Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Where Are All Those Doomsayers Now?

It's about time someone calls out those crackpots who predicted all those apocalyptic end-of-the-earth scenarios. This is especially true with the LHC and all that nonsense about it destroying the earth.

These prophesies share something else as well. Whenever an apocalyptic prediction fizzles, the doomsayers remain strangely silent — until the next opportunity to capture the public’s imagination. The new millennium did not bring down airplanes or knock out power grids; but no software engineer has confessed that the Y2K scare was a con — or at least a serious mistake — that cost the United States alone an estimated $300 billion. On the contrary, some have begun to warn that, in 2038, certain computer software and systems will experience “integer overflow,” causing them to report negative system times and, in turn, to fail.

The interval between a doomsday prophecy’s fall and the rise of the next one evidently is decreasing, perhaps owing to the accelerating pace of modern life — and, with it, the acceleration of forgetting, which enables potential beneficiaries to capitalize. Last year’s misinterpretation of the Mayan calendar clearly helped — and was probably helped by — the proprietors of some Yucatan hotels, which reached 100-per-cent occupancy in the weeks surrounding the world’s projected end.
Unfortunately, these crackpots would not get any kind of free publicity were it not for the media that seem eager to jump to such sensational story.

Unfortunately, mainstream media outlets are eager to provide a platform for fear-mongers. Doom sells; scientific empiricism, not so much. In an increasingly cutthroat media culture — in which falling behind a story is often considered worse than making a mistake — serious journalism has largely given way to infotainment and sensationalism.
For example, in 2008, the Russian physicist Grigory Vilkovisky claimed to have proved that black holes radiate away only about half of their mass — contrary to Stephen Hawking’s celebrated finding that they radiate away their entire mass. At the time, I wrote that, if Vilkovisky were correct, accepted ideas about black-hole physics would have to be radically altered, and “black holes created at CERN might actually survive long enough to be taken seriously.” While I intended only to suggest that the black holes would be considered seriously as a scientific phenomenon, my words were interpreted to mean that the black holes could pose a serious threat to Earth.

Anyone who has written a science article for the public, or have science blogs, will inevitably encounter something such as this:

On the other hand, the rising incidence of false prophecy might equally reflect the increasing prevalence of charlatanism masquerading as science. Each time I publish a scientific essay, I attract the attention of a dozen self-proclaimed messiahs eager to impart their divinely inspired ideas, which invariably lack higher mathematics (or, in the case of the black-hole sentinels, rely on elevated but meaningless mathematics). Their conviction that they represent the Alpha and Omega of knowledge is as rigid as their scientific illiteracy.

I certainly have. I lost count on how many "comments" I had to delete coming from people who claim to have solved the entire mystery of the universe. Love that DELETE button on Blogger. I've ever used the MARK AS SPAM on habitual crackpots who can't seem to get a clue that none of their garbage will ever get free advertisements on here.

Ah, such fun!



coraifeartaigh said...

Agree completely, and it is a problem that is definitely getting worse.
Re 2000 computer fixes, is it definite this was a false fear, or were some glitches indeed prevented? I often wondered..

JC said...

RE Y2k and date glitches - it's so easy to sandbox a machine, change the date and see what happens. Usually nothing. Some very old COBOL code used two figure year stamps to save space, the banks fixed most of those years before y2k anyway.

BTW - you still have all those links to global warming doomsayers on the right hand side of your blog. You might want to get rid of those, unless you're trying to be ironic.

Professor R said...

JC: I'm not really in the business of changing things on my blog on the say so of some anonymous commentator.
What you dismiss as 'global warmimng doomsayers'is the verdict of the vast majority of the world's climate scientists.

JC said...

I wasn't actually requesting a takedown, just pointing out the weirdness.

As for the validation, most of those scientists have a dependency on the theory itself. It's a circular argument. Very much like CapGemini or Accenture telling you the y2k bug is going to cause chaos. Sure, they're the experts, but therein lies the problem...

Professor R said...

Sigh. Most physicists I know do not have 'a dependency' on the theory of greenhouse gases.
What we do have is an understanding of basic physics - and to confuse the very real dangers of increasing the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere with silly scares such as the LHC scare mentioned by Zapper Z seems very foolish indeed

JC said...

Oooh, I see what you did there:

You started with "majority of the world's climate scientists"

Then I retorted with: "most of those scientists"

Then you said: "Sigh. Most physicists I know..."

A patronising sigh to distract me, followed by a cheeky straw man bait and switch to the argument. You're good! Not enough to convince me, but you'd have thrown most people by now. Well done.

Professor R said...

Enjoy your cospiracy theories while you still can. In the meantime, you could ask yourself what could ever convince you that the anthropic climate change is real.
The answer is nothing because your opinions on based on any sort of knowledge of the subject, nor are you willing to listen to those who have studied the subject

JC said...

"Enjoy your conspiracy theories while you still can."

Of course, because we don't have much time left :) I think you've answered the question posed in the title of this thread. Thanks!

"you could ask yourself what could ever convince you that the anthropic climate change is real."

Ummm. Wait ten years, revisit this page, and see if I can keep a straight face or not?