Extreme events and how to live with them by Nassim Nicholas Taleb
is you know okay so there is a severe
error in reasoning and that that you
often hear by people giving you
empirical data and telling you for
example that were idiots to worry about
Ebola that killed two Americans when
more people slept with Kim Kardashian
that year okay so for example and that
was effectively the number they said
that more people slept with Kim
Kardashian in 2014 or worried about
Ebola then died of Ebola for example
right so now and then sometimes you see
numbers like these and this is the kind
of thing that that if you read something
called the New York Times and you still
read that nonsense this kind of stuff
you read in it which is factually right
but bogus okay well and the kind of
thing that teaches and psychology
department that so many Americans die
from eating too many hamburgers smoking
too much alcohol now let’s think about
it in terms of tails if I tell you or
let’s say Steven Pinker give the number
that 3,000 Americans died and their
bathtub every year
okay 3,000 people whereas three or two
have died of Ebola now let’s play
thought experiment if you read in the
papers if you go you know to Mars and
and then read on you know on Google News
that two billion people have died what’s
more likely to have killed them diabetes
obesity is falling the rest stop
sleeping with Kim Kardashian or Ebola
Ebola there we go so you cannot compare
rule number one
thou shalt not compare a multiplicative
fat-tailed process in extremists and in
the sub-exponential class to a thin tail
process that has what we call Chernoff
bounds okay and that is in totally for
mediocre stuff simply because of the
catastrophe principle okay and then we
know for example that is very cheap to
protect yourself from Ebola you see the
probability that people dying from
smoking okay it’s multiplied by 10 next
year is 1 to the 10 – into 10 – 30 the
probability that that the the rate of
people who died from Ebola through
triples is not vastly higher you see so
you cannot compare processes thin tail
to fat tails are not comparable so this
is not empiricism this is called naive
ampere system it’s actually worse okay
so you cannot compare two processes like
these by saying we worry too much about
Ebola in fact we were too much about
diabetes and too little valley bola so
that’s one error of reasoning that comes
from not understanding fat tails now let
me show you the law of large numbers
everything you’ve learned in statistics
is based on a well functioning of a law
of large numbers no all right so in
other words you that as you add
observation this mean that you observe
would be very stable no and the rate is
square root of 2 square root of n number
of observations you agree all right
this is what you have on the left now on
the right for fat tail process the mean
exists but it takes much longer to
much longer my only my anymore
Trump’s Ignoring Our Real ‘National Emergies’
If the caravan proceeds by foot, during the period of its journey 16,800 Americans will die from drugs.
In the period of the caravan’s journey, perhaps 690,000 Americans will become homeless, including 267,000 children.
In the period of the caravan’s journey, 8,850 Americans will die from guns, including suicides and murders.
In the period of the caravan’s journey, perhaps 9,000 Americans will die from lack of health insurance (people die at higher rates when they’re uninsured, although there’s disagreement about how much higher).
Maybe the real “National Emergy” is drugs, homelessness, gun deaths and lack of health insurance?
.. the issue isn’t really even immigration. Rather, it’s fearmongering. Scholars have found that reminding people of dangers makes them temporarily more conservative, so this kind of manipulation can be an effective campaign tactic.
Remember the 2014 midterm elections? This is a replay. In the run-up to voting, Republicans ratcheted up fears of a “border crisis” with terrorists sneaking in from Mexico to attack us, plus alarm about Ebola and the risk that the outbreak in West Africa could reach America.
.. Trump also tweeted then that if a New York physician who returned from West Africa developed Ebola (as he later did), “then Obama should apologize to the American people & resign.”
In the 2014 elections, Republican candidates ran hundreds of ads denouncing the Obama administration’s handling of Ebola. News organizations chronicled this “debate,” but in retrospect they were manipulated into becoming a channel to spread fear — and win Republican votes.
.. Yet Ebola, like the Central American caravan, is a reminder of the distinction between grandstanding and governing.
.. Obama’s technocratic Ebola program — working with France and Britain, plus private aid groups — may have worried voters, but it was effective.
.. the Ebola virus was contained and eventually burned out. Good governance often turns out to be bad politics, and vice versa.
.. Perhaps the approach with the best record is aid programs to curb gang violence in countries like Honduras, to reduce the factors that lead people to attempt the dangerous journey to the United States. Yet it’s not tangible and doesn’t impress voters. So Trump instead is talking about an expensive wall and about cutting aid to Central America, even though this would magnify the crisis there and probably lead more people to flee north.
.. I fear that we in the media have become Trump’s puppets, letting him manipulate us to project issues like the caravan onto the agenda.
.. Trump is right that, although there’s no evidence of it, “there could very well be” Middle Easterners hiding in the caravan. It’s equally true that the Easter Bunny “could very well be” in the caravan. Speaking of Easter, Jesus Christ “could very well be” in the caravan.
.. So let’s stop freaking out about what “could very well be” and focus on facts. Here are two:
- First, the Caravan won’t make a bit of difference to America.
- Second, we have other problems to focus on, from drugs to homelessness to health care, that genuinely constitute a “National Emergy.”
The Real Threat to National Security: Deadly Disease
While the Trump administration is proposing significantly increased military spending to enhance our national security, it seems to have lost sight of the greatest national security threat of all: our fight against infectious disease.
We already spend far more on our military than any other country in the world. To help pay for the increases, President Trump wants to cut back many federal programs, including those that prepare us to wage war against microbes, the greatest and most lethal enemy we are ever likely to face. This is where “defense spending” needs to increase, significantly.
.. Those agencies are already falling short, as we saw last year, when they couldn’t effectively respond to the Zika threat. What will they do when we face a real pandemic? With 7.4 billion people, 20 billion chickens and 400 million pigs now sharing the earth, we have created the ideal scenario for creating and spreading dangerous microbes
.. By some estimates, the 1918-19 “Spanish” influenza killed more people than all the wars of the 20th century combined.
.. Last year a comprehensive review predicted that, if left unchecked, drug-resistant infections will kill more people worldwide by 2050 than cancer and diabetes combined.
.. we are in danger of returning to a pre-antibiotic world in which a cut could prove deadly and surgery would not be worth the risk of infection.