Lessons from the long tail of improbable disaster

Steven  Pearlstein writes:“If it seems that the frequency and size of calamities have been picking up in recent years, it’s only because they probably have.” (via The Washington Post).

We continually underestimate the frequency and severity of so-called ‘low-probability high-impact events’, or ‘black swans’ (in the words of Nassim Nicholas Taleb), to our peril. Taleb, whose book I was uncannily reading when Japanese events unfolded, would go further, saying they drive human history. It is hubris to continue to make predictions based on what we know, when what we do not know may be more determinative.

2 thoughts on “Lessons from the long tail of improbable disaster

  1. Sam Smith has a very good article at Progressive Review about what he’s learned from poker. One of his most important points is that when the odds of something happening right now are very low, it does not mean that the odds of it ever happening are low. When that something is an event with catastrophic consequences, like the world-wide collapse of the eco-system, then it needs to be guarded against no matter how low the odds appear.


  2. Black Swan is the best book I’ve read in the last 3 years. Taleb has actually spoken about the nuclear disaster:


    His brand new book is at the top of my reading list: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Bed-Procrustes-Philosophical-Practical-Aphorisms/dp/1846144582/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1300515230&sr=8-1

    And finally, we had him on air last Sunday in an interesting (if rather fruitless) discussion: http://www.bbc.co.uk/podcasts/series/forum


Comments are closed.