The authors of Noise: A Flaw in Human Judgment are a trio of intellectual heavy hitters: Nobel Prize-winner Daniel Kahneman, constitutional law scholar Cass Sunstein, and former McKinsey consultant (and current management professor) Olivier Sibony. As prolific as they are prominent, the three of them have collectively produced over fifty books and hundreds of articles, including some of the most cited research in social science. If academic publishing ever becomes an Olympic sport, they’ll be prime medal contenders, particularly if they get to compete as a team or on a relay. Their combined coverage of law, economics, psychology, medicine, education, finance, political science, corporate strategy, statistics, and even Star Wars gives the book the feel of a cognitive decathlon.
At the center of it all is a key distinction: the difference between bias and noise. Judgments are biased, the authors explain, when they are “systematically off target.” If, however, “people who are expected to agree end up at very different points around the target,” then we have a different problem: the problem of noise.
Failing to recognize and separate these two flaws in decisionmaking can have major consequences, especially given that
- trying to persuade a group of people who are biased— geographically, politically, economically, socially—is different than trying to persuade a group of people that is noisy;
- fixing an academic grading scheme that is biased is different than fixing an academic grading scheme that is noisy; and
- working through a set of feedback that is biased is different than working through a set of feedback that is noisy.
A major benefit of Kahneman, Sunstein, and Sibony’s book is that it gives you a way to distinguish—and navigate—each of these situations.
Barry, Patrick. "Noise Pollution." Review of Noise: A Flaw in Human Judgment, written by Daniel Kahneman, Olivier Sibony, and Cass R. Sunstein. Journal of Legal Rhetoric and Communication 19 (2022): 203.