Book Review: Daniel Kahneman, Olivier Sibony and Cass R Sunstein ~ Noise: A flaw in human judgment (2021)

Reviewing this book puts me in a difficult situation. All I want to do is swoon at the feet of the authors proclaiming their genius. This makes me a groupie. However I’ll try to write something that looks like a critique.

Judgment is often biased – a well recognised failing. Once bias is recognised self-awareness can mitigate potential damage. Biases give a ‘direction of judgmental travel’. Attractive, tall people get better job offers than ugly people for example.

This book is about ‘Noise’. This is where individuals create judgmental flaws from themselves. Judges who are hungry, bored, fed-up, or exhilarated make idiosyncratic judgments. How much? In blind tests some judgments were changed by the same person. In other words they disagreed with their own judgment. Criminal justice, medicine, insurance, fingerprint analysis, radiology and interviews provide shocking systemic examples of noise.

Try these:

(1) [American Judge Frankel offered]”...a series of powerful anecdotes, showing unjustified disparities in the treatment of similar people. Two men, neither of them had a criminal record, were convicted for cashing counterfeit checks in the amounts of $58.40 and $35.20, respectively. The first man was sentenced to fifteen years, the second to 30 days.” p14

(2) The case of a failed fingerprint analysis is, if anything, worse. This example comes from the Madrid train bombing of 2004

…[the FBI crime lab] conclusively identified the fingerprint as belonging to Brandon Mayfield…Mayfield had not left the country in a decade…Eventually, the US government apologised to him, paid a $2 million settlement…[and said] ‘The error was a human error and not a methodology or technology failure.” pp245-6 (my emphasis)

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