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      CommentAuthoroak
    • CommentTimeJul 17th 2015
     
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    Another ‘Too Big to Fail’ System in G.M.O.s

    by Mark Spitznagel and Nassim Nicholas Taleb
    New York Times
    July 13, 2015

    Before the crisis that started in 2007, both of us believed that the financial system was fragile and unsustainable, contrary to the near ubiquitous analyses at the time.

    Now, there is something vastly riskier facing us, with risks that entail the survival of the global ecosystem — not the financial system. This time, the fight is against the current promotion of genetically modified organisms, or G.M.O.s.

    Our critics held that the financial system was improved thanks to the unwavering progress of science and technology, which had blessed finance with more sophisticated economic insight. But the “tail risks,” or the effect from rare but monstrously consequential events, we held, had been increasing, owing to increasing complexity and globalization. Given that almost nobody was paying attention to the risks, we set ourselves and our clients to be protected from an eventual collapse of the banking system, which subsequently happened to the benefit of those who were prepared.

    The fallacies used in the arguments against us at the time were as follows:

    First, we were said to be “against science.” Our adversaries invoked consensus among economists in favor of these methods, a serious fallacy. Had science operated solely by consensus, we would still be stuck in the Middle Ages. According to scientific practice, scientific consensus is used in telling us what theory is wrong; it cannot determine what is right. Nor can it apply to risk management, which requires much greater scrutiny.

    Second, we faced the argument that “more technology is invariably better,” a corruption of the notion of progress. In fact, only a small minority of technologies end up sticking; most fail because of some flaw identified over time.

    Third, we were told that had ideas such as ours prevailed in the past, they would have hindered risk-taking. Yet, the first rule of risk-taking is to not cross the street blindfolded.

    Fourth, toxic financial exposures were deemed to be “safe,” according to primitive risk models. But Fannie Mae went bust exactly because of overconfidence in its bad models (and, incidentally, after its bailout, appears to use the same risk models).

    Fifth, the system kept relying on “predictions,” not noticing that the past track record of predictions by central bankers and economists can be used to make astrologists look good. Yet the entire economic system rested on these flimsy predictions — while we were advocating a system that had isolated parts to withstand prediction errors.

    We were repeatedly told that there was evidence that the system was stable, that we were in “the Great Moderation,” a common practice that mistakes absence of evidence for evidence of absence. For the financial system to be viable, the solution is for it to resemble the restaurant business: decentralized, with mistakes that stay local and that cannot bring down the entire apparatus.

    As we said, the financial system nearly collapsed, but it was only money. We now find ourselves facing nearly the same five fallacies for our caution against the growth in popularity of G.M.O.s.

    First, there has been a tendency to label anyone who dislikes G.M.O.s as anti-science — and put them in the anti-antibiotics, antivaccine, even Luddite category. There is, of course, nothing scientific about the comparison. Nor is the scholastic invocation of a “consensus” a valid scientific argument.

    Interestingly, there are similarities between arguments that are pro-G.M.O. and snake oil, the latter having relied on a cosmetic definition of science. The charge of “therapeutic nihilism” was leveled at people who contested snake oil medicine at the turn of the 20th century. (At that time, anything with the appearance of sophistication was considered “progress.”)

    Second, we are told that a modified tomato is not different from a naturally occurring tomato. That is wrong: The statistical mechanism by which a tomato was built by nature is bottom-up, by tinkering in small steps (as with the restaurant business, distinct from contagion-prone banks). In nature, errors stay confined and, critically, isolated.

    Third, the technological salvation argument we faced in finance is also present with G.M.O.s, which are intended to “save children by providing them with vitamin-enriched rice.” The argument’s flaw is obvious: In a complex system, we do not know the causal chain, and it is better to solve a problem by the simplest method, and one that is unlikely to cause a bigger problem.

    Fourth, by leading to monoculture — which is the same in finance, where all risks became systemic — G.M.O.s threaten more than they can potentially help. Ireland’s population was decimated by the effect of monoculture during the potato famine. Just consider that the same can happen at a planetary scale.

    Fifth, and what is most worrisome, is that the risk of G.M.O.s are more severe than those of finance. They can lead to complex chains of unpredictable changes in the ecosystem, while the methods of risk management with G.M.O.s — unlike finance, where some effort was made — are not even primitive.

    The G.M.O. experiment, carried out in real time and with our entire food and ecological system as its laboratory, is perhaps the greatest case of human hubris ever. It creates yet another systemic, “too big too fail” enterprise — but one for which no bailouts will be possible when it fails.

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    Mark Spitznagel is the founder and chief investment officer of Universa Investments and author of “The Dao of Capital: Austrian Investing in a Distorted World.” Nassim Nicholas Taleb is distinguished scientific adviser at Universa Investments, author of “The Black Swan” and distinguished professor of risk engineering at New York University School of Engineering.

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    http://www.nytimes.com/2015/07/14/business/dealbook/another-too-big-to-fail-system-in-gmos.html
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      CommentAuthorTrim
    • CommentTimeJul 19th 2015
     
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      CommentAuthorTrim
    • CommentTimeJul 20th 2015
     
    Po

    Rare form: Novel structures built from DNA emerge.

    http://phys.org/news/2015-07-rare-built-dna-emerge.html
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      CommentAuthorTrim
    • CommentTimeJul 26th 2015
     
    SD

    Go, go TOPLESS.

    Clues to human molecular interactions.

    http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/07/150724151844.htm
  1.  
    The initial name SHUTTHEFUCKUP was rejected by a committee of their peers
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      CommentAuthorTrim
    • CommentTimeAug 7th 2015
     
    Po

    Mutant cells that can't copy DNA somehow keep dividing when they shouldn't—with disastrous consequences

    http://phys.org/news/2015-08-mutant-cells-dna-shouldntwith-disastrous.html
  2.  
    Posted By: Andrew PalfreymanThe initial name SHUTTHEFUCKUP was rejected by a committee of their peers


    That's because it was too similar to the codename SHUTTLEFUCKUP, which was already in use by NASA.
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      CommentAuthorTrim
    • CommentTimeAug 8th 2015
     
    Po

    Mutations linked to genetic disorders shed light on a crucial DNA repair pathway.

    http://phys.org/news/2015-08-mutations-linked-genetic-disorders-crucial.html
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      CommentAuthorTrim
    • CommentTimeAug 20th 2015
     
    N

    CRISPR: the good, the bad and the unknown.

    http://www.nature.com/news/crispr-1.17547
  3.  
    A commenter makes the case for our devolution and therefore the necessity of genetic intervention.
    Although I am not sold on the idea, the premise that we've removed natural evolutionary pressures is certainly the case. But is our collective wisdom increasing as a result of improved nutrition and less selection pressure? Same for IQ? For violent behaviours?

    Are we currently living through "the most peaceful period in history"? Depends how you measure that, For example
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Global_Peace_Index
    the USA ranks 100th worldwide, next to Angola.
  4.  
    "Peacefulness in Europe reaches an historic high"

    http://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/2015-global-peace-index-reveals-an-increasingly-divided-world-507771731.html

    A lack of military type grunts certainly helps. Let them farm or direct traffic. Or, you know, accidentally fall off cliffs. This would help improve fish stocks, and thus they would be of some productive use.
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      CommentAuthorTrim
    • CommentTimeAug 20th 2015
     
    Not for long unfortunately 'the swarm' of non legal immigrants will see to that.

    Even the French and English will go on a war footing, if as the Mayor of Calais threatens she lets tens of thousands pass unchecked into the UK, unless she get hundreds of millions of Euros in compensation from the British for French incompetence in checking who is a genuine refugee.
  5.  
    Now you know how the Native Americans felt (before the wholesale genocides of hundreds of their nations)
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      CommentAuthorTrim
    • CommentTimeAug 20th 2015
     
    But they got nice blankets, axes and horses.

    And of course measles and smallpox.
  6.  
    That's offensive
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      CommentAuthorTrim
    • CommentTimeAug 20th 2015
     
    True though.

    As long as European governments just 'muddle through' it is bound to end in disaster.

    That is why I suggested a temporary holding camp in cold Greenland and a permanent one on a safe desirable artificial tropical island, that even 'Westerners' would love to visit and live on.
    • CommentAuthorLakes
    • CommentTimeAug 21st 2015
     
    Safe desirable artificial tropical islands?, sorry only rich people need apply.
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      CommentAuthorTrim
    • CommentTimeAug 21st 2015
     
    But rich people need servants to help them dress and wipe their bottoms.
  7.  
    No, no. They pay for the privilege of doing those things.
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      CommentAuthorTrim
    • CommentTimeAug 21st 2015
     
    Don't worry I will let you wipe my bottom for free, when I am rich.