Tag Archives: Festinger

My own prophecy for December 2012

when-prophecy-failsThe great thing about end of the world predictions is that they’re always wrong. In fact, 100% of them have been so far. Of course, as soon as one is correct that will greatly change the state of affairs. Nonetheless, one prediction I always make ahead of end of the world predictions is that once it doesn’t come to pass, the millenarians will revise their prediction, saying they miscalculated the date. Despite the general lack of predictive power of most of social science, it’s one of the few aspects of the future we can predict with near certainty.

There was a famous study in the ’50s of a doomsday cult called When Prophecy Fails. It’s germane to the current dross being cycled out by harmless hippies and credulous conspiracy theorists. The study examines how people’s beliefs are actually redoubled in the event of a disconfirmed prophecy because of cognitive dissonance and wanting to save face. It’s a cool study of additional interest because it happened to take place when Scientology was considered the bizarre, mainly benign, nonsense-based cult that it is.

I recommend checking the book out as a balm when you hear things on the news like, “If the Mayan calendar is correct…” — the opening of a sentence which presages not the end of the world, but the just as frequently prophesied death of journalism.

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