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Taking Aim at the Black Swan

Thursday, April 10th, 2008

Shane Deichman reviews Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable and finds it wanting:

Perhaps it’s my naïveté (or perhaps that I’m a product of the California public school system), but I honestly don’t see our civilization marching toward “Extremistan”. Quite the opposite: While our awareness of remote events has increased, and our networks have grown exponentially, I believe that the diffuse topology of our networks actually dampens the impact of an extreme event. Consider the “Butterfly Effect”. Do you really think a butterfly flapping its wings in Jakarta is going to eventually cause a hurricane in New York City? Or do you think the minor perturbation is absorbed locally without cascading into some kind of resonance? Yes, there are examples that illustrate the dire consequences of unplanned resonance. Taleb (who waffles at the end of his book as half hyperskeptic, half intransigently certain) abandons the Gaussian bell curve, yet — with only a single mention of Albert-László Barabási — firmly embraces Power Law scale invariance as normative.Despite Taleb’s too-casual treatment of scale, I think he would agree with George E.P. Box’s statement (c. 1987) that “…[A]ll models are wrong, but some are useful.” Abandoning our dogmatic devotion to certainty is essential in any creative, innovative enterprise — and can reveal hidden opportunities, and hidden abilities.

Read the whole thing here.

Unlike most reviewers, Shane could go head-to-head with Taleb on things mathematical ( though you hardly need a math background to understand The Black Swan) and Shane is right that networks that are intrinsically and generally resilient are better suited to enduring unexpected, system perturbing, black swans.

Hope to have my review up Sunday evening.

Third Post in Nuclear Policy Series: Wizards of Oz

Saturday, December 22nd, 2007

See the introductory post here.

Blogfriend Shane Deichman of Wizards of Oz, who is also a nuclear physicist, warmed to the challenge put forward by Cheryl Rofer. An excerpt from Shane’s post:

Bloggers for Nuclear Policy” 

“One thing that becomes clear, touring the various historic sites around Oak Ridge, is the magnitude of effort needed to manufacture nuclear weapons. This is not something where a couple centrifuges can be turned on in a basement and voilà! you have material to build a bomb. The undertaking is complicated, laborious and time-consuming — and this is a good thing. The skill sets needed to preserve and maintain a credible stockpile are scarce — and this is not so good of a thing (I’ll cover this in “stockpile management” below).

This creates a taxonomy of “Nuclear Powers”:

  1. Those that have it
  2. Those that want to have it
  3. Those that don’t want it
  4. Those who can never make it

Obviously, those in the first category want to preserve their “exclusivity” — because after all, the logic of nuclear warfare is that you can never logically use them. This led to policies like the Baruch Plan after World War II (which the Soviets rejected because, in their opinion, it would have preserved the U.S. nuclear monopoly) and today’s proper emphasis on nuclear non-proliferation (a great success to date, in my opinion).”

Read the rest here.

Dinner With Deichman

Wednesday, December 12th, 2007

The esteemed Shane liveblogged our pierogies and beer consumption, both of which was ample. Glad to catch him as he passed through Chicago. Even happier to have not been walloped with an icestorm while driving to O’Hare. LOL!

Joining the Squirearchy

Saturday, December 1st, 2007

I must offer my profound thanks to Shane Deichman, Esquire of Wizards of Oz and IATGR. On the strength of his recommendation, I, Mark the Zenpundit, have been admitted to the august ranks of the Tennesse Squire Association, sponsored by the honorable and venerable Jack Daniels Distillery, maker of America’s finest spirits. I am at once humbled and bursting with aristocratic presence.

Rest assured, I will put on no airs due to my new rank of Squire, though I may quietly lobby for a baronetcy from the British Crown.


Wednesday, November 21st, 2007

To those blogfriends who let their readers know about the move to Zenpundit.com and their many kind words. A list including:

Simulated Laughter – New!

I’m particularly pleased to blaze a get-a-new-blog trail for A.E. who will now be found at the much sharper and crisp-looking (his writing was always sharp) blog  Rethinking Security.

Strategist – New!

MountainRunner -New!


Opposed Systems Design





Wizards of Oz

Much appreciated, people!

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