Unpredictable predictions

Jan. 1, 2010

Is predicting a losing proposition? Let us hope not,
for we have some of them in this first issue of 2010 from medical
laboratory experts that you will want to read (with more online). You
may even have a medical laboratory prediction or two of your own.

A recent movie plays up the Mayan prediction that the
world ends on Dec. 21, 2012. But what if the Mayan calendar maker just
stopped his calculations at this particular date because the
conquistadors came calling?

Predictions emanate from all walks of life. From the
8th-century Oracle at Delphi, to 16th-century Nostradamus, to America's
Edgar Cayce (the “sleeping prophet”) and Punxsutawney Phil (the
“groundhog prophet”), humans have longed to know what their futures

We love to hear predictions. We love to read them. We
even love to make them. Are not our New Year's resolutions merely
predictions of what we hope to do or change in our own lives in the
coming year?

Looking back at long-ago predictions can be amusing.
Pierre Pachet likely said in all confidence: “Louis Pasteur's theory of
germs is ridiculous fiction.” Pachet, a physiology professor at Toulouse
in 1872, perhaps should have gone on to invent “damage control.”

By the time Charles Duell arrived at the U.S. Office of
Patents, he knew enough to pronounce in 1899, “Everything that can be
invented has been invented.” (Yes, except for “damage control.”) Actually,
1899 was much too soon for anyone to imagine that in 2010, the medical
laboratory's selection of equipment included machines that plate Pasteur's
germs (bacteria) onto Petri dishes

Living in a highly “computerized” world, we have also
seen inventions that we might have once seen on “Flash Gordon.” With
electronic health records being incorporated into the medical laboratory and
more equipment offering computerized functions to relieve manual labor, it
is difficult to believe that while Computer Visionary Bill Gates has been on
target almost all the time, even he once remarked: “No one will need more
than 637 Kb of memory for a personal computer.”

Then he went on to tell the 2004 World Economic
Forum, “Two years from now, 'spam' will be solved.” (Pardon me, Bill,
but I need to spend a few minutes here emptying the “spam” out of my

Over the years, a number of knowledgeable folks
predicted some of that computer stuff wrong: “There is no reason anyone
would want a computer in his home (1977);” “… data processing is a fad
that won't last out the year (1957);” “Computers in the future may weigh
no more than 1.5 tons (1949);” and “I think there is a world market for
maybe five computers (1943).”

My favorite comment on predictions is Wilbur
Wright's. The famous bicycle mechanic told France's Aero Club in 1908:
“I confess that in 1901, I said to my brother Orville that man would not
fly for 50 years. … ever since, I have … avoided all predictions.”

Should we take Wilbur's lead? No, waiting to find out
the answers is too much fun. If you do have a prediction or two of your
own, send those along, and, in December 2010, we will see whether our
predictions and yours are ful filled or fun-filled.