The pace of change in the world today is staggering. Life is completely different from what it was as little as 30 years ago. Think about it – 30 years ago, barely anyone used a cell phone or the internet, and the one and only way you could watch a baseball game in another city was live, on the TV set in your house. Well, you could program a VCR to record it for you to watch later, but that was it for your options.
With all the amazing advances we see regularly, science and technology people are obviously amazing unless they aren’t. Here are some bold predictions that were so wrong it makes you want to throw “shocked” emojis all over your cell phone screen. We have grouped them into categories for your convenience.
Entertainment and Communication
“While theoretically and technically television may be feasible, commercially and financially I consider it an impossibility, a development of which we need waste little time dreaming.” – Lee DeForest, American radio pioneer, 1926.
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. – Editorial in the Boston Post, 1865
The abdomen, the chest, and the brain will forever be shut from the intrusion of the wise and humane surgeon.’ – Sir John Eric Ericson, Surgeon to Queen Victoria, 1873
“That virus is a pussycat.” — Dr. Peter Duesberg, molecular-biology professor at U.C. Berkeley, on HIV, 1988
“Your cigarettes will never become popular.” – F. G. Alton, 1870, cigar maker, turning down Mr. John Player, one of the first manufacturers to sell cigarettes instead of loose tobacco and papers for people to roll themselves, and creator of the “Player’s” cigarette brand
“X-rays are a hoax.” – Lord Kelvin (again!), ca. 1900
“Louis Pasteur’s theory of germs is ridiculous fiction.” — Pierre Pachet, Professor of Physiology at Toulouse, 1872.
I see no good reasons why the views given in this volume should shock the religious feelings of anyone. – Darwin (writing in Origin of Species), 1859
The so-called theories of Einstein are merely the ravings of a mind polluted with liberal, democratic nonsense, which is utterly unacceptable to German men of science. – Dr. Walter Gross, 1940
“With over 50 foreign cars already on sale here, the Japanese auto industry isn’t likely to carve out a big slice of the U.S. market.” — Business Week, August 2, 1968.
“Within the next few decades, autos will have folding wings that can be spread when on a straight stretch of road so that the machine can take to the air.” — Eddie Rickenbacker, ‘Popular Science,’ July 1924
“Airplanes are interesting toys but of no military value.” — Marechal Ferdinand Foch, Professor of Strategy, Ecole Superieure de Guerre.
“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 in 1859.
We could have wrapped this up under this heading by mocking weather forecasters, who are no better at predicting the weather than they were when they started several centuries ago. But instead, we go with the gloomy outlook of a government official who saw nothing beneficial in moving from the 19th century to the 20th century.
“Everything that can be invented has been invented.” — Charles H. Duell, Commissioner, U.S. Office of Patents, 1899
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