Science Gone Stupid: Individual Extinction Edition

Guest article by David Middleton

Wonkblog Analysis

We have a pretty good idea of when people will soon go extinct

From Christopher Ingraham October 6

Volume m****r! Catastrophic climate change!  And nuclear anihilation! OH MY!!!

Fortunately, the Washington Post informative article actually has nothing to do with the Soviet Union of Concerned Scientists.

Princeton University astrophysicist J. Richard Gott has invented a probabilistic way of pinpointing the specific date of person extinction….   Well, perhaps not the specific date… However he’s nailed down the 95% envelope.

Professor Gott predicted the Fall of the Berlin Wall with pinpoint accuracy:

[T]here was a 50 percent chance that the Wall will  return  between 1971 (2.66, or 8/3 years to the future) and 1993 (24, or 8 x 3 years to the future). In reality, the Wall fell in 1989, well inside his forecast range.

The great  thing about the prediction of Gott is that it relied solely on statistics. He didn’t have to try and make assumptions about human behavior, which can be unpredictable. No need to take the heartbeat of East German politics, or calculate the odds of war between West Germany and the Soviet Union. The numbers just ran.

As it happens, all that needs is a broadening of the first assumption: Rather than a 50 percent chance that you’re celebrating something at the center 50 percent of its lifetime, you can say you’ve got a 95 percent chance of celebrating that thing from the midst 95 percent of its lifetime. According to the Copernican Principle, this is a very safe bet: You’d have to be exceptionally fortunate to be celebrating something either during its beginning (the first 2.5 percentage of its timespan) or in its end (the last 2.5 percentage).

The 95 percent assumption broadens the timespan . In the event of Gott’s trip to the Berlin Wall, to achieve 95 percent assurance on his own prediction he’d have to state the Wall’s future life span was somewhere between 0.2 and 320 years, instead of their 2.66 into 24 years predicted in the 50 percent accuracy threshold. To improve your confidence in other words, you have to sacrifice some of its accuracy.

So now that we know that the fall of the Berlin Wall might have predicted to within one hair of a gnat’s ass (±160.1 years) on the day it has been completed!

So when does Professor Gott predict demise that is human?

We shall “snuff it” sometime between 7,100 AD ad 7,800,000 AD… So…”Last orders please!”

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