No, this is not a black swan

BEWARE: This is not a (truly new) post. It’s just a remainder with and ad.

A few days ago a very influencial instution, the investment firm Sequoia, published a note titled “Coronavirus: The Black Swan of 2020”. I understand the temptation, the attractiveness, the coolness of the concept, but let me recall that:

A Black Swan, as defined by Mr. Taleb, the one who coined the term, is a metaphor that describes an event that comes as a surprise, has a major effect, and is often inappropriately rationalized after the fact with the benefit of hindsight.

The current pandemic does not come as a surprise. It is an event clearly anticipated by WHO (and many others):

Disease X represents the knowledge that a serious international epidemic could be caused by a pathogen currently unknown to cause human disease, and so the R&D Blueprint explicitly seeks to enable cross-cutting R&D preparedness that is also relevant for an unknown “Disease X” as far as possible.”

Its anticipated traits match very well those of current infection:

  • efficient human to human transmissibility,
  • an appreciable case fatality rate,
  • the absence of an effective or widely available medical countermeasure,
    an immunologically naïve population,
  • virulence factors enabling immune system evasion, and
    respiratory mode of spread.
  • Additionally, the ability to transmit during incubation periods and/or the occurrence of mild illnesses would further augment spread.

Some nations were better prepared than others to face the challenge:

in fact, even the author of this blog, a not particularly imaginative guy, has had more than two years to think and write about the potencial consequences (and planned uses) of a pandemics. (Yes, this is dirty publicity. How could I avoid it!) But the key question is how/if we will evolve into a higher level of collective intelligence… just to deal better with i.e. this sort of threat.

6 comments

  1. If there is a ‘black swan’ in this equation, it’s the fact that we humans appear to have been taken by surprise by this pandemic even though it has long been suggested that another one was coming. But then again, that homo fatuus brutus should behave in this way doesn’t surprise me in the slightest….

      • That’s true. And part of me wonders whether some of those ‘urgent things’ (I’m thinking ‘Brexit’) aren’t deliberately contrived to keep us from debating the important issues.

  2. Brexit or (in our case) Catalexit is exactly the kind of thing I had in my mind when writing my answer. I cannot agree more. We are exactly on the same page, which gives me some hope…;)

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