The dumbest opening paragraph ever in a science report

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Journalists now appear to want to outdo each other in stupidity when it comes to re-hashing Nafeez Ahmed’s silly report about a Nasa-funded study predicting an “imminent collapse” of civilization. The prize so far goes to Tristin Hopper of the National Post. Here is his opening paragraph:

‘After running the numbers on a set of four equations representing human society, a team of NASA-funded mathematicians has come to the grim conclusion that the utter collapse of human civilization will be “difficult to avoid.”’

Yes, they modelled all of humanity with only four equations, and you decided the study was worth reporting on. Evidence certainly that the profession of journalism is facing imminent collapse.

It should be pointed out of course that the study itself does not appear to have actually concluded that civilizational collapse will be “difficult to avoid.” (I say “does not appear” here because so far the final version of this paper has not appeared anywhere).

In fact it as a highly theoretical model, which actually makes no effort whatsoever to predict what will happen in the future. It’s applicability to current human civilization is made clear by it only modelling renewable resources. We live in a world fundamentally reliant on non-renewable resources. Just imagine if you yanked steel or concrete from it. The whole edifice would collapse.

So any model like this will be an incredibly unreliable predictor of the future course of human civilization. This however will not stop those with agendas, or those seeking a cheap headline, from reporting the paper as such.

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2 thoughts on “The dumbest opening paragraph ever in a science report

    Lauri Muranen said:
    March 19, 2014 at 9:02 am

    Hi Robert,

    I have to say I share your exasperation with the ilk of the abovementioned “apocaholics”. It seems to me that many people suffer from clinical levels of misanthropic angst and appear to be hoping for an imminent collapse of human civilization. I myself got so frustrated with this type that I decided to start my own blog about it to show that most things aren’t as bad as they might seem.
    http://efficientrevolution.wordpress.com/

    Who knows what the motivations are to not to put these sort of “studies” under more scrutiny. One has to admit though, that these sort of beliefs in imminent secular apocalypse does seem like seamless continuum to their religious predecessors. At the root of this all is the pesky human who treads where only the gods are allowed (e.g. anti-GM rhetoric isn’t that far from the previous sentence).

    For some reason societies tend to put more weight on gloomy predictions than optimistic ones, even if the former have had disastrous track record over the past few centuries. I don’t expect this to change.

    Keep up the good work, maybe someone will be enlightened and start questioning whether it is rational to expect the worst based on couple of equations.

    I myself am a recovering apocaholic..

    Lauri Muranen

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    Terry McAusland (@TerryMcAusland) said:
    March 24, 2014 at 1:03 pm

    Hey, be nice to us Canadians, even us helpful cheery people need some bad news! 😉 In other news, we caught that Emu that has been “terrorizing” Vancouver Island. Great blog. :-))

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