Freitag, 10. Februar 2017

The Black Swanologists are having a field day

Better late than never. My comment on the presidential election:

This is not the day of the first female president. This might be the week when millions of Americans google: "What are the policies of Donald Trump?"

As is painfully obvious history is made by unlikely events with a high impact and people like Nassim Taleb are never tired of emphasizing just how hard predictions are. These "Black Swan" events range from the second World War to the Great Recession of 2008, the failure to address greek debt in a healthy manner over to Britain's EU vote and to recent political events in Europe. An influx of asylum seekers has strengthened the extreme, authoritarian, xenophobic right in Austria, Hungary and to some extent Germany and everywhere else.

Is there anything useful we can learn from this disaster?

On the one hand, a win by Donal Trump wasn't impossible so perhaps it shouldn't be so shocking? Fivethrityeight gives the Clinton chance as 70% down from 90% a few weeks before the election. However, looking back even a year or two no one would have predicted a candidate that radical to have a chance of winning the primaries. Considering all this, yes, we have reason to be horrified and surprised.

I do not want to talk about american politics much at all. As always there was an obvious divide like in many decisions and elections. Although, a simplification we can say that voters best characterized along the lines of "old, white, male, rural, uneducated" voted against their own interests. To be fair, we do not quite understand the election outcome, but it's pretty clear we saw another phenomenon, which is successful populism. Europe has their share of populists as well.

The important take home message
First of all, perhaps biogerontology needs a populist spokesperson to be successful, so the ever colorful Aubrey de Grey might have been on to something. Look different, tell people what they want to hear, be an optimist. It's worth mulling over.

Second, we must remember the pendulum will swing back. The march towards progress doesn't end with a single setback. Sure, this could be the beginning of the end, but it seems unlikely as documented by Steven Pinker. Positive news rarely get reported, but, just to mention a small silver lining, around the election California legalized Cannabis, Americans still dislike the electoral voting system, post-election Americans successfully fight Trump policies, science papers are now much cheaper than ever, progress against poverty has been steady, drug approvals have picked up at least modestly over the last 3 years, Romanians successfully fight back pro-corruption laws, Austrians elected the first "green" president ever and are still leaving the church in droves and 2016 seems to be the least bloody year of the Syrian civil war.

Third, many scientists, especially demographic researchers, are telling us that changes in lifespan are very unlikely and a major shift in funding for aging research is not forthcoming. This is true now and when - or if - it changes, it will be likely driven by a major shift that occurred over a few years once the time was ripe and it will be an unpredictable black swan event.


References:
http://www.politifact.com/personalities/donald-trump/
http://projects.fivethirtyeight.com/2016-election-forecast/
http://fivethirtyeight.com/features/where-trump-got-his-edge/

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