The merits of fragile systems – a quibble with Nassim Taleb

I know that I have a tendency to criticize without acknowledging the achievements of the critized. Nassim Taleb is certainly one of those people whom I admire for their insights, although I do have a quibble with the conclusions he draws from those insights.

So, what is the insight?

Taleb is, of course, famous for the black swan. Events coming out of the blue. Either for lack of prior experience of the system, as in the canonical example: Australia had not been discovered where Black Swans live. Or, as in financial markets, neglect of interactions between the agents making up a system. The insight is obvious, but where self-delusion is the order of the day, saying the obvious is a heroic act.

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Media and other Impacts

A meteorite enters the atmosphere over Russia and once more the media is caught with its pants down to the ankles. It is not at all obvious why a German newspaper would ask a German astronomer, if the meteorite was radioactive … except for the fact that we’re talking about a German newspaper, which could explain a thing or two.

Associated Press, ever diligent not to perform any sanity checks at all on their stories, released a completely incoherent piece of reporting that has already been cited on the associated Wikipedia article that merely adds to the confusion.

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