Why Some Errors Go One Direction

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Why Some Errors Go One DirectionAny regular reader of Value Walk knows that despite my opinion that Taleb is arrogant, he is one of the greatest thinkers of our time. Taleb has three books, but The Black Swan is the best (one of the best books I ever read), and is required reading for all Value Walk readers. Below are some recent musings from Nassim Taleb.

The Industrial Revolution

Terence Kealey, who we mentioned was not a historian and thankfully, not 
an economist, in  The Economic Laws of Scientific Research, questions the 
conventional “linear model”— for him,  universities prospered as a 
consequence of national wealth, not the other way round.  He  even  went 
further and claimed that like naive interventions, these had iatrogenics that 
provided a negative contribution. He showed that, in countries in which the 
government intervened by funding research with tax money, private 
investment was decreased and moved away. For instance, in Japan, the
allmighty MITI (Ministry for Technology and Investment) have a horrible 
record of investment. I am not using his ideas to prop up a political program 
against science funding, only to debunk causal arrows in the discovery of 
important things.
The Industrial revolution, for a refresher, came  from “technologists 
building technology –academic science did not influence them”, or, what he 
calls “hobby science”.
Controlled experiment can easily show absence of design in medical 
research: you compare the results of top-down directed research to randomly 
generated discoveries. Well, the U.S. government provides us with the 
perfect experiment for that: the National Cancer Institute that came out of 
the Nixon “war on cancer” in the early 1970s. Morton Meyers, a  practicing 
doctor and  researcher, writes in his wonderful  Happy Accidents: 
Serendipity in Modern Medical Breakthroughs:
Despite the Herculean effort and enormous expense, only a few drugs for the 
treatment of cancer were found through NCI’s centrally directed, targeted 
program. Over a twenty-year period of screening more than 144,000 plant 
extracts, representing about 15,000 species, not a single plant-based anticancer 
drug reached approved status. This failure stands in stark contrast to the 
discovery in the late 1950s of a  major  group  of  plant-derived cancer drugs, the 
Vinca Alcaloids –a discovery that came about by chance,  not  through  directed 
We did not realize that cures for cancer had been coming from other 
brands of research. You search for noncancer drugs and find something you 
were not looking for (and vice versa). But the interesting constant: is that 
many of the results are initially discovered by an academic researchers who 
neglects the consequences because it is not his job --he has a script to follow. 
Or he cannot connect the dots because he is a nerd. Meyers uses Darwin as 
the ultimate model: the independent gentleman scholar who does not need 
anyone and can follow a lead when he sees it.
(fitback to some academic researcher)
Mustard gas in Bari in 1942, a classified information
{list of medicines}
Le Fanu
p 179 – The therapeutic revolution of the post-war years was not 
ignited by  a major scientific insight, rather the reverse: it was the 
realization by doctors and scientists that it was not necessary to 
understand in any detail what was wrong, but that synthetic chemistry 
blindly and randomly would deliver the remedies that had eluded 
doctors for centuries. 
(He uses for example the sulphonamides identified by Gerhard 
Full link here-http://fooledbyrandomness.com/birds.pdf


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