'The authors do not, however, argue that human error is just part of the price of doing business - it must still be reduced, and to be reduced, the factors associated with it must be understood as well as possible, which is the aim of their study.'
"The Limits of Expertise" reports a study of the 19 major U.S. airline accidents from 1991-2000 in which the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) found crew error to be a causal factor. Each accident is reported in a separate chapter that examines events and crew actions and explores the cognitive processes in play at each step. The majority of all aviation accidents are attributed to human error, but this is often misinterpreted as evidence of lack of skill, vigilance, or conscientiousness of the pilots. Why would highly skilled, well-trained pilots make errors performing tasks they had successfully executed many thousands of times in previous flights? The approach is guided by extensive evidence from cognitive psychology that human skill and error are opposite sides of the same coin. The book examines the ways in which competing task demands, ambiguity and organizational pressures interact with cognitive processes to make all experts vulnerable to characteristic forms of error.
The final chapter identifies themes cutting across the accidents, discusses the role of chance, criticizes simplistic concepts of causality of accidents, and suggests ways to reduce vulnerability to these catastrophes. The authors' complementary experience allowed a unique approach to the study: accident investigation with the NTSB, cognitive psychology research both in the lab and in the field, enormous first-hand experience of piloting, and application of aviation psychology in both civil and military operations. This combination allowed the authors to examine and explain the domain-specific aspects of aviation operations and to extend advances in basic research in cognition to complex issues of human performance in the real world. Although "The Limits of Expertise" is directed to aviation operations, the implications are clear for understanding the decision processes, skilled performance and errors of professionals in many domains, including medicine.