Saturday, January 1, 2011

A brief history of wrong (and lessons in denial)

David Viner is the first act in Maxim Lott’s list of Eight Botched Environmental Forecasts:
1. Within a few years “children just aren’t going to know what snow is.” Snowfall will be “a very rare and exciting event.” Dr. David Viner, senior research scientist at the climatic research unit (CRU) of the University of East Anglia, interviewed by the UK Independent, March 20, 2000.
The response: “A spokesman for the government-funded British Council, where Viner now works as the lead climate change expert, told that climate science had improved since the prediction was made.” Paul Ehrlich’s forecast is also worth a look:
7. “By the year 2000 the United Kingdom will be simply a small group of impoverished islands, inhabited by some 70 million hungry people ... If I were a gambler, I would take even money that England will not exist in the year 2000.” Ehrlich, Speech at British Institute For Biology, September 1971.
Ehrlich’s defence is brilliant:
“When you predict the future, you get things wrong,” Ehrlich admitted, but “how wrong is another question. I would have lost if I had had taken the bet. However, if you look closely at England, what can I tell you? They’re having all kinds of problems, just like everybody else.”

So he was just a little bit wrong. England still exists, but it has “problems”.

No comments: