May 19

Tim O'Reilly

Tim O'Reilly

The Fragility of Judgment

I just heard a great talk by Malcolm Gladwell at the Warburg Pincus IT Conference in NYC (where I also spoke). Malcolm recapped his recent book, Blink. I'd heard summaries, but not yet read the book. What struck me as most interesting were some of his stories about what he called "the fragility of judgment": Ask users to rate the quality of five different pots of strawberry jam, across a quality span from a high end jam to the cheapest, and the user ratings generally match objective measures of quality. But ask users to write down a reason for their choices, and the ratings fall apart. Analysis forces us to second-guess our intuition, and undercut its insights.


More sobering: in the twenty-odd years since the musician's unions pushed through the requirement that auditions be performed behind a visual screen, the number of women hired by symphony orchestras has gone from 5% to 50%. Unconscious bias on the visual channel trumped the ear.

More useful: emergency room doctors have a really bad record of identifying when patients are having a heart attack. But when they limited the information they were asked to consider to only four factors (fluid in the lungs, intermittent pain, EKG, and blood pressure), and to ignore such factors as age, weight, sex, family history (which are great for helping predict future heart attacks, but not the current presence of one), their success rate went way up. Identifying the right factors to focus on can improve judgment.

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  Tim O'Reilly [05.19.05 12:59 PM]

Another great bit that came out in the discussion of the now famous opening story from Blink, about the $10 million fake kouros bought by the Getty after seven months of detailed analysis by scientific experts, which was recognized instantly as a fake by experienced art historians: "instinct is the fruit of experience."

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