Nassim Taleb returned to EconTalk this week, to discuss his recent paper on the risks inherent in genetically modified organisms. Contra last week’s guest, Greg Page, Taleb sees the potential for global ruin in GMOS.

Share your reactions to the following prompts with us, and let’s continue the conversation.


Check Your Knowledge:

1. Because GMOs are a “fat-tail” phenomenon, the precautionary principle should be invoked, according to Taleb. What does he mean by this? How can we know that GMOs do not represent a “thin-tail” phenomenon, according to Taleb?

2. What is the difference between harm and ruin? How is this represented in the distribution of possible outcomes?

Go Deeper:

3. Taleb describes a hierarchy of experts capable of weighing in on GMOs. To what extent do the risk analysts at the top of his hierarchy face the same bias issues as the people at Monsanto?

What would Hayek say about #GMOs?4. Taleb invokes F.A. Hayek frequently during the conversation. Given his views on “the pretense of knowledge,” would Hayek regard Taleb’s invocation of the precautionary principle as “paranoia,” or as justified? Explain.

5. In an article published this past spring, Scientific American claims that 1,424,000 life years have been lost since 2002 as a result of the opposition to genetically modified “golden rice.” How does Taleb suggest responding to the problem of Vitamin A deficiency in this week’s episode? How do you think Taleb would respond to the accusation made in this piece by Scientific American? Where does your sympathy lie? Explain.