Bias is a big problem, but so is 'noise'

When it comes to mistaken judgments, there is more than one kind of error – and judges, doctors and insurance underwriters are all fallible

The US Supreme Court building in Washington last month. According to the writers, sentencing is in part a lottery as the punishment can vary by many years depending on which judge is assigned to the case. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
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(NYTIMES) - The word "bias" commonly appears in conversations about mistaken judgments and unfortunate decisions.

We use it when there is discrimination, for instance against women or in favour of Ivy League graduates. But the meaning of the word is broader: A bias is any predictable error that inclines your judgment in a particular direction. For instance, we speak of bias when forecasts of sales are consistently optimistic or investment decisions overly cautious.

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