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June 9, 2003 7:29 AM   Subscribe

The Pale Horse Percentage. The demise of civilization has been predicted since it began, but the odds of keeping Planet Earth alive and well are getting worse amid a breakneck pace of scientific advances, according to Martin Rees, Britain's honorary astronomer royal. Rees calculates that the odds of an apocalyptic disaster striking Earth have risen to about 50 percent from 20 percent a hundred years ago.
posted by The Jesse Helms (21 comments total)

 
'The British scientist calls for better regulation and inspection of sensitive data and experiments.

"We need to keep track of those who have potentially lethal knowledge," Rees said.'


I'm adding Rees to my "boneheads who try to impeded the progress of science for no good reason, even though they should know better"-list.
posted by spazzm at 7:44 AM on June 9, 2003


Hey, I just picked up Rees' book, but I haven't started it yet. Nothing like some light reading...
posted by greengrl at 7:47 AM on June 9, 2003


The 60-year-old scientist, author of the recently published "Our Final Hour," says science is advancing in a far more unpredictable and potentially dangerous pattern than ever before.

Let's not forget other expert opinions! Humans doomed without space colonies. Machines are going to take over the planet. By none other than Stephen Hawking.

Let's face it. The world isn't ending any time soon (on account of man, anyhow). There's too many paranoid motherfuckers out there to make sure that it doesn't happen.

And an appropriate Hicks quote, though a little culturally specific:

"Go back to bed America, your government is in control."
posted by angry modem at 7:48 AM on June 9, 2003


What kind of algorithm does Rees use to come up with his bogus, pseudo-scientific odds? He has access to no special information, he knows nothing that you or I don't know. If anything, the past 100 years have shown us how resilient the biosphere, civilization and the human body really are. All this craven coward has to say is "change is inevitable -- run for your lives!" The real message should be: "Change is inevitable. We'll adjust."
posted by Faze at 8:06 AM on June 9, 2003


Hey, either there will be an apocalyptic disaster striking Earth, or there won't. Fifty percent.
posted by anapestic at 8:31 AM on June 9, 2003


The sky is falling! The sky is falling! Oh god, who will save us?
posted by aramaic at 8:39 AM on June 9, 2003


I sometimes think Chicken Littles have thier uses. Perhaps if we didn't have people being alarmist about a particular issue it wouldn't get the attention and awareness it actually needs.
posted by orange swan at 8:53 AM on June 9, 2003


I thnk I can speak for many of us at AARP, the elderly: things are going downhill ina hand basket. Not sure what that means but icecream used to taste much better before my taste buds died.
posted by Postroad at 9:39 AM on June 9, 2003


...the odds of keeping Planet Earth alive and well are getting worse amid a breakneck pace of scientific advances...

Eh, humanity has a had a good run. Good for humanity, anyway. Maybe it's time for something new to come along. Whatever is next, it will study us someday as we studied the dinosaurs, forgiving humanity its excesses as we forgave the nature of those other long-toothed beasts.
posted by Shane at 9:46 AM on June 9, 2003


And you will pay me ONE MILLION DOLLARS!
posted by briank at 9:57 AM on June 9, 2003


We may go extinct. Is that bad?

The same DNA flows through me that flows through the first fish to crawl onto land, I too want to evolve.
posted by stbalbach at 10:11 AM on June 9, 2003


What kind of algorithm does Rees use to come up with his bogus, pseudo-scientific odds?

He's a scientist, so he must be doing the right thing. No doubt he has an internally consistent theory of what causes universal apocalypses, and he's been looking back through history and prehistory to see whether or not the data on previous man-made global annihilations support his theory.

No way could he just be riding a hobby horse. He's a scientist, man.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 10:33 AM on June 9, 2003


Well, there's always the odd meteor strike...
posted by alumshubby at 11:04 AM on June 9, 2003


I love the phrase "save the planet!"; unless you're talking about moving it away from the Sun before the Sun becomes a red giant and swallows the earth, the planet's doing just fine.
posted by hari at 12:32 PM on June 9, 2003


He may be wrong, but I guarantee his opinion on the subject is more valuable than that of all you who are glibly dismissing him. I mean, honestly, what makes you think you know what he doesn't?
posted by Hildago at 5:16 PM on June 9, 2003


The reuters article isn't a great summary; the arguments of Reese and others are in fact pretty persuasive. Socities have collapsed before. (Rome, easter island, fertile crescent, etc. ect. ect.) Then, there were other societies completely unconnected; today, everywhere is pretty much interdependent and the collective resources upon which civilization rests are the planet itself, not a continent or island. (Well, an island, but only in the metaphorical sense.) I wrote a Thingy about this myself, but the link above is infinitely better.
posted by Tlogmer at 5:52 PM on June 9, 2003


MeFi did this before, but the link gives me an invalid cfml error when I try to retrieve it.
posted by TedW at 7:27 PM on June 9, 2003


I mean, honestly, what makes you think you know what he doesn't?

I know enough to know that he has no basis to be calculating a probability of global apocalypse, since we haven't had them before and so can't possibly have the slightest damn idea from what sort of distribution they're drawn. That's a good start.

Unless he wants to say that the odds of global apocalypse are somewhere between zero and one, of course.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 7:39 PM on June 9, 2003


Well, his position is that the likelihood of "apocalypse" has increased from twenty percent to fifty percent in the last one hundred years.

While I personally don't like predictions of our demise that entail a conspiratorial bogeyman releasing genetically engineered pathogens into the Earth's human populous say, I certainly don't know enough about anything to discount the possibility of something like that to wreak havoc on us. Of course it's possible. And here we have someone who stands by a 50/50 prognosis that such is possible, whereas 100 years before the ability of something as apocalyptic occurring was thirty percent less. I can see logic in that. It says to me, our interdependency is more important than ever before, as our very own interdependency is that which could very well do us in.

In other words:

"We need to keep track of those who have potentially lethal knowledge," Rees said.

He also suggested better efforts to "reduce the number of people who feel excluded or otherwise motivated to cause harm."


It may sound inane, but what else can we do? Pray?
posted by crasspastor at 8:02 PM on June 9, 2003


I guarantee his opinion on the subject is more valuable than that of all you who are glibly dismissing him

I think what bothers some of the posters above is the quantitative nature of his claims, eg, "the odds of an apocalyptic disaster striking Earth have risen to about 50 percent from 20 percent a hundred years ago." How he arrived at these particular numbers is clearly perplexing.
posted by shoos at 10:22 PM on June 9, 2003


The problem with the odds is that it doesn't give a time-frame for this apocalypse to occur. Is there a 1/2 chance that the apocalypse will occur this year? This century?

I would say there's about a 100% chance that the apocalypse will occur. Not for several billion years, but it will occur.
posted by jacobsee at 11:07 AM on June 10, 2003


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