Abundant food for thought for professionals of all types as well as students of decision science and behavioral economics.

NOISE

A FLAW IN HUMAN JUDGMENT

A sprawling study of errors in decision-making, some literal matters of life and death.

You go to a doctor complaining of chest pains. The doctor orders an angiogram. The hospital requires a second opinion before authorizing surgery, and the second doctor disagrees on the extent to which a specific blood vessel is blocked. These unpredictable disagreements over the same data are what Kahneman, Sibony, and Sunstein call “noise,” a species of human error that happens whenever such higher-order judgments are involved. Noise, they write, is rampant in medicine, where “different doctors make different judgments about whether patients have skin cancer, breast cancer, tuberculosis, pneumonia, depression, and a host of other conditions.” Noise is especially prevalent in psychiatry, they add, where subjective opinion is more pronounced than in other disciplines. A cousin of bias, noise is difficult to isolate and correct. In forensic science, the authors write, noise is implicated in nearly half of all misidentifications of perpetrators and wrongful imprisonments. Unlike some categories of error, noise is often not helped by the introduction of more information. Writing in often dense but generally nontechnical prose, the authors offer strategies for reducing noise. One is to average out predictions in, say, stock market performance, since “noise is inherently statistical.” Another is to consult the smartest people you can find; while they may not be flawless, “picking those with highest mental ability makes a lot of sense.” Since error combines with snap decisions, the authors endorse rigorous review and other strategies for noise reduction and “decision hygiene” as well as developing habits of mind that acknowledge both bias and error and favor examining the opinions of those with whom one disagrees as dispassionately and fairly as possible. “To improve the quality of our judgments,” they urge, “we need to overcome noise as well as bias.”

Abundant food for thought for professionals of all types as well as students of decision science and behavioral economics.

Pub Date: May 18, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-316-45140-6

Page Count: 464

Publisher: Little, Brown Spark

Review Posted Online: March 17, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2021

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A lucid (in the sky with diamonds) look at the hows, whys, and occasional demerits of altering one’s mind.

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THIS IS YOUR MIND ON PLANTS

Building on his lysergically drenched book How to Change Your Mind (2018), Pollan looks at three plant-based drugs and the mental effects they can produce.

The disastrous war on drugs began under Nixon to control two classes of perceived enemies: anti-war protestors and Black citizens. That cynical effort, writes the author, drives home the point that “societies condone the mind-changing drugs that help uphold society’s rule and ban the ones that are seen to undermine it.” One such drug is opium, for which Pollan daringly offers a recipe for home gardeners to make a tea laced with the stuff, producing “a radical and by no means unpleasant sense of passivity.” You can’t overthrow a government when so chilled out, and the real crisis is the manufacture of synthetic opioids, which the author roundly condemns. Pollan delivers a compelling backstory: This section dates to 1997, but he had to leave portions out of the original publication to keep the Drug Enforcement Administration from his door. Caffeine is legal, but it has stronger effects than opium, as the author learned when he tried to quit: “I came to see how integral caffeine is to the daily work of knitting ourselves back together after the fraying of consciousness during sleep.” Still, back in the day, the introduction of caffeine to the marketplace tempered the massive amounts of alcohol people were drinking even though a cup of coffee at noon will keep banging on your brain at midnight. As for the cactus species that “is busy transforming sunlight into mescaline right in my front yard”? Anyone can grow it, it seems, but not everyone will enjoy effects that, in one Pollan experiment, “felt like a kind of madness.” To his credit, the author also wrestles with issues of cultural appropriation, since in some places it’s now easier for a suburbanite to grow San Pedro cacti than for a Native American to use it ceremonially.

A lucid (in the sky with diamonds) look at the hows, whys, and occasional demerits of altering one’s mind.

Pub Date: July 6, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-593-29690-5

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: April 14, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2021

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The Stoics did much better with the much shorter Enchiridion.

THE LAWS OF HUMAN NATURE

A follow-on to the author’s garbled but popular 48 Laws of Power, promising that readers will learn how to win friends and influence people, to say nothing of outfoxing all those “toxic types” out in the world.

Greene (Mastery, 2012, etc.) begins with a big sell, averring that his book “is designed to immerse you in all aspects of human behavior and illuminate its root causes.” To gauge by this fat compendium, human behavior is mostly rotten, a presumption that fits with the author’s neo-Machiavellian program of self-validation and eventual strategic supremacy. The author works to formula: First, state a “law,” such as “confront your dark side” or “know your limits,” the latter of which seems pale compared to the Delphic oracle’s “nothing in excess.” Next, elaborate on that law with what might seem to be as plain as day: “Losing contact with reality, we make irrational decisions. That is why our success often does not last.” One imagines there might be other reasons for the evanescence of glory, but there you go. Finally, spin out a long tutelary yarn, seemingly the longer the better, to shore up the truism—in this case, the cometary rise and fall of one-time Disney CEO Michael Eisner, with the warning, “his fate could easily be yours, albeit most likely on a smaller scale,” which ranks right up there with the fortuneteller’s “I sense that someone you know has died" in orders of probability. It’s enough to inspire a new law: Beware of those who spend too much time telling you what you already know, even when it’s dressed up in fresh-sounding terms. “Continually mix the visceral with the analytic” is the language of a consultant’s report, more important-sounding than “go with your gut but use your head, too.”

The Stoics did much better with the much shorter Enchiridion.

Pub Date: Oct. 23, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-525-42814-5

Page Count: 580

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: July 31, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2018

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