Blogs > Liberty and Power > Predicting Bad Predictions

May 31, 2004 8:32 pm

Predicting Bad Predictions

Having read several new books on climate change, New York Times Book Review reviewer Verlyn Klinkenborg advises readers to be frightened (“Be Afraid. Be Very Afraid,” May 30th). I’ll resist.

How is it possible to review the updated Limits to Growth book and Paul Ehrlich’s latest tome without showing even a trace of recognition that these authors’ predictions are infamous for being consistently and dazzlingly wrong? In The Population Bomb (1968), for example, Ehrlich predicted that “the battle to feed all of humanity is over. In the 1970s the world will undergo famines—hundreds of millions of people are going to starve to death in spite of any crash programs embarked upon now.” Erhlich later lost his bet with Julian Simon that resource scarcity would intensify during the 1980s.

Suppose that a glib and frantic free-market ideologue had written a book thirty years ago predicting that continued regulation and taxation would wreak catastrophic destruction on society by 1985. Further suppose that when that specific prediction proved false, the same ideologue wrote another book advancing the same thesis, with only the year of reckoning changed. That prediction, too, failed. Now the ideologue offers yet another book with the same thesis. Would this"scholar's" book be reviewed in the New York Times? Would Mr. Klinkenborg, or anyone with half a brain, take it seriously? If not, what’s with the respect accorded to a Limits to Growth update and yet another prediction from Paul Ehrlich?

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