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The King of Human Error

When you wander into the work of Kahneman and Tversky far enough, you come to find their fingerprints in places you never imagined even existed. It’s alive in the work of the psychologist Philip Tetlock, who famously studied the predictions of putative political experts and found they were less accurate than predictions made by simple algorithms. It’s present in the writing of Atul Gawande (Better, The Checklist Manifesto), who has shown the dangers of doctors who place too much faith in their intuition. It inspired the work of Terry Odean, a finance professor at U.C. Berkeley, who examined 10,000 individual brokerage accounts to see if stocks the brokers bought outperformed stocks they sold and found that the reverse was true.

Recently, The New York Times ran an interesting article about a doctor and medical researcher in Toronto named Donald Redelmeier, whose quirky research projects upended all sorts of assumptions you might not know you even had. He’d shown that changing lanes in traffic is pointless, for instance, and that an applicant was less likely to be admitted to a medical school if he was interviewed on a rainy day. More generally he had demonstrated the power of illusions on the human mind. The person who had sent him down this road in life, he told the Times reporter, was his old professor Amos Tversky.

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Micheal Lewis is the best-selling author of The Big Short, Liar’s Poker, Moneyball, The Blindside and most recently, Boomerang: Travels in the New Third World.