It seems Nassim Nicholas Taleb just can’t help touching off a controversy whenever a journalist tries to capture what he’s saying. They’re always misquoting him or misunderstanding his ideas — apparently because he’s so smart that they can’t understand him.
The last time came from an interview with GQ UK, in which it appeared he’d overstated the size of his fund and its gains.
The latest situation is in the UK. Apparently Mr. Black Swan held a public debate with Torie leader David Cameron (of all people), which the FT described as an attempt by Cameron to rebrand himself as an intellectual.
But Taleb doesn’t like the way he was portrayed, and he wrote an angry letter on his website, saying he was portrayed as a climate denier and a lover of crashes by journalists from The Guardian, The Scotsman and the FT. The details seem almost too trivial and small-stakes to delve into, though Jim Pickard at FT has an explanation and defence:
I’m still not sure why he included the FT.
Firstly he says he is not a climate change denier (I never said he was).
I wrote instead that he “suggested that climate change was not necessarily man-made.”
This was his precise quote: “I don’t want to mess with Mother Nature. I don’t believe that carbon thing is necessarily anthropogenic (man-made)”.
Is there any difference?
Secondly he argues that he has been misquoted to say he loves crashes.
“Another statement made backwards concerns my position on ‘robustness’. I said that free markets generate fads, crashes, massive movements. Attempts to control the cycle proved futile – what we need is citizens to become ROBUST to them, to be immune to their impact. My point is that we cannot predict Black Swans, but we KNOW their impact and can be prepared for them. Again taken backwards: “Taleb loves crashes.””
Except Taleb also said, verbatim: “I like crashes. I just like the world to be robust about them.”
Paul Waugh is another journalist to have recorded the quotes, with a dictaphone I should add.
Anyway, it seems this is a chronic issue with Taleb, who should probably avoid interviews and public speaking altogether and just focus on writing loosely-edited books.
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