Statistics

I’m reading a review of Nordhaus’ book on the economics of various policy responses to global warming by Freeman Dyson, and it’s making me wonder, what did other civilisations on the brink of collapse say about their future? Are there Cambodian editorials somewhere, making passing comments like “of course, not having any food or money to defend ourselves against aggressive neighbours is difficult, but we are confident new irrigation and metallurgy technology will address these, and building Angkor Wat will show our empire continues to rise unchallenged“? Or stones from Greenland saying “we’ll never need to learn to hunt like the Inuit because we’ll have so much trade going on any day now”? How many people have spent time writing “well, anyway, something will turn up and it’ll be alright” shortly before being proved wrong? I’d love to read them.

The problem with saying “something will turn up – it usually does” is that you’re not working from a complete sample: the only cases we know about are the ones where something did turn up. We don’t hear about all the times something failed to turn up. There might be just as many of them.

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