Thursday, March 01, 2012

Kahneman the con-man

The Israeli-American psychologist Daniel Kahneman was interviewed on PBS Charlie Rose, plugging his book, Thinking, Fast and Slow, which summarizes his life research. It came out in Oct. 2011 as a huge seller, and it is still no. 9 on the Amazon Best Sellers.

People buy this book because they think that they will learn to be better decision-makers. However it is useless for that purpose, and Kahneman even disavows it. The book says:
Observers are less cognitively busy and more open to information than actors. That was my reason for writing a book that is oriented to critics and gossipers rather than to decision makers. [p.417]
Much of the book is a bogus ideological attack on Bayesian inference. I have criticized him before. He sounds like someone who has never taken a freshman statistics course.

One of his favorite examples of a cognitive error is that some people think that a child who is a good reader at age 4 will go on to get good grades in school. Another supposed error is that people are willing to pay more for life insurance after being reminded of terrorist threats. Another example is that George W. Bush is a fast thinker while Barack Obama is a slow thinker.

He has very little to substantiate any of this. There is lots of evidence that kids who read well at age 4 are more likely to go on to get good grades in high school. That is what many people say, when Kahneman survey them. The strange part is that Kahneman thinks that they are wrong. Kahneman is the one who is wrong.

Kahneman is an example of someone who is uniformly praised as a great genius, and yet there is very little merit to anything he says. As he admits, it is a book for critics and gossipers. He is proof that the public is much to easily impressed with phony intellectuals.


joe said...
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joe said...

I pretty much agree. He assembles a lot of information that shows that maybe we are not as objective and logical as we think we are, but beyond that, I just don't see a lot of profound stuff.