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While I agree with the sentiment, Rolf Dobelli himself is a plagiarist. This whole reasoning is basically stolen from Nassim Taleb.



EDIT: For another take on not reading the news, see http://www.aaronsw.com/weblog/hatethenews

His account on the plagiarism story. http://www.dobelli.com/book-corrections/taleb

It's definitely easy to see his book as heavily influenced by Taleb, but I supposed everything would be correctly referenced to Taleb — I never actually went to check references. Despite that, the book is a great summary of thinking biases and is clearly explained.

The rebuttal from Dobelli >> http://www.dobelli.com/book-corrections/taleb

That's not a rebuttal. Look at the diffs for Taleb/Dobelli and Chabris&Simons/Dobelli for yourself. This is textbook plagiarism.

Taleb concedes that Dobelli's work references Taleb 23 + 12 times. The examples I didn't recognize as being specifically Taleb's (and I have read all his books). These popular science examples get regurgitated over and over on websites, blogs and so on. Perhaps Taleb was the first to think of these examples, perhaps he was not.

For example the comparison between wall street investors and monkeys and the subsequent selection bias was featured in A Random Walk Down Wall Street - 1973.

So I'm not convinced there was malice involved here.

He mentions Taleb in the article, and is it Taleb who came up with the idea that news is bad?

I don't think so this idea is in Neil Postman's book "Amusing Ourselves to Death" (1985). A must read.

Thank you, I was just about to mention this book. None of this is new and I can only imagine what he would think of the today's media. He died in 2003 and even though the internet was going strong back then it has greatly surpassed that since then.

I wonder what he would think of the proliferation of cell phones (now) and how they distract immensely from life and thought.

I thought I'd heard that line before...

No wonder he doesn't want you to read news :)

That this is the top comment on Hacker News, rather than discussion about ideas, demonstrates Rolf/Taleb's ideas pretty well

Maybe Dobelli's ghost writer messed up.

So? It's a summary article with the high level points easy digestible by current news addicts. It's A lot easier to get someone to read this article than Fooled by Randomness.

And the irony of that truth just made my head explode.

How can he be a plagiarist when this should be general knowledge?

I stopped reading at Taleb's first example. I've seen very similar stories from both Richard Feynman and John Littlewood. Here's Taleb:

"I was thinking about calling my third cousin Antiochus this morning when the phone rang. Miracle! It was him on the other line; this confirms my developed sixth sense! This is a great omen except that perhaps I should wake up and take into account the number of times when I thought about calling him without his calling me; the times when he called me without my thinking about calling him; and, most significantly, the numerous occurrences of my not thinking about him, and him not trying to call me."

Feynman has several variations on this theme. Here's one:

"I remembered the time I was in my fraternity house at MIT when the idea came into my head completely out of the blue that my grandmother was dead. Right after that there was a telephone call, just like that. It was for Pete Bernays-- my grandmother wasn't dead. So I remembered that, in case somebody told me a story that ended the other way. I figured that such things can sometimes happen by luck--after all, my grandmother was very old--although people might think they happened by some sort of supernatural phenomenon."

And another:

"You know, the most amazing thing happened to me tonight. I was coming here, on the way to the lecture, and I came in through the parking lot. And you won't believe what happened. I saw a car with the license plate ARW 357. Can you imagine? Of all the millions of license plates in the state, what was the chance that I would see that particular one tonight? Amazing! "

There's an extended quote in the Feynman biography "Genius" (by James Gleick) which is a closer match than both these. I don't have an easy cut-and-paste, alas, but here's a link on Google books (it's the third page link):


Taleb basically reads as a reorganized and edited version of this last quote.

Edit: I couldn't resist reading on. Taleb's article is embarassingly bad. Half his "original examples" I'd heard before from statisticians and other scientists, often years before Taleb's books. I will say this: there are a few instances in there where Dobelli should be genuinely embarassed. But Taleb should be at least equally embarassed by presenting, Wolfram-like, well-known truths as his deep original thought.

Don't you think there's a difference between isolated anecdotes and two dozen paragraphs with very similar content? Not to mention the fact that Dobelli reviewed Taleb's book, and that other authors have noticed similarities.

Also this paragraph:

Note that correspondence of content doesn't imply plagiarism. There is a book EXTREMELY similar to Fooled by Randomness called The Drunkard's Walk. Yet not a shade of plagiarism. Why? the examples and terminology were very different. Some ideas can be rediscovered by two people. And when asked, the author said: Had I known about FBR I wouldn't have written that book. An honorable man.

EDIT in reply to above edit: Note that Taleb isn't saying he's the originator of all the examples. Many are attributed in his footnotes, and he's not claming authorship of them. Many of the examples, as you say, are already in the common consciousness. Taleb is using these examples to drive other points. The only thing he is saying - in this article - is showing how Dobelli is obviously plagiarizing what he has written.

I said Dobelli should be embarassed. He certainly should be embarassed by several of those examples.

But Taleb's page is also embarassing to Taleb. He's presenting many of these as his original ideas when, well, they're simply not.

I don't think Taleb is presenting many of these as his original ideas, he's merely (in the original context - his book) using them as examples to drive his other ideas.

If you ask Taleb himself, he would say that he's only had one idea - the rest are just derivations (his or someone else's), and using already observed phenomena and anecdotes to explain it and its consequences.

The only purpose of that article is to expose Dobelli, nothing else.

As to the specific quote Taleb basically reads as a reorganized and edited version of this last quote. - isn't it possible that he has had a very similar experience?

Of course we can put our heads in the sand.

The problem is: if you do this, you should no longer be allowed to vote. Because democracy can only survive if the feedback cycle is encouraged, not sabotaged:

(Good|bad) news => critical thinking by the citizen => citizen votes accordingly => corruption (and other problems) are corrected.

If you stop reading news, you stop being a responsible citizen.

If you feel bad about the news, there's 1 thing you should do: Channel the anger and produce positive action. It will make you feel good and problems will vanish. That is how this works.

> If you stop reading news, you stop being a responsible citizen.

If the elected actors interfere with the news you read, you also stop being a responsible citizen. We simply never had a chance.

I love your optimism! Almost as much as I do your boundless naïvete. And I stopped voting years ago. It's an unhealthy habit, and only encourages 'em.

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