Friday, June 18, 2010

The Power of Prediction

@andrewbolt gently mocks the apocalyptic predictions of elderly professors, as well as the way popular journalists can get sensational headlines from an interview that is largely composed of casual chatter. Our own extinction is forecast, but he's going by dead reckoning (Herald Sun, 19th June 2010).

Why do we treat the end of the world as a kind of entertainment? Andrew Bolt suggests that "when these scientists say the end of the world is nigh, they don't mean it, not literally, but are just scaring us for our own good. Or that they do mean it, but are frankly batty."

Batty or merely hopelessly unqualified? Frank Fenner, who recently predicted that the human race will be extinct within the next 100 years, is an emeritus professor of microbiology. Meanwhile, Nicholas Boyle, who has predicted a dramatic event to take place in 2014 and determine the course of the 21st century, is a professor of German literature. What qualifies these specialists to become general-purpose futurologists?

For the popular press, of course, one professor is as good as another.

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