GMO Food

Nassim Taleb Calls Me an 'Idiot'—You Decide Who Wins GMO Debate

Taleb's anti-GMO precautionary nonsense is unethical and harms poor people



Statistician and black swanning anti-GMO alarmist Nassim Taleb withdrew from the debate with me over GMO crops in which he had earlier agreed to participate. The debate was arranged by the Journal of Markets and Morality and Taleb backed out after he received and read my initial essay on the subject. Since that essay had been largely written in response to his red-herring-filled working paper, "The Precautionary Principle (with Application to the Genetic Modification of Organisms," I decided to go ahead and publish my debate essay anyway at Reason.

With his characteristic intellectual generosity Taleb responded with a tweet linking to a letter that he has apparently now emailed to the editor of the journal. Tweet: The reason we decided not to respond to this idiot

This idiot is, of course, me. Anyway the tweet and letter is below.


Just a few observations about Taleb's letter. To the extent that elementary points were "rehashed" in my essay that was necessary because Taleb and his colleagues in their poorly done "working paper" had made such an elementary hash out of both the science and relevant policy arguments with respect to the safety of modern biotech crops. I mean, really, check it out for yourself.

It's also amusing that Taleb claims that he withdrew from the debate because he does not want to give my arguments the credence and authority of being published in a peer-reviewed journal. That's particularly hilarious coming from Taleb. Why? Well, I cannot forego pointing out that Taleb's anti-GMO "working paper," located on the e-print site arXiv and his own proprietary website, has not been published in a peer-reviewed journal.

While arXiv content is moderated, the site states: Disclaimer: Papers will be entered in the listings in order of receipt on an impartial basis and appearance of a paper is not intended in any way to convey tacit approval of its assumptions, methods, or conclusions by any agent (electronic, mechanical, or other). We reserve the right to reject any inappropriate submissions.

Taleb and his colleagues prefer to leave their "working paper" on arXiv rather than publish it in "questionable journals." Well, so far no journal, questionable or otherwise, has yet seen fit to publish Taleb's alarmist nonsense.

Taleb also throws in the red-herring of iatrogenics in policymaking. The concept of iatrogenesis stems from medicine in which undesirable or unwanted effects are caused by therapeutic intervention, i.e. problems induced by treatment. As examples of how modern medical technologies can inadvertantly cause more harm than benefits, Taleb lists a number of pharmaceuticals that have been withdrawn from the market. Perhaps he thinks that the application of his so-called non-naive version of the precautionary principle would prevented these medicines from making into the marketplace.

In any case, Taleb's assertion that I "miss the long tradition of iatrogenics embedded in policy making" is simply false. Among other things, I point out in my essay that econometric research has found that excessive Food and Drug Administration precaution that slows down the introduction of new drugs has killed many more people than it has saved. Precaution can and does kill. See my scientific and moral arguments with respect to golden rice. Again, check it out.

Cutting through the conceptual fog engulfing Taleb's invocation of iatrogenics, he and his colleagues are asserting, without evidence, that biotech crop varieties might turn out to be the moral equivalent of drugs whose risks are greater than their benefits. Which brings me to Taleb's biggest red-herring, the notion of that modern biotech crops represent a "ruin problem."

Let's be blunt. Taleb and his colleagues provide no evidence whatsoever in their working paper that current versions of biotech crops might cause global ecocide or human extinction. They assume ruin and then crank through some equations that they evidently believe proves the truth of what is ultimately just a tautology. As I explained in my essay:

It is a trivially true statement that if some activity will eventually lead to total ruin, then total ruin, even if it takes a long time, will eventually follow that activity. Taleb and his colleagues just assume that producing and growing modern biotech crops is such an activity, then trivially predict a GMO apocalypse. There is a lot of hand-waving about the dangers of global connectivity and dose response relationships that may be relevant to the workings of financial markets, but they provide no justification for their assumption of biotech disaster. Unwarranted dire assumptions in; unjustified devastating consequences out.

Yes, as Taleb's letter says, the "advancement of thought" is certainly a worthy goal of debate and discourse. As it stands, Taleb's "working paper" comprehensively fails to further that goal.

I conclude again: Fallacious arguments against developing and growing modern biotech crops are cause for great moral concern.

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  1. Well-done, Bailey.

    1. Agreed.

      I have published dozens of peer-reviewed scholarly articles in top medical journals, and have served as a peer reviewer for just about every major journal in my specialty, so I know a little bit about this.

      Taleb is clearly a fraud and a clown who is frightened of actual academic rigor and/or debate. His rantings belong aside UFO ‘experts’ and poltergeist ‘investigators’ on 3am radio programs. He deserves nothing but scorn and ridicule.

      True peer review would pick apart Taleb’s cherry-picked notions and inferences. Shameful that he even is permitted a soapbox anywhere more credible than the YouTube comments section.

      1. Indeed. It’s really anti-GMOers like Taleb that aren’t worthy of being debated in a peer reviewed journal.

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  2. Cutting through the conceptual fog engulfing Taleb’s invocation of iatrogenics, he and his colleagues are asserting, without evidence, that biotech crop varieties might turn out to be the moral equivalent of drugs whose risks are greater than their benefits.

    What do they need evidence for? They’ve got the Precautionary Principle! It magically switches the burden of proof onto you! Now all they have to do to win the argument is plant their hands on their ears and yell “La la la I can’t hear you la la la!”

    1. Never underestimate the power of assuming the truth of the thing you are trying to prove.

      Really handy for topics in the realm of Scientism.

  3. I have on occasion though about getting and reading Taleb’s books.

    Thank you for indicating that doing so would be a wast of my time…

    1. I think this is more of a Linus Pauling moment.

    2. Black Swan was interesting. I didn’t always love his writing style, but it’s still worth a read.

      1. Agree. Black Swan is still worth a read. He seems pretty wrong about this though.

    3. His books aren’t worthless and do have some nuggets of good information and insight in them. Just read them with a critical eye and even if you disagree, you’ll likely get something from it.

  4. “Taleb and his colleagues prefer to leave their “working paper” on arXiv rather than publish it in “questionable journals.” Well, so far no journal, questionable or otherwise, has yet seen fit to publish Taleb’s alarmist nonsense.”

    Have you seen what gets published today? I’m sure the content isn’t what’s holding it back.

    1. Bailey definitely has seen what gets published today. I recommend his article on exactly that problem in the most recent issues of Reason.

  5. Mr Talab certainly has a strange attraction to odd scare quotes, “paper”, “scholarly” and “morality” all get them for some unexplained reason.

    But very odd and it does seem that Mr Talab is trying very had to hit as many fallacies in his explanation of why he cannot debate Mr Baily. Which is especially weird as he had already agreed to do so, it certainly does not make it look like he is arguing from a position of strength (or decency for that matter).

    1. Maybe he’s playing some kind of drinking game?

  6. At this point I wear being called an idiot by progtard asshats like a badge of honor. If you can get them to call you an idiot or otherwise lash out, that usually means you’ve won the debate because they don’t have any actual logical arguments left to make.

    Of course, being progtards, they’ll claim to have “won” the debate. How so? Because the person they were debating was an idiot, as evidenced by them calling them an idiot. And idiots can’t win debates, because they’re idiots. Neat how that works, isn’t it?

    1. Progtards consider ad hominems to be credible and persuasive arguments. Why bother to consider a person’s ideas when you can simply discredit the person? It’s like they think life is an episode of Perry Mason, and all they have to do is call the credibility of their opponent into question in order to win the argument.

      1. It’s almost as if they still have the mindset of a child on the playground.

        1. “Not fair! I want it! You’re a poo-poo head! I’m bigger than you and I’m taking what I want! Neener neener neener!”

          Yeah. Pretty much.

          1. And as soon as someone really stands up to them they go crying to a higher authority and demanding a safe space.

            1. Already in the works. See Twitter purges of conservatives as Exhibit A.

          2. I’m bigger than you and I’m taking gonna tell the teacher and get them to take what I want for me!

            FTFY. They never get their own hands dirty when they can use a third party with authority to use force on their behalf.

      2. Hey, Mason not only called credibility of witnesses into question, but he (or Paul Drake, more often) went out and got the evidence to support his contention as well. Too much work for most progressives.

      3. “Progtards consider ad hominems to be credible and persuasive arguments.”

        There’s a delicious irony in discussing how a group of people you’ve labeled ‘progtards’ use ad hominem attacks.

        1. The only irony I see is that you apparently don’t know what an ad hominem attack is.

          Simply using a label to describe someone is not by itself an ad hominem. Using that label to discredit or dismiss their arguments, rather than addressing the content of their arguments, is an ad hominem.

          For example I could say you are stupid, and therefore you have no idea of what you are talking about. That is an ad hominem.

          Or I could say that because what you describe as an ad hominem is not actually an ad hominem, I must conclude that you are stupid. That is an observation, not an ad hominem.

          See the difference?

          Didn’t think so.

          1. burn

    2. Nassim Taleb isn’t a progressive, he’s just a narcissistic blowhard who continuously writes about subjects outside of his field then whines when he gets his ass kicked by actual experts.

      Something similar happened when he got in an argument with Steven Pinker.

      1. It’s usually progtard who more often than not embrace the precautionary principle. I don’t see as much on the right. They also tend to be narcissistic blowhards.

        Although I suppose it’s possible to be a precautionary principle embracing narcissistic blowhard and not be a progtard.

        1. They also tend to be narcissistic blowhards.

          They’re the reality-based community.

        2. If you read his stuff on climate change, it all revolves around the same theory: We can’t afford NOT to act. But as has been pointed out before, the PP essentially logically cancels itself out.

          1. Yup. Even the carbon tax doesn’t pass the PP, because it has a downside. And the PP blocks anything that has a downside unless you get a scientific consensus otherwise. Which, for policy questions like taxes, isn’t a scientific question, so no such consensus is possible.

            1. And the PP blocks anything that has a downside unless you get a scientific consensus otherwise.

              This alone should negate the PP as unscientific bunk.

        3. No conservtards are just as likely as progrards to embrace the precautionary principle. It was Dick Chaney who famously put forward the 1% doctrine regarding terrorists. Other examples would be the war on drugs, gay marriage, criminal justice reform…

          1. It’s slippery slopes all the way down.

      2. From his website: Also, please no documentary films, newspaper articles, book chapters, and interviews beyond book launches.

        It puts me in mind of the Sacha Baron Cohen bit where his character, Br?no, gets off the plane and with a blanket over his head, runs around in the airport, running into objects while screaming “no pictures… no pictures please” amidst the complete absence of media.

    3. This.

      But is Taleb a progressive?

    4. Of course, being progtards, they’ll claim to have “won” the debate. How so? Because the person they were debating was an idiot, as evidenced by them calling them an idiot. And idiots can’t win debates, because they’re idiots. Neat how that works, isn’t it?

      Well put, sir!

    5. It’s…Krugmanesque.

    6. I was debating farm subsidies with a farmer who just told me he was worth millions and then bitched about proposed cuts to farm subsidies. When I reminded him that he just told me he was worth millions and asked why he should be subsidized he called me an ass. That means I won correct?

  7. I’d say Taleb is more of a charlatan than an idiot. He’s at least smart enough to know when he’ll lose a debate.

    1. That is what I got from this also.

    2. As William F Buckley once quipped when a leftist refused to debate him. “Why does the baloney reject the grinder?”

  8. Talib is a generally bright guy, but I thought even his financial market work was sketchy. He was right that current market analyis doesnt consider long tail events but he goes too far in prescribing cures.

    1. I don’t know how bright you can be when you refuse to consider evidence that contradicts your current beliefs because anyone who disagrees with you must be an ‘idiot.’

      Taleb’s personality makes it very difficult for him to learn from his mistakes.

      1. He seems to be ‘bright’ in the sense that he is aware of a large number of scientific terms he has just enough understanding of to use as red herrings.

  9. Nassim Taleb Calls Me an ‘Idiot’

    My thoughts and prayers are with you, Ron.

    1. Nassim Taleb Calls Me an ‘Idiot’

      C’mon Nassim! You can do better than that. We call Ron much more graphic and descriptive things everytime he posts a new Chicken Little “The Globe is Warming, the Globe is Warming!” update.

      It’s like you’re just phoning it in.

  10. And another thing, Australian Swans are black. So it isnt even a long tail event to see one.

    1. “Black swan” was chosen as the name of Taleb’s theory because in antiquity, it had a meaning similar to “when a pig flies”, an event that is impossible. The discovery of black swans in Australia illustrates that events that we thought impossible may actually be quite common, we are just missing or ignoring the relevant information. The fact that it isn’t a long tail event to see one, when before the European discovery of Australia it was thought be a long tail event, is the entire point of the name.

      1. ‘Black Swan’ was interesting; the parts that weren’t dizzying and laborious anyway.

        1. It wasn’t bad. It didn’t seem to be a very revolutionary idea to me; more of a cautionary tale. We can’t predict the future, so we should design systems to be flexible so that they can more easily adapt to change. Showing the validity of that idea through historical outcomes was interesting, but I’ve had that basic premise explained much better in countless software design books.

          1. “We can’t predict the future, so we should design systems to be flexible so that they can more easily adapt to change.”

            I can see why he’s against GMOs then. After all, a system of food production where crops are highly resistant to drought is definitely more flexible than a system of drought resistant crops./sarc

            1. ” highly resistant”

              Herp. That should read ‘highly susceptible.’

              1. Being that he is unaware enough to think that he discovered that basic principle, and stupid enough to ham-handedly shove it into areas where it doesn’t belong, it doesn’t surprise me at all that he can’t logically carry it out to areas where it makes actual sense to apply it.

              2. The fundamental flaw in Taleb’s argument is that Nature loves us and would never do anything to harm us. To which the obvious response is a catalog of diseases, pestilence, starvation, and natural disasters. Much as the econuts would like to rewrite history, the reason humanity is as successful as it is is because we are gradually taking ourselves out of nature and exerting conscious control over our environment. Any species which does not do this is guaranteed extinction in at most a couple billion years and more likely a couple million.

                At the end of the day it comes down to two things: energy you can command and knowledge.

        2. “one of the most influential books since WWII”

          So I’ve read.

    2. KILLER FACT: Australian swans aren’t actually black. They dye their feathers black as teenagers to match their inner self MOM!

  11. So Mr. Taleb decided that name-calling is the way to go? Maybe fine for people arguing on internet message boards but it’s downright unprofessional when a “scholar” engages in it in a vain attempt to defend his work.

    1. On Twitter, no less.

  12. What a pompous sophist asshole. Once again Bailey demonstrates that he’s the best writer at Reason, and should probably be in charge of it.

    1. And miss out an an Alan Vanneman reblog? I don’t think so.

      1. I’m not sure that ‘miss out’ is what you’re looking for…

        ‘Be able to ignore’?

        ‘Roundly mock’?

    2. He really is first rate and probably should get a raise.

      1. Nick should be fired and a chunk of his salary given to Bailey.

        1. Bailey, like many of us, couldn’t handle the awesome power of The Jacket.

          1. That’s not up to him to decide, anyway. When The Jacket hungers for a new host, it takes whom it will.

      2. You and Cytotoxic are Ron Bailey sockpuppets aren’t you.


    3. Bailey is a little sketchy on AGW, but other than that, I tend to agree that he is one of their stronger contributors.

      1. Gavin Schmidt of CAGW fame behaves exactly the same as Taleb. Just sayin.

        1. Everyone of CAGW fame or repute behaves like Taleb. It’s in the playbook.

      2. He is one of the better science journalists out there. And, aside from his sometimes support for a carbon tax, I like his take on AGW. I think there is loads of room for skepticism on climate science. But I don’t find the position that AGW is probably real and possibly a problem unreasonable.

        1. I’d actually be OK with a carbon dioxide emission tax. I’d be for it just because it’s a consumption tax, and I think that’d be better than an income tax.

          However, I’d need a constitutional amendment which, while granting the power to institute a carbon dioxide emission tax, simultaneously repealed the 16th amendment and made it clear that federal income taxes are now forbidden (just in case they try to argue the 16th wasn’t needed anyways).

          The fact that no leftists would ever accept this just shows how un-serious they are about their sky-is-falling rhetoric. It’s the worst problem ever, you know, unless it affects government revenue.

          1. Actually, now that you mention it, I probably would prefer it to an income tax. But outlawing income taxes seems pretty unlikely. I’ve pretty much decided that I prefer sales or consumption taxes to any income tax scheme, if only because of the massive invasion of privacy that an income tax requires.

          2. This kind of compromise suggestion is an EXCELLENT tactic for forcing the proggie hand.

          3. Except that you single out our cheapest dependable power source. Consumption taxes are superior to income taxes but they can still be used for social engineering. More energy = better. Cheaper energy = more energy.

    4. I like Bailey, but I’m firmly on #TeamWelch

    5. I think we’re too hard on Gillespie. It’s nearly impossible to follow up as grand and illustrious a presence as Postrel.

      1. No he’s shit.

  13. So, rich, well-fed and privileged scientific ignoramuses telling others, sorry you gotta starve, it’s for the greater good.


    1. Yeah, if we’re launching ad-homs now: it doesn’t look to me like Taleb has ever gone hungry. Fat fuck…

      1. He looks like a random extra from 24.

  14. This is pretty sad coming from Taleb, and I was under the impression that Black Swan was an important book worth reading.

    Turns out Taleb is a giant turkey.

    But good news for you Ron Bailey! There are few things less intellectually satisfying than knowing that your debate opponent is unable to beat you on the merits of the subject and instead must rely on argumentum ad verecundiam in order to respond. You’ve already won, now it’s just a matter of the final score.

    Weak sauce Nassim, I look forward to laughing at people who quote you in the future.

    1. ” There are few things less intellectually satisfying than knowing that your debate opponent is unable to beat you on the merits of the subject and instead must rely on argumentum ad verecundiam in order to respond.”

      True, but it gets old.

    2. “” I was under the impression that Black Swan was an important book worth reading.””

      It is. However, his comparatively novel insights into dynamics of “market risk” don’t necessarily apply to every dimension of the natural universe. He’s out of his element here and he’s making an ass out of himself.

  15. Taleb is one of those authors were his personal conduct makes it really hard to remember that I mostly agree with his arguments (GMOs being a noteable exception).

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  17. Iatrogenic = of or relating to illness caused by medical examination or treatment.

    WTF does the sentence containing this word actually mean in Taleb’s little diatribe? Is that just a pretentious way of saying we should consider unintended consequences?

    No shit, Taleb. Now how about the unintended consequences to the poor if we purposefully cut down the food supply by not allowing GMOs?

    1. “Now how about the unintended consequences to the poor if we purposefully cut down the food supply by not allowing GMOs?”

      What makes you think they are unintended?

      1. They’re not, when the mask slips their real goal and “concern” for their fellow human beings is chillingly clear: A Weapon of Mass Survival5.html

        “There are, of course, many more millions of Africans that need protection from the mosquitoes that transmit the parasite that causes malaria, but USAID’s announcement represents a ray of hope compared to its previous policy which – as characterized by Robert S. Desowitz’s book entitled, Malaria Capers (Norton, 1992) – appeared to be that people in Third World malarial regions were “better dead than alive and riotously reproducing.”

        1. Not sure how that is relevant to Talib or GMOs.

          1. It’s very relevant being symptomatic of a devotion to grotesque abstractions over actual flesh and blood human beings.

            1. I’m not a fan of talking about what “they” do. People who disagree with you are not a monolithic bloc thinking with one mind. I don’t know much about Talib, but I don’t see a reason to assume that he thinks that people who might benefit from GMOs are better off dead, or that the world would be better off without them. It may well be that he actually believes that GMOs are more likely to do them harm than good. I think that is very wrong, but it doesn’t mean that he is lying about his motivations.

              1. I couldn’t care less whether he is lying or not and actually believes the intellectual excrement he spouts. His proposals, if implemented or allowed to gain serious traction worlwide, would result in people suffering and dying slow painful deaths.

                As Ron stated at the end of the article:

                “Fallacious arguments against developing and growing modern biotech crops is cause for great moral concern.”

                Indeed, the pernicious bullshit Talib et al trade in has deadly consequences for the most vulnerable on the planet.

  18. I thought this was originally going to be a back and forth editorial. Nature and Science both have editorial sections. Not sure about this journal, but Taleb makes it sound like it was supposed to be some peer reviewed paper.

  19. As long as Taleb is saying that the Precautionary Principle drives his thinking on this, he has lost.

    If our caveman ancestors had applied the PP to using fire, we wouldn’t be using fire to this day.

    If an action or policy has a suspected risk of causing harm to the public or to the environment, in the absence of scientific consensus that the action or policy is not harmful, the burden of proof that it is not harmful falls on those taking an action.

    Using fire has a suspected risk of causing harm to the public or the environment (and it certainly does), in the absence of scientific consensus that using fire is not harmful (and there can’t be, because fire does cause harm), then the burden of proof that using fire is not harmful falls on the fire supporters. Naturally, then cannot show that it is not harmful, because it is indisputable that people will get burned, the occasional campfire will escape into a wildfire, etc.

    “If we look only at the downside, and not at the upside or the net, the downside will always exceed the upside/net and we shouldn’t do anything, ever.”

    1. Except the reason we have fire today is because the cave men were too dumb to apply the precautionary principle.

      Oh wait…

    2. To be fair to Taleb, he’s not arguing for applying the PP in any old situation. He thinks it’s appropriate here because there is systemic risk to global food supply. Bailey did a good job responding to that.

      1. To be fair to Taleb, he’s not arguing for applying the PP in any old situation.

        So he wants to apply it when it gets him the result he wants anyway.

        Not much of a “principle”, then, is it?

        If its too stupid to use on little things, why is it suddenly A-OK on big things?

    3. Isn’t there something about proving a negative that complicates the whole Precautionary Principle thing?

      1. Shhhhhh.

  20. Here’s how the PP is self-negating:

    If the PP has a suspected risk of causing harm to the public or to the environment

    Does the PP present the risk that new technologies that might benefit the public or the environment are not adopted? Yes, it does, so long as there is those new technologies present any risk of harm themselves, however small.

    in the absence of scientific consensus that the action or policy is not harmful,

    Whether the PP is harmful or not is not a scientific question, so there can be no scientific consensus that it is not harmful.

    the burden of proof that it is not harmful falls on those taking an action.

    Anyone supporting the PP has to prove that it cannot cause any harm. Which they cannot do, so the PP cannot be applied.

    1. The the PP was applied to the Space Program there would be no manned space missions period. There might not even be unmanned missions either.

      In the excellent Ted Talk from Mike Rowe he has a bit where he tells the story of working on the crab boats in Alaska, and right after dangerously hanging over the crab pots whilst stacking them, he spoke to the captain “Hey Captain, OSHA?” to which the Captain responded – “OSHA? OCEAN. My job isn’t to get these boys home alive, it’s to get them home rich.”

  21. It’s a telling sign when even my die-hard socialist sister in law who comes to us via Bogota, Colombia finds Taleb’s hysterical assertions to be a steaming puddle of shit. I guess actually experiencing abject poverty and the quiet desperation of attempting to feed yourself and your younger siblings day to day tends to disabuse you of the notion that raising crops in the most inefficient manner possible is a net positive for humanity. Now if I could only get her to take her scepticism for this particular method of stifling innovation in the name of the common good to it’s rational conclusion….I remain hopeful.

    1. Oh,…

      P.S. Taleb is the Arab Billy Joel, yes?

  22. Shades of Anna Merlan. What is it with you Reason writers rubbing the ‘feelz’ people the wrong way!


    Pretty weenie Nassim.

    Resorting to name-calling is weak. Debate or shut up.

    Or else you’re just like any other loud mouth’d shnook.

  23. Ronald, please DO let us know if, as would be appropriate, the journal editor, Ms. Pahman, responds sharply and negatively, as would be appropriate.

  24. …something we believe isn’t to be done in a peer-reviewed outlet.

    So not only is Bailey an idiot, but so are the editors of this journal and Taleb is graciously protecting their reputation. Concern troll is concerned.

    1. Hints of de Freitas.

  25. *makes popcorn*

    Nerd fight!

  26. Taleb just continues to embarrass himself. Best to just shut up and get back to plotting some normal distributions.

  27. Needs more “scare quotes” and handwaving references to “[insert something in latin]” to sound “science-ish”

    Talebs letter there reads like a pretentious NYU professor’s version of =

    “Ugh = I’m like so not even. I mean, Wow. Just wow.”

  28. “Sorry, poor people. GMOs might be dangerous. You’re just gonna have to starve. Try to be respectful and do it quietly.”

    This is all I hear when people reference the PP.

  29. My understanding is that the Precautionary Principle was first designed to be applied to existential risks: Self replicating nano tech, sending tight beam radio greetings into space, nuclear bombs, that sort of thing. To people with a fundamental misunderstanding of GMO technology, GMOs represent this type of risk. Of course, they’re wrong, but that’s why they use the PP to argue against GMOs.

    1. My understanding is that the Precautionary Principle was first designed to be applied to existential risks:

      Well, first you have to think its an existential risk. If you think that, then you naturally don’t want to take it, and the PP is so much dust in the eyes to distract from your fundamental premise: “This is an existential risk that I don’t think we should take”.

    2. Example:

      “There is a non-zero risk that space travel could bring an alien organism to earth that would wipe us all out. Its an existential risk, etc.”

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  31. Snip from the abstract of the paper:

    Here we formalize PP,

    Then he proceeds to formalize nothing whatsoever. Does he really not know that he didn’t formalize anything in this paper?

    It doesn’t strike me as impossible to create some formal account of what he is talking about, but he doesn’t seem to know how to do it. This is just an academic science opinion piece, I’ve written a couple but I know they’re opinion.

    1. I suspect he tried to formalize it, saw how stupid it looked, and then deleted that part of the paper.

  32. Wait a sec. Now, Prob and Stat 101 was a long time ago, but doesn’t the premise behind the idea of a “ruin problem” fly in the face of basic statistics? No matter how high the probability of a given event no number of repetitions will ever increase your statistical odds of the event happening to 1, right? So, technically speaking, you can never have a situation where something is statistically certain unless it occurs each and every time.

  33. This is something I have noticed as a tactic among progressives in some quarters lately. They decide that they are too good to debate you. Debating you would just give you a platform to spew “obvious” nonsense, so they bow out. This works only because progressives tend to control the organs of the media.

    It’s funny because that’s exactly how the scientific community at large tends to treat the anti-GMO doomsayers. Instead of openly refuting them, they simply refuse to engage and hope that they disappear. (A mistake, IMO).

    But now here’s Nassim Taleb, pretending to be so high and mighty on his anti-GMO hobby-horse that he’s too good to debate it with the likes of Ronald Bailey. Someone didn’t get the memo to him that anti-GMO is a fringe position and not an establishment one.

    1. I like to believe this is a sign that some proggies are taking damage.

  34. Aw, come on. The alt-text should have been “NO! U!!!”

  35. If the journal doesn’t exist to provide tutorials then what is the appendix of Taleb’s paper all about? Looks like a tutorial to me.

  36. Could have been worse–apparently anyone who disagrees with his anti-GMO garbage is a “retard”

    1. This is one of the ones I called him out on.


  37. What a complete jerk Taleb is!

    I was monitoring his twitter account regularly during his vicious attacks on Kevin Folta when that controversy hit the Sosh-Meeds a few months ago. Thankfully Folta is now back in the public square spreading good science and education – but I couldn’t keep up following Taleb’s feed and sending in the odd comment on how his remarks are frequently so classless (never once did he reply).

    He comes across like a petulant 14 year old in the schoolyard with his constant ad homs. He couldn’t help himself here again and stooped to calling a plain non-idiot an “idiot”.

    Strangely dichotomous man, to be presenting a paper ostensibly rooted in the unquestionable logic of math – yet built upon a foundation of human emotion based reasoning. A mish mash of contradictions.

    He is essentially proving to everyone why we shouldn’t take his paper seriously with his constant public pejoratives and childish behaviour, demonstrating to everyone that he is an emotionally driven man and that we should be on guard when assessing his statements. If he can’t help himself from hitting “send” on a tweet that makes him look so awful, how can we trust that he isn’t letting his emotions lead the way in his paper? It certainly reads this way…

    That said, the “Amens” he gets from the co-religionists in his tribe probably reward him enough to shield his mind from any urge to reassess how to comport himself in a public discussion.

  38. Taleb’s work in this field is particularly bizarre given his previous good work in pointing out human biases and innumeracy in estimating risk. To name a few, we’re subject to anchoring, framing, recency bias, confirmation bias, and apophenia (the human tendency to perceive meaningful patterns within random data) which lead us to incorrect decisions.

    I think Taleb is ironically in the thrall of many of those biases.

    In particular, he’s missing or minimizing the difference between seeing an effect, even if it’s an accurate perception, and seeing the effect’s degree and timing, and seeing its durability, once it occurs, in the face of actions taken to affect it. He’s looking at a small effect and extrapolating infinitely outward, jumping to multiple conclusions that a.) his prediction of GMO-related ecosystem events is accurate, b.) the effects will be terrible, c.) the effects will be so terrible and irreversible if they happen that they’re worth major government intervention now. He should perhaps review the history of Thomas Malthus’s most famous prediction and the things Malthus could not see or foresee that made it fail.

    I would hope he would then realize that he’s not exactly the figure in the GMO arguments that Warren Buffett is in the financial world. But then again, I’d have hoped– assumed– that he had better sense in the first place.

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  40. I think genetic modification of plant species is not in itself a bad thing, but for what end? To make them hardier, more nutritious, or taste better, for instance, would be great. But making them “Roundup ready” or producing their own pesticide may be OK but I don’t want to eat food with those attributes. If they want to grow such foodstuffs, that’s fine, but I want to know which is which.
    On the other hand, thanks to Roundup ready, the use of the herbicide Roundup has become ubiquitous. It leeches into the aquifers and pollutes the water we drink and maybe that’s OK and maybe not. I don’t want it in my drinking water.

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