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‘Noise’ by Kahneman, Sibony, and Sunstein Has One Very Big Idea

It’s the one your parents taught you: Two wrongs don’t make a right.

Compared to bias, noise seems like a small problem. Whereas bias skews things predictably wrong, errors caused by noise—plain old inaccuracy—cancel out in the aggregate, leaving no trace on average outcomes. But as our parents taught us, two wrongs don’t make a right. Errors don’t offset one another; they add up. If judges’ sentencing is noisy (and it is), one person’s prison time is unjustly long while another’s is unjustly short. The fact that the two convicts’ average sentence is fine is meaningless.

Noise: A Flaw in Human Judgment never says “two wrongs don’t make a right,” but the notion undergirds this important book, published in the U.S. on May 18.  Its star authors are Daniel Kahneman, the Nobel laureate in economics who wrote Thinking: Fast and Slow; Olivier Sibony, author of You’re About to Make a Terrible Mistake!: How Biases Distort Decision-Making—and What You Can Do to Fight Them; and Cass Sunstein, author or co-author of more than 40 books, including Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness.”