The limitations of randomised controlled trials


David Aldous’ review of the Black Swan

The phrase “Black Swan” (arising earlier in the different context of Popperian falsification) is here defined as an event characterized [p. xviii] by rarity, extreme impact, and retrospective (though not prospective) predictability, and Taleb’s thesis is that such events have much greater effect, in financial markets and the broader world of human affairs, than we usually suppose. The book is challenging to review because it requires considerable effort to separate the content from the style. The style is rambling and pugnacious—well described by one reviewer as “with few exceptions, the writers and professionals Taleb describes are knaves or fools, mostly fools. His writing is full of irrelevances, asides and colloquialisms, reading like the conversation of a raconteur rather than a tightly argued thesis”. And clearly this is perfectly deliberate. Such a book invites a review that reflects the reviewer’s opinions more than is customary in the Notices. My own overall reaction is that Taleb is sensible (going on prescient) in his discussion of financial markets and in some of his general philosophical thought but tends toward irrelevance or ridiculous exaggeration otherwise.

Continue reading “David Aldous’ review of the Black Swan”