Friday, September 09, 2011

Are you sure?

A Bibliography of Human Fallibility

It seems like everyone’s pretty sure of things these days. Sure about where the economy is headed and what needs to be done about it. Sure about what’s right and wrong with healthcare. Sure about how to improve our educational system. Sure about everything but the weather. So why with all this “certainty” is there so much disagreement? And how can we so often be wrong, even if we won’t admit it?

Neuroscientists, psychologists and behavioral economists have been studying the biases and errors that plague our perception and decision-making, and a number of books have been written for the lay reader.  The subject first caught my attention in early 2009 and has interested me ever since. I call my list “A Bibliography of Human Fallibility.”  Learn to watch for “framing” and “anchoring.” Question your “flashbulb memories.” Recognize the “Matthew effect.”  Acknowledge "confirmation bias.” Look out for “disestimation.” Be wary of expert opinion. Respect the limits of common sense. Above all, be willing to consider the possibility that you may be mistaken.

The more I read on this topic, the more I question . . . everything.

Note: The books are listed in the order in which I read them.  An asterisk means it was a favorite!
Thaler, Richard and Sunstein, Cass. Nudge: Improving Decisions about Health, Wealth and Happiness, 2008
*Ariely, Daniel. Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions, 2008
Vedantam, Shankar. The Hidden Brain : How Our Unconscious Minds Elect Presidents, Control Markets, Wage Wars, and Save Our Lives, 2010
Hallinan, Joseph T. Why We Make Mistakes: How We Look Without Seeing, Forget Things in Seconds, and Are All Pretty Sure We Are Way Above Average, 2009
Specter, Michael. Denialism : How Irrational Thinking Hinders Scientific Progress, Harms the Planet, and Threatens Our Lives, 2009
*Iyengar, Sheena. The Art of Choosing, 2010
Shore, Zachary. Blunder : Why Smart People Make Bad Decisions, 2008
*Chabris, Christopher F. and Simons, Daniel. The Invisible Gorilla: And Other Ways Our Intuitions Deceive Us, 2010
*Schulz, Kathryn. Being Wrong : Adventures in the Margin Of Error, 2010
 Ariely, Daniel. The Upside Of Irrationality : The Unexpected Benefits of Defying Logic at Work and at Home, 2010
Seife, Charles. Proofiness : The Dark Arts of Mathematical Deception, 2010
Brooks, David. The Social Animal : The Hidden Sources of Love, Character, and Achievement. 2011
*Watts, Duncan J. Everything Is Obvious Once You Know the Answer2011
(This one I haven't read, but my husband says it belongs on the list:)
Taleb, Nassim. The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable, 2007

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