September 16, 2019

Was the Saudi Arabia drone attack a black swan event?

The black swan theory is a metaphor that describes an event that comes as a surprise, has a major effect, and is often inappropriately rationalized after the fact with the benefit of hindsight. The term is based on an ancient saying that presumed black swans did not exist – a saying that became reinterpreted to teach a different lesson after black swans were discovered in the wild. Read more at

The theory was developed by Nassim Nicholas Taleb to explain:

  • The disproportionate role of high-profile, hard-to-predict, and rare events that are beyond the realm of normal expectations in history, science, finance, and technology.
  • The non-computability of the probability of the consequential rare events using scientific methods (owing to the very nature of small probabilities).
  • The psychological biases that blind people, both individually and collectively, to uncertainty and to a rare event's massive role in historical affairs.

The 2019 Abqaiq–Khurais attack was a drone attack that targeted the Saudi Aramco oil production facilities at Abqaiq and Khurais in eastern Saudi Arabia on 14 September 2019.

The attack caused large fires at the factories which, according to the Saudi Arabian interior ministry, were put out several hours later. Both facilities, however, were shut down until repairs were made, cutting Saudi Arabia's oil production by about half – representing about 5% of global oil production – and causing some destabilization of global financial markets.


According to me, this is a black swan event:

  • The event was unpredictable (to the observer)
  • The event has widespread ramifications
  • After the event has occurred, people will assert that it was indeed explainable and predictable

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