I read an interesting piece in Smithsonian Magazine about how often smart people get things wrong, and it got me thinking. Which is always a risky proposition. So I did a little digging to find some examples, and mango . . they were everywhere!
TESS is our space program’s satellite that searches for exoplanets hiding underneath our cosmic shag rug. They recently found TOI 700 d, which they describe as a habitable-ish planet that is a hundred light years away. So while the research is kitschy, the reality is that we ain’t backing up the moving vans. And it begs the question as to why all the smart people here at home are sweeping our habitat under the carpet for the next generation to deal with.
What’s that you say? Looking for an example that’s a little less obscure? Okay, how’s about the fact that in 1932, Albert Einstein observed that nuclear energy will “never be attainable,”?
Or how about the Decca Recording Company’s decision not to sign four chaps from Liverpool to a record label back in 1962 because they claimed their sound would never work . . . less than two years before the British Invasion changed music forever.
Variety magazine predicted that Rock and Roll would be gone by June . . of 1955.
In 1830, Dr. Dionysius Lardner predicted rail travel at high speeds wasn’t possible because passengers would “die of asphyxia”.
Napoleon Bonaparte sniffed at Robert Fulton’s steamboat, calling it “nonsense”.
HG Wells claimed that submarines would never work in practice.
I checked out three of the biggest names in the NFL mock draft business, and the ‘winner’ scored twenty two percent on his 2019 picks.
Those mock experts are not alone. To wit, let’s look at five of the all time greatest passers in NFL history as an example. NFL general managers passed over Aaron Rodgers 21 times, Dan Marino 26 times, Drew Brees 31 times, Joe Montana 81 times and Tom Brady 198 times.
Most every sportswriter was picking the 2003 Lakers to win it all, while not a single sportswriter picked the 1969 Mets.
And if you’re like . . it’s sports! Who cares? Okay then, let’s look at a couple of political predictions for a moment.
In 1936, the American weekly Literary Digest predicted Republican Alf Landon would defeat Theodore Roosevelt. Apologies to Mr Landon, but he’s not even the most famous Alf in American pop culture. And do we really need to be reminded why Truman is holding that newspaper?
And so yeah . . that was forever ago and technology changed everything. So let’s remember back to Nate Silver’s Five Thirty Eight giving Hilary Clinton a 69% chance of winning the 2016 Presidential Election. Old Nate wasn’t alone . . not by a long shot.
Speaking of technology, smart people get it wrong all the time. Darryl Zanuck was a pioneer of the Motion Picture Industry who helped blaze the trail from silent film to Technicolor. As such, he didn’t consider television to be a threat in the least. In 1946, he said Americans would get tired of staring at a plywood box in no time at all.
In 1966, Time Magazine observed that remote shopping was entirely feasible, but that it would flop. And in 2006, David Pogue of the New York Times predicted Apple would ‘probably never’ come out with a cell phone.
Homer said the world was flat. Mathematical economist Irving Fisher said the economy was a round bubble that would never burst . . three days before the stock market collapse of 1929.
Lots of smart people derided the Wright Brothers idea of flight, and a lot of those same smart people claimed the Titanic was unsinkable when it set sail from Southampton, England.
So the moral of the story is that you’re never as smart as you think you are, but don’t worry. Neither is anyone else.