Failed Virus Prediction In a past blog, I discussed how difficult it is to predict the future:
Predicting the Future
In this blog, I wanted to discuss a future prediction that many people should have accurately described. I wrote this during the Covid-19 outbreak of 2020. Let’s review what happened up to this point in history. There have been many real virus outbreaks that provided us with great data about how our society reacts to a virus. Bubonic plague, Spanish Flu, SARS, colic, smallpox, hanta, yellow fever, polio, and typhoid.
In literature and movies, authors/screenwriters came up with many plots (predictions) about how the people of earth would react to a large virus outbreak. Outbreak, The Andromeda Strain, Dawn of the Dead, The Walking Dead, Carriers, Contagion and World War Z.
What is their basic plot? A manmade or natural virus infects humans worldwide, and people become aware of it. The virus rapidly spreads, and governments cannot stop it. Scientists find the cure and earth is saved or they do not find a cure, and only a few survive.
How did people react to Covid-19? Virus (almost) identified, hushed up, formally identified, and over-publicized. People die, but the numbers are confusing. Virus spread, borders closed, businesses/schools closed, businesses opened, and businesses closed. People stopped spreading the virus, and then they stopped caring, which actively spread the virus. For every truthful article, 200+ fake news articles were widely released with little effort to stop them. Virus cure worked on, but 40% of people said they would not take it. The number of infections increases while people pretend everything is normal. As I write this blog, there is a genuine chance that it could doom the human race. What is my reaction? Meh…
There is a radical difference between reality and the predicted plot. The screenwriters and authors got 10% of the basic concept correct, even though they had many examples. How could they be so wrong on so many levels?
I offer an opinion to explain the difference. Fundamentally, our world has changed, and the screenwriters and authors did not realize the extent. The major difference is that we have radically altered our information sources and attitudes. When the screenwriter wrote The Andromeda Strain, people trusted authorities, and the news sources were tame. Now we no longer blindly trust the authorities (even when multiple scientists prove them correct), and there are thousands of news sources, both real and imaginary. Now we are more self-centered and carefree even when this attitude puts us directly in harms way.
I estimate these factors account for 60% of the explanation. If an “Outbreak” type movie plot was written in December 2019, it probably would have been closer to the Covid-19 reaction. The plot would have had fake news, people disbelieving virus facts, conspiracy reactions and vaccine refusal.
The other part that the movie/books missed is embracing the less than ideal qualities of people. We often choose the path of least resistance, do what is fun, ignore potential consequences, and try to make a buck. Making a plan or a plot that ignores these fundamental human aspects will never be accurate. I think this accounts for 20% of the difference.
Futurists and authors like exciting topics. They add drama to make us scared and show people getting the cure to make readers/audiences feel good. Reality is boring and full of people doing strange things. I think this accounts for the final 20%.
Future disaster plots must now use all the wacky Covid-19 reactions. Here is a “new” plot. Astronomers spot asteroid heading toward earth and recommend taking shelter. Reaction: Asteroids are not real because my bother is a scientist, and he told me so. Is this plot out of line? Until 2019, that plot would be absurd. Now? Sounds like the beginning of a best seller.

You’re the best -Bill
July 22, 2020
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