Nassim Taleb Meets His Match with Steven Pinker

Nassim Taleb Meets His Match with Steven Pinker

Didn’t think anyone could be as arrogant as Nassim Taleb? He seems to have met his match. Taleb attacked Steven Pinker in a recent article, below is a brief excerpt:

The Pinker Argument
Now to my horror I saw an identical theory of great moderation produced by Steven Pinker with the same naive statistically derived discussions (>700 pages of them!).
1. I agree that diabetes is a bigger risk than murder –we are victims of sensionalism. But our suckerdom for overblown narratives of violence does not imply that the risks of large scale violent shocks have declined. (The same as in economics, people’s mapping of risks are out of sync and they underestimate large deviations). We are just bad at evaluating risks.
2. Pinker conflates nonscalable Mediocristan (death from encounters with simple weapons) with scalable Extremistan (death from heavy shells and nuclear weapons). The two have markedly distinct statistical properties. Yet he uses statistics of one to make inferences\ about the other. And the book does not realize the core difference between scalable/nonscalable (although he tried to define powerlaws). He claims that crime has dropped, which does not mean anything concerning casualties from violent conflict.

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Steven Pinker responds in a article titled, ‘Fooled by Belligerence’ mocking Taleb’s famous book, Fooled by Randomness. Pinker notes:

Taleb shows no signs of having read Better Angels with the slightest attention to its content. Instead he has merged it in his mind with claims by various fools and knaves whom he believes he has bettered in the past. The confusion begins with his remarkable claim that the thesis in Better Angels is “identical” to Ben Bernanke’s theory of a moderation in the stock market. Identical! This alone should warn readers that for all of Taleb’s prescience about the financial crisis, accurate attribution and careful analysis of other people’s ideas are not his strong suits.