Wednesday, June 30, 2021

Noise: A Flaw in Human Judgment (Daniel Kahneman, Olivier Sibony, and Cass R. Sunstein)

Daniel Kahneman, author of Thinking, Fast and Slow, returns with Noise: A Flaw in Human Judgment. Written with co-authors Olivier Sibony and Cass R. Sunstein, Noise explores why people make bad judgments.

“Noise” is defined as variability in decision making, whether it be in prescribing medicines, making forecasts, deciding on personnel, determining how much bail to require in a criminal case, and so on. While bias is talked about frequently in social science, the concept of noise is not. Kahneman’s book gets into the weeds on how noise can negatively and inconsistently impact individuals and businesses. Humans are susceptible, as the authors articulate, to noise in all aspects of life. The book spends a lot of time explaining the why behind that fact and how to address it. 

Solutions to address noise include “noise audits” to measure disagreement in group decision making as well as algorithms to help reduce human input in the decision making process.

My favorite parts of Noise regarded personnel decisions in the office, specifically performance reviews (the 3 your boss gives you in an annual performance review may not mean the same as a 3 Sally’s boss gives her, for instance) and hiring.  Some parts of Noise are very technical and in-depth, requiring a couple of re-reads to understand fully. However, it is a very good journey into the flawed process of decision making, one that will offer insight on how to improve this process.


Saturday, June 26, 2021

The Newcomer (Mary Kay Andrews)

Like many others, I tend to gravitate toward beach reads in the summer. This year, I decided to pick up Mary Kay Andrews's latest The Newcomer, as I had never read her before. I have seen reviews that this is unlike her other books, so maybe it wasn't the best book to start with to get the full "Mary Kay Andrews" experience. To me, this was a mix of good and just ok.

After she finds her sister, Tanya, dead, Letty Carnahan flees with her sister's daughter to Florida. Tanya had told Letty that "If anything bad happens to me -- it's Evan." Evan is Tanya's ex. In Florida, Letty tries to blend in at the Murmuring Surf, a motel with an unforgettable cast of characters, and it wouldn't be a beach read if there wasn't a romance with the local police detective. But of course, Evan wants nothing more than to track down Letty and his daughter.

I loved most of the characters in The Newcomer, especially the old curmudgeons at the motel. Andrews really does a nice job of making them all unique. I found the mystery tiresome though and the romance not believable. Plus, the book was just too long. I'm not saying that I wouldn't read another Mary Kay Andrews book, just that I wish I hadn't started with this one to get to know her as an author.


Tuesday, June 15, 2021

The Free World: Art and Thought in the Cold War (Louis Menand)

Louis Menand's comprehensive The Free World: Art and Thought in the Cold War discusses American and Western European culture in the years after World War II through the middle of the Vietnam War. 

Menand’s work dives into the economic, technological, cultural, political, and social evolutions over a rough twenty-five year period, focusing on key personalities that helped drive or lead the massive amounts of change that took place over the start of the Baby Boom era up through 1970. America’s role in the world was more than just the leader in economic might; it exported substantial amounts of culture globally as well. Art, music, literary works, movies, and even political thinking were chief American exports. Menand ties a bow on much of the work in showing how segments of these cultural institutions were underwritten by the CIA as part of the government’s work against communism.

I enjoyed the book although I found it meandering at times. The author occasionally dove very deep into the weeds on topics that he seemed either more knowledgeable or more passionate about, and I felt that those moments took focus away from the overarching themes of the book about American cultural influence in the post-World War II era. I would have appreciated seeing some additional content on the CIA’s subversion of cultural and philosophical institutions during these years or some references to other material I could read on the subject. That said, The Free World is a wide-ranging, comprehensive book that really reinforces the importance of art, ideas, and culture in the world.


Tuesday, June 1, 2021

Metabolical: The Lure and the Lies of Processed Food, Nutrition, and Modern Medicine (Robert H. Lustig)

Dr. Robert H. Lustig’s career was spent in pediatric medicine, working largely on the growing issue of childhood obesity and diabetes. In Metabolical: The Lure and the Lies of Processed Food, Nutrition, and Modern Medicine, he discusses the role that processed foods have in impacting our society’s health...and not for the better.

Most of us often think of fat in food and fast food as bad things. Lustig argues that while, yes, those things are bad that it is really sugar and the lack of what he terms “Real Food” as the culprit of our medical issues. Real Food is unprocessed whole grains, nuts, fruits, vegetables, and meat that is raised and farmed in a non-industrial manner. While processed foods offer convenience and relatively lower upfront costs, Lustig advocates that the long-term health impacts from lower nutritional content and higher preservative and nitrate content will cause longer-term health issues. 

Lustig asserts that the medical community is also complicit in contributing to America’s poor diet as medical school offers very little class time on nutrition and that Big Pharma and Big Food underwrite much of the research and education that don’t educate people on nutrition and instead focus people’s attention on calorie count. Lustig argues that not all calories are created equal nor are the impacts from those calories going to be the same. 

Lustig wraps up Metabolical by offering policy ideas, similar to the ones used to counter tobacco and alcohol such as taxing sugary items and putting restrictions on advertising. Knowing the obstacles that some of the sugar taxes have had on a local level, a national or state level of taxation may face some tough opposition. 

Metabolical to be very much one man’s indictment of Big Food and Big Pharma, at times as bombastic as much as it is educational (and Lustig educates the reader a lot in this book). The adage “you are what you eat” keeps coming to mind; Metabolical may very well have you rethinking how and what you eat by the time you are done reading it.