Fooled by Randomness by Nassim Nicholas Taleb

By Rogers Wanambwa

Following the recent events that have happened in the just concluded NRM primaries, I found that alot of the information people get is always distorted in some form or other. I wondered why this happens in almost everything in life and so I looked into it further and that’s where this book was recommended to me by an acquaintance to really dive into why.


To explain the way information gets distorted and why, Nassim Taleb gives us quite a number of explanations like this one below:


“A journalist is trained in methods to express himself rather than to plumb the depth of things—the selection process favors the most communicative, not necessarily the most knowledgeable. My medical doctor friends claim that many medical journalists do not understand anything about medicine and biology, often making mistakes of a very basic nature. I cannot confirm such statements, being myself a mere amateur (though at times a voracious reader) in medical research, but I have noticed that they almost always misunderstand the probabilities used in medical research announcements. The most common one concerns the interpretation of evidence. They most commonly get mixed up between absence of evidence and evidence of absence. How? Say I test some chemotherapy, for instance Fluorouracil, for upper respiratory tract cancer, and find that it is better than a placebo, but only marginally so; that (in addition to other modalities) it improves survival from 21 per 100 to 24 per 100. Given my sample size, I may not be confident that the additional 3% survival points come from the medicine; it could be merely attributable to randomness. I would write a paper outlining my results and saying that there is no evidence of improved survival (as yet) from such medicine, and that further research would be needed. A medical journalist would pick it up and claim that a one Professor N. N. Taleb found evidence that Fluorouracil *does not help*, which is entirely opposite to my intentions. Some naive doctor in Smalltown, even more uncomfortable with probabilities than the most untrained journalist, would pick it up and build a mental block against the medication, even when some researcher finally finds fresh evidence that such medicine confers a clear survival advantage.”

It is a book for those that want to get to the bottom of things. Those that are not simply satisfied with the usual narrative.

This review first appeared here.

Published by wanamworld

Accountant|Writer|Editor|Occasional Poet

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