Thursday, November 4, 2010

black swans

Andrew Gelman revisits his review of Taleb's The Black Swan.

And then there are parts of the review that make me really uncomfortable. As noted in the above quote, I was using the much-derided "picking pennies in front of a steamroller" investment strategy myself--and I knew it! Here's some more, again from 2007:

I'm only a statistician from 9 to 5

I try (and mostly succeed, I think) to have some unity in my professional life, developing theory that is relevant to my applied work. I have to admit, however, that after hours I'm like every other citizen. I trust my doctor and dentist completely, and I'll invest my money wherever the conventional wisdom tells me to (just like the people whom Taleb disparages on page 290 of his book).

Not long after, there was a stock market crash and I lost half my money. OK, maybe it was only 40%. Still, what was I thinking--I read Taleb's book and still didn't get the point!

Actually, there was a day in 2007 or 2008 when I had the plan to shift my money to a safer place. I recall going on the computer to access my investment account but I couldn't remember the password, was too busy to call and get it, and then forgot about it. A few weeks later the market crashed.

If only I'd followed through that day. Oooohhh, I'd be so smug right now. I'd be going around saying, yeah, I'm a statistician, I read Taleb's book and I thought it through, blah blah blah. All in all, it was probably better for me to just lose the money and maintain a healthy humility about my investment expertise.

Andrew was kind enough to have me to dinner (along with Jenny Davidson) while I was in New York; Andrew is probably one of the few who are more charismatic in person than in avatar (possibly because backed up by the exceptionally charismatic Caroline, Jakey and Zach). This in itself would be sufficient justification for blogging (at a purely personal level); the thing that is of real significance, though, is the fact that AG was able to write a review with self-determined word-count -- and then revisit it in light of events. Show me the paper publication that lets reviewers write a review of the review years later, at a word count dictated by developments in the world rather than by paper constraints-- I don't think so.

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