We call them experts for a reason, yet there are many times when what the experts said have proved to be so wrong as to be out the ballpark. As there are so-called experts in every field, there are a great many opportunities for them to be wrong. I have identified some of the most cataclysmic statements as cases of when what the experts said could not have been more wrong.
1. Everything That Can Be Invented Has Been Invented
This is most probably the most famous example of what the experts said being wrong, mainly due to the fact that when a person is being narrow minded or overly conservative that this quote is repeated. It was first said by Charles H. Duell in 1899. He was the commissioner of the Office of Patents in the USA. Of all the experts, he was the one who was the most qualified to make this statement, and yet if you consider how far technology has moved forwards, it is quite a frightening statement.
2. Children Today Have Too Many Luxuries…have Bad Manners…children Are Now Tyrants…they Contradict Their Parents
This is a paraphrasing of a long paragraph of text that claims children today are more misbehaved, foul mouthed, spoilt and troublesome than they have ever been in the past. It may seem correct in present day, except that this famous paragraph was written by Socrates in 469BC, which pretty much indicates that children have always been the same. Even thousands of years ago there were old people saying, “Kids were not as bad in my day.”
3. I Think There is a World Market for Maybe Five Computers
This is a very famous quote, made popular by the rise of Microsoft, and as you might imagine, Microsoft promoters enjoyed bandying this phrase about. It is a quote from Thomas Watson, the 1943 IBM chairman. It was quite a quote and a big example of what the experts said being wrong, given the fact that IBM were one of the world’s biggest technology developers at the time.
4. No Civil War Movie Ever Made a Nickel
This was actually a true statement, and was possibly due to the fact that most civil war movies were excuses to shoot fighting scenes and many of them held little interest for movie goers. It was a quote from the MGM Executive Mr. Irving Thalberg. He made the statement to Mr. Louis B. Mayer as he was considering the production of the movie “Gone with the Wind.” The same movie that went on to massive success, partly because it was a civil war movie with a solid story to tell, where the civil war was in the backdrop and was not the focus of the movie.
5. While Theoretically and Technically Television May Be Feasible, Commercially and Financially I Consider It an Impossibility
This was said in 1926 by Lee DeForest, an American radio pioneer. Obviously, fearing that TV would replace the radio is reason enough for him to say what he said. Nevertheless, he was very wrong about TV.
6. Louis Pasteur's Theory of Germs is Ridiculous Fiction
This quote is from Pierre Pachet, the Toulouse Professor of Physiology. It was said in 1872, but that was not the first occurrence. The idea of germs had been thrown around as a theory for hundreds of years, but was often poo-pooed as anything from overactive imaginations to sacrilegious spewing. There were even people who passed off antiseptic balms and items (e.g. silver items) as being magical since they seemed to magically clear up infected skin.
7. You Haven't Got through College Yet
When Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak approached Hewlett-Packard with their new idea of a personal computer, they offered to work for free in order to give their new personal computer idea a try. HP said no, saying that “Hey, we don't need you. You haven't got through college yet.” This was said to them shortly after being turned down by Atari, who also did not want anything to do with the personal computer idea. This is truly a case of when the experts get it wrong, with the irony being that Wozniak and Jobs are considered to be two of the biggest computer experts ever, thanks to their creation of Apple.
8. The Telephone Has Too Many Shortcomings to Be Seriously Considered as a Means of Communication
This is a rather famous quote that was taken from an internal memo at Western Union in 1876. It is famous because it turned out to be very untrue and a classic example of when the experts get it wrong, as well as terribly closed minded.
9. Radio Has No Future
This was said by Lord Kelvin in 1897, and in his position it was most likely a very true statement. People of wealth had plenty to do in those days. But, if he had considered the daily activities of the lower classes, he may have predicted the radio’s rise to success.
These cases of when the experts get it wrong are a mixture of being misguided, or simply close-minded. They may have been perfectly reasonable statements at the time, but I wonder, if they could look back, how stupid would the experts feel? And it also gives us something to think on, in that despite what the experts said, the subjects went on to develop their projects to great success.
Do you have any favorite quotes or examples illustrating when the experts got it wrong?