Tag Archives: malcom gladwell

Malcom Gladwell: poster child of mediocrity

Malcom Gladwell interviewed by Tyler Cowen of the Mercatus Center, appropriately titled Malcolm Gladwell Wants to Make the World Safe for Mediocrity

Gladwell says:

So, if your problem is that you’re facing a series of stereotypes about how you are intellectually inferior, how you have a broken culture, how you have . . . I could go on and on and on with all of the stereotypes that exist. Then how does playing brutally violent sports help you? How is an association, almost an overrepresentation in these various kinds of public entertainments advance your cause? I’m for those things when they’re transitional, and I’m against them when they seem like dead ends.

Related response:

Malcolm Gladwell on Race

His point is that while other minorities were over-represented in sports and entertainment for short periods of time, African-Americans have been over-represented for a long time, which is a sign of an inability to penetrate into other fields. This thought had never occurred to me.

That’s because you’d have to be a moron to conceive such a thought, in which case Malcolm Gladwell is overqualified.

It never occurs to him that:

1. Africans Americans in professional sports leagues are only a tiny percentage of the total African American population. Only in Gladwell’s imagination have black athletes become representative of all blacks.

2. Professional sports pay better than most professions, so it’s rational for African Americans who have exceptional athletic talent to pursue sports.

3. If American Americans ‘transition’ out of sports, who will replace them? Why would recruiters and coaches, who are looking for the best talent, as well as paying fans, who expect top ability from players, settle for second-rate athletes when blacks not only want to compete but are better. Trying filling the NBA and NFL with only Hispanics, East Indians, and Chinese and see how far that goes.

4. These stereotypes are reality, backed by decades of data. Blacks score 1/2-1 SD lower on IQ tests (even ‘culture neutral’ ones) than whites, have lower educational attainment, higher rates of poverty, higher rates of social dysfunction, etc. Blacks from wealthy families score as low on the SAT as poor whites. That’s just the reality.

Blacks are over-represented in football and boxing, which can be violent, but blacks also excel at baseball, basketball, and track, which aren’t violent. As some noted, although MMA and professional wresting are violent, the fans and participants aren’t predominately African American. Gladwell, in his usual self, ignores the examples that refute his thesis and expects the readers and audience to nod along.

Here is another example of Gladwell stupidity from the interview, in which he says that Harvard grads should not be able to disclose that they went to Harvard. The obvious question is, if an employer asks a Harvard grad where he went to college, what is the grad supposed to say? The very absence of an answer would imply Harvard. Gladwell is incapable of thinking two steps ahead to see the obvious flaws of his logic. Maybe it’s a joke…because no one can possibly be that stupid.

Malcom Gladwell, as others have noted, is the very poster child of mediocrity, who pretends to be otherwise, and like Obama, his supposed elocution and ‘storytelling’ is a substitute for not having anything insightful, intelligent, or original to say. Even Pinker called him a ‘minor genius’, which is a nice way of saying he is not one at all.

Malcolm Gladwell – Bait and Switch

Don’t bother me with the details, man, I’m just telling stories

It’s understandable why Malcolm Gladwell has kept a low profile in recent years, giving fewer talks and writing fewer columns and books.

After a lucrative career as a public pseudo-intellectual spanning 15 long years – beginning in 2000 with his best-seller The Tipping Point and ending, in 2013, with the critically panned David and Goliath – the jig is up.

In 2013, in response to growing criticism, Gladwell quipped, ‘If my books appear oversimplified, then you shouldn’t read them.’

In other words, if you’re smart enough to challenge my assumptions, don’t read my books.

Apparently though, Gladwell’s assumptions, when challenged, dissolve like Alka Seltzer.

This has forced Gladwell, in order to save face, to issue ‘corrections’ and ‘amendments’ to the 10,000 hour ‘rule’, that, no, it’s not his fault for being wrong; instead, it’s our fault for misinterpreting him.

From Salon Malcolm Gladwell got us wrong: Our research was key to the 10,000-hour rule, but here’s what got oversimplified

This puts the ten-thousand-hour rule in a completely different light: The reason that you must put in ten thousand or more hours of practice to become one of the world’s best violinists or chess players or golfers is that the people you are being compared to or competing with have themselves put in ten thousand or more hours of practice. There is no point at which performance maxes out and additional practice does not lead to further improvement. So, yes, if you wish to become one of the best in the world in one of these highly competitive fields, you will need to put in thousands and thousands of hours of hard, focused work just to have a chance of equaling all of those others who have chosen to put in the same sort of work.

It didn’t read that way in Outliers where he implied, without preconditions, there is a linear relationship between practice and ability, eventually, after 10,000 or so hours of practice, culminating in ‘world class mastery’ of the likes of Bill Gates or The Beatles. When confronted, he had to offer a clarification clause that the rule only applied to those who already did 10,000 hours, but that thousands of more hours are needed. Suuure whatever you say, Gadwell.

It’s easy to forget that Gladwell is a journalist, albeit a very glorified one – not a scientist, although it’s easy to see how he is often confused as one. But the main problem is there is no actual proven science behind the 10,000 hour rule, which is based on the research of K. Anders Ericsson, a Swedish psychologist and Conradi Eminent Scholar, whose 1993 paper on ‘deliberate practice’ was cited over 6,000 times and was the inspiration for Gladwell’s Outliers, published in 2008, and Geoffrey Colvin’s Talent Is Overrated, also published in 2008. The 10,000 hour rule barely even qualifies as science, even without Gladwell’s treatment of it. It’s impossible to replicate the results in any sort of controlled setting. According to Wikipedia, Anders is credited for ‘…training a student to have a digit span of more than 100 digits. With Walter Kintsch he extended this theory into long-term memory to account for the superior working memory of expert performers and memory experts (Ericsson & Kintsch 1995).’ Wow a sample size of one. I wonder what the student’s IQ was…I’m pretty sure it was above 100, but we can’t let those pesky details get in the way of a nice narrative. After all, a message that gives hope to the dullards everywhere they too can covet the skills of geniuses with just enough practice, is an appealing one.

And addition to anecdotal evidence, flimsy science, sentimentalism, cherry picking (for Outliers: The Beatles and Bill Gates are frequently mentioned as evidence of the supposed efficacy of ‘deliberate practice’ – a sample size of TWO), the rest off Gladwell’s examples – chess champions and musicians – are suspect, too, as research shows:

The psychologists reanalyzed data from six previous studies of chess competitions (1,083 subjects in total) and eight studies of musicians (628 total) for correlations between practice and success, and found huge disparities in how much chess grandmasters and elite musicians had practiced. One chess player, for example, had taken 26 years to reach a level that another reached in a mere two years. Clearly, there’s more at work than just the sheer volume of hours practiced, the study (and a similar one by the same authors published in May) argues. “The evidence is quite clear that some people do reach an elite level of performance without copious practice, while other people fail to do so despite copious practice,” according to the researchers.

My own take is, there are certain tasks where the rule is more applicable, and others were it isn’t. I think music and athleticism involve flow states and muscle memory, whereas math and writing tend to be more cognitively demanding and involve precise structure and rules, and you either have the talent to do well or you don’t, and such talent tends to manifest at a very early age and without much apparent effort or practice, whereas it’s easier to take up painting, golf, or an instrument later in life. 10,000 hours is the amount of practice that allows an already talented person to possibly compete at the ‘world class’.

Here’s a passage from Every Love Story Is a Ghost Story: A Life of David Foster Wallace, that shows how talent often manifests early in life, can be readily identified by peers and teachers, and allows the recipients of such talent – because they are smarter and learn more efficiently – to make gains quicker than those who put in the same amount of hours but still struggle:

In the case of David Foster Wallace, he was talented enough to have an immediately successful literary career, publishing his fist book while in graduate school and getting no ‘pile of rejections’. Many people need a swift kick in the butt that they have no talent, that no amount of hours will suffice to attain mastery or commercial success, and should pursue more fruitful endeavors. Will such a message sell books or fill TED talk auditoriums? No, but it’s the reality.

Another example is Andy Weir, another genius as measured by IQ, who attained overnight literary fame with The Martian despite not even being a writer by trade. But because he is so smart, he was able to leapfrog ahead of aspiring writers who put in thousands of hours of practice to no avail. Luck? Maybe, but you’ll find that even the ‘lucky’ ones have a backstory, often some precocity (such as reading or talking early) suggestive of high IQ, that makes them standout.

Those are just two examples…without much effort I can think of many more. And that’s just for writing. Examples also exist for math and sports – of the attainment of ‘world class’ success and skill without tens of thousands of hours. High-IQ people people typically learn with fewer repetitions, thus necessitating fewer hours. And by ‘learn’ I don’t just mean repetition, but a heightened ability to make inferences from disparate pieces of data. In the case of writing, a high IQ often entails a richer vocabulary, a strong grasp of grammar, pacing, and sentence structure, and the ability to form a plot that captivates readers.

In fact, Gladwell, in a recent podcast, actually echoed a similar sentiment, that the ‘rule’ works for those who already have demonstrable potential and talent. But then why didn’t he write that in his book? It’s a rhetorical question. It appears his marketing strategy is a bait and switch of sorts: spoon-feed applesauce to his readers, who are paying money, and then when ‘called out’ by actual experts, recant and backpedal and hope that not too many people notice.

Related: The IQ Wars

Image Credit shameproject.com

Nassim Nicholas Taleb: Thin-Skin In The Game

The Talebian One himself, Nassim Nicholas Taleb, whom I have written about at length on this blog, has a new book, “Skin in the Game”, which he has been promoting on Twitter. This is not a review of the book; rather, it’s a review of his broader ideas and character.

The problems with Taleb are as follows:

1. contradictory views (holds both elitist and populist views)
2. apparently oblivious about modern option pricing and markets; misconstruing the views of experts (his literary career is predicated on two falsehoods: that options are incorrectly priced and that traders, statisticians, and policy makers are oblivious to tail risk)
3. disproving ‘black swan’ theory requires trying to prove a negative
4. thin-skinned and short-tempered (on Twitter, anyone who doesn’t agree with him is a ‘BS artist’, a ‘journo’, a ‘charlatan’, or an ‘idiot’)
5. a dearth of viable/realistic solutions to financial regulation problems and risk

Why do I care? Because he goes around on Twitter bullying people, calling scientists and economists ‘frauds’ and ‘chalatans’, but cannot take criticism, whereas Dawkins, for example, has received much more criticism than Taleb, for far less, and takes it much better. Although Eric Falkenstein has written some much needed criticism (pretty funny review of Taleb’s AntiFragile) of Taleb regarding volatility and options, more is needed.

Taleb’s views are full of contradictions. For example, in “The Most Intolerant Wins: The Dominance of the Stubborn Minority” he writes:

The entire growth of society, whether economic or moral, comes from a small number of people. So we close this chapter with a remark about the role of skin in the game in the condition of society. Society doesn’t evolve by consensus, voting, majority, committees, verbose meeting, academic conferences, and polling; only a few people suffice to disproportionately move the needle. All one needs is an asymmetric rule somewhere. And asymmetry is present in about everything.

This is an elitist view, which I agree with, but it seems contradictory to his populist-inspired attacks on universities and academia, his support of Sanders, and his promotion of the ‘Fat Tony’ character (the ‘everyday man’) over the academic. It’s like he can’t make up his mind. He seems to be subscribing to the Daniel Kahneman view that everyone, including the smart and elite, are irrational and susceptible to simple cognitive biases (like the conjunction fallacy and anchoring), in effect promoting leveling – that ‘smart people’ are not so smart and rational, after all. This is also similar to the blank slate, which could explain why Taleb is so close to Gladwell and Kahneman but enemies with Pinker. (This feud dates back almost a decade, during the so-called IQ Wars.) As I explain, proponents of the ‘blank slate’ often believe that no one is intrinsically better than anyone else (leveling), and that it’s the role of the state to help create equal outcomes. Moral relativists tend to believe all humans are inherently irrational and corrupt, and that that is no preferred standard of morality or a ‘more rational’ group of people. Although Bryan Caplan argues that most people are too irrational, too ill-informed to vote, the distinction is that Taleb holds the reverse view, which is that the ‘elite’ are irrational and the ‘everyday man’ is more rational and exalted, a view compatible with left-liberalism and moral relativism.

If there are a small number of superior people (as Taleb indicates by the quoted passage), why not put them in power? Instead of making arguments for why smart people deserve more, he advocates populist views and policy that would cause harm to the most productive, most useful members of society. By doing away with centralized, interconnected systems, society would fall, and the smart, exceptional people that Taleb pretends to care about would find their talents misplaced. Society reverting to a post-apocalyptic, chaotic, disconnected, hunter-gatherer state would hurt the cognitive elite, since their priorities would likely be diverted to finding food and shelter, not making abstract discoveries.

Taleb attacks academia, failing to realize that academia (once you eliminate the ‘safe spaces’, ‘trigger warnings’ and other SJW-nonsense) is essential for sharing ideas. The equations Taleb uses were derived by academics cooperating with each other and sharing their ideas, with one idea built upon an earlier one. That’s why his attacks on ‘nerds’ doesn’t make sense: nerds derived all the math he uses in his papers, and without ‘nerds’ (or the ancient equivalent), humans would probably still be scribbling in dimly-lit caves…

Although Taleb occasionally hints at holding ‘libertarian’ economic views, which is why he’s respected among ‘alt right’ circles, for the reason above and others, he seems socially liberal. Being a liberal is more than just identifying as a liberal – it’s mindset, a constellation of beliefs. It’s about attacking conservative figures. It’s about attacking ideas that are congruent to the ‘right’, including HBD, ‘order’, and ‘stability’.

Here is Taleb attacking Trump and the Ronald Reagan in the same tweet:

Instead of taking Taleb’s word for it, I decided to investigate further, reading actual books on the matter instead of tweets, and while Reagan was probably not as sharp as Nixon, he was competent enough for the job. Contrary to popular myth of being an amiable dunce, Reagan was an eloquent speaker, a quick study, and had strong command of the issues. He also wrote thousands of letters and was well-read on a wide variety of topics, from philosophy to history.

Also, how many Tweets by Taleb are there criticizing Obama’s personhood (not policy)? Zero. Although Taleb may criticize some of Obama’s policies (such as foreign policy), the attacks are never personal, unlike his attacks on republicans like Trump (who he calls ‘Donaldo’) or Reagan.

Furthermore, Taleb has never spoken out against SJWs, black lives matter, or false rape accusations.

Here is Taleb endorsing non-interventionism, although such views are not unique to him:

There is a famous story about George Washington during the drafting the Constitution. It was suggested that a clause be included to limit the size of standing armies, to which Washington quipped to the effect that there should also be a motion limiting the size of an invading army.

That’s the problem with non-interventionism – it only works when everyone adopts it, but like the size of an enemy army, it’s perilous to make such a generous assumption. Non-interventionism means allowing the enemy to build-up at their leisure until they are ready to mount a massive attack, rather than eliminating the enemy at the onset of potential trouble. Neutrality didn’t prevent Pearl Harbor from getting bombed, and the attack forced America to abandon non-interventionism and enter the war, although one can argue that American involvement in WW1 was an instigating factor.

In some cases, non-interventionism may not be an option or may lead to undesirable outcomes. Consider three countries, A,B, and C. A and B are trade partners. B and C are neutral. Then B does something, inadvertently perhaps, to provoke C into war. With B losing the war, the economy of A is endangered, so A must intervene on behalf of B.

But doesn’t interventionism conflict with Pinker’s thesis about the world becoming less violent? Not necessarily, because America’s military might and willingness to use it (big stick) to defend its interests may dissuade countries from engaging in war, knowing that the United Sates may intervene at great cost to the aggressor.

In showing his softness on terror, here is another tweet:

Yes, technically that is true, but sometimes Islamic terrorism is really just Islamic terrorism. Incompetence allows terrorist attacks to happen.

Even liberals such as Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris understand the threat posed by Islamic terror on free society, and understand that the more radical elements of Islam are a threat to free speech, the religious equivalent of SJWs. But Taleb is silent on the matter, refusing to denounce Islamic terror and mass Islamic immigration into Europe.

Here is Taleb attacking Hillary:

I don’t like Hillary either, but it’s obvious that by never attacking Sanders, Taleb is sympathetic to welfare liberalism. Sure enough, here is a tweet praising Sanders:

I fail to grasp how promoting a message of division and class warfare is ‘saintly’.

Taleb wants to believe that the complexities of science and theory should be reduced to a bunch of aphorisms and heuristics. Or that ‘skin in the game’ is more important than expert opinions, but as Scott notes:

I guess the thing I’m not sure about is – does personal experience/”skin in the game” reduce fully to factual propositions? Does a factory worker have an advantage over a journalist in understanding globalization just because he knows that being laid off is really bad, and that it’s harder to get a new job than a journalist thinks – two things we would expect any journalist worth their salt to already know about? Or is there some hard-to-communicate knowledge that’s neither factual nor just a cover for “the secret hard-to-communicate knowledge that I am selfish and want a system that benefits me rather than other people”?

A person who is unemployed may be able to provide a personal account to justify why the economy is bad, but his opinion may be skewed by his own negative predicament and thus not indicative of the economy as a whole. Rather than deferring to anecdotal evidence, it’s better to defer to the actual economic data itself, weighing the summation of the good against the bad. Yes, losing your job sucks, but it doesn’t mean the whole economy sucks. This is related to the fallacy of composition.

Taleb’s arguments are easy to debunk by anyone who has actually traded options, understands elementary statics and option trading, or anyone who has actually studied option pricing, and being that I have done all three, dismantling Taleb’s arguments is a breeze:

Taleb’s books, papers and lectures repackage knowledge that statisticians, traders, and economists are already well-aware of. Fat tails and concave/convex risk are not new concepts. Pretty much all he does is state what anyone with some background knowledge already knows: that, yes, all statistical models have limitations, selling options can entail a greater loss than buying them, a single ruin can undo all prior wins, and models may underestimate risk. Although there is is nothing wrong with repackaging – new ideas are hard to come by, and pretty much all popular science books regurgitate information that exerts already know – Taleb has made a career out of distorting and misconstruing experts and professionals, whether it’s about statistics, option trading, or risk management. Taleb insist traders and statisticians are are obvious to the concept of fat tails, convexity, and ‘tail risk’, when in fact they are aware of it, and long before he wrote his books and papers ‘discovering’ it.

If you read his Twitter, Taleb often posts links to various math equations as if the concepts are new or his own, when they are not. It would be like me transcribing calculus equations from a textbook onto my website, Twitter, and PDF files and then calling them my own. To those who don’t know calculus, I may look like a genius, but to those who know calculus, I’m just re-posting stuff that is already known.

Taleb claims to be an option trader, but some of his comments suggest ignorance of how modern option markets work, as well as ignorance or omission of post-Black Scholes option pricing literature. Taleb argues that options are incorrectly priced to account for black swans – but, actually, options are priced correctly to account for jump processes and skew, with the research on the matter (jump diffusion models) going back to the 70′s. There are very complicated option pricing models that account for jumps and variable volatility. A Google search reveals a handful of pricing models that generate ‘fat tails’ and ‘volatility smiles’.

Second, the EMH stipulates that options are priced correctly, and if they weren’t then traders could make abnormally high returns from the inefficiencies, which would then eliminate the inefficiencies. Active management has done very poorly in recent years, suggesting a market that is more efficient, not less. Option traders make money from selling overpriced options and by betting on market direction, but not from the options themselves being inefficient or the market pricing the options incorrectly.

In a paper, Taleb argues that selling OOM (out of money) puts is a bad idea due to the volatility explosion, but this assumes that options are priced strictly under the Black Scholes framework and that options can be traded at infinitesimally small fractions of a penny. In reality, the volatility smile or skew makes these far OOM put options much more expensive than assumed by Taleb and the Black Scholes framework, thus substantially limiting potential profit. Also, there is a minimum ‘ask’ price for OOM puts, usually a couple cents. The huge multipliers given by Taleb are under the assumption you can buy OOM options for infinitesimally small fractions of a penny, which you obviously can’t.

Here is Taleb again talking out of both holes, dragging in the mud economist Justin Wolfers in the process:

Taleb fails to grasp that just because rare, unforeseen events occasionally yield option buyers extremely large profits, doesn’t mean the options are incorrectly priced or that option sellers are oblivious to risk. As I explained earlier, OOM (out of money) options have a skew or smile to account for the possibility of these rare events. This means that although option buyers can make large profits, the skew makes the expected value of these trades (over many years) still negative. This means that for every trader who strikes it rich with a black swan, many more will fail, and the ‘house’ will still come out ahead. No free lunch. Just like Taleb underestimates the intelligence of his critics and the intelligence of policy makers, Taleb vastly underestimates the intelligence of modern markets. Anyone who reads a Taleb book thinking it will give them an edge in today’s super-efficient market, is just a sucker.

If you can judge someone by the company they keep, Taleb prefers the company of pseudoscientists to actual scientists and economists, an indictment on his intellectual credibly, and is why scientists (rightfully) ignore Taleb’s tweets, dismissing them as rantings of an unhinged dilettante.

Taleb is incapable of debating at a high school level. For example, regarding Pinker’s “Better Angels of OUr Nature”, which argues that the world has become less violent, Taleb’s counters that we don’t know the ‘true’ variance of the distribution that underpins violence, meaning that Pinker is not accounting for possible black swans like nuclear war that may kill millions of people at once. Taleb uses this argument against all his critics, but the problem is, methodologically, such an argument is fallacious. Taleb is invoking the argumentum ad ignorantiam logical fallacy by forcing Pinker prove that there won’t be nuclear war or some black swan, and in the absence of such a proof Taleb must be right. Of course, such a proof is impossible. Whereas Pinker’s arguments involve empirical evidence of how the world is safer, Taleb waves it away by forcing Pinker to prove a negative: that nuclear war (or some other great crisis) won’t happen. (See Russell’s teapot)

Here’s a Facebook post by Taleb defending pseudoscience purveyor Malcom Gladwell:

Many people are harrassing Malcolm Gladwell. Assuming critics are right about the anectodal aspect of his work, many many social “scientists” are much worse, many are dangerously ignorant of the very notion of “evidence” and the validity of statistical claims. And if he who is clueless about statistical inference is clueless about science.

By ‘many people’ he means anyone with a brain? Anyone with at least a room temperature IQ, if they think hard enough, can see through Gladwell’s nonsense. It’s not surprising both authors, who have made fortunes repackaging unoriginal ideas and disseminating erroneous ones, gravitate to each other.

Although on Twitter Taleb constantly rails against journalists (he calls them ‘journos’), his BFF Gladwell is a journalist, albeit a very glorified one that is probably often mistaken by non-scientists for being a scientist.

On Twitter, Taleb regularly attacks real scientists – Richard Dawkins and Pinker – who are also critics of SJW-liberalism. I guess Taleb would rather side with the SJWs than side with scientists who are at war with them (the SJWs), in the battle for intellectual honesty and the free dissemination of ideas.

As other have noted, Taleb is thin-skinned as rice paper and will block anyone on Twitter who disagrees with him, as well as having a short temper. He’s also liable to insulting his intellectually superior opponents, with retorts like ‘bullshit’, rather than forming actual substantive counterarguments. He’ll even insult regular Twitter users who merely point out the holes in his arguments, which are often wide enough to drive a truck through.

Here’s a recent example of Taleb accusing Noah Smith, who despite being a liberal deserves praise for standing up to the Taleb bully, of being a ‘charlatan’ for writing a negative review of one of Taleb’s books, as well as calling someone else an ‘imbecile’ and an ‘idiot’ for disagreeing:

For some who wrote a book titled ‘Antifragile’, Taleb sure has a fragile ego.

It’s funny how Taleb accuses Noah of using strawmen arguments when Taleb himself can’t formulate a cogent refutation, apparently conflating car theft, which is a crime, with a negative book review, which is protected speech under the First Amendment…

He also doesn’t offer any good solutions to regulatory problems in his rants against ‘too big to fail’ and ‘systemic risk’, and like Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, he blames bankers and Wall St. but ignores the role of the irresponsible homeowner. In response to the problem of black swans, he say to make systems ‘anti fragile’, but this is not a solution; it’s a buzzword. In a perfect world there would be no systemic risks, but such a world cannot exist if economic activity is not to be disrupted significantly. Just saying ‘break up the banks and make everything smaller’ is not only unfeasible, but it may backfire. Smaller banks and and less centralization didn’t prevent the Great Depression or the many smaller crisis of the 1800′s and early 1900′s. In fact, central banking was created to prevent bank runs, which plagued the economy for much of the 18th, 19th and some of the early 20th century. From the early 1800′s up until 1920, I counted eight financial panics in the US, compared to just two (Great Depression and 2008) in the past 100 years, so one can argue that centralization has made the US financial system more stable, not less so. The savings and loan scandal was very small relatively speaking to the overall economy, so it’s excluded. Although there were recessions in the 70′s, 80′s, 90′s, and 2000′s, the financial system itself was not at risk but rather these recessions were attributable to economic cycles.

It’s unreasonable to blame policy makers and banks for failing to anticipate black swans, because by Taleb’s own definition they are random and unpredictable. Imagine a bus is hit by meteorite, killing everyone but the driver. Is the driver culpable for not foreseeing the impact? Rather than losing sleep over black swans or trying to be psychic, a more practical approach is to have systems in place to contain crisis as soon as it arises, along with reform to help prevent future crisis. The 2008 bank bailout (TARP), although maligned by almost everyone, was a success, sequestering the weakest parts of the economy (banking, housing) so the healthier parts (payment processing, technology, web 2.0, retail) could thrive. Eight years later, TARP has surpassed even the wildest of expectations, with lending standards much more stringent and bank reserves fatter than ever, and by early 2011 the treasury reported a profit.

Part 2: Taleb’s CV

Pop Psychology Charlatans

How to act less stupid, according to psychologists

“The stupidest thing someone can do is overestimate themselves,” he said. “What that tells us is that you don’t have to have a low IQ, in people’s eyes, to act stupidly. You just have to misperceive your abilities.”

In other words poseurs, who overestimate their abilities, come across as the most stupid, which is not surprising. This ties into earlier posts about millennials, the culture of authenticity, and how HBD-based science and post-2008 economic reality is making liberalism obsolete. In the workforce throughout the 90′s and 2000′s, all these ‘poseurs’ were getting by on social skills and connections, and then 2008 came along and then these overpaid, semi-competent employees that were just ‘coasting by’ lost their jobs. And those jobs, especially clerical jobs in the finance sector, will never come back.

Take the work of Daniel Kahneman, a Nobel Laureate and professor of psychology at Princeton University who, using arithmetic questions, has found that intelligence can make simple answers harder to find.

He hasn’t figured out why, but hypothesizes that intelligent people might be less capable of evaluating themselves, making them more vulnerable. When given a math problem, for instance, an intelligent person might assume they aren’t capable of the same thinking errors that their peers are, which, in turn, makes them more prone to commit them.

Just another example of how the left uses bogus behavioral ‘science’ to try to turn high-IQ into a handicap. Let’s see…if I were going to wager on who con solve a complicated math problem, my money would be on the high-IQ math PHD, not a less intelligent person with ‘street smarts’. Daniel Kahneman and the rest of his social pseudoscience ilk are promoting ‘leveling’ – the idea that smart people are not much better than anyone else, as part of the liberal war on individual cognitive exceptionalism. Smart people solve problems and create technologies, and if smart people sometimes act stupid, how do stupid people act? Part of the problem is confirmation bias – our awareness of mistakes made by smart people is heightened, but we ignore the fact that less intelligent people tend to make more mistakes overall. Many people, understandably so, are uncomfortable with the reality that some are individuals are intrinsically better than others, so we look for any excuse however small to knock these exceptional people down to size.

Diederik Alexander Stapel, a former professor of social psychology at Tilburg University, was suspended in 2011 for fabricating data to give politically correct results.

Over half of psychology studies fail reproducibility tests, which should tell you how useless this field is.

Kahneman, Taleb, Dan Ariely, and Gladwell rose to preeminence, along with the empty suit Obama, before and after the financial crisis as millions of people who felt ‘wronged’ by the financial and cognitive elite took comfort in the leftist message that ‘smart people are no better than everyone else’, which is pretty much the synopsis of every book written by the aforementioned authors. Gladwell, the embodiment of the pseudo-intellectual hipster, is possibly the worst of all of pop-psychology charlatans, the 10,000 hour rule he helped popularize in 2008 thoroughly debunked.

Even though I’m on the ‘right’, there is a serious epidemic of parents who think their otherwise dull kids are special. Due to inflated expectations and easily hurt feelings, the learning process is hindered because of the mismanagement of resources – both time and money – in trying to bring slow kids up to speed and neglecting the needs of exceptional children.


Nature Beats Nurture
How Liberalism Distorts Perception of IQ
Liberal Denial of Individual Congenital Cognitive Exceptionalism
The Uselessness of Pop Social Psychology

Malcom Gladwell, Exasperated Idiot

John Paulson, who made his fortune betting against loser homeowners, is donating $400 million to Harvard’s engineering school – a good use of money to help America’s best and the brightest. Malcom Gladwell, who along with Taleb, Ariely, Kahneman and other liberals is famous for his pseudoscience books that downplay individual cognitive exceptionalism, predictably opposed the donation:

Gladwell is struggling to remain relevant, years after Outliers was thoroughly debunked by Pinker and social media at large, squandering the intellectual credibility he had accumulated after Tipping Point and Blink. Although Gladwell still commands generous speaking fees and has a following who will buy anything with his name on it, he has been demoted from promising public intellectual to faddish self-help huckster whose aphorisms and platitudes dissolve at the slightest scrutiny

Libs like Gladwel, in their war on STEM and IQ, would rather fritter the money on useless social programs to help the dull masses who otherwise contribute little to society except consumer spending and social media usage that boosts stock prices and web 2.0 valuations. Apparently Gladwell is unaware or ignoring that the government already wastes billions on various entitlement programs, so it’s not like Paulson’s extra $400 million would make a dent in the figure. People like Paulson are the reason why we need to put the elite in power since they know how to optimally allocate resources. They , the cognitive and creative elite, understand that they are the reason why humanity/society advances, so understandably giving high-IQ people money so they can live to their fullest cognitive potential could only do good – hence the donation. Liberals want to live in an alternate reality where IQ doesn’t matter or doesn’t exist, where markets and smart people are irrational, where every societal ill can be fixed by throwing money at it, where practice can make perfect, where environment matter more than genes, where everyone is born equal and no one is intrinsically better than anyone else – it’s an upside-down world for the left. But it’s hard to get mad at the likes of Gladwell when their stupidity is so obvious and entertaining.

Telling Fairy Tales To Spare Our Feelings

From Quora How can I be as great as Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Elon Musk, and Richard Branson?

Why can’t we have an honest debate about success and the role of IQ? Why do we need to lie to ourselves and then spread these lies to innocent victims, filling their heads with nonsense? Rhetorical question, I know. As the success of Malcom Gladwell shows, there is an inexhaustible market for fairly tales – not just for children -but adults, too. People want to be told what they want to believe, that with the alignment of certain environmental factors (ambition, practice, and some luck) anything is possible. And if you fail it’s never because of genes or other biological factors, but because the more successful person had some sort of unfair environmental advantage. Furthermore, being too smart can be a handicap…because Gladwell said so…empirical evidence be damned. Repeat for 120,000 words and you have a NYT best-seller.

As the Tedx talk below shows, there is no IQ ‘limit’ for success, and standardized tests, which are a proxy for IQ, are a predictor for success, especially for extremely high scores:

What is ‘good is not necessarily pleasurable or desirable. To conflate the two is called the Naturalistic Fallacy. It’s pleasurable to be told that IQ is not important or see Wall St. and the bankers burn, but this is not ‘good’. That’s why from a consequentialist perspective I supported the unpopular but necessary bank bailouts. It wasn’t pleasurable seeing Wall St. get thrown a lifeline, but it was the right thing to do.

The fact Reddit users see through Gladwell’s bullshit gives me faith in millenials, or at least those on Reddit and 4chan.

Like I mentioned before in a response to a Techcrunch essay by Jon Evans, the elephant in the room is IQ, and all of the aforementioned individuals, Zuck, Elon, Jobs, Gates.. etc, with the possible exception of Richard Branson, have very high IQs. But a simple search of the Quora page yielded not a single match for IQ among any of the replies. If you want to be as great as those people – while hard work and obsession does help – so to is being in the top .1% of IQ. Bill Gates got a near-perfect SAT score on the ‘hard’ pre-1995 test, corresponding to an IQ of 160 or so. While Woz is often credited as being the ‘brains’ of Apple, Jobs skipped many grades and still found his schoolwork super-easy, giving him time to ponder the wonders of technology. Elon Musk is a physicist/rocket scientist, applying his intellect in his role in Paypal, SpaceX, Solar City, and Tesla. Zuckerberg was a coding prodigy, creating websites as his peers were still struggling with simplifying fractions. Warren Buffett, who isn’t on the list, entered college early and knew more about finance than his professors. And this applies not just to technology, but writing (and a slightly different take), mathematics, trading, chess – any field that requires brain power, but more specifically, memorization and making inferences between disparate pieces of data – skills that IQ tests measure.

But also interesting, notice how the question is titled, How can I be as great as Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Elon Musk, and Richard Branson? It’s more like, how can I be a great, like a technology leader? People equate greatness with high-IQ professions such as information technology and space travel. No one asks, how can I be as great as Don Thompson? But, ultimately, I’ll end it at this: The uncomfortable reality is that IQ, which is a biological trait, is more important than many people want to believe/accept. More than ever, in our increasingly competitive and technological economy and society, life outcomes seem to be influenced by IQ, with smarter people tending to rise to the top.

Related: So much for that 10,000 hour rule

The Daily View: Consumer Spending, Malcom Gladwell, Financial Crisis

America’s economy is still booming as retail sales keep making new highs:

But isn’t the consumer supposed to be maxed out, says the left? How do they keep spending? This is not supposed to happen, because the libs say wealth inequality is too high, so consumers should not be able to spend as much. So much for that.

From Barry:

Consider the various narratives that have been used as an excuse for a correction. The downgrade of U.S. debt by Standard & Poor’s was going to be a deathblow; it wasn’t. Treasuries rallied on the downgrade, just to prove that no one knows nuthin’. The sequestration of government spending was sure to cause a slow down in markets; it didn’t. Rising interest rates, the Federal Reserve’s taper, earnings misses, and of course, our winter of discontent, were all cited as triggers for corrections. And did I mention the Hindenburg Omen?

The left turns molehills into mountains, because they want economic contraction so the rich lose money. The republicans were right about the sequester or the debt downgrade not being a big deal. American exceptionalism is why yields are so low.

During the IQ wars, on Reddit and elsewhere, commenters overwhelmingly sided with Steven Pinker over Malcom Gladwell. Gladwell recently did a Reddit ‘Ask Me Anything’, and the most highly up-voted comment was one that called him out on his hypocrisy:

794 upvotes. That’s a lot of people that think Gladwell is full of crap.

Few of Galdwell’s own comments received nearly as many up-vote as his critics, because the smartest generation knows he’s intellectually dishonest, and his books are full of unscientific anecdotes, shoddy research and cherry-picked data, all neatly packaged and professionally marketed, to tell readers what they want to hear – that IQ is not important or talent doesn’t exist, and with enough ‘deliberate’ practice, anything is possible – rather than the cold, hard truth, such as that IQ does not have diminishing returns past a score of 120, or that double digit IQ people cannot master cognitively demanding tasks no matter how hard they practice. Perhaps there isn’t much of a market for books that tell the truth (compare sales figures for Gladwell and Murray), but if you’re going to pass pseudo science as fact or consensus with reckless disregard for scholarship, prepare for a backlash by anyone with at least an modicum of common sense. We need more people like Steven Pinker and Charles Murray to disabuse the lies these false-hope peddlers.

The neocons and neoliberals are right: wealth inequality is byproduct of biology, and in a free market capitalist system, no amount of wasteful social programs will change this.

As Italy enters a triple dip recession, we’re seeing the rise of the west and the demise of the rest. So much for the ‘post America’ era that the liberals predicted would define the world in the aftermath of the 2008 financial problem. As Europe struggles with sluggish growth, America is bigger, more powerful and more important than ever. From migrant workers to smart students to high tech founders, everyone wants to come to America, and America – but most specifically the Silicon Valley – has become the center of the universe and an epicenter of innovation.

From Salon Greed destroyed us all: George W. Bush and the real story of the Great Recession

We will never know the true cause, nor will there ever be an explanation that bridges the stark political divide on the issue. The good news is mortgage application requirements have gotten much more stringent. Leverage has declined considerably. For the nation’s biggest banks, near the peak of the crisis, for every $20 of assets, roughly $19 were borrowed. Now it’s only half that.

Nonetheless, the bulk of the blame for the crisis must be assigned to the Bush administration’s fiscal policy and the Greenspan Fed’s monetary policy.

Hmm, but has anyone ever considered the alternative scenario? It’s easy to Monday night quarterback, but after 911, the recession and the dotcom crash, perhaps not lowering rates to 1% would have caused more harm – even with the financial problem. Armchair pundits, unlike policy makers, don’t have to deal with the actual problems as the unfold in real time. They can pontificate years after the dust has settled about how they could have done things differently. Since the 2000′s, the insatiable demand for low yielding debt by foreign and national institution and governments gives the fed the luxury to leave rates lower than in in any previous economic cycle. This is unprecedented in the history of macroeconomics. Greenspan is discussed in more detail in the 2011 essay on Dyseconomics