Nassim Taleb is no friend of academics

http://www.fooledbyrandomness.com/notebook.htm

Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s latest from Opacity, no 114 titled “Where is the evidence?” launches into Nassim’s current interest in how we know things given the lack of evidence (That is probably summed up poorly, but it is a focus on the absence of evidence/evidence of absence problem and humanity’s gross ignorance. Taleb mentions the concept in the hour long podcast at EconTalk if you’ve got the time to listen to it).

Taleb’s admonition of academia is brutal — he basically says Ben Bernanke and Larry Summers are “arrogant, formal-thinking civil servants, and Ivy-league semi-retards.” Don’t pull any punches there Nassim!

I’m still not convinced the admonition about negative advice is exactly right, but why quibble? (See prior discussion on Nassim Taleb and Expert Advice)

Finally, I’ve ordered two books by John Gray, who Taleb cites as the “greatest living thinker.” And to think I hadn’t even heard of the guy.

Note: If you are like me, and wants to be updated on Taleb’s latest posts to his non-feed-friendly blog, feel free to use this change detection RSS feed I created: Taleb’s Opacity Change Detector Feed.

I leave aside the confusion absence of evidence/evidence of absence–and the misunderstanding of the very notion of “empiricism”. It is a fact that in the real world of our daily decision-making 1) we do not have much evidence of most relevant things, yet we need to take action; 2) in most situations, “true/false” is never symmetric (one side is more harmful than the other), so the burden of evidence is one-sided. Which is why once these fakes “doing science” lose their tenures after the endowments (and charity) run out of funds, they will be barely fit to do anything in the real-life ecology. I wonder what you can do with an unemployed, say, academic orthodox economist. You could do better with non-post-academic cab drivers. Clearly those the most fit at dealing with “just evidence” will be idiot savants outside their evidence domain.

And I can expect that with the SP500 about 20% lower than here, you will see tenures unexpectedly evaporating. The silver-lining of the crisis, perhaps, with the de-academification of society.

So let me take this into more interesting territory, and express my anti-social-planner views. Even more that in Hayek’s days, the ecology of the real world is becoming too complex for Aristotelian logic: very, very little of what we do can be safely formalized, meaning asymmetries matter more than ever. Which puts the Western World today at the most dangerous point in its history: unless we get the Bernanke-Summers crowd out of there, it will eventually be destroyed by the machinery of arrogant, formal-thinking civil servants, and Ivy-league semi-retards.

Finally, beyond the current mess, I see no way out of this ecological problem, except through that tacit, unexplainable, seasoned, thoughtful, and aged thing crystalized by traditions & religions –we can’t live without charts and we need to rely on the ones we’ve used for millennia.

But for

Brad* created a personal webpage sometime back in 1996. That spurred my brother and me to create our own website on AOL — The Owings Brothers Page (archived). This site had grown stagnant some two years later so I created the first embodiment of The Justin Owings Page (archived), which chronicled 4th period lunch, published bad pictures of friends, made fun of teachers, and archived ostensibly humorous IM conversations. A few short years later, a senior in college, I was tasked to create a website for an IT class. I went a little over the top for the assignment and created a new and improved (?) Justin Owings Page (archived). Highlights of this endeavor mostly revolve around Mr. Mister, the yam — not the band.

One of the last and likely most enjoyable, educational classes I took in college was Law and Economics by Professor David Mustard. The only “textbook” for this class was David D. Friedman’s Law’s Order, a fascinating read about how law has been evolved through economics.

In fall 2004, springing from discussions on the subject with Shannon mixed with the prodding of my older brother, I created Contraddiction. Contraddiction was doomed from the start as I had no steady internet access, relying on the sporadically available, unencrypted wifi clouds emanating from neighboring apartments. Regardless, I enjoyed blogging and it left me wanting more.

In mid-2005 we secured steady internet access. In January 2006 I began reexamining (at a high level) going back to school, specifically to secure a Ph.D. in either Accountancy or Economics. I emailed Professor Mustard who graciously responded — but I quickly determined that a Ph.D. was not for me. Yet I was reminded of how much I enjoyed that college class on economics and law. Some googling resulted in the discovery that David Friedman had started a blog, Ideas. I became a regular reader.

DDF wrote a post on Gangs and I was spurred to to comment. Another commenter on the same post was a fellow named Aaron who, as I realized upon randomly following the link associated with his name, also lived in Atlanta, working at Emory. From Aaron’s homepage, I also found Aaron’s Furl, which I subscribed to via RSS in Gmail.

The insights and discussion at Friedman’s blog inspired me to take another stab at a website, one replete with a full-fledged blog. Around my 25th birthday (February), I created autoDogmatic.

I invited three friends to co-blog on aD, but mostly, I was the only one blogging regularly. Six months in and all the while reading Aaron’s Furl, I stumbled upon an article written by Aaron about the Federal Reserve’s reserve requirements. An interesting read (if you’re into that kinda thing), there was one link in the article that was broken. I searched around for the correct link and emailed it to Aaron, mentioning to him that I had been subscribing to his Furl for the past few months. We got to pinging emails back and forth and realized we had a good bit in common.

We decided to meet up for a beer and a discussion. We were both probably shocked at having met another anarcho-capitalist within Atlanta. And as Aaron wasn’t blogging anywhere at the time, I invited him to join forces on autoDogmatic. He accepted.

Aaron blogged mostly on economics and I stuck mostly to politics, but our overarching theme intersected significantly — we were both staunchly anti-government, anti-Federal Reserve and, most importantly, pro-freedom.

A few months passed and around the end of December 2006, Aaron emailed me a link to a pretty basic webpage he had created titled, “The Mortgage Lender Implode-O-Meter“, which he was going to use to track as mortgage lenders went bust (Old news these days, I know!). I created a logo for it and helped him out a bit on design. Within weeks, MLI had out-trafficked autoDogmatic. By March it was being featured on CNBC.

The Implode-O-Meter’s success meant that it required a lot of Aaron’s attention, and he was still working full-time at his “day job”. I was helping out when I could. Aaron knew I was tired of my day-job and asked me to join forces and take MLI to the next level. With a bit of prodding from Aaron and a nervous, but supportive spouse, I took up the offer in May 2007. This ultimately led to the formation of our own company, Implode-Explode Heavy Industries, in July, which owns all the Implode-O-Meters as well as a few other sites.

I rediscovered all sorts of new freedoms having left corporate America. Most notably, I suddenly felt free to blog using my real name. Within a few months, I picked up justinowings.com and established this site.

That just about brings things to the present.

Just a couple days back, my friend David, who just himself left the traditional j-o-b, started his own blog. And it was his first post that got me thinking on how I got here to the blogosphere owning my own web-media business utterly clueless as to what will come next.

But for the aforementioned events — many of which were small things, entirely unworthy of note — I would not be here writing this post.

De Vany’s stochasticity of life is in this pseudo-randomness. Life is fluid, complex, and frequently molded in big ways by things unnoticed at first, and poorly understood later, if ever.

The only lesson I can glean from it all is to follow my whims, no matter how fanciful or silly they are because those whims apparently add up.

Life is fantastic that way.

*To bring it full circle, it seems that some twelve years later, Brad is blogging these days, too.