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Dead Weight

A review of Skin in the Game: Hidden Asymmetries in Daily Life by Nassim Nicholas Taleb
Random House, New York. 304 pp. $30. SBN-13: 978-0425284629

SOMETIMES YOU CAN JUDGE A BOOK BY its cover. The image under the title of Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s new book, Skin in the Game: Hidden Asymmetries in Daily Life, presents the would-be reader with a barbell holding large weights on one side and smaller weights on the other. The mixed metaphor (one might expect to see a reference to skin and/or a game) sets the tone for an uneven book that’s heavy on personal attacks and vendettas but light on substance.

Taleb achieved authorial fame with 2008’s Black Swan, and followed that work with Antifragile in 2012. The first book showed how models based on predictive analytics can fail dramatically when unlikely events occur that crash the system. It became popular in no small part because of the financial crisis in the housing sector that occurred the same year. It’s not clear what the connection was, though, since the housing crash came as a result of consistent flaws in the lending system and not as a singular unlikely event. Antifragile put forth the thesis that universities exist to formalize ideas and processes that actually evolved in the wild where real people work.

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About Skeptic

WHY IS THERE SOMETHING RATHER THAN NOTHING? COLUMNS The SkepDoc: Health Freedom, Right to Try, and Informed Consent, by Harriet Hall, M.D. • The Gadfly: Do You Have Traits or Are You a Type? by Carol Tavris • SPECIAL SECTION ON TACTICS FOR DISCUSSING CONTENTIOUS ISSUES Personhood and Abortion Rights: How Science Might Inform this Contentious Issue, by Gary Whittenberger • How to Teach Evolution to Religious Students, by Surat Parvatam • The Arguments for Creationism and the Arguments for Evolution: A Study in Contrasts, by Ralph M. Barnes • Meeting Our “Enemies” Where They Are: The Advantage of Understanding Your Adversary’s Arguments, by Andrew Cooper-Sansone ARTICLES The Grandest of Questions Why is There Something Rather Than Nothing? by Michael Shermer • Reports of Mysterious Attacks on U.S. Diplomats Continue: Separating Fact from Fiction by Robert E. Bartholomew • The God Damners: The Now Not-so-New Atheism by Michael Cohen • Quackery in America: An Inglorious and Ongoing History, by Morton Tavel, M.D. • What Is It like to Be a Human? by Colin McGinn REVIEWS Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress • The Equations of Life: How Physics Shapes Evolution • The Human Instinct: How We Evolved to Have Reason, Consciousness, and Free Will • SCAM: So-Called Alternative Medicine • Skin in the Game: Hidden Asymmetries in Daily Life • The Biological Mind: How Brain, Body, and Environment Collaborate to Make Us Who We Are JUNIOR SKEPTIC Secrets of the Ouija Board, by Daniel Loxton