Tea Leaves 2007

What the new year will bring

What does not exist and never has existed, yet is our most precious possession, because it is all we have left? -- Joseph Cornish.

The future, of course. For the past couple of years I have tried my hand at predicting the political, social, economic, and scientific events of the upcoming year. So how did I do last year?

CORRECT PREDICTIONS

My proudest predictive success made last January 2nd was: "A rising tide of voter disgust with corruption will toss the Republicans out of the U.S. House of Representatives in November elections and a new blessed era of gridlocked government will begin." I failed to realize that voter disgust would also turn the Republicans out of the Senate. Still my bet that the House would turn over garnered me two expensive dinners. With regard to politics, I was also right that President George Bush would continue to renege on his old promises to reform social security, overhaul federal taxes, and lower the Federal budget deficit. I also correctly and happily foresaw that Congress would not pass a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage.

Embarrassingly for a science correspondent, my forecasts for scientific firsts were not so good (see below). I did correctly foresee that the space shuttle would not be launched in May (in fact it took off in July). In addition, no cloned human babies were born. And the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine did issue $14 million in "training" grants (albeit from private donations). I'll claim this one even though the spigot will really get turned on in 2007. And as bravely predicted, no asteroid hit the earth in 2006.

On the environment, I was right that no further commitments to reduce greenhouse gases under the Kyoto Protocol will be reached at the 12th United Nations' climate change conference in Nairobi.

In international news, I was correctly foresaw that Saddam Hussein would be convicted of crimes against humanity. And that Russia's tendency toward authoritarianism would grow. It's harder to evaluate my claim that China would move toward more liberalization in 2006; there were certainly no really strong signs that that is happening.

As predicted, crime was up a bit in 2006, while the number of prisoners in American jails rose by 1.9 percent. A record number are on probation and parole. The Drug War continues to fail in nearly every sense.

PREMATURE AND JUST PLAIN WRONG PREDICTIONS

I could say, "Why dwell on past mistakes. Let's just move on." But what fun is that?

In politics, I predicted that outrage over illegal wire-tapping and other violations of our civil liberties would prompt Congress to roll back some of the most egregious provisions of the USA PATRIOT ACT. I was wrong. I also prognosticated that revulsion over the Korean stem cell fraud in 2005 would prevent Congress from passing legislation that would ease President Bush's restrictions on federal funding of human embryonic stem cell research. Happily in this case I was wrong too. Both the House and Senate passed such legislation which provoked President Bush's only veto to date. I was also mistaken about Congress refusing to sanction the building of a wall across the U.S./Mexico border. In fact, our solons have authorized the building of 700 miles of such a wall.

Science: I predicted that a lab would have successfully derived stem cells from cloned human embryos and that the FDA would approve the first use of embryonic stem cells to repair crushed spinal cords. Neither happened, though researchers in Oregon did inject fetal neural cells into the brain of boy who is suffering from Batten disease.

Environment: Contrary to my hopeful prognostication, the number of hungry people in the world increased by 4 million in 2006.

On economics, I was right that peak oil fears would subside, but I was wrong about how low oil prices would go. I predicted $50 per barrel, and prices got to within $5 of that. I can't forbear pointing out that some allegedly very savvy people were predicting $262 per barrel in 2006. Ha!

It is with considerable dismay that I report that I was wrong when I said that the number of American troops in Iraq would drop below 100,000 by the end of 2006. Now it looks like the Bush administration will be sending even more.

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