So has Taleb gone nuts?
"We have to be more conservative with some classes of risk, like the climate - we have to be more worried about the climate than people traditionally have."
So it's slightly puzzling to read this morning's papers and see Taleb presented as a climate change denier (see the Scotsman, for instance - although it is strangely satisfying to see even the Sun portraying denialism as the hallmark of a crank).
The implication is that Taleb (and by extension, Cameron, who shared a platform with him at the RSA event) has joined that weird lobby of evidence-denying dishonest do-nothings. From what I've read of his work, that seems rather unlikely.
For example, there's this from an essay on the Edge:
Correspondents keep asking me if the climate worriers are basing their claims on shoddy science and whether, owing to nonlinearities, their forecasts are marred with such a possible error that we should ignore them. Now, even if I agreed that it was shoddy science; even if I agreed with the statement that the climate folks were most probably wrong, I would still opt for the most ecologically conservative stance. Leave Planet Earth the way we found it. Consider the consequences of the very remote possibility that they may be right—or, worse, the even more remote possibility that they may be extremely right.
Here's what he reportedly said at the RSA, as per the London Evening Standard:
"I'm a hyper-conservative ecologically. I don't want to mess with Mother Nature. I don't believe that carbon thing is necessarily anthropogenic"
[EDIT, 20/8: Having now listened to the recording of the meeting, available from the RSA page linked above, it's clear that what Taleb actually says is "Even if I don't believe that carbon thing is necessarily anthropogenic, I just don't want to mess with Mother Nature." Which is obviously quite different. Shame on the Standard.]
It's grossly unfair to paint Taleb as part of the denial lobby, when his message is that even if you don't accept the evidence, we should be doing all we can to reduce greenhouse emissions because the potential cost of not doing so will be devastating. That's a long way from the do-nowt bleating of the fossil fuel industry shills and the genuine fruitloop fringe.
I strongly suspect Labour party briefings are behind this morning's stories. That not only seems deeply unfair on Taleb (but then, if you lie down with dogs, etc), but also rather unnecessary, as you really don't need this kind of spin to suggest that Cameron's a bit of a twat.