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96 of 171 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Very disappointing and full of erroneous claims, 31 Mar. 2012
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This review is from: Thinking, Fast and Slow (Hardcover)
Like many others looking forward to the publication of this book, I was expecting what the early reviews promised, ie. real insight in how the brain works from an intellectual leader. Unfortunately I was disappointed at all fronts, this books is in fact a hodgepodge of fragmented information and anecdotes that do not make a story, and even worse, most of it has been covered very extensively in various popular articles and publications. The author is also misguided in attempting to write for the general reader, he simply does not have the knack to do this, and his attempt compromises the correctness and clarity of the presentation. This is _not_ a book that is useful for "by the water coller" discussions as the author proclaims, and neither is it a book providing useful insight for a more technical reader.

If this was all, it would simply be a missed opportunity and I would hardly be inclined to write a review about this. Unfortunately the book includes a surprising amount of erroneous claims, especially those related to mathematical concepts. More or less, the author claims that maths can tell is a lot about describing human choices, but his mathematical errors are so frequent and so basic that I do not have any confidence in his claims. I will pick one from page 181-182 which is so elementary that is enough to cast shadow on every other statement. On these pages, the author presents two claims which he states are mathematically equivalent. Putting aside the act that both can be interpreted in different ways, and so they do not actually represent well defined mathematical concepts, they are trivially not equivalent -- the one is a corollary of the other that is, one is contained in the other and thus the latter is wider than the former.

There are numerous such examples littering the book. However, at a more fundamental level, the author seem to have a complete lack of understanding of causality and statistics. In fact, he seems to actually claim in many places that observing correlation implies causality, one of the greater errors a scientist can fall into. Moreover, he seems to have no appreciation for the limitations of statistical descriptions -- this might be a minor concern for many, but there are real philosophical differences between a deterministic and a random view of the world, and the authors does not seem to be able to appreciate the differences.

For someone who has made his name on statistics these are all extremely unsettling issues and seem to indicate a very mechanistic approach which has nothing to do with deeper understanding or indeed be compatible with what I understand as the scientific process. Note that these problem is not one to lead to a great scientific debate, but rather indicate poor standards.

Finally, the author keeps referring to "his nobel" so frequently in this book which is simply annoying. Yes, we all know he is a Nobelist and yes, this is why we buy the book -- and in fact it says so with big letters on the cover. The author simply has to live up to this standard, not remind us what the standard is. One is tempted to believe that he intentionally does this to cover up the severe limitations of the book.
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Tracked by 3 customers

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Showing 1-8 of 8 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 1 Apr 2012 09:27:26 BDT
Frenchie says:
Thank you for your review. I was hesitating (this was my slow thinking), but now, I will not buy it (this is my fast thinking). A most interesting and enlightening review.

Posted on 4 May 2012 02:14:52 BDT
Melancholiac says:
The Economics prize in memory of Alfred Nobel awarded by a Scandinavian bank is NOT a "Nobel Prize" as laid down by the man hinself. It is a relatively recently inaugurated prize.

Posted on 24 May 2012 23:00:06 BDT
I think you mean 'a surprising NUMBER of erroneous claims'!

Posted on 6 Jun 2012 01:00:39 BDT
I. Pipia says:
I have read about half of the book. Apart from finding it fascinating and enlightening, there has not being a single instance when the author mentions "his nobel", as claimed by you. I am glad your negative review is in a tiny insignificant minority and would not discourage people to get introduced to ideas and concepts which may become very helpful in improving quality of life and cooperation among societies and countries.

Posted on 4 Jul 2012 21:38:30 BDT
I accept that the author of the review does not like the book and I have no problem with him objecting to the writing style, but I take umbrage when he reports the contents of the inaccurately; particularly when he misquotes the text itself.
Kahneman does not claim that "maths can tell is a lot about describing human choices" (sic), his argument throughout the book is that the application of mathematics shows us where humans act irrationally and statistically against their best interests. He does not claim that Maths can give reasons why; just that it can show that it happens. Any reasons given were hypothesised by the psychologists he worked with. Secondly at no point does he say that " observing correlation implies causality" He does say that it is in man's nature to do so, that man needs to find patterns and is inclined to find causality that is not there, but he repeatedly shows how this is wrong.
Lastly the example given of a mathematical error on page 181-182 is simply misquoted. Kahneman does not claim the two states are mathematically equivalent, he actually says they are algebraically equivalent (page 182 para 2). A subtle but important difference, and seeing that one group is a subset of the other, impossible to repudiate. His point is that we try to find causal stories to specific examples of a statement that in a macro format would go unchallenged.
This review looks like it came from someone who quickly skimmed the book and missed quite a lot of the words out. It would be like thinking that the Ten Commandments were evil because when you read them you missed out all of the nots.
If you didn't like the book fair enough, but don't report it as something it is not.

In reply to an earlier post on 16 Jul 2012 12:03:27 BDT
Grr says:
Further to your post, I Pipia, I have searched the eBook, and confirm there isn't one reference to "his nobel". There are in fact 15 references to the Nobel prize in the book, 12 of them referring to the prize in general or others being awarded them. Two do refer to that awarded to the author himself in acknowledging the contribution made by Amos Tversky, to whom the book is dedicated. The remaining one does refer to it in explaining his becoming a minor celebrity in Israel. This hardly justifies the words "keeps referring to" and "frequently". But it never ceases to surprise me how loosely people of bad faith use quotation marks.
There are other nonsense's in the review which are well covered by other responses, particularly John Stephenson. You do have to wonder at the reasons for the animosity.

In reply to an earlier post on 21 Oct 2013 00:16:49 BDT
This review is garbage, the writer makes very few references to his Nobel prize and most certainly does not imply that correlation and causality are the same thing. Ignore and read the book with an open and objective mind unlike this frankly mendacious reviewer.

Posted on 30 Apr 2014 15:39:34 BDT
Chess Quant says:
You are free to dislike a book, but your specific claims are wrong. As other have pointed out the point about the frequent references to "his nobel" is completely false, nor does he imply that correlation implies causation.
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