DAVID Cameron's latest political guru plunged the Tory leader into an embarrassing controversy yesterday after saying he did not believe in man-made climate change.
Former Wall Street trader turned author Nassim Nicholas Taleb, who penned the book The Black Swan about the perils of high-impact and unpredictable events, and politicians' failure to deal with them, shared a stage with Mr Cameron in London yesterday.
The Tory leader even joked he was "basking in your reflected glory", such is the popularity of Mr Taleb in media circles.
Mr Cameron had said ahead of Mr Taleb's comments at the prestigious London Royal Society of Arts that: "I very much enjoyed The Black Swan and am trying to come to terms with Black Swan thinking and what it might mean for politics."
But then Mr Taleb waded into controversy by making a series of pronouncements about climate change, and that he liked market crashes.
He said: "I'm a hyper-conservative ecologically. I don't want to mess with Mother Nature. I don't believe that carbon thing is necessarily anthropogenic (derived from human activities]."
Mr Taleb, who is a professor of chance theory, also said of the economic crisis: "I like crashes. I just like the world to be robust about them."
That statement would rankle with Mr Cameron who has had to slap down shadow health secretary Andrew Lansley for suggesting the positive side of the recession would be families spending more time together.
Mr Taleb also appeared to break ranks with Mr Cameron on the government's strategy for dealing with banks, praising the state bail-outs which the Tories have questioned.
"The government taking over banks is a good thing, provided there's a plan," he said.
Mr Taleb has also been critical of US President Barack Obama's economic policies. There was, he told the audience, a real danger of "hyperinflation" in the US thanks to Mr Obama's "blunders", and whose economic forecasts he criticised as "flimsy" in a recent letter to Mr Cameron.
The contentious remarks were seized on by Mr Cameron's opponents. Liberal Democrat MP Willie Rennie said: "David Cameron can get pulled around by huskies all he wants, but by cosying up to climate change deniers, he shows his true colours."
Senior Labour MP Dr Phyllis Starkey questioned why Mr Cameron "seems increasingly keen to associate himself with people who have 'eccentric' views". She added: "First he invited (Tory MEP] Dan Hannan to give a keynote address at a party conference, now he sits on stage with his latest guru who tells us man-made climate change is a myth, and glorifies in recessions. This sort of talk will be no comfort to anyone who has lost their job thanks to the collapse of the American banks."
Sources close to the Tory leader said because Mr Cameron shared a stage with Mr Taleb did "not mean the two agree on absolutely everything".
A Tory spokeswoman said Mr Cameron accepts that "the way we are living is contributing to the extremes of weather and the climate is changing".
BORN: 1960 in Lebanon, in Lebanese Greek Orthodox community.
EDUCATION: MBA from University of Pennsylvania and PhD in Management Science from University of Paris.
FINANCE CAREER: Former City trader and managing director at banks including UBS, Credit Suisse First Boston, BNP Paribas.
ACADEMIC CAREER: Became full-time scholar in 2004 but reportedly made a huge fortune during the crisis by short-selling stock. Distinguished Professor of Risk Engineering at Polytechnic Institute of New York University and Visiting Professor at London Business School.
LITERARY CAREER: Published Fooled by Randomness in 2001, which became a cult hit on Wall Street. Published the Black Swan in 2007 which has become a best-seller. His theory is that unpredictable but "high- impact" events are dealt with poorly partly because of a reliance on "experts".