9 Dec 2022
Open to: Members of the University of Cambridge
Lady Mitchell Hall
Professor Cass R Sunstein, Harvard Law School, introduced by Professor Lucia A Reisch, Director of the El-Erian Institute
Imagine that two doctors in the same city give different diagnoses to identical patients – or that two judges in the same courthouse give markedly different sentences to people who have committed the same crime. Suppose that different interviewers at the same firm make different decisions about indistinguishable job applicants – or that when a company is handling customer complaints, the resolution depends on who happens to answer the phone. Now imagine that the same doctor, the same judge, the same interviewer, or the same customer service agent makes different decisions depending on whether it is morning or afternoon, or Monday rather than Wednesday. These are examples of noise: variability in judgments that should be identical.
Noise has detrimental effects in many fields, including medicine, law, economic forecasting, forensic science, bail, child protection, strategy, performance reviews, and personnel selection. Wherever there is judgment, there is noise. Yet, most of the time, individuals and organisations alike are unaware of it. They neglect noise. With a few simple remedies, people can reduce both noise and bias, and so make far better decisions.
Cass R Sunstein is the current Robert Walmsley University Professor at Harvard University and co-author of Nudge: Improving Decisions about Health, Wealth, and Happiness, with Richard H Thaler (2008). He is a Fellow of Cambridge Judge Business School and Distinguished Academic Visitor of Queens’ College.
Professor Sunstein is among the most cited and most read legal scholars worldwide; his impact has been equally strong on research and policy in the fields of environmental issues, climate change and public health. In addition to his distinguished academic and legal career, he also advises governments and corporations worldwide on behaviourally informed regulation to promote sustainability, safety and social issues.
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