September 20, 2016

HBR - Noise: How to Overcome the High, Hidden Cost of Inconsistent Decision Making 12min

Professionals in many organizations are assigned arbitrarily to cases: appraisers in credit-rating agencies, physicians in emergency rooms, underwriters of loans and insurance, and others. Organizations expect consistency from these professionals: Identical cases should be treated similarly, if not identically. The problem is that humans are unreliable decision makers; their judgments are strongly influenced by irrelevant factors, such as their current mood, the time since their last meal, and the weather. We call the chance variability of judgments noise. It is an invisible tax on the bottom line of many companies. ... The prevalence of noise has been demonstrated in several studies. Academic researchers have repeatedly confirmed that professionals often contradict their own prior judgments when given the same data on different occasions. ... The unavoidable conclusion is that professionals often make decisions that deviate significantly from those of their peers, from their own prior decisions, and from rules that they themselves claim to follow. ... It has long been known that predictions and decisions generated by simple statistical algorithms are often more accurate than those made by experts, even when the experts have access to more information than the formulas use. It is less well known that the key advantage of algorithms is that they are noise-free: Unlike humans, a formula will always return the same output for any given input. Superior consistency allows even simple and imperfect algorithms to achieve greater accuracy than human professionals. ... One reason the problem of noise is invisible is that people do not go through life imagining plausible alternatives to every judgment they make. ... The bottom line here is that if you plan to use an algorithm to reduce noise, you need not wait for outcome data. You can reap most of the benefits by using common sense to select variables and the simplest possible rule to combine them.

Reuters - The Uncounted: ‘Superbug’ scourge spreads as U.S. fails to track rising human toll 21min

Fifteen years after the U.S. declared drug-resistant infections to be a grave threat, the crisis is only worsening, a Reuters investigation finds, as government agencies remain unwilling or unable to impose reporting requirements on a healthcare industry that often hides the problem. ... Even when recorded, tens of thousands of deaths from drug-resistant infections – as well as many more infections that sicken but don’t kill people – go uncounted because federal and state agencies are doing a poor job of tracking them. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the go-to national public health monitor, and state health departments lack the political, legal and financial wherewithal to impose rigorous surveillance. ... As America learned in the battle against HIV/AIDS, beating back a dangerous infectious disease requires an accurate count that shows where and when infections and deaths are occurring and who is most at risk. Doing so allows public health agencies to quickly allocate money and manpower where they are needed. But the United States hasn’t taken the basic steps needed to track drug-resistant infections.

Wired UK - An Italian rapper, a 'hangman's noose' and a $250m lawsuit: the chaotic race to build Elon Musk's hyperloop 20min

Between them, they employ hundreds of engineers and have raised millions in venture capital. They have met with world leaders, signed deals with sovereign nations and partnered with global engineering firms. Earlier this year, WIRED set about to document their progress. ... Newspapers quickly proclaimed that the hyperloop would heal regional divides. Others argued that the hyperloop would transform the economy, moving packages across continents in hours. Others were more sceptical. ... HTT now boasts more than 400 volunteers, including engineers from Nasa, SpaceX and Boeing. Unlike most startups, its employees are not paid, instead dedicating at least ten hours a week contributing to the project remotely – suggesting materials, building simulations, designing marketing materials – in exchange for stock options. ... One cost proved too high: both companies have abandoned the idea of a hyperloop from LA to San Francisco. The land is simply too expensive – and even Musk couldn’t work out a way to build stations close enough to the cities’ centres. Hyperloop One is instead exploring an LA-Vegas route, but more likely the first hyperloop will be outside America, in emerging markets, or somewhere with a long stretch of privately held land.

Priceonomics - There Are No Truffles in Truffle Oil 7min

But in a world full of manipulative marketers, the truffle is the real deal. A type of fungus that grows on tree roots, the truffle stands on the right side of the line between decomposition and decadence. ... These fickle cousins of mushrooms have proven impossible to mass produce; they are still dug up individually by dogs that track their scent. ... The truffle stands in stark contrast to our era of convenience: the preservatives in bread that allow it to stay fresh for weeks and the year-round availability of seasonal fruits and vegetables. ... The combination of these two trends—the desire for a convenient, ever-ready supply of an ingredient, and a hunger for the traditional, the rare, and “real food”—led to what would seem to be a remarkably successful scam on foodie culture: truffle oil. ... Despite truffle oil's poor provenance, though, it has been used and praised by both average joes and renowned chefs. Truffle oil has been a remarkably successful con. ... taste is a slippery concept that is susceptible to psychological trickery and difficult to discuss objectively. Many embarrassed gourmands have realized that they were equating true truffles with smelly olive oil, but amateurs and experts alike easily confuse the good stuff and the cheap stuff whether it’s wine, sushi, or chicken picatta.