In 2010, @nntaleb said newspapers give over-causation about a system’s environment, @RadioOpenSource read as “newspapers make us stupid” with their explanations. In the interview by Christopher Lydon with Nassim Nicholas Taleb (starting about about 27:00):
Taleb … In economic life, we don’t know, because we have a lot of superimposed complicated networks.
Lydon: Can I ask, what are the media implications of all of this? When Fox News can hold an enormous audience, that people dreamed of in the past, but in all of those local institutions, particularly newspapers, symbolically, and the idea of local opinion is fading out.
Taleb: I am against the news. I am not against the media. I am against supplying people with news about the environment that is very unnatural and causes collective consciousness to be divorced from one’s local one.
Lydon: You say newspapers make us stupid, and I’m not quite clear why.
Taleb: Because they always give you an explanation to events so that you have the feeling that you know what’s going on. They tell you the stock market went down, because of fear of a recession, and that’s false causation with uncertainty there. They check their facts, but you can’t check their causes. So, you have the feeling of over-causation from newspapers. That’s number one, the first one.
The second one: newspapers aren’t going to tell you “we had 280 deaths on the roads today in America”. They’re going to tell you about the plane crash killing 14 people. So, you have misrepresentation of the math of risks. They are driven by the sensational. And the statistical and the sensational are not the same in our modern world.
There’s a third thing about newspapers. Supplying someone with news reduces his understanding of the world. It’s more complicated than I can go into here, but let me tell you how I cope with it. I don’t mind knowing the news, but I go by a social filter. I each lunch and dinner with other people. (I try to. I still have people who won’t eat lunch or dinner with me, even after writing the Black Swan). And I make sure. You can eavesdrop on conversations and stuff like that. I can tell if something is going on.
If there’s an event of significance, I know about it. And then I go to the web, or go buy a paper sometimes, or something like that.
Lydon: Or go to Facebook, and get the real news!
Taleb: I don’t know. Facebook I don’t like, for some reason.
Lydon: But it does serve as kind of newspaper or a gossip place. You’ll hear about a great movie, or a great book, or a good restaurant.
Taleb: I don’t like these social things, on Facebook. Anything that draws me away from face-to-face contact with people is harmful to my health.
I fully believe in nature. I try not to spend too much time on the web, except to set up an appointment with someone, to contact my publisher, to complain to my banker, or to run the small businesses I’m in. I think that the Internet can take on a life of its own. It doesn’t make people happier. I’m happier living a life that is closer to my genetic background and what makes me happy. Socializing on Facebook is equivalent to eating these meals you used to see on science fiction movies, the meals that would make airplane food look like three-star Michelin.
The full interview covered content on fragility versus antifragility (i.e. robustness).
Taleb has revised and extended his cult classic, The Black Swan. His anomalous “black swan” (since swans are by definition white) has three properties: it’s (1) any one of those unforeseen developments that comes (2) with big consequences and (3) a concocted cause-and-effect after-story. In conversation, Taleb is trying to get us to let go of “causes” and fix on the word “fragility.”
Audio interview of Nassim Nicholas Taleb “The Fragility Crisis is Just Begun” | June 3, 2010 | Radio Open Source with Christopher Lydon at http://www.radioopensource.org/nassim-nicholas-taleb-the-fragility-crisis-is-just-begun/.