Academic

On Medium, Nassim explains how once an intransigent minority reaches a tiny percentage of the total population, the majority of the population will naturally succumb to their preferences:

The best example I know that gives insights into the functioning of a complex system is with the following situation. It suffices for an intransigent minority –a certain type of intransigent minorities –to reach a minutely small level, say three or four percent of the total population, for the entire population to have to submit to their preferences. Further, an optical illusion comes with the dominance of the minority: a naive observer would be under the impression that the choices and preferences are those of the majority. If it seems absurd, it is because our scientific intuitions aren’t calibrated for that (fughedabout scientific and academic intuitions and snap judgments; they don’t work and your standard intellectualization fails with complex systems, though not your grandmothers’ wisdom).

The main idea behind complex systems is that the ensemble behaves in ways not predicted by the components. The interactions matter more than the nature of the units. Studying individual ants will never (one can safely say never for most such situations), never give us an idea on how the ant colony operates. For that, one needs to understand an ant colony as an ant colony, no less, no more, not a collection of ants. This is called an “emergent” property of the whole, by which parts and whole differ because what matters is the interactions between such parts. And interactions can obey very simple rules. The rule we discuss in this chapter is the minority rule.

The minority rule will show us how it all it takes is a small number of intolerant virtuous people with skin in the game, in the form of courage, for society to function properly.

This example of complexity hit me, ironically, as I was attending the New England Complex Systems institute summer barbecue. As the hosts were setting up the table and unpacking the drinks, a friend who was observant and only ate Kosher dropped by to say hello. I offered him a glass of that type of yellow sugared water with citric acid people sometimes call lemonade, almost certain that he would reject it owing to his dietary laws. He didn’t. He drank the liquid called lemonade, and another Kosher person commented: “liquids around here are Kosher”. We looked at the carton container. There was a fine print: a tiny symbol, a U inside a circle, indicating that it was Kosher. The symbol will be detected by those who need to know and look for the minuscule print. As to others, like myself, I had been speaking prose all these years without knowing, drinking Kosher liquids without knowing they were Kosher liquids.

Figure 1 The lemonade container with the circled U indicating it is (literally) Kosher.

Criminals With Peanut Allergies

A strange idea hit me. The Kosher population represents less than three tenth of a percent of the residents of the United States. Yet, it appears that almost all drinks are Kosher. Why? Simply because going full Kosher allows the producer, grocer, restaurant, to not have to distinguish between Kosher and nonkosher for liquids, with special markers, separate aisles, separate inventories, different stocking sub-facilities. And the simple rule that changes the total is as follows:

A Kosher (or halal) eater will never eat nonkosher (or nonhalal) food , but a nonkosher eater isn’t banned from eating kosher.

Or, rephrased in another domain:

A disabled person will not use the regular bathroom but a nondisabled person will use the bathroom for disabled people.

Granted, sometimes, in practice, we hesitate to use the bathroom with the disabled sign on it owing to some confusion –mistaking the rule for the one for parking cars, under the belief that the bathroom is reserved for exclusive use by the handicapped.

Someone with a peanut allergy will not eat products that touch peanuts but a person without such allergy can eat items without peanut traces in them.

Which explains why it is so hard to find peanuts on airplanes and why schools are peanut-free (which, in a way, increases the number of persons with peanut allergies as reduced exposure is one of the causes behind such allergies).

Let us apply the rule to domains where it can get entertaining:

An honest person will never commit criminal acts but a criminal will readily engage in legal acts.

Let us call such minority an intransigent group, and the majority a flexible one. And the rule is an asymmetry in choices.

I once pulled a prank on a friend. Years ago when Big Tobacco were hiding and repressing the evidence of harm from secondary smoking, New York had smoking and nonsmoking sections in restaurants (even airplanes had, absurdly, a smoking section). I once went to lunch with a friend visiting from Europe: the restaurant only had availability in the smoking sections. I convinced the friend that we needed to buy cigarettes as we had to smoke in the smoking section. He complied.

Read the rest of the article.

On his facebook page, Nassim shared the fact that he recently presented “an English translation” of his technical thesis on violence, co-authored by Pasquale Cirillo and written in response to Steven Pinker’s assertion that violence has declined, to the Nobel Symposium, a three-day retreat for the president of the Nobel Peace Prize Committee, the secretary of the Prize, a few committee members, and 20 scholars. He wrote:

I presented the paper on violence. Bear Braumoeller presented another one similarly critical of Pinker. After our session, the audience was split into:
1) Those who thought that Pinker was wrong
2) Those who thought that Pinker was not even wrong (i.e. not worth discussing).
And the agreement was to not talk about his thesis any further. Further, the organizer was told by Pinker that he did not wish to rebut our papers.

Pinker builds his thesis on works by Richardson in a way that is NOT compatible with the way Richardson [which is compatible with our result] and without showing the derivations. This it turned out is a CRITICAL flaw. Words and words and the central point is pulled out of nowhere.

In our paper: “As we also find out in our data analysis, consistent with Richardson (1960), there is no sufficient evidence to reject the null hypothesis of a homogenous Poisson process, which denies the presence of any trend in the belligerence of humanity. Nevertheless, Pinker refers to some yet-unspecified mathematical model that could also support such a decline in violence, what he calls a “nonstationary” process, even if data look the way they look.”

Here is the full text of the non-technical paper:

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For more information about these programs, visit the Real World Financial Institute’s website or email the Program Coordinator, Alicia Bentham-Williams, at alicia@realworldrisk.com or info@realworldrisk.com.

On his facebook page, Nassim recently posted links to a new short technical paper on the probability distribution of p-values and a video commentary. He wrote:

I was able to pull out the exact meta-distribution of p-values (i.e. p-values as random variables).
The point is that the same phenomenon will produce p-values all over the map.  A true p-value of .12 will produce p-values <.05 more than half the time, so people may never replicate and get the same result.
One Hundred Years of P-Value Bullshit!

Here is the text of the paper, which was originally posted on his website, Fooled By Randomness.

Recently Nassim posted a draft of an article, co-authored by Pasquale Cirillo, set to appear in the Royal Statistical Society’s journal Significance.

In the article, Nassim responds to Prof. Michael Sagat’s misreading of his and Cirillo’s earlier paper on the statistical properties and tail risk of violent conflicts.

Nassim kicks off The Bank of England’s One Bank Flagship Seminar, the first such seminar offered by the bank in an effort at greater transparency:

The first part of this talk – The Law of Large Numbers in the Real World – presents fat tails, defines them, and shows how the conventional statistics fail to operate in the real world, particularly with econometric variables, for two main reasons: 1) we need a lot, a lot more data for fat tails; and 2) we are going about estimators the wrong way. The second part – Detecting Fragility – presents heuristics to detect fragility in portfolios. Fragility is shown to be ‘anything that is harmed by volatility’. The good news is that while (tail) risk is not measurable, fragility is.

Some highlights of the Fares Center for Eastern Mediterranean Studies’ discussion on “Peace for Syria through a A Federal Governance Strategy” with Dr. Yaneer Bar-Yam, moderated by Nassim Taleb. Dr. Yaneer Bar-Yam, founder and president of the New England Complex Systems Institute, discussed complexity theory and violence, with a special focus on implications of the theory in the Syrian context.

Here is the full version of the talk.