variance. As the normal Gaussian distribution is ubiquitous, one should not be startled that selected ranges within it vary significantly.
Given the presence of uncertainty and the idiosyncracy and variability of individual experience, human judgments will vary. Human judgment is noisy! DUH !!!
The authors have failed their scholarship and profession.
The basic premise seems to be that decisions have noise in them (duh) and its important to understand that we should evaluate the decision making process and not just the outcome. Accuracy, Precision, and Bias are terms familiar to anyone with a basic understanding of statistics; for others, a couple of early examples focusing on shooting targets easily educates the three terms and their differences. The authors keep on stating the same concepts in a number of ways for the first 5-6 chapters. And very often, simple observations are turned to very dense phrases without really serving any purpose than trying to sound very academic or scholarly. (For example, "..what they are trying to achieve is, regardless of verifiability, is the internal signal of completion provided by the coherence between the facts of the case and the judgement. And what they should be trying to achieve...is the judgement process that would provide the best judgement over an ensemble of similar cases") . Then the authors spend a chapter or two differentiating "predictive" and "evaluative" judgements only to conclude that the difference is "fuzzy" (genius observation) and a decision will usually require both.
If you are able to grind your way through the first 3 Parts (12 chapters), you will be able to pick up some new insights in Part IV and V that discuss on how variability/noise occurs and their various sources. Conducting a "noise audit" and what constitutes decision "hygiene" are sections worth reading for those whose roles require constant synthesis of inputs from various experts/sources/stakeholders etc.
Overall, the unnecessarily dense style that overcomplicates a simple message, lack of a clear target audience, and a narrative arc that just takes too long to provide new insights or provocative thoughts, makes this a fairly dull read.