On facebook, Nassim recently posted the following statement about journalistic ethics in light of the current controversy over Hulk Hogan’s successful lawsuit for $140 million dollars against Gawker Media. Hulk Hogan was backed by tech billionaire Peter Thiel in his efforts:


Journalists –as any guild, care about their peers and their community more than the general public. Except that we cannot afford to have such a community engage in a conspiracy against the laymen since they represent our interests, us the lay crowd; they are supposed to stand for the general public against inner circles of power. Journalism arose from the need to expose falsehood, take risks in exposing matters detrimental to the public; in short, counter the agency problem of the powerful. But, it is turning out, the journalism model can also work in the opposite manner: members have been effective in escaping having skin in the game –only whistleblowers and war correspondents currently do.

So one can see how this severe agency problem can explode with the Gawker story. The English tabloid machine came to the U.S. in full force with Gawker, founded by a firm that specializes in dirt on the internet. By dirt I don’t mean a fraudulent transaction abetted by some power: no, the kind of dirt that takes place in bedrooms (and even in bathrooms).

They sell voyeurism, predator voyeurism.

In other words they want to harm citizens by disclosing their private information and posting their videos without their permission in the interest of selling information. And without being accountable for it.

Gawker having posted a video of a celebrity having sex without his permission incurred a monstrous judgment of $140 million. The suit will bankrupt Gawker. Most of all, the judgment revealed that such a predatory business model will not survive, not because it is immoral, but because it has tail risks. For America has tort laws and a legal mechanism by which people harmed by corporations can be compensated for it –a mechanism that flourished thanks to Ralph Nader. It, along with the First Amendment protect citizens by putting skin in the game of the corporations.

Gawker is trying to make a First Amendment argument and unfortunately journos appear to find this justified –while normal citizens are horrified. Liberty in the thoughts of the founding fathers was not about voyeurism, but about public matters.

Gawker argued that because the person committing sex on the video they posted was a public person, that it became a “public” matter exempted from privacy protection. People failed to see that should that argument be true, then next someone spying on any public figure should be allowed to post their bedroom activity (including Hillary Clinton, Obama, anyone)… (Gawker has ruined the lives of 21 year olds posting their sex tapes and their reaction was outrageous; in one instance their lawyer Gaby Darbyshire e-mailed the woman who was in a revenge sex tape, defending the video as “completely newsworthy” and scolding her about how “one’s actions can have unintended consequences.”)

Peter Thiel, a billionaire with a vendetta against Gawker funded a law suit. Revenge motives perhaps, but this is how the market works: Gawker tries to make money therefore they need to live with the risk of someone trying to make money from their demise.

(You make money from the demise of a 21 yo, someone will make money from yours. You make yourself a vehicle for revenge porn; you become the subject of someone’s revenge. You engage in bullying someone financially weaker than you; someone stronger will bully you. There is no reason Gawker should be the only one to use asymmetry given that their very business is asymmetry against weak people–and this is general as the media is asymmetrically strong against citizens, what is commonly called “bullying” ).
I would have personally shorted Gawker (if they were publicly listed) to make money from their collapse. And I am ready to fund lawsuits against journalists who break some intellectual rules and distort people’s positions (strawman arguments).

Any journalist who supports Gawker in the name of the First Amendments fails to understand that they as a community are committing suicide because they are trivializing the reasons behind the First Amendment –and they make it conflict with other fundamental rights. And a corporation trying to warp our sacred values should go bankrupt. And anyone, like Peter Thiel, who accelerates such bankruptcy, should be thanked.

Nassim Taleb is starting the new academic year with a new role. Along with Charles Tapiero, Taleb will be co-director of the  EXTREME RISK INITIATIVE, which is expected to develop into an Extreme Risk Institute within the NYU School of Engineering. Here is the official description from his Facebook Page:

In spite of the importance of extreme/hidden risks, there has not been a rigorous methodology to deal with them; statistical or mathematical approaches have not been formally reconciled with real-world decision-making the way engineering has traditionally integrated mathematics and real world heuristics. Extreme risks require both more mathematical and more practical rigor.

The “Extreme Risks Initiative”, ERI, is an NYU-School of Engineering interdisciplinary open research agenda, based on research axes defined by its members and a global research collaborations. Its approaches are at the intersection of the technical and the practical, based on a rigorous merger of theory and practice across interdisciplinary lines. These may include financial and economic engineering, urban risk engineering, transportation-networks, bio-systems, as well as global and environmental problems. A selected series of research axes as well as publications drawing on members’ Initiatives are included in the ERI a working paper series as well as current research enterprises.


Abstract: Proof that under constraints of Put-Call Parity, the probability measure for the valuation of a European option is risk neutral under any general probability distribution, bypassing the Black-Scholes-Merton dynamic hedging argument, and without the requirement of complete markets. The heuristics used by traders for centuries are both more robust and more rigorous than held in the economics literature.


From Nassim Taleb’s Facebook Page:

Life is Randomness! Life is Antifragility!

More evidence that you are alive if & only if you like volatility. More evidence of Jensen’s inequality (convex response). This article passed my filter, my bi-monthly linking allowance. (via Steven Stogatz)

Stochastic properties of neurotransmitter release expand the dynamic range of synapses.

Yang H, Xu-Friedman MA.
Department of Biological Sciences, University at Buffalo, State University of New York, Buffalo, New York 14260.

Release of neurotransmitter is an inherently random process, which could degrade the reliability of postsynaptic spiking, even at relatively large synapses. This is particularly important at auditory synapses, where the rate and precise timing of spikes carry information about sounds. However, the functional consequences of the stochastic properties of release are unknown. We addressed this issue at the mouse endbulb of Held synapse, which is formed by auditory nerve fibers onto bushy cells (BCs) in the anteroventral cochlear nucleus. We used voltage clamp to characterize synaptic variability. Dynamic clamp was used to compare BC spiking with stochastic or deterministic synaptic input. The stochastic component increased the responsiveness of the BC to conductances that were on average subthreshold, thereby increasing the dynamic range of the synapse. This had the benefit that BCs relayed auditory nerve activity even when synapses showed significant depression during rapid activity. However, the precision of spike timing decreased with stochastic conductances, suggesting a trade-off between encoding information in spike timing versus probability. These effects were confirmed in fiber stimulation experiments, indicating that they are physiologically relevant, and that synaptic randomness, dynamic range, and jitter are causally related.