Nassim Nicholas Taleb on GMOs and the Precautionary Principle


With the prospect of a Monsanto/Bayer mashup GMOs are back in the news.

In an interview from 2015, former trader and risk management expert Nassim Nicholas Taleb presents what I think are some of the best arguments against GMOs. In this podcast Taleb tackles:

  • The statistical errors found in scientific papers
  • The need to apply the precautionary principle
  • The unacknowledged risks of catastrophe
  • The technological salvation fallacy

In short, it’s not about the health risks of eating a GMO corn chip. It’s more about the way we discount and misunderstand risk. Consider Taleb’s argument the biological equivalent of what happens in The Big Short (a film in Netflix that’s well worth viewing).

You can listen to Taleb’s interview and download it here.

Leave a comment


  1. Eventually this whole GMO furor will blow over and it will be accepted because they are not dangerous and we now know that. Taleb should stick to his financial voodoo, because he’s clearly ignorant of biology, science, and GMOs. All of the arguments he cites against GMOs could be equally applicable to every scientific and technological discovery we’ve made. There are always human errors in science no matter the subject, GMOs are not special there. Also the precautionary principle has already been met! The scientific consensus is that GMOs are completely safe…some lay-folk just refuse to believe what has been proven. A no-one is saying GMOs will save the world or create utopia, but they sure could help deal with some of the world’s agricultural deficiencies and crops affected by climate change.

    In the end there are really no valid arguments against GMOs. There will just always be a group of folks that are scared of technology, whether they are the 18th century Luddites or the 21st century anti-GMO activists.

  2. At risk of being a bit off topic, there are many other episodes of EconTalk that are also great! It, and Root Simple, are always on my ipod 🙂 There is one old episode about the economics of beekeeping, and I also highly recommend any episode with Mike Munger.

  3. Thank you for sharing this. His points have always been my biggest concern with gm crops. These inventions are living things that will reproduce on their own, we can’t simply stop producing them. It was really interesting to hear this laid out in a more concrete way re the risk assessment.

  4. I live a few blocks from corn and soy fields, all GMO crops. Eating them is not necessarily the problem. The problem is pest and plants that overcome the GMO protections.

    Pig Weed is one such that effects soy. It now has naturally overcome the GMO preferred herbicide. It is a minor disaster here. The only way to get rid of Pig Weed is hand picking. There is no such labor force to do this.

    There is more to this but suffice to say that.

    GMOs are mono-culture and that is never ever a good idea.

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