THE TL;DR KEY POINTS
We all make countless judgments, and our important life decisions depend on them.
My new book, “Human Judgment”, investigates these judgments, and it is now available to purchase online here.
The book concerns two topics to do with human judgment, as implied by the subtitle: How accurate is it, and how can it get better?
It has two somewhat newsworthy items, one bad and the other good.
The bad news is that the science suggests that human judgment is often much more inaccurate than we might hope or expect. For example, some researchers estimated as many as 40,000 to 80,000 US citizens will die because of preventable misdiagnoses—and that’s each year. If they are right, that’s a yearly death toll at least 13 times higher than the September 11th terrorist attacks. Unfortunately, medicine is not unique too: judgmental inaccuracy can afflict a number of other areas in society as well. As another example, some researchers estimate at least 4.1% of death sentence convictions in the US are actually false convictions; this implies that some people are trialed, convicted and executed for horrific crimes that they never actually committed. So that is a few of numerous studies painting a less than ideal picture of human judgment: we make inaccurate judgments about medical diagnoses, about criminal convictions and about a number of other areas.
Of course, we are not always so inaccurate. We often judge with perfect accuracy where we live or whether humans need oxygen to survive, to take a couple of many mundane examples. To that extent, the book espouses a context dependent model of human accuracy: how accurate we are simply depends on the context, thus prohibiting unqualified generalizations.
Regardless, we are substantially inaccurate in an important remainder of other contexts, and then there are many more contexts where we simply do not know how accurate humans are.
The good news, however, is that science also suggests some ways to measure and improve accuracy. The hope, then, is that the book can motivate society to capitalize on those ways where possible, and it gives some recommendations to that extent.
Most of the recommendations are informed by pioneering research funded by the US intelligence community. Now, whatever one thinks of US intelligence, one point is—I think—undeniable: it has funded some of the most cutting-edge research in improving the accuracy of human judgment. The book then describes a lot of that research. However, often the research concerns specifically geopolitical topics--topics like the outcomes of wars, elections and the like. But that said, the research also supports a set of generalizable recommendations for improving human judgment—or so I argue in the book.
The ultimate long-term aim of the book is that society will use these recommendations to improve our judgments, our decision-making and ultimately our lives—thereby reducing misdiagnoses, false convictions and many other expressions of judgmental inaccuracy that severely compromise human well-being. Fingers crossed it eventually achieves its aims!
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