Failed Predictions

Posted on Thursday, December 3rd, 02009 by Alexander Rose - Twitter: @zander
link Categories: Long Bets   chat 0 Comments

Stewart brand set over this excellently illustrated set of failed predictions listed over at oddee.com. Excerpts below:

“It will be years –not in my time– before a woman will become Prime Minister.”
–Margaret Thatcher, October 26th, 1969.


She became Prime Minister of the United Kingdom only 10 years after saying that, holding her chair from 1979 to 1990. But she wasn’t all that wrong since she is the only woman to have held this post. Maybe she should have added the word “again.”

“Rail travel at high speed is not possible because passengers, unable to breathe, would die of asphyxia.”
–Dr Dionysys Larder (1793-1859)


It may sound impossible to Dr Larder, professor of Natural Philosophy and Astronomy at the University College London back in the 1800, but in 1939 the first high speed train went from Milan to Florence at 165 km/h (102.5 mph). Thankfully no one died. Nowadays these trains go at 200 km/h (125 mph) and faster.

This also reminded of what has become my favorite bathroom reading: The Experts Speak by Christopher Cerf and Victor S. Navasky.  It is a brilliant listing of predictions and quotes like the ones above organized by category.  I have been paying attention to books and listings of future predictions since we started the Long Bets project.  The Experts Speak is most certainly the best compendium  I have come across to date.  It turns out there are several books and lists like this as they are endlessly entertaining.  What is curious though is how little attention is paid to good predictions, I have yet to find a good list or book about successful predictions.  I cant tell if its because there are so few correct predictions, or just because they are less interesting to us.

On a side note, the way I found the book was by a round about recommendation from Douglas Adams of all people.  In his last book Salmon of Doubt Adams discusses The Experts Speak along with Stewart Brand’s original idea for Long Bets as he wrote in Clock of the Long Now.


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