Dangerous noise – wissenschaft.de

All the decisions we deal with every day depend on coincidences – even vital ones made by doctors in hospitals.

There are books that have what it takes to make the world a better place. This book is one of those. It comes from a select trio of authors. The American Daniel Kahneman is a Nobel Prize winner and probably the most influential psychologist in the world. Cass R. Sunstein, also an American, is a law scholar at Harvard University and the inventor of the concept of nudging, a method of bringing about behavioral changes through small “nudges” – for example cleverly placed reminders. Many governments now use nudging as a policy tool. Frenchman Olivier Sibony is a management consultant and specialist in decision-making processes.

People make decisions every day that change other people’s lives, but which are very prone to error. A judge makes a custody decision. A doctor makes a serious diagnosis. A bank clerk decides whether a family can get financing for their house. But studies show that if a person has to make the same decision several times, they often come to different conclusions. And when several people have to make the same decision, they often decide differently. It may depend on how well they slept – or the weather. An American study found that an oncology center diagnosed melanoma with an accuracy of only 64 percent. Every third diagnosis was wrong.

Better choices would make us all healthier and the world fairer. This is not about systematic misconceptions and prejudices. Daniel Kahneman already dealt with this in his famous book “Thinking Fast, Thinking Slowly”, published in 2011. Rather, it is about the random fluctuations in our decisions, about what physicists and electrical engineers call “noise”: about disruptive factors that arise from statistical fluctuations and are superimposed on the signal to be measured.

This noise is often overlooked, note Kahneman, Sibony, and Sunstein. Managers underestimate the noise in their companies. Teachers are convinced that they award their grades according to fixed, reproducible criteria. The authors analyze in detail how noise is generated and how it can be recognized and reduced. Anyone who follows them can benefit from them.
Tobias Hurter

Daniel Kahneman, Olivier Sibony, Cass R. Sunstein
Settlers, 480 p., € 30,–
ISBN 978-3-827-50123-3


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