5 Overhyped Disaster Predictions from Recent History

This is a guest post by Gary Nicholson, on behalf of Policy Expert.

Successful prediction of disasters can help us save money, time and in some cases, even lives. However, throughout recent history, and for as long as the media has been around, such predictions have left us wanting to run for the hills only to amount to nothing. Almost as if the powers that be are playing a little Boy Who Cried Wolf scenario. Here are some of the best examples of overhyped predictions.

Y2K bug

Image credit: roberthunt1987

The year 2000 bug, also known as the Millennium Bug, referred to a digital computer problem which was predicted to occur from 1st January 2000. The problem was suspected to come from software which used the last two digits of the year rather than all four, creating a series of problems which was believed to have the potential to cause catastrophic damage across the digital world.

As the world celebrated the new year, we also held our breath in preparation for what the year 2000 would bring. However, it soon became clear that the preparation had been for nothing. A few minor glitches were reported, however the digital world mainly continued business as usual.

The Harold Camping problem

Image credit: Lord Jim

There have been numerous doomsday scenarios over the years, all of which have so far proved to be completely incorrect. For example, Harold Camping famously predicted that on Saturday 21st May, 2011, the Rapture would come and the universe would be completely destroyed within six months. He made a similar prediction in 1994, and both have been proved to be spectacularly wrong.

Solar Storm 2012

Image credit: NASA

In March 2012 scientists fearer that a solar storm within the Earth’s magnetic field could cause substantial damage to satellites and power grids. However, later reports showed that this prediction had been wildly overhyped, as there was no significant solar activity when the storm occurred.

The Malthusian Famine

Image credit: Wikipedia

Thomas Malthus’ population theories are still used as a key basis of our understanding of the world’s population growth and our relationship with food and other resources. However, despite the highly regarded key principles that Malthus’ theories were build upon, one less successful prediction was the idea that by the 1970s mass starvation would hit the world due to the imbalanced relationship between food and people. Of course, what Malthus did not predict is the world’s ability to innovate and adapt to the ever increasing population, and this prediction proved to be well and truly incorrect.

The Energy Crisis – Crude Oil

Image credit: AZRainman

The idea that the energy crisis is over hyped is a fairly controversial topic, as it is easy to argue that this prediction is at least partly correct. However, many scientists predicted that by 2010, all crude oil would have run out, and there simply would be no more left by now. This would drastically alter our modern day lifestyles, and force us to revert back to a stripped back, more ecological way of living.

Oil is by no means an ‘easy’ resource to obtain – it’s very existence causes wide political and economic issues – however, domestically, we are still able to fulfil our highly energy dependent lifestyles, and prove this theory wrong.

What do you think of our selection of overhyped disaster predictions? Are there any you disagree with? Any you would add to the list? As ever, feel free to let us know your thoughts by leaving a comment.

All images in this post are used under Creative Commons license.

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  1. It’s not really true that the Y2K prep was for nothing. There were important systems that would have gone seriously wrong if they hadn’t been fixed. But they were fixed (in part because the Y2K bug was made out as such a big deal), so things carried on smoothly.

    It’s more accurate to say that Y2K is an example of where taking a potential problem very seriously (overhyping it, perhaps) is very valuable, because it means it gets fixed and doesn’t become an actual problem.

    • Thanks Matt – good point. There was a potential problem, but it was averted by plenty of hard work. It’ll be interesting to see whether there is going to be a similar issue when UNIX clocks rollover to 0 (in 2038), or whether systems are now being built with the lessons learned from Y2K firmly in mind.

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