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Irrationality by Stuart Sutherland
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Irrationality (edition 2013)

by Stuart Sutherland

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316535,147 (3.86)4
Member:miguelpdl
Title:Irrationality
Authors:Stuart Sutherland
Info:Pinter & Martin (2013), Edition: 20th anniversary ed, Paperback, 356 pages
Collections:Your library
Rating:*****
Tags:utility theory statistics error logic decision

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Irrationality by Stuart Sutherland

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Showing 5 of 5
This is the first pop science book on rationality I ever read, and it made a great impression on me. Of course, this is now more than twenty years old (the first edition dates from 1992), and probably nowadays there are many eqivalent books, but this one gives a good overview of many common pitfalls in decision making, illustrating many cognitive biases: from selective evidence, to overconfidence and ignoring or misinterpreting evidence. So you wont' get exposure to the latest developments on decision making, but the topics he treats are still current - Sutherland was a psychologist by trade, and he seems to know very well what he was writing about, adding to this a gripping writing style.

One thing I learned is: if you phone your friend to tell him you wrecked his car, then tell him it was a joke, he will forever think of you as a bad driver, even if you returned the car he lent you in absolutely pristine conditions! The moral of it - careful when making jokes :-)

( )
  PaolaM | Mar 31, 2013 |
Good insights into how people think irrationally, very strong on evidence from psychological studies, with thorough academic references at the back. Nevertheless very readable and informative. There's rather less coverage on why people think irrationally and what can be done about it. Just getting a little bit dated I felt.

I liked the short chapter format; each one ends with a summary in the form of a short list of Morals to be drawn from the evidence in the chapter.

Personally I would have liked to see an appendix with the mathematical details of the various models for decision making that are explained briefly but referred to frequently in the text. ( )
  Thruston | Jun 27, 2010 |
Fascinating. More than that, entertaining, and recommended.

Ironically, ordering this book was an irrational act. I was actually after some sort of primer on probability and for some odd reason (booze, fatigue, Amazon Madness) decided that this book was the very thing to educate somebody like me, who associates maths with long, lazy afternoons in the classroom, gently dozing while Miss Henshaw tried, for the hundredth time, to instil the basics of trig into a class that was by turns reluctant, sleepy and surly (a struggle that was going to lead up to the ‘episode’ and her eventually leaving to become a chicken farmer).

Although it does deal with probability and with statistics, and deals with them well and in terms that, after a few sulks and a little weep, even I eventually got my head around, it’s not about probability. It’s about irrationality and it’s interesting and very, very pertinent to the way that people (i.e. you) live their lives. An irrational act, you see, is one that you think thorough before committing. It’s not walking out of the newsagents with a copy of ‘Total Carp’ instead of the Racing Post because you are preoccupied, it’s certainly not having an instant, emotional reaction to something. No, it’s thinking about something, considering the issue and then making a decision that is based on flawed information, or not enough information or, gawd help you, ‘intuition’.

So, went for a book on probability, ended up with a study of irrationaility, what’s the likelihood of that? I have no idea because I have yet to read a book on probability but what I can tell you is two things; the first is that this book explains that if you make a purchase you may have made in haste or error, you will work hard to justify the qualities of the purchase to others, and hence yourself. The second is that this book is excellent!

In this case, that happens to be true.

The book goes on to explain a number of things that you sort of always knew, but in an erudite and informed manner, underpinned by actual studies. Prior to this I thought that people were just stupid, now I know they are irrational.

The book is awash with studies. Psychologists are a strange breed and seem to break down into certain types; benign, harmless and ruthless. The ruthless ones are good but best of all are those that are both ruthless and cruel. They have no problem at all with conducting the sort of experiments that leave a lasting psychological effect when you read about them, never mind when you are participating. These vary from proving that you can be an easily led sadist to proving, clinically, that you are an easily led stupid person.

Just as you finish laughing at the easily led you read that those who are stubborn and bloody-minded are even worse, because they make up their minds about something at the start of a process and then bend the rest of the evidence to fit their preconception, rather than be led by the evidence. This is a problem if you are, say, a doctor. This is more of a problem if you are, say, a patient and your doctor is prone to such behaviour.

With a wealth of tests and data to call on, the examples are many and it’s interesting to see how work in a lab relates to the real world. If you work in an office in any large company you will cringe as you recognise working practices, appointments in particular, as being irrational. You will certainly recognise the flaws and behaviours of others as irrational, then cringe as you see an example of your own sort of behaviour described in the same way.

Warning: there is maths in this book. There is statistics and probability and some of it had me re-reading passages a couple of times, just about hanging on to some of the concepts by my fingertips, but stick with it and the rewards are incalculable (especially if your maths is as crap as mine) as whole new concepts unfold that will allow you to sneer with authority at authority. ( )
1 vote macnabbs | Jan 26, 2010 |
This is a fascinating explanation of how irrational we all are. Using some very good and specific examples, Sutherland demonstrates just how common irrational behaviour is. Why, for example, do we setlle for less for ourselves than we might have just so as to prevent someone else from getting more than us? Very readable!
  urcinc | May 4, 2009 |
Existential
  Nicktee1949 | Mar 28, 2007 |
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Why do qualified professionals make wrong decisions that cause enormous harm to others? And why do you sit through a boring play just because the tickets were expensive? Drawing on a mass of intriguing research, Stuart Sutherland analyses the causes of irrationality, demonstrating that the trait is present in all of us.… (more)

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