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Everyday Irrationality: How Pseudo- Scientists, Lunatics, And The Rest Of Us Systematically Fail To Think Rationally Hardcover – March 11, 2001

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Editorial Reviews


"A good, enjoyable read." -- Dion Scott-Kakures, Scripps College and Claremont Graduate University --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

About the Author

Robyn M. Dawes is the author of over 150 articles and four books, the latest being House of Cards, and Rational Choice in an Uncertain World, which won the William James Award from the American Psychological Association. He has degrees from Harvard, University of Michigan at Ann Arbor and is now teaching at the Carnegie Mellon University. He lives in Pittsburgh, PA.


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Westview Press; First Edition edition (March 11, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 081336552X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0813365527
  • Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 6.6 x 0.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,071,519 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

47 of 49 people found the following review helpful By Todd I. Stark VINE VOICE on November 12, 2001
Format: Hardcover
Potential readers of this book should first of all be careful not to confuse it with the usual debunking books that tell amusing stories about how foolish we are to believe what we believe. This is a different kind of book altogether. There is only a trace of "debunking" here, regarding a few of the authors' pet peeves, such as the overemphasis on self-esteem by many psychologists, the sexual abuse/memory recovery controversies, and the usefulness of clinical experience vs. statistical predictive models. However, those are certainly not discussed sufficiently to get the book for that purpose.
This is also not a book on critical thinking, or one listing all the various ways thinking can go wrong. There are much better books on those subjects as well.
This is specifically a book describing a certain type of yet poorly understood cognitive mechanisms that the Dawes feels is at the root of much of our irrational thinking. He considers the theories that assume out emotion leads us astray, and decides that even within cold thinking processes devoid of strong emotion, there are tendencies toward irrationality. He makes the point for example that most support of Nazi fascism was not motivated by rage so much as cold cognitive processes: a suppression of sympathetic emotion more than the expression of hatred.
Dawes defines irrationality is a very specific way, as self-contradictory thinking processes and conclusions. He then points out that there are a number of easily demonstrated biases in human thinking, even when there is no strong emotions involved.
Dawes does not believe that we understand this very well yet, but his central culprit is our failure to make sufficient comparisons in our thinking.
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33 of 36 people found the following review helpful By Joachim Krueger on July 31, 2001
Format: Hardcover
Philosophers, church fathers, and psychoanalysts have long shared the sinking feeling that rationality is more an ideal than a reality. In his new book, Robyn Dawes expertly reviews and critiques several traditional approaches to rationality. His own definition is simple: Judgments and decisions are rational if they avoid outright contradictions. With this definition, Dawes avoids many of the contradictions and circularities that economists run into when they try to equate rationality with the effective pursuit of self-interest.
Dawes argues that lots of contradictions occur because sages and fools alike tend to think associatively instead of comparatively. To use one of Dawes's favorite examples, we may reasonably expect a dyslexic person to make many typos, but it does not follow that a poor speller is a dyslexic. Associative thinking suggests that inferences are symmetrical, whereas comparative thinking does not. Throughout the book, Dawes emphasizes the relationship between irrationality and social (or individual) ills, such as genocide, addictions, false memories and false accusations, and motley superstitions. This is where it gets interesting: Although Dawes defines rationality without reference to its consequences, he makes the empirical case that we are better served by rational than associative reasoning. The argument made by evolutionists and ecologists that associative reasoning also has its benefits, he finds loathsome. The reader is not off the hook. Everyone needs to find an answer to the question of how much effort to invest into rational thought.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Herbert Gintis on August 6, 2004
Format: Paperback
Robyn Dawes is a distinguished psychological researcher whose personal contributions to understanding human behavior have been prescient and pathbreaking. This is very lively, informal, and humorous commentary on our society based on rigorous psychological research undertaken by Daniel Kahneman, Amos Tversky,Richard Thaler, and their coworkers over the past few decades. I know other readers found this book tedious, but I'm not sure why. Perhaps because it has some math in it? At any rate, I treated the book like pleasant light reading.

Dawes claims to hold a very tight definition of rationality, but in fact, he uses the term to describe a host of different behaviors, including holding unfounded beliefs, having weird personal moral values, or just ignoring the evidence. I use a

very narrow definition of rationality in my work (preference consistency is the substance of it), and I generally disapprove of throwing the term "rationality" around ad libidem---academics invoke rationality to justify their prejudices in the same manner clergy invoke God to justify theirs. But Dawes is sloppy in such a disarming way in his usage that it is hard to fault him.

Dawes actually relies on only a couple of well document psychological phenomena (he could have dealt with several more). One is a framing effect, in which if a choice is framed in terms of losses, people choose one way, and if in terms of gains, a very different way. It is actually closely related to loss aversion, which Dawes does not discuss.

A second phenomenon is ignoring base rates. For instance, suppose you learn that a test for HIV is 90% accurate, and you ask people what is the probability they have HIV is they test positive. Most say 90%.
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