Is coronavirus really a black swan event?

The coronavirus, on the other hand, is a bad fit for Taleb’s definition. Yes, it is carrying an extreme impact, in terms of human lives, dislocation, and economic losses. But is the emergence of such a dangerous virus really an unpredictable outlier that suddenly swooped in from outside our “regular expectations?”

If asked, many American could easily cite several dangerous global outbreaks from the past two decades: SARS in 2004, H1N1 in 2009, and the Ebola outbreak in 2015.

And a good chunk of American popular culture this century — World War Z, 28 Days Later, The Walking Dead, The Last of Us — has revolved around the idea of a mysterious, apocalyptic virus — although it may turn you into a zombie after killing you. Our entire society has been soaking in this scenario. Take the 2011 Steven Soderbergh film, Contagion, starring Matt Damon and Gwyneth Paltrow. It grossed $135 million in the domestic box office and is currently one of the hottest films in the Warner Bros. library. The origin of the virus in that film even echoes what many scientists think occurred with the coronavirus. Hollywood wasn’t making brainy thrillers about Wall Street mortgage derivatives in the early 2000s.