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Swans: Dane, Wayne, Norman and, of course, Nassim Nicholas Taleb

The other day, former AFL player, Dane Swan, had his thoughts on the Melbourne lockdown reported in what’s alleged to be a Melbourne newspaper after which a number of people took to Twitter to point out Dane’s lack of expertise in the area of epidemiology and crisis management. (To be fair, I think that a look at Swan’s playing career and life would suggest that he may have some expertise in the latter…) This response led Mr Swan to tweet the following:

Of course, this is one of the great things about platforms like Twitter; they enable anybody to have an opinion no matter how many head knocks they may have suffered. The terrible thing about Twitter, as Dane Swan points out, is that sometimes people have an opinion which differs from one’s own. Swan’s tweet seems to suggest that while one shouldn’t be excluded from an opinion just because one is a sportsman, losers who haven’t excelled are losers and shouldn’t be allowed to judge his thoughts.

It’s a common thing in social media and we shouldn’t be surprised that a whole range of people have a whole range of views. Neither should we be surprised when people start pointing out other people’s lack of experience/qualifications/breeding/intelligence or anything else that they feel is relevant to helping to explain why said person has no idea what he’s talking about.

The problem isn’t that social media has a lot of opinions that most people would be better off ignoring. The problem is that the level of discourse in the political realm generally is no better. For example, when Wayne Swan was named World’s Best Treasurer by a group comprising leading European bankers and investors, did the Liberals acknowledge the honour and congratulate him? Did social media think that these people must know more than they did because they were looking at criteria other than “Does Alan Jones approve?” No, it was ridiculous because he’d sent the country broke! We had no more money. Strangely we now have three times the debt and an enormous deficit but the Liberals found a trillion dollars in the back of the couch, and in spite of the lack of a budget surplus, they’re supposedly managing the economy well and various people are expressing thanks that Labor isn’t in power because they’d be spending too much money…

So what about Norman Swan, who like Dane, is no expert in epidemiology? The difference is that Norman is doing research and presenting the research. He doesn’t argue that he knows everything. Neither does he argue that nobody else has a right to an opinion. Compare this with the way in which some of the media present information. One ABC presenter recently argued that – as two test results were “false positives” we should wait until we’re sure that tests aren’t positives before adding sites to the exposure list. The expert she was talking to was trying to explain that it would be too late to stop the spread if they waited until everything was double-checked before releasing the possible exposure sites. “Yes, but some people had to isolate unnecessarily!” Apparently this is a bigger problem than if they were allowed to roam free spreading the virus for another couple of days.

When it comes to expertise, the media often make the mistake of thinking that getting one thing right qualifies one as an expert. Frequently when there’s a share-market or property downturn, they’ll search up some guy and announce that Mr Doomsday is a genius because he predicted this and then they’ll ask him what they future holds. Never mind that Mr Doomsday has been predicting the same thing for thirty years and he’s been warning that this is imminent. Predictions of this sort can only be useful if the time frame is within a reasonable limit. For example, if I tell you that this year’s Melbourne Cup will be won by a female jockey, you’ll hardly consider me to be worth listening to if it’s 2034 before the next female jockey wins it.

Nassim Nicholas Taleb wrote an interesting book called “The Black Swan” which put forward the proposition that there were sometimes unpredictable events which had enormous consequences, but that, when looking at them introspect, humans frequently talked about them as though they inevitable and obvious, rather than a random, disruptive event. The Europeans believed that there was no such thing as a black swan and refused to believe that they existed. Once it was established that Australia had them, and no it wasn’t a painted white swan, then it became mundane and so what!

The interesting thing about Taleb was that he predicted the possibility of something like the Global Financial Crisis. His basic argument was that we couldn’t be sure that we had it all under control because the unexpected is always a possibility, and in terms of history, likely. When he was being interviewed about this after the GFC, one interviewer asked what he thought would happen in the future. After all, he’d been right about the future being unpredictable, so why not??

The fact that Taleb got that right hardly qualifies him to prognosticate any more than if I say, “Here’s my Tattslotto numbers but I have no idea which numbers will come out because it’s just random!” It’s hardly going to have people celebrating the fact that I was right about not getting them right and asking for my expert forecasts on other matters.

Yes, we’re rather drawn to those making predictions even if they have no history of them ever being correct. Even though we didn’t predict the GFC, Tony Abbott winning the leadership of the Liberal Party, Tony Abbott being removed as PM by his own party, the vote for Brexit, the election of Donald Trump, Labor’s loss in 2019, the pandemic, but somebody will tell you that they’re sure that Morrison will be re-elected, even before the date is announced.

Anyway, I’m waiting for “The Herald-Sun” to interview Dane Swan on his thoughts for how to resolve the Israel-Palestine conflict.

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7 comments

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  1. Phil Pryor

    Curious.., I’ve never been impressed with ex-sporting persons as they comment, even on their type of sport. Some notice is hardly a guide to ability, a position of some authority, a worth beyond a casual comment. To remind oneself of G K Chesteton, it’s a world of devices and methods where anyone can say anything, yet no-one is clearly fit to say much. A P. M. is a noted person, yet, if Morrison tried to choose a car, tie, dinner or drink for me, I’d ignore it all. Who would have confidence in an empty condom? There are so many pretentious pumped up prodders who pontificate, and so, avoid them all, especially on something like facebook (farcebook?)

  2. Michael Taylor

    When it comes to expertise, the media often make the mistake of thinking that getting one thing right qualifies one as an expert.

    Rossleigh, you remind me of something I heard on the radio a dozen or so years ago that went something like this: “The mainstream media has successfully predicted seventeen of the last two recessions”.

  3. Harry Lime

    The fact that Dane fell into a cement mixer full of indelible marker pens is no reason to chastise him.However, informed sources say there were also a number of chimney bricks in there as well.How long was he in there,you ask?Could have been ten minutes,could have been a fortnight.Who knows? I’m leaning to the latter.

  4. skip

    Their new means of rule is a health dictatorship based on infection regimes that can be activated at any time. Today Covid-19, tomorrow rhinoviruses, the day after tomorrow perhaps malaria or a “biological warfare” attack.

    The never-ending “War on Terror” has morphed into “War on Covid” since March 2020.

    Propaganda can only take hold in a shallow, uncritical, compliant mind, immersed in a puddle of shallow, uncritical, compliant minds.

    The think tanks and PR firms were on the nose this time. They knew acquiescence, combined with hypochondria (this describes the majority of modern academia) were both at their climax levels to launch their destructive plan- without a single bullet.

    They learned a lot from their mistakes in 2009 with the swine flu vaccine rollout fiasco. They refined their strategy by keeping a tighter control of the narrative through the media and exerting more psychological and physical manipulation with signs, “influencers”, distancing, restrictions, masks. They bought off most of the politicians and scientific advisers.

    What is actually happening, once you get past the cartoon caricature of the Killer Virus from Venus, is the controlled demolition of a system that was already collapsing to be rebuilt by the same billionaire psychopaths that caused the collapse but with much less freedom and more control via technocratic governance and forced self regulation via a social credit system that penalizes non adherence to good citizenship.

    It’s all supported by The Science™, NHS, CDC, WHO, GAVI, The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and The World Economic Forum circa 2020.

    This is directed against humanity as a whole.

    We are getting a real time lesson from the Ministry of Truth.

    “The Party told you to reject the evidence of your eyes and ears. It was their final, most essential command.”

    “And if all others accepted the lie which the Party imposed—if all records told the same tale—then the lie passed into history and became truth.”

    George Orwell, “1984”

    “The most dangerous man to any government is the man who is able to think things out for himself, without regard to the prevailing superstitions and taboos. Inevitably he comes to the conclusion that the government he lives under is dishonest, insane and intolerable.”

    H.L. Mencken

  5. Andrew J. Smith

    Says much about Australia nowadays where libertarian ideology has come to be absorbed after decades of agit prop to represent people’s view of the world.

    Many of the same rely upon a right wing tabloid that constantly attacks and ridicules the Victorian government, and implicitly, Victorian citizens and voters….

    It is not possible to have informed citizens nor voters in Australia with consolidated, hollowed and political activist legacy media supporting nativist conservative libertarian ideals, with few if any alternative views (compared with media diversity, though still sub-optimal, of ten+ years ago); targeting ageing, less diverse, less educated and cowed voters.

  6. Williambtm

    skip, your comment is acceptable as it is based on fact.
    In time the World will come to realize that yep, it was the USA all along.
    No different to the 9/11 false flag event which had been directed if not telecast to every country around our World.
    9/11 came crashing down when the instigators flicked the go button.
    Fact evidence provides the truth. Always.
    See the enlightening comment of Ron Brassfield, held in the below link, one must understand there are some very intelligent thinkers and researchers that the government or the deep state of America that inevitably chooses to dislike or to be hyper-critical toward a person’s credibility.

    Watch Noam Chomsky Set 9/11 Truther Straight

    For me, it was the actually tested melting of the Twin Towers inner framework of its massive steel beams, the temperature of some 3,000 degrees Fahrenheit was essential to convert all that massive steel inner structure into a liquid form. Nothing of any jet fuel plane or building construction flammable objects could cause a greater heat than a 1,100 degrees Fahrenheit temperature.

    An enhanced form of high concentrate TBX super-thermite has been claimed to create the necessary extreme heat to liquify the inter-connecting joints and the massive Steel beam end attachments to the external secure structure.
    From here it is up to the experts.

  7. leefe

    William,
    The whole “melting point of steel” line has been debunked so many times and so thoroughly I don’t know why people still bother to trot it out.
    You don’t need to melt the reinforcement in order to bring down a structure, you simply need to create sufficient weakness in various points to undermine its integrity.

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