Recently, we did an experiment: We took an outdated issue of a respected popular science magazine, Scientific American, and researched exactly what happened to the highly-touted breakthroughs of the era that would supposedly change everything. What we discovered is just how terrible we are at predicting the long arc of scientific discovery.
The daily churn of science news tends toward optimism. You know what I’m talking about: New cure! New breakthrough smashing Moore’s law! New revolutionary technology! I write about science, and I am always uncomfortable trying to predict how a new piece of research will change the future.
That’s because science can be wrong. It can go down dead ends. And even when it doesn’t, almost everything is more complicated and takes longer than we initially think. But just how wrong and how long?