Surgeons Should Not Look Like Surgeons
Nassim Nicholas Taleb
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Why Golden Rice might not be a sliver bullet but still is better than shipping vitamin pills

Dear Nassim Nicholas Taleb,

I am a fan of your books and enjoyed reading it even though the chapter titles made only sense afterwards. Furthermore I am not an expert on golden rice or the story behind its development. But that may also works in my favor in this situation.

I would be honored by an short answer of yours.

My understanding of golden rice is that it is a genetically modified differently colored species of rice which contains essential chemical which are missing from normal rice.

I would argue that paying for golden rice seeds is more helpful for developing countries than getting free vitamin pills. My arguments are:

  • The best (= most antifragile) way to produce is locally from a wide variety of different of different plants. Golden rice introduces a new kind of plant. It is designed to be grown in third world countries and be grown locally.
  • Vitamin pills do not grow on trees. Vitamin pills can not reproduce themselves. If developing countries could produce vitamin pills they would be developing countries. So if your solution to fix the vitamin deficit in 3rd world and developing countries is vitamin pills they can not be produced locally which is fragile.
  • The logistics of transporting pills is a mess.
  • If golden rice is successful early adopters can sell a part of their harvest to the neighboring farmers. This encourages early adoption and leads to a better spread of golden rice where it grows good and no adaption where it fails.
  • The medical knowledge in developing countries is limited. It is likely that people will be scammed in to paying for pills or scammed in to buying toxic or unhealthy fakes.
  • The packaging of pills produces lots of waste which would have to be disposed on a local and distributed level since the packages of pills are distributed. This would result in people throwing trash in to the environment.
  • Western medical technology is not necessarily well accepted. See stories about landfills full of condoms
  • Vitamins in vitamin pills often only pass through the body since they are often not easy to take in for the body. Taking vitamins which are part of cells is easier for some reason.
  • Vitamin pills might be used in a false way and there are more important things to teach then how to dose different vitamins. For example math which is necessary to dose pills correctly.

I would be honored by your answer.