Thursday, September 30, 2010

Our crystal ball sucks

The future isn't what it used to be. In my younger days I was an avid reader of Popular Science and magazines of that ilk. It was common for these periodicals to feature the newest and latest gizmo or idea. The future was bright with hope and promise. We were all supposed to be driving flying cars by now. But during the 60's and 70's the prognosticators missed predicting the internet and the impact of computers and mobile devices. Details.
Predictions are virtually impossible to get right. My neighbourhood psychic is still in business (the lights are still on anyway), not yet independently wealthy by predicting the winner of a horse race or winning stock in the market, or anything really.
Predictions lately have been downers, bird flu will cause a pandemic (not yet), H1N1 will cause a pandemic (didn't), the planet is in peril, well that remains to be seen. Al Gore thinks it is, but he is rich and now single again! He also has tons of credibility, Nobel Peace Prize, Oscar winner on his only movie and he lives in a great house - but its green, not the colour.
One of my favourite prognosticators of late is David Suzuki, whom I've actually written about in my other more local blog. Suzuki is a metamorphosed-fruit-fly-geneticist-become-environmentalist. He's making lots of predictions, kind of like the Canadian version of Al Gore, but poorer, leaner and more grizzled but just as gloomy. He also travels lots and I bet he lives in a great house in the woods of British Columbia, but I'm just jealous. Lately he is getting lots of press, a new movie doc about him is out, he has a new book and a foundation and his thumb in every "green-program" in Canada. He is worshipped by some and he is a first class bullshitter, much like Al Gore.
David Suzuki is mentioned in a column by Dan Gardner in the National Post this week. Gardner wrote a book coming out soon called:
Future Babble: Why Expert Predictions Fail and Why We Believe them Anyway (Oct. 12, 2010). The article outlines some of the classic previous failed predictions by environmental groups and people: Limits to Growth, The Population Bomb and so on. It's an interesting read and I can't wait for the book.        

2 comments:

  1. That's quite an ironic perspective, much like the typical 'remember the hits forget the misses' argument we hear continuously from the religous and superstitious - only with an 180 degree twist. Remember the misses (in your examples from a news stand magazine), forget the hits (actual science). Just because it has science in the title doesn't mean the aticles are scientific. Perhaps we should just forget about predictions concerning acid rain, pesticides, eutrification, over fishing and countless others.

    The predictions behind global warming are just 'slightly' different than those you might read in Popular Science and mainstream media. Decades of conclusive data and analysis for a start. But perhaps we should just wait and see, maybe you're right and the massive amounts of pollution we continuously pump into the atmosphere doesn't have any affect on our climate at all?

    What an ass Suzuki is (first class bullshitter I think you called him); where does he get off thinking we should "find ways for society to live in balance with the natural world that sustains us." There's only 7 billion of us polluting the planet, nothing's wrong, it's all just 'future babble'. There, now I feel better - no need to take responsibility for my actions; scientist dont know what they're talking about.

    Bullshit

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  2. Thanks for your input. I take your point about "hits vs misses", but show me a "miss" that was a major prediction that in fact did come true. Pesticides? Carson's "Silent Spring" has given us millions dead by malaria, and resurgence of bed bugs, DDT was much maligned. Predictions about AGW - my prediction is that AGW hysteria will subside (it already has) and people will get on with their lives and will take charge of their own self-interest and let the planet take care of itself. Suzuki and Gore et al will join the Club of Rome, Ehrlich, etc. as footnote's to our history.
    BTW, great pix on your "snipits" lets see more.

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