I finally finished the two good books I was reading. The first, Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking, Fast and Slow, has received extensive review and comment elsewhere. I don’t feel like adding a whole lot more to the discussion. My minor quibble: it was too long. But that’s true of most books, in my view. Still, you should read it.
I highlighted a lot of passages on my electronic copy. Here are two good ones from close to the end, both relevant to the current political and policy debate. (I’ll let you connect the dots.) The bold is mine.
First, on the price of freedom:
Freedom is not a contested value; all the participants in the debate are in favor of it. But life is more complex for behavioral economists than for true believers in human rationality. No behavioral economist favors a state that will force its citizens to eat a balanced diet and to watch only television programs that are good for the soul. For behavioral economists, however, freedom has a cost, which is borne by individuals who make bad choices, and by a society that feels obligated to help them. The decision of whether or not to protect individuals against their mistakes therefore presents a dilemma for behavioral economists. The economists of the Chicago school do not face that problem, because rational agents do not make mistakes. For adherence of this school, freedom is free of charge.
Next, on the value of organizations:
Organizations are better than individuals when it comes to avoiding errors, because they naturally think more slowly and have the power to impose orderly procedures. Organizations can institute and enforce the application of useful checklists, as well as more elaborate exercises, such as reference-class forecasting and the premortem. At least in part by providing a distinctive vocabulary, organizations can also encourage a culture in which people watch out for one another as they approach minefields. Whatever else it produces, an organization is a factory that manufactures judgments and decisions. Every factory must have ways to ensure the quality of its products in the initial design, in fabrication, and in final inspection. The corresponding stages in the production of decisions are the framing of the problem to be solved, the collection of relevant information leading to a decision, and reflection and review.
The other book I just completed is Michael Hochman’s 50 Studies Every Doctor Should Know: The Key Studies that Form the Foundation of Evidence Based Medicine. (See also the website 50studies.com.) This was very close to the book I want to read. If only it had interleaved chapters that explained the basics of the subject areas it covered (the basics of diabetes, the basics of cardiovascular disease, etc.) then it’d be perfect. And, in that case, it could be called “50 Studies that Every Health Services, Health Economics, and Health Policy Researcher or Wonk Should Know.”
You can still use the book in that capacity, but you have to do a lot of looking up of words and concepts yourself, some of which I did. I highly recommend it. Why don’t more social scientists and policy scholars (and journalists!) study the rudiments of evidence-based medicine? Why is this not considered required knowledge? Beats me. Seems like a huge oversight, one you can begin to correct by reading this book.