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Famous Predictions That Never Came True

Doom and gloom predictions threaten to swamp us.

The sea will rise by 10m by next Tuesday, food will become so expensive that people will die by the millions, mosquitoes will thrive while bees will die, a natural part of global warming will be global cooling, etc, etc.

The "experts" are not giving us a happy forecast; but the "experts" have never given a happy forecast.

Perhaps it's time for a reality check. Here is a list of predictions from 1486 to 2007 by the "experts" of their day. They often get it wrong no matter how good their science was, and the bigger the prediction the more they tend toward the negative.

This shows what is so utterly unscientific about saying things like "the science of climate change is settled."

What amazes me is how so many outstanding achievers went on to put down achievments of younger men after them.

Lord Kelvin, Thomas Edison, Lee DeForest, Albert Einstein and others who broke the moulds but could not comprehend the moulds being broken after them. It looks like humanity overcomes the best of our "experts"; so let's not base all of our actions on the average experts of today.

"...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 regarding a proposal by Christopher Columbus, 1486.

"Rail travel at high speed is not possible, because passengers, unable to breathe, would die of asphyxia."

Dr Dionysius Lardner (1793-1859), professor of Natural Philosophy and Astronomy, University College London

"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, 1800s

"The phonograph has no commercial value at all."

Thomas Edison, American inventor, 1880s

"What can be more palpably absurd than the prospect held out of locomotives traveling twice as fast as stagecoaches?"

The Quarterly Review, March, 1825

"If Beethoven's Seventh Symphony is not by some means abridged, it will soon fall into disuse."

Philip Hale, Boston Music Critic, 1837.

"The abolishment of pain in surgery is a chimera. It is absurd to go on seeking it...knife and pain are two words in surgery that must forever be associated in the consciousness of the patient."

Dr. Alfred Velpeau, French surgeon, 1839.

"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, 1864.

"They couldn't hit an elephant at this dist-"

Last words of Gen. John Sedgwick, spoken as he looked out over the parapet at enemy lines during the Battle of Spotsylvania Court House in 1864.

"Louis Pasteur's theory of germs is ridiculous fiction."

Pierre Pachet, British surgeon and Professor of Physiology at Toulouse, 1872.

"The abdomen, the chest, and the brain will forever be shut from the intrusion of the wise and humane surgeon."

John Eric Ericksen, British surgeon, appointed Surgeon Extraordinary to Queen Victoria, 1873.

"Such startling announcements as these should be deprecated as being unworthy of science and mischievious to its true progress."

William Siemens, on Edison's light bulb, 1880

"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, 1880

"X-rays will prove to be a hoax."

Lord Kelvin, President of the Royal Society, 1883.

"We are probably nearing the limit of all we can know about astronomy."

Simon Newcomb, Canadian-born American astronomer, 1888.

"I'm sorry, Mr Kipling, but you just don't know how to use the English language."

The San Francisco Examiner, rejecting a submission by Rudyard Kipling in 1889.

"The more important fundamental laws and facts of physical science have all been discovered, and these are now so firmly established that the possibility of their ever being supplanted in consequence of new discoveries is exceedingly remote.... Our future discoveries must be looked for in the sixth place of decimals."

Albert. A. Michelson, German-born American physicist, 1894.

"Heavier-than-air flying machines are impossible."

Lord Kelvin, British mathematician and physicist, president of the British Royal Society, 1895

"It is apparent to me that the possibilities of the aeroplane, which two or three years ago were thought to hold the solution to the [flying machine] problem, have been exhausted, and that we must turn elsewhere."

Thomas Edison, American inventor, 1895

"It doesn't matter what he does, he will never amount to anything."

Albert Einstein's teacher addressing his father about Albert, 1895

"Radio has no future."

Lord Kelvin, Scottish mathematician and physicist, former president of the Royal Society, 1897

"There is nothing new to be discovered in physics now; All that remains is more and more precise measurement."

Lord Kelvin, speaking to the British Association for the Advancement of Science, 1900.

"The horse is here to stay but the automobile is only a novelty—a fad."

The president of the Michigan Savings Bank advising Henry Ford's lawyer not to invest in the Ford Motor Co., 1903

"Airplanes are interesting toys but of no military value."

Marechal Ferdinand Foch, Professor of Strategy, Ecole Superieure de Guerre, 1904

"That the automobile has practically reached the limit of its development is suggested by the fact that during the past year no improvements of a radical nature have been introduced."

Scientific American, January 2, 1909

"Lee DeForest has said in many newspapers and over his signature that it would be possible to transmit the human voice across the Atlantic before many years. Based on these absurd and deliberately misleading statements, the misguided public ... has been persuaded to purchase stock in his company ..."

a U.S. District Attorney, prosecuting American inventor Lee DeForest for selling stock fraudulently through the mail for his Radio Telephone Company in 1913

"The idea that cavalry will be replaced by these iron coaches is absurd. It is little short of treasonous."

Comment of Aide-de-camp to Field Marshal Haig, at tank demonstration, 1916

"The wireless music box has no imaginable commercial value. Who would pay for a message sent to no one in particular?"

Associates of David Sarnoff responding to the latter's call for investment in the radio in 1921

"The energy produced by the breaking down of 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, shortly after splitting the atom for the first time

"There is no likelihood man can ever tap the power of the atom."

Robert Millikan, American physicist and Nobel Prize winner, 1923

"While theoretically and technically television may be feasible, commercially and financially it is an impossibility, a development of which we need waste little time dreaming."

Lee DeForest, American radio pioneer and inventor of the vacuum tube, 1926

"To place a man in a multi-stage rocket and project him into the controlling gravitational field of the moon where the passengers can make scientific observations, perhaps land alive, and then return to earth - all that constitutes a wild dream worthy of Jules Verne. I am bold enough to say that such a man-made voyage will never occur regardless of all future advances."

Lee DeForest, American radio pioneer and inventor of the vacuum tube, in 1926

"Stocks have reached what looks like a permanently high plateau."

Irving Fisher, economics professor at Yale University, 1929.

"Very interesting, Whittle, my boy, but it will never work."

Cambridge Aeronautics Professor, when shown Frank Whittle's plan for the jet engine, before 1930.

"There is not the slightest indication that nuclear energy will ever be obtainable. It would mean that the atom would have to be shattered at will."

Albert Einstein, 1932

"By the year 1982 the graduated income tax will have practically abolished major differences in wealth."

Irwin Edman, professor of philosophy Columbia University, 1932.

"A rocket will never be able to leave the Earth's atmosphere."

New York Times, 1936

"Democracy will be dead by 1950."

John Langdon-Davies, A Short History of The Future, 1936

"I'm just glad it'll be Clark Gable who's falling on his face, and not Gary Cooper."

Gary Cooper, on declining the lead role in Gone with the Wind, before 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, First Lord of the Admiralty, then soon-to-be British Prime Minister, 1939

"... too far-fetched to be considered."

Editor of Scientific American, in a letter to Robert Goddard about Goddard's idea of a rocket-accelerated airplane bomb, 1940

"That is the biggest fool thing we have ever done [research on]... The bomb will never go off, and I speak as an expert in explosives."

Admiral William Leahy, U.S. Admiral working in the U.S. Atomic Bomb Project, advising President Truman on atomic weaponry, 1944

"You better get secretarial work or get married."

Emmeline Snively, director of the Blue Book Modelling Modelling Agency, advising would-be model Marilyn Monroe in 1944.

"Where a calculator on the ENIAC is equipped with 18,000 vacuum tubes and weighs 30 tons, computers in the future may have only 1,000 vacuum tubes and weigh only 1.5 tons."

Popular Mechanics, March 1949

"If excessive smoking actually plays a role in the production of lung cancer, it seems to be a minor one."

W.C. Heuper, National Cancer Institute, 1954.

"Nuclear-powered vacuum cleaners will probably be a reality in 10 years."

Alex Lewyt, president of vacuum cleaner company Lewyt Corp., in the New York Times in 1955

"It will be gone by June."

Variety, passing judgement on rock 'n roll in 1955.

"Space travel is utter bilge."

Richard Van Der Riet Woolley, upon assuming the post of Astronomer Royal (UK) in 1956

"A short-lived satirical pulp."

Time magazine, writing off Mad magazine in 1956.

"Space travel is bunk."

Sir Harold Spencer Jones, Astronomer Royal (UK), 1957 (two weeks later Sputnik orbited the Earth).

"The world potential market for copying machines is 5000 at most."

IBM, to the eventual founders of Xerox, saying the photocopier had no market large enough to justify production, 1959.

"In all likelihood world inflation is over."

International Monetary Fund Ceo, 1959

"And for the tourist who really wants to get away from it all, safaris in Vietnam."

Newsweek, predicting popular holidays for the late 1960s.

"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, British physicist and author of Inventing the Future, 1962

"The Beatles are not merely awful—I would consider it sacrilegious to say anything less than that they are godawful. They are so unbelievably horrible, so appallingly unmusical, so dogmatically insensitive to the magic of the art, that they qualify as crowned heads of anti-music, even as the imposter popes went down in history as 'anti-popes'."

William F. Buckley, 1964.

"[By 1985], machines [computers] will be capable of doing any work Man can do."

Herbert A. Simon, of Carnegie Mellon University, one of the founders of the field of artificial intelligence – speaking in 1965

"The concept is interesting and well-formed, but in order to earn better than a 'C', the idea must be feasible."

A Yale University management professor in response to a college assignment by Fred Smith proposing a reliable overnight delivery service, in 1966. Smith would later go on to found Federal Express Corp.

"But what... is it good for?"

IBM executive Robert Lloyd, speaking in 1968 about the microprocessor, the heart of today’s computers.

"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, August 2, 1968

"It will be years - not in my time - before a woman will become Prime Minister."

Margaret Thatcher, future Prime Minister, October 26th, 1969.

"We can close the books on infectious diseases."

Surgeon General of the United States William H. Stewart, 1969; speaking to the U.S. Congress

"By 1985, air pollution will have reduced the amount of sunlight reaching earth by one half..."

Life magazine, January 1970

"...civilization will end within 15 or 30 years unless immediate action is taken against problems facing mankind,"

biologist George Wald, Harvard University, April 19, 1970

The world will be "...11 degrees colder in the year 2000 (this is about twice what it would take to put us into an ice age),"

Kenneth Watt, speaking at Swarthmore University, April 19, 1970

"The case is a loser."

Johnnie Cochran, on soon-to-be client O.J.’s chances of winning, 1994.

"The war... will last... six days, six weeks... I doubt six months."

Donald Rumsfeld on the Iraq War

Here are two predictions that have yet to be realised... Whatever are we going to do?

"5–20% of the world's gross domestic product could be lost unless large cuts in greenhouse-gas emissions are made soon."

Stern Review - 2007

"average global surface temperature will likely rise a further 1.1 to 6.4 °C (2.0 to 11.5 °F) during the twenty-first century."

The IPCC - 2007

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Comments (16)

** Braying at our own reflections . . . While these anecdotes strike us as amusing -- they fail to tell us two things: 1. how widely believed were the opinions 2. did any comment have a measurable impact (say) on the conduct of research. As an object lesson in the need for humility among authority figures pointing out the dogged tenacity of Kelvin is important. There is no doubt that in Cambridge Kelvin as an old man became an intimidating presence. And outside academia, Kelvin's opinion that the Earth could be not older than 100 million years distressed Darwin whose theory needed more deep time afforded by Lyellian geology. Taken out of context, both of their time and ours, these anecdotes say nothing. They flatter our vanity. bipolar2

Ranked #27 in History

I would hazard a guess that bipolar1 is, more or less, the same person? I think you miss the point bipolar2, I was not attempting a scientific study, there are other modes of thought you know. And other paths toward knowledge. I was highlighting predictions that did not come true but were stated forcefully by people of influence. In the light of predictions being made today by people of similar profile I think that they are very much in our context. I am suggesting that a pinch of salt goes a long way when it comes to global disaster prediction, and that is well within our context unless you are suggesting that history is irrelevant... besides there is absolutely no carbon in salt :^) Now Lyellian geology is another matter requiring copious pinches of salt. Tell me, why is it that a theory needs deep time afforded by an observation. Surely observations are to lead us to theories, not the other way round? Or has there been a major shift in the Scientific method... Oh yes, there has, I forgot. What then are we to call this method, since it is no longer scientific? Imagineering perhaps, it's a Disney word, but I guess it will have to do. One more thought, taking history out of context is a very bizarre accusation from someone claiming Darwin's theory needed to borrow time from Lyellian geology. At least I am dealing only with human history, and recent history at that. At least I have evidence that the people actually said what I quote. What evidence do you have that the rocks said what you quote? You know someone who was there?

Ranked #27 in History

Thanks kdelik, I'm not sure why. I looked when you said that there were lots of hits. Currently it says 404 views today?

interesting, makes you think a little. cheers from England

Ranked #27 in History

Hey Jim. I was hoping to make you think a lot :^) Thanks for the comment!

Just think about what a different kind of world we might live in if many of these people didn't go ahead with their ideas or inventions. This just goes to show you that many people are wrong when making flimsy predictions with no way of possibly knowing the future for certain. I like to believe anything is possible. I've heard and read about all the doom and gloom scenarios of our day and you just have to take them with a grain of salt and realize most, if not all of them, are probably wrong. Good article. I'm not sure why some older articles are all of a sudden so popular and getting so many hits, but that's awesome.

I got here from Stumbleupon, In answer to kdelik quertion and am glad I found this site

Ranked #27 in History

Thanks Mandasparkle. I have a theory why the older Factoidz are getting more hits. They have had time to thoroughly populate the search engines, and all the old robots and spiders have been able to travel the wild wired waves and have come back with stories to tell eager young ears. Add the human element like Stumble & Twitter and away you go.

Ranked #27 in History

I have absolutely no idea. All I know is that I have not earned a cent through Google Adsense. The truth is that I really don't have the time to fiddle with it to see how it works.

Here's one that isn't quite famous enough: "...it came to pass." Nothing comes to stay. Allow yourself to drift through life's moments like a leaf on a stream, if a storm comes - enjoy the tasty drowning after being torn into oddly painful to the point of hallucinating chunks of your former self... ...and thus, this prediction will NEVER come true: THE END (laughs) What part of ETERNITY does not automatically guarantee that RIGHT NOW is included?

Ranked #80 in History

Cheery news, -just found this. Great!

Ranked #31 in History

“They couldn’t hit an elephant at this dist-”...Classic!!

Nice article.

Nice article

We cannot really avoid predicting the future particularly if these issues are global issues. The most important thing is not to easily believe in predictions unless if there are credible explanations from the experts. Thank you for sharing this informative article, keep it up! Voted and shared.

According to a certain article I\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\'ve read, predicting the future is always a matter of throwing guesses at the wall, then only brag about the ones that stick. The world is full of sci-fi stories and futurist essays, and some of them are bound to be right, just due to sheer volume. Sometimes they get a little too accurate, but I am not accusing anyone of witchcraft or so, it is just a matter of belief.

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