Arnold Kling  

Making Taleb's Point

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Frances Beinecke writes,


Over the past several weeks, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has been in the news for its stance on antibiotic use in farm animals. Yet instead of making good on its 1977 promise to limit these drugs in livestock, the agency is moving in the opposite direction. The latest developments reveal that the FDA is actively trying to avoid protecting Americans from a known health hazard that the agency itself acknowledges.

Nassim Taleb argues that efforts to protect ourselves from minor hazards tend to increase overall fragility. This is a case in point. The more we use antibiotics, the more we create a risk of resistant bacteria.


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COMMENTS (6 to date)
JCE writes:

yeah, that would make sense until you take it a bit further and argue that humans shouldn't take medicine beacuse bacteria and viruses can evolve resistance to them.

taleb actually made that point on a previous episode of econtalk, and that's when i stopped considering him as a serious thinker

mdb writes:

From what I understand, there is no threat to people from unvaccinated livestock - the threat is to profitability of the farmers. Livestock that is not vaccinated can get sick (longer time to slaughter, less eggs, etc.) or die.

Ari T writes:

I think this overuse of antibiotics is more of an American problem. But this is just an anecdote so take it with a grain of salt.

"Taleb actually made that point on a previous episode of econtalk, and that's when i stopped considering him as a serious thinker"
Right. I think it is a pretty common fact among medical experts that overuse of antibiotics causes antibiotics-resistant bacteria. So by your definition, people who don't believe that are not serious thinkers? Taleb has pretty good track record of insights, can you say the same?

Overprotection from minor viruses is a great example of antifragility. Usually I avoid taking aspirin if I have a fever unless it becomes unbearable.

Fynn writes:

I believe that farmers use the antibiotics to increase livestock density, not at the behest of the FDA for consumer's safety.

So this is more a case in point of you demonstrating something from the Kahneman book.

Russ Roberts writes:

JCE,

I think you misinterpreted Taleb's view of medicine...

Cobb writes:

Taleb is saying that it is a mistake to pursue a single strategy of risk management. I think the best analogy is from The Princess Bride.

Currrent risk managers are like Vizzini looking only at the cup in front of them and thinking only in one direction to minimize the risk of taking Iocaine powder. All their logic is useless: Taleb says develop an immunity.

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