During the two years of the Covid pandemic we have heard so much from the media and ‘experts’. it’s been exhausting and unedifying, but we should not be at all surprised.
On Covid n late January 2020, Donald Trump said: ‘We have it totally under control. It’s one person coming in from China, and we have it under control. It’s going to be just fine.’
Neil Ferguson, a mathematical epidemiologist at Imperial College London, who was advising the UK government is considered an ‘expert’.
In 2001 he/Imperial predicted a none-too-accurate 50-to-50,000 UK deaths would occur from BSE, the actual deaths were 177.
In 2005 he/they considered bird flu suggesting that as 40m had died from the Spanish Flu, and the then propulation was six times that of 2019, then 200m could die, however worldwide deaths were just 455.
In 2009 for swine flu he/they were behind the predictions that 65,000 would die, the actual was 457.
In 2020, for Covid-19, he/they predicted that 500,000 UK deaths would occur over two years. It is shocking enough that it was 170,000, but his forecasting is evidently vague.
He then had ro resign as a government advisor because he broke the Covid rules. So why do we still see him pontificating on news channels?
But he isn’t alone, here are 50 such expert conclusions, spanning 500 years, that illustrate we humans are poor forecasters, and should not expect that ‘experts’ can help us:
|1486||…so many centuries after the Creation it is unlikely that anyone could find hitherto unknown lands of any value.||Committee advising King Ferdinand |
and Queen Isabella of Spain on a proposal by Christopher Columbus.
|1530||The multitude of books is a great evil. There is no limit to this fever for writing; everyone must be an author; some out of vanity, to acquire celebrity and raise up a name, others for the sake of mere gain.||Martin Luther|
|1800||What, sir, would you make a ship sail against the wind and currents by lighting a bonfire under her deck? I pray you, excuse me, I have not the time to listen to such nonsense.||Napoleon Bonaparte, when told of Robert Fulton’s steamboat|
|1825||What can be more palpably absurd than the prospect held out of locomotives traveling twice as fast as stagecoaches?||The Quarterly Review|
|1829||Dear Mr. President: The canal system of this country is being threatened by a new form of transportation known as ‘railroads’ … As you may well know, Mr. President, ‘railroad’ carriages are pulled at the enormous speed of 15 miles per hour by engines which, in addition to endangering life and limb of passengers, roar and snort their way through the countryside, setting fire to crops, scaring the livestock and frightening women and children. The Almighty certainly never intended that people should travel at such breakneck speed.||Martin Van Buren, Governor of New York and later to become the 8th President of the USA|
|1830||Rail travel at high speeds is not possible because passengers, unable to breathe, would die of asphyxia.||Dionysius Lardner, Professor |
of Natural Philosophy and Astronomy at University College, London, and author of The Steam Engine Explained and Illustrated
|1842||I watched his countenance closely, to see if he was not deranged … and I was assured by other senators after he left the room that they had no confidence in it.||US Senator Smith of Indiana, after witnessing a demonstration of Samuel Morse’s telegraph|
|1859||Drill for oil? You mean drill into the ground to try and find oil? You’re crazy.||Workers whom Edwin L Drake tried to enlist to his project to drill for oil|
|1861||Ours has been the first, and doubtless to be the last, to visit this profitless locality.||Lt Joseph Ives, after visiting the Grand Canyon|
|1864||No one will pay good money to get from Berlin to Potsdam in one hour when he can ride his horse there in one day for free.||King William I of Prussia, on hearing of the invention of trains|
|1865||Well-informed people know it is impossible to transmit the voice over wires and that were it possible to do so, the thing would be of no practical value.||Boston Post|
|1869||I see no good reasons why the views given in this volume should shock the religious sensibilities of anyone.||Charles Darwin on The Origin Of Species|
|1872||Louis Pasteur’s theory of germs is ridiculous fiction.||Pierre Pachet, professor of physiology at Toulouse|
|1873||The abdomen, the chest, and the brain will forever be shut from the intrusion of the wise and humane surgeon.||Sir John Eric Ericksen, Surgeon-Extraordinary to Queen Victoria|
|1876||This ‘telephone’ has too many shortcomings to be seriously considered as a means of communication. The device is inherently of no value to us.||Western Union Co. internal memo|
|1878||The Americans have need of the telephone, but we do not. We have plenty of messenger boys.||Sir William Preece, Chief Engineer, British Post Office|
|1895||Everyone acquainted with the subject will recognize it as a conspicuous failure.||Henry Morton, president of the Stevens Institute of Technology, on Edison’s light bulb|
|1895||Heavier-than-air flying machines are impossible.||Lord Kelvin, President of the Royal Society|
|1897||Radio has no future. X-rays will prove to be a hoax.||Lord Kelvin, President of the Royal Society|
|1899||Everything that can be invented has been invented.||Charles H. Duell, Commissioner, U.S. Office of Patents (though often cited as an urban legend!)|
|1899||The ordinary “horseless carriage” is at present a luxury for the wealthy; and although its price will probably fall in the future, it will never, of course, come into as common use as the bicycle.||Literary Digest|
|1904||Airplanes are interesting toys but of no military value.||Maréchal Ferdinand Foch, Professor of Strategy, Ecole Supérieure de Guerre|
|1922||The radio craze will die out in time.||Thomas Edison|
|1920s||The wireless music box has no imaginable commercial value. Who would pay for a message sent to nobody in particular?||David Sarnoff’s associates in response to his urgings for investment in radio.|
|1926||While theoretically television may be feasible, commercially and financially I consider it an impossibility, a development of which we need waste little time dreaming.||Lee de Forest, inventor|
|1927||Who the hell wants to hear actors talk?||H M Warner, Warner Brothers|
|1929||Stocks have reached what looks like a permanently high plateau.||Irving Fisher, Professor of Economics, Yale University|
|1932||There is not the slightest indication that nuclear energy will ever be obtainable. It would mean the atom would have to be shattered at will.||Albert Einstein, German-born American physicist.|
|1933||There will never be a bigger plane built.||A Boeing engineer, after the first flight of the 247, a twin engine plane that held ten people.|
|1933||The energy produced by the atom is a very poor kind of thing. Anyone who expects a source of power from the transformation of these atoms is talking moonshine.||Ernest Rutherford, New Zealand physicist|
|1930s||Gone with the Wind is going to be the biggest flop in Hollywood history. I’m glad it’ll be Clark Gable who’s falling flat on his nose, not me.||Gary Cooper when he turned down the role (choosing Beau Geste instead)|
|1936||A rocket will never be able to leave the earth’s atmosphere.||The New York Times|
|1939||Atomic energy might be as good as our present-day explosives, but it is unlikely to produce anything very much more dangerous.||Winston Churchill|
|1942||The Americans are good about making fancy cars and refrigerators, but that doesn’t mean they are any good at making aircraft. They are bluffing. They are excellent at bluffing.||Hermann Goering, Commander-in-Chief of the Luftwaffe|
|1943||I think there is a world market for maybe five computers.||Thomas J Watson Sr, Chairman of IBM|
|1945||This is the biggest fool thing we’ve ever done – the bomb will never go off- and I speak as an expert on explosives.||Admiral William Leahy, speaking to President Truman about the atom bomb|
|1946||Television won’t last because people will soon get tired of staring at a plywood box every night.||Darryl F Zanuck, American film producer|
|1949||Computers in the future may weigh no more than 1.5 tons.||Popular Mechanics|
|1954||Our children will enjoy in their homes electrical energy too cheap to meter…||Lewis L Strauss, then chairman of the US Atomic Energy Commission|
|1957||I have travelled the length and breadth of this country and talked with the best people, and I can assure you that data processing is a fad that won’t last out the year.||The Editor in charge of business books for Prentice Hall, 1957|
|1957||Space travel is bunk.||Sir Harold Spencer Jones, Astronomer Royal|
|1962||We don’t like their sound. We don’t think they will do anything in their market. Guitar groups are on their way out.||Decca Recording Co, declining to sign the Beatles|
|1962||Transmission of documents via telephone wires is possible in principle, but the apparatus required is so expensive that it will never become a practical proposition.||Dennis Gabor, Hungarian-British electrical engineer and physicist|
|1968||But what…is it good for?||Engineer at the Advanced Computing Systems Division of IBM, commenting upon the microchip.|
|1968||With over fifteen types of foreign cars already on sale here, the Japanese auto industry isn’t likely to carve out a big share of the market for itself.||Business Week|
|1974||It will be years – not in my time – before a woman will become Prime Minister.||Margaret Thatcher|
|1975||So we went to Atari and said, ‘Hey, we’ve got this amazing thing [Apple I] , even built with some of your parts, and what do you think about funding us? Or we’ll give it to you. We just want to do it. Pay our salary, we’ll come work for you.’ And they said, ‘No.’ So then we went to Hewlett-Packard, and they said, ‘Hey, we don’t need you. You haven’t got through college yet.||Apple Computer Inc founder Steve Jobs on attempts to get Atari and HP interested in his and Steve Wozniak‘s personal computer|
|1977||…there is no reason anyone would want a computer in their home.||Ken Olson, President, Chairman, and Founder of Digital Equipment Corp|
|1980s||If I had thought about it, I wouldn’t have done the experiment. The literature was full of examples that said you couldn’t do this.||Spencer Silver, commenting on the work that led to the adhesives for 3M ‘Post-It’ notepads|
|1981||640K ought to be enough [memory] for anybody.||Bill Gates – another that is often claimed as an urban legend|
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