Introducing the annual Ehrlich Award, which at the start of each year will be given to the "wrongest" published prediction I observe of or relating to the previous calendar year. (Of course, if I make a really stupid prediction of my own pertaining to this or any other year, I will happily self-nominate, and even if necessary self-award. )
There are a few groundrules - for instance the predictions need to be vaguely meaningful (in terms of being able to assess whether they have happened - this year's winner stretches that one sometimes), and secondly predictions that carry a stated assessment of chance of falsehood are not included unless that assessed chance is ludicrously low. After all, even odds-on favourites do get beaten sometimes.
The Ehrlich Award is named in (dis)honour of Paul Ehrlich whose lifetime achievements in the field of publishing wrong enviro-scare predictions (oh no, you're an "idiot" if you say they were "predictions"; they were actually only "scenarios") are almost as staggering as the excuses trotted out on behalf of all his false apocalypses. Apparently, not only is it a hit predictively for Ehrlich fans if something vaguely like the prediction happened, or if it could still happen later, but even if nothing like it happened, that's a hit too, because it means people must have listened to the prophet's warnings and, for that reason alone, averted their ways from their sins.
If I'd been running an Ehrlich Award in 2011 I probably would have given it to Tasmanian energy, peak oil and climate change advocate Chris Harries, who on 24 February that year wrote:
"How much will Australians (Tasmanians) be paying for petrol by year’s end?
My prediction is towards the $2 per litre mark. $200 to ‘fill the tank’ within four years. I’m willing to lay bets."
This prediction seemed to be piggybacked off speculation at the time that the price of oil merely might hit such-and-such a level if an improbable combination of events occurred. I bookmarked it, and when the first part of the prediction failed with the petrol price rising marginally, I challenged Harries to a bet on the second part without success.
Some worthy candidates
I won't even bother with the Mayan-calendar confusion end-of-world furphy.
In a tie for the bronze medal position are every pundit who predicted as fact that Julia Gillard would be gone as PM by the end of the year, and practically everything said by Tony Abbott about the impact of the carbon pricing scheme. Lest that sound at all biased, practically everything said by Labor on the matter of a budget surplus is already a hot contender for the award relating to events in 2013 - and that's one area in which it looks like some of Joe Hockey's predictions could be accurate. (While I see no reason to doubt that Wayne Swan Did The Right Thing by ditching the surplus commitment even at the cost of validating a Hockey prediction, that a price so embarrassing even has to be paid at all is yet another damning indictment on the talent level of Labor's 2010 campaign and subsequent strategy. The job of the 2013 Coalition attack-ad writers will not be difficult.)
The silver medal goes jointly to various Republicans and sympathisers who predicted steadfastly that Mitt Romney would win the US Presidential Election,even while methods that had done a particularly good job of forecasting the previous one were saying this was highly unlikely. In this light I was especially impressed by the sterling efforts of the late UnskewedPolls.com, and also the fine form by Karl Rove who carried his own act through to maintaining on election night that Ohio had been called prematurely (when if anything it had been called late; it was ultimately carried by about 3%.)
And the winner is ...
A few years ago there was this little thing called the Global Financial Crisis. People who had said it was coming were considered, for a while, to be interesting, in terms of what they might predict next. But prediction, in the form of knowledge about the future, is not just about getting it right once or a few times. It is about being right for a valid reason rather than just being lucky, and being right reasonably consistently. If a person incessantly forecasts that a system will run into trouble, and it does run into trouble someday, that doesn't mean they knew what they were doing when they made their prediction. Even a stopped clock gets the time right eventually, after all, but you wouldn't use it as a timepiece.
One figure in this category is a certain Gerald Celente, "trend forecaster". Celente's form regarding the GFC and other things (from a long history of doomsaying at very high volume, much of it suitably ambiguous) was considered impressive enough that he scored widely panned mainstream media coverage on the ABC's supposed current affairs flagship Four Corners in 2010 for his views that there was still worse to come.
That there is still worse to come, economically speaking, on the grounds that the problems underlying the GFC were not actually fixed, is not a view that is within my powers to refute; I'll leave that discussion to the political economists. But it's one thing to say a "second GFC" (or worse) might soon happen and another to put a very definite timeline on it. And for whatever reason, 2012 AD attracted a lot of interest from people who were keen to put a dateline on a second crash. And Celente has been focused on 2012 for a long time (though it's far from the only past year he's made false predictions of radical political doom about.)
In 2008, Celente was reported by the very friendly Infowars, or as I call it, Ignowars, as predicting the following for 2012:
" [..] America will become an undeveloped nation, that there will be a
revolution marked by food riots, squatter rebellions, tax revolts and
job marches, and that holidays will be more about obtaining food, not
“We’re going to see the end of the retail Christmas….we’re going to see
a fundamental shift take place….putting food on the table is going to
be more important that putting gifts under the Christmas tree,” said
Celente, adding that the situation would be “worse than the great
Virtually none of this has happened. Yes, there has been the Occupy movement, yes there have been tax protests (hardly "revolts") by Tea Partiers and the like, but no revolution, and much the same people are still getting elected. More of Celente's predictions from 2008-9 regarding 2012, a supposed year of watershed and massive transformation, are currently listed on Wikipedia here (if they get deleted for non-notability, check the talk page near the bottom).
Generally, the projections can be divided into those that are hopelessly vague (such as that there would be major environmental problems) and those that have turned out to be false. This even extends to psephology, with Celente projecting the rise of a third party in 2012. In fact the wingnuts who might have supported such a party generally either ran for or supported the Republicans, and I don't think the 1% for the comparatively saner Libertarians really counts!
More recent articles show that Celente was still banging on about 2012 at the end of 2011. While it takes no genius to declare that in any given year there will be many small laws passed worldwide that unjustly and in generally small degrees inhibit expression on the internet and elsewhere (see item 9), or that there will be further trends towards alternative energy, none of the really dramatic developments expected by Celente actually happened in 2012. If there is a "climax" to everything he and other economic doomsayers have been talking about, then we're still waiting for it.
The above merely scratches the surface of a vast volume of excitable Celente predictions about the year 2012. A simple Google search for "Gerard Celente 2012" will bring up more of it than you can poke a stick at.
Celente is a perennial favourite among what I call the ignomedia - Ignowars, Prison Planet, Bilderberg obsessives, 9/11 "truthers", the Ron Paul fanbase and so on - a haphazardly right-wing movement (which claims unconvincingly to be "libertarian" and beyond politics-as-normal), driven by conspiracy theories and doomsaying. What I find interesting is that Celente is factually wrong in a quite similar way to that in which Ehrlich is factually wrong, but many of the ignoheads would consider Celente a hero and Ehrlich an accessory to one-world-government enviro-fascism.
But less this be just a routine exercise in bashing these soft targets, I will point out that there is more than enough evidence out there that the mainstream media considers Celente notable enough to deserve reporting (Four Corners is a long long way from an isolated case), just as mainstream newspapers continue to publish astrology columns and pseudoscientific quackery on health and dream interpretation. I make no finding in defence of the mainstream over their coverage of Celente, and suggest instead that the mainstream media and the ignomedia are too often the same as each other, are sometimes as bad as each other, and certainly deserve each other when it comes to apocalyptic nonsense such as this.
Anyway Gerald Celente is the 2012 winner of this site's annual Ehrlich Award for Wrong Predictions. And I predict he will keep on making them, provided he remains active in his current field, and that there will always be both ignosheep and mainstream "sheeple" who are fool enough to listen.
The race is now on for 2013 ... which according to Celente will be "The Year of the Boogie", in which we presumably party like we probably always have, til the lights go out like they were supposed to last year. World War 3 within four years, apparently, because there are all these little wars in the world (again, like there always have been). Some "things" are even going to get worse and then there are going to be improvements. Startling stuff!
He's probably right about the partying.
(I hesitate to predict extreme loopiness in the comments section to this post in case the likely author decides not to comment just to prove me wrong! Or worse still, comments sanely!)