Saturday, January 19, 2013

Bad Predictions

I haven't updated it in awhile, but I maintain another blog, Bad Predictions, where I collected the numerous bad predictions made by experts through the ages.

Anthony Watts now posts his own list, some of which I have noted before, some of which are new:

While searching for something else, I came across this entertaining collection of grand predictive failures related to resources and climate change, along with some of the biggest predictive failures of Paul Ehrlich. I thought it worth sharing.
Exhaustion of Resources
“Indeed it is certain, it is clear to see, that the earth itself is currently more cultivated and developed than in earlier times. Now all places are accessible, all are documented, all are full of business.  The most charming farms obliterate empty places, ploughed fields vanquish forests, herds drive out wild beasts, sandy places are planted with crops, stones are fixed, swamps drained, and there are such great cities where formerly hardly a hut… everywhere there is a dwelling, everywhere a multitude, everywhere a government, everywhere there is life. The greatest evidence of the large number of people: we are burdensome to the world, the resources are scarcely adequate to us; and our needs straiten us and complaints are everywhere while already nature does not sustain us.”
  • In 1865, Stanley Jevons (one of the most recognized 19th century economists) predicted that England would run out of coal by 1900, and that England’s factories would grind to a standstill.
  • In 1885, the US Geological Survey announced that there was “little or no chance” of oil being discovered in California.
  • In 1891, it said the same thing about Kansas and Texas. (See Osterfeld, David.Prosperity Versus Planning : How Government Stifles Economic Growth. New York : Oxford University Press, 1992.)
  • In 1939 the US Department of the Interior said that American oil supplies would last only another 13 years.
  • 1944 federal government review predicted that by now the US would have exhausted its reserves of 21 of 41 commodities it examined. Among them were tin, nickel, zinc, lead and manganese.
  • In 1949 the Secretary of the Interior announced that the end of US oil was in sight.
Claim: In 1952 the US President’s Materials Policy Commission concluded that by the mid-1970s copper production in the US could not exceed 800,000 tons and that lead production would be at most 300,000 tons per year.

Data: But copper production in 1973 was 1.6 million tons, and by 1974 lead production had reached 614,000 tons – 100% higher than predicted.
Claims: In 1968, Paul R. Ehrlich wrote The Population Bomb and declared that the battle to feed humanity had been lost and that there would be a major food shortage in the US. “In the 1970s … hundreds of millions are going to starve to death,” and by the 1980s most of the world’s important resources would be depleted. He forecast that 65 million Americans would die of starvation between 1980-1989 and that by 1999, the US population would decline to 22.6 million. The problems in the US would be relatively minor compared to those in the rest of the world. (Ehrlich, Paul R. The Population Bomb. New York, Ballantine Books, 1968.) New Scientist magazine underscored his speech in an editorial titled “In Praise of Prophets.”
The rest here.

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