Distinctive Features of course 3Content 1Interdisciplinary approach to decision aid




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Book proposal from Rex Brown to SJDM


THE ART AND SCIENCE OF MAKING UP YOUR MIND:

TOOLS FOR RATIONAL CHOICE AND JUDGMENT

Objectives

1.1Ends


The proposed book is designed as the stand-alone textbook for a college course on”Making Up Your Mind”—MUYM for short. My over-arching aim has been to promote and develop Reasoning as the fourth R of basic education1. It is now more specifically to help an individual to structure his reasoning about any choice among personal or civic (e.g. public policy) options, addressing, for example, issues of factual uncertainty, value judgments and new information.


I also hope to:

  • expand the current popular interest in understanding how people do make decisions, to include learning how to make them better;

  • introduce decision scientists and practitioners to an approach to decision aiding derived from consulting practice.

  • provide interesting reading to professionals and laymen (though these latter may find much of it heavy-going, without theiractive engagement).

1.2 Means


This is primarily a college textbook, designed for a stand-alone general education course offered through a psychology department. It is non-mathematical but draws on simple quantitative models, grounded in behavioral and statistical decision theory.

Distinctive Features of course

1.3Content

1.3.1Interdisciplinary approach to decision aid


To date, prescriptive decision science has been dominated by statisticians, engineers and other quantitative specialists. “Getting from here to there” in decision-aiding requires addressing three tasks and using three distinct types of expertise (cognitive psychology, normative decision theory and practical experience). MUYM may be unique in addressing them all too some degree.

  • "Here" is how well you decide unaided now -- cognitive psychology of decision performance evaluated against the norms of decision theory.


  • “There" is some ideal choice, where all the typically incoherent jumble of feelings and perceptions in your head are constrained to be logically coherent.


  • A feasible path -- decision aid—from “here to there” can take many possible forms, including (but not necessarily) applied decision theory (ADT), "cognitive vigilance", and a number of age-old and novel techniques. Evaluating any given decision strategy involves judging how close it will take you to the ideal choice. This requires considering logical soundness, how well people can supply inputs and use output, and reality checks against experience.

1.3.2Applied decision theory (ADT)


The core concept of ADT is equivalent substitution, i.e. replacing the perceived situation by a quantitative representation—or model--of it, which is analyzed as it if it were the real thing and adjusted for any recognized mismatch. In particular, uncertainty is represented as probability and preference as utility. The logical action implications of the model are calculated and interpreted.


The principal role of the version of ADT presented here is to compare a few well-defined options (including gathering information), whose consequences are perplexing. However, the concepts are relevant to more complex choices and incremental commitment2.

1.4Pedagogy


The models in MUYM are structurally simple, which permits students to rapidly develop adequate mastery of the mechanics, and to focus on problem application. The major challenge is to assure that the numbers inserted into the model do indeed reflect deciders’ best judgment in real situations. Hypothetical analysis is only used when real judgments are not feasible (for example in the gathering of new information).

1.4.1Illustrations


Most illustrations are actual case studies I have worked on, including professional consulting assignments. Two realistic (but hypothetical) cases are used as running examples, to exercise course material as it is being presented. One is personal--which of two career paths a young man should follow; the other is civic--whether to replace the current US health care system with one like Massachusetts.


Four fictional characters spanning different common types (based on people I know) are used throughout the text to illustrate aiding methods. This may help to persuade students that reasonable people can take different positions if they have different evidence or different tastes. Adversaries do not have to be either evil or stupid.

1.4.2 Assignments


The main pedagogical task is to exercise the student’s ability to accurately quantify his actual judgment. Key assignments therefore require him to work with his own judgments, which are based on the usual everyday amalgam of personal experience and messy information absorbed over time. They are not hypothetical judgments based on second hand knowledge (say, from written case studies3 or contrived but convenient experiments). Students ask themselves: “What do I actually think?” rather than, “What would I think if this hypothetical situation arose4?” (However, artificial problems are used to exercise the mechanics of quantitative modeling.)

For a term project students pick a real dilemma and commit themselves to some option, using methods they have learned. Although personal choice is the primary skill to improve, assignments often deal with civic issues that the class as a whole can meaningfully discuss.

1.4.3Teacher guidance:


Assignments do not generally have “school solutions” that instructors can prepare in advance, and at present few instructors in conventional university departments have the requisite technical background. Therefore, a detailed teaching guide (not a traditional “solutions” manual) will be available to instructors. Like with a comparable guide for RCJ5, it will include suggestions on course strategy, class conduct, handling student assignments and likely issues in c;ass, sample schedules, assignment notes, classroom handouts and exams.

1.4.4Vocabulary


For students to learn the methods of this book well enough to improve their own decision-making and work effectively with other newcomers to the field, it is critical that they use terms that they can readily learn and understand. Unfortunately, much of the language commonly used by specialists in the field is confusing and misleading to the uninitiated6. I have tried to adopt a clear and usable vocabulary, where possible drawing on terms in wide current use7 (including, notably, “applied decision theory” in place of the vaguer “decision analysis”).

1.4.5Tailoring course to curriculum


Although the text is designed to be self-contained, it can be adapted for other roles. It can be spliced into other courses with a decision aiding orientation (not necessarily ADT, e.g. in operations research programs). It can as prepare students for more advanced training (e.g. statistical decision theory); or for domain-specific courses, such as marketing, capital budgeting, procurement and public administration. The technical content and analytic level of a course can be modified through the choice of appendices, footnotes, outside readings, and assignments.

1.5Author’ background


This work is the culmination of 50 years of promoting sound decision-making. Educated as a social scientist and then a statistical decision theorist, I have alternated between consulting and academic careers (see CV in Appendix C). My approach has been to integrate applied decision theory (ADT), behavioral psychology and practical experience, collaborating as needs be with complementary specialists in those fields8.


I first mainly worked on business and government executive decisions, giving rise to a graduate text book9 (RCJ for Rational Choice and Judgment). Latterly, I have been adapting this experience to the more resource-constrained needs of private individuals, especially the young.10

Potential Markets


The potential market is very large, but highly fragmented and uncertain.

1.6College Text-book


10k – 100k? Prospects are promising but very unclear. On the one hand, virtually any college student could be interested in taking a course like this and there appear to be no others yet. Moreover, there is a significant “critical thinking” movement in educational circles and a Decision Education Foundation has recently been established by Stanford decision theorists and supported by the Gates Foundation.


Parts of MUYM can be assigned for the prescriptive segment of an existing JDM. However, the really large potential market is for a stand-alone prescriptive course that is ready to adopt MUYM as primary text-book, which does not appear to yet exist. There is also still a lack of qualified instructors on Psychology—or other--facuties. In time, this may change, if MUYM (or something like it) is well-received and prescriptive decision courses get become established in college curricula.

1.7Professional school text-book


10k? Many graduate professional schools, such as law. medicine and especially business, incorporate ADT in particular courses (such as finance). They do not always offer ADT courses as such, although appropriate text-books (including my own) are available11. MUYM may suit some of their needs (unless they make ADT at undergraduate level a prerequisite!).

1.8Trade


10k? Recent descriptive decision bestsellers by Gladwell, Ariely, Thaler, Groopman and Gilbert suggest that general readers may be ready for enlightenment on prescriptive decision making. Indeed, a layman’s introduction to ADT (somewhat comparable to MUY) has become a semi-best-seller12. My own work earlier received substantial media coverage, e.g. in Washington Post, Illustrated London News, Diane Rehm and Fred Fiske Shows.13 However, as noted, all but a few chapters of MUYM would be a difficult read for much of the general public.

1.9Scientific community


2k? Decision scientists may be interested in MUYM as a compact decider-oriented introduction to an unfamiliar approach to decision aid and to some methodological innovations (many already published in technical literature).

Competition


I am aware of no directly competitive texts, i.e. prescriptive textbooks, addressed to private decisions and drawing on both behavioral and statistical decision theory.

1.10Brown graduate text


My own 2005 textbook (RCJ) has the same technical and pedagogic perspective, but it is more advanced and designed for managers and other professional deciders. Private deciders do not normally have the resources to undertake much formal analysis. Nor do they need to supply reviewable rationales. RCJ could be a sequel to MUYM in professional programs.


The closest competition to MUYM may be Hammond et al. (1996), a layman’s introduction to applied decision theory, co-authored by leaders in the field. Its scope and technical level are comparable to MUYM, but as general reading not a course textbook and it does not pay much attention to cognitive issues. I understand that decision theorist Itzhak Gilboa is working on a book with similar goals to mine, “Making Better Decisions”.


Baron’s (2000) comprehensive decision psychology text includes ADT as a prescriptive aspect. Hogarth (2001) draws prescriptive lessons from cognitive research, and so does Bazerman (2005), but in a business context. Klein (1989) presents Recognition-Primed decision-making as a successful strategy, but not how to emulate it.


There are a number of ADT text-books for business, notably Clemen (1996) and Goodwin and Wright (2004), but their models are too ambitious for private deciders and are illustrated mainly by hypothetical business examples.

Production issues


Book length: 250 – 350 pages.

30-40 simple diagrams.

Current status of text: virtually all content has been assembled in detail; eight of 13 chapters are roughly drafted.

Target completion date: Fall 2010

References




Baron, J. Thinking and deciding. New York: Cambridge University Press, 3rd Edition 2000.

Baron, J., and Brown, R.V. (Eds.). Teaching decision making to adolescents. New York: Lawrence Erlbaum and Associates, 1991.

Baron, J., and Brown, R.V. Why America can't think straight. The Washington Post, Outposts. August 7, 1988.

Bazerman ME. Judgment in Managerial Decision Making. Wiley. 2005.

Brown RV. Working with Policy Makers on their Choices: A Decision Analyst Reminisces. Decision Analysis. 14-23. March 2009.

Brown RV. Making decision research useful—not just rewarding. Judgment and Decision Making. Vol. 1, no. 2. pp 162-173. Nov 2006

Brown RV. The operation was a success but the patient died: Aider priorities influence decision aid usefulness. Interfaces. Vol 36, issue 1. 2005a.

Brown RV. Rational choice and judgment: Decision analysis for the decider. New York: Wiley. 2005b.

Brown RV. Teaching Guide to Rational Choice and Judgment. Mason.gmu.edu/~rbrown (Disguised as “Admin Notes”) 2005c.

Brown RV. Managing incremental commitment. Mason.gmu.edu/~rbrown. 2005d.

Brown, R.V. The Role of Statistical Decision Theory in Decision Aiding: Measuring Decision Effectiveness in the Light of Outcomes. In Freeman PR, Smith AFM (Eds). Aspects of Uncertainty: A Tribute to Dennis Lindley. Wiley, 1994.

Brown, R.V. Impersonal Probability as an Ideal Assessment based on Accessible Evidence: A Viable Construct? Journal of Risk and Uncertainty, 7:215-235, 1993.

Brown, R.V. Assessment uncertainty technology for making and defending risky decisions. Journal of Behavioral Decision Making, 3, 213-228, 1990b.

Brown, R.V. Toward a prescriptive science and technology of decision aiding. Annals of Opera­tions Research, Volume on Choice under Uncertainty, 1989, 19, 467-483.

Brown, R.V., Kahr, A.S., and Peterson, C.R. Decision analysis for the manager. New York: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, 1974.

Brown, R.V. and Lindley, D.V. Plural analysis: multiple approaches to quantitative research, Theory and Decision, 1986 20, 133-154.

Brown, R.V. and Lindley, D.V. Improving judgment by reconciling incoherence. Theory and Decision, 1982, 14, 113-132.

Brown, RV, and Vari, A. Towards an agenda for prescriptive decision re­search: The normative tempered by the descriptive. Acta Psychologica, 80, 33-47 1992.

Lindley, D.V., Tversky, A., and Brown, R.V. On the reconciliation of proba­bility assessments. Journal of the Royal Statistical Society, Series A, 1979, 142(2), 146-180.

Watson, S.R., and Brown, R.V. The valuation of decision analysis. Journal of the Royal Statistical Society, Series A, 141, 69-78, 1978.

Brown, R.V. Research and the credibility of estimates. Boston: Harvard University, Graduate School of Business Administration, 1969

Brown, R.V. Evaluation of total survey error. 1968. (Oswald George Prize Paper). Statistician, 1968, 17(4), 335-355.

Brown, R.V. and Fiske F. The science of making up your mind. Transcript of Broadcast of "The Fred Fiske Show", January 8, WAMU 1986

Brown, R. V. and Baron, J. Decision Making Today and Tomorrow. Diane Rehm Show, National Public Radio. September, 1988.

Brown, R.V., Freeling, A.N.S., Lindley, D.V., and von Winterfeldt, D. Papers on the reconciliation of incoherent judgment (Technical Report 80- 6). For ONR. Falls Church, VA: Decision Science Consortium, Inc., November 1980.

Brown, R.V., with Lindley, D.V. Rationality and the Resolution of Incoherence. Department of Statistics, University College, London. November, 1976.

Brown, R.V. and Pratt, J.W. Normative validity of graphical aids for designing and using estimation studies. Zeckhauser R, Keeney RL, Sebenius J (Eds.). In Wise Choices Symposium in honor of Howard Raiffa. Wiley. 1996.

Brown, R.V., and Ulvila, J.W. Selecting analytic approaches for decision situations (Revised Edition). (NTIS No. AD A047965. Decisions and Designs, Inc., December 1977.

Hogarth R. Educating intuition, U. Chicago Press, 2001

Howard RA. Speaking of language. Decision Analysis. May 2004.

Larichev OI and Brown RV. Numerical and Verbal Decision Analysis: Comparison on Practical Cases. 9: 263-2732. J.MCDA. 2000.

Lindley, D.V., Tversky, A., and Brown, R.V. On the reconciliation of proba­bility assessments. Journal of the Royal Statistical Society, Series A, 1979, 142(2), 146-180.

Porter H. Why the Superpowers need this Englishman. Cover article. Illustrated London News. Oct 1987.

Watson, S.R., and Brown, R.V. The valuation of decision analysis. Journal of the Royal Statistical Society, Series A, 141, 69-78, 1978.


APPENDICES


  1. Table of contents

  2. Draft of Chapter 1: Introduction and preview

  3. Brown CV

  4. RCJ reviews

  5. RCJ promotional flyer

1Brown 1989, 1991; Baron and Brown 1988; Porter 1987.

2 Brown 2005d

3 The Harvard Case method.

4 Bayesian diagnostic updating of uncertainty.

5 Brown 2005c

6 Brown 2004

7 See “glossary” in mason.gmu.edu/~rbrown.

8 See Lindley, Tversky and Brown 1978, Baron and Brown 1991, Brown and Pratt 1996, Brown, Watson and von Winterfeldt 1980, Brown and Lindley 1982, 1986; Watson and Brown 1978; Larichev and Brown 2000.

9 Howard 2004.

10 Baron and Brown 1991

11 Even Harvard Business School, where I and others taught the first required ADT course for MBA, dropped it in the 1970s and HBS, faculty tell me, has no plans to reintroduce it.

12 Hammond et al. 2001.

13 Porter 1987, Baron and Brown 1989, Peterson 1990.

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