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What’s so funny about decision analysis?

Jon Baron pointed me to this page which has the following funny story from Deb Frisch. (The story is also here.)

A day in the life of a decision scientist

2:00 P.M. Need to be at Dulles airport by 5:30 for flight to Kansas City (via Chicago) for Judgment and Decision Making (JDM) conference. Need to decide whether to take 3:15 or 3:45 bus to Dulles. Gut says 3:45 since the benefit of an additional half hour at home is greater than the slightly increased risk of a missed flight. Head says it’s Friday afternoon, might be big crowds on highway and at airport, better safe than sorry. Decide to take 3:15 shuttle but don’t leave house in time. Take the 3:45 instead. Get to Dulles in plenty of time.

4:00 P.M. Get in long line of United Premier members. After 10 minutes, realize there are two lines – human vs. non-human check-in machines. I’m in the twice-as-long human line, even though I have an e-ticket. If I switch now though, I’ll be behind people who arrived 10 minutes after me. In order to avoid feeling like a loser, I stay in human line. Check bag (even though this was not my original intention) to justify the extra wait.

6:00 P.M. United terminal in O’Hare airport. Go to Berghoff Café for dinner. Order cheese pizza and small beer. Price of pizza ($3.50) is written on menu. Price of beer is not. Reach cashier and learn that price of beer=price of pizza=ridiculous price for 14 oz. of beer. Feel flash of anger at sleazy marketing ploy. Forgive Berghoff’s because pizza is really good.

8:00 P.M. United flight to Kansas City. Wish I had a magazine. Sit down and see Newsweek in seatback. Feel excitement and small surge of irrational pride. Remove magazine. It is Polish Newsweek. Experience disappointment. Feel worse than I did when I first sat down. Derive satisfaction from observing the endowment effect and loss aversion in action. Combine satisfaction with disappointment and arrive at slightly less than neutral.

10:00 P.M. Arrive at Hyatt hotel. Am told the type of room I’d reserved (non-smoking king) was sold out. Do I want a king suite instead? I am tired and experience change aversion. I want the room I reserved. I ask if the suite will cost more. Am told the only difference is that the suite is larger and has a Murphy bed instead of a regular bed. Interrogate desk clerk to determine whether quality of Murphy mattress is greater than or equal to quality of regular mattress. He assures me there is no difference. Get to room, turn on light and inspect bed visually and dorsally. Try to retrieve memories of other hotel beds. Due to recency and frequency, all I can think of is my own bed. Too tired to continue research. Go to sleep.

–Deborah Frisch

I read this and indeed found it hilarious, especially the bit about the Newsweek magazine in Polish. There’s something inherently funny about applying decision analyses to these personal situations. Which is one reason why I have always been distrustful of the examples in many decision analysis textbooks, hypothetical problems such as using decision analysis to decide what dessert to eat, or whatever. This is turn motivated the idea of institutional decision analysis, in which the focus is on having decision procedures that can be justified in settings with multiple stakeholders. The challenge is to apply this idea in real settings.

One Comment

  1. deb says:

    Glad you liked it. Here's a response.