Science Gone Stupid: Human Extinction Edition

Guest post by David Middleton

Wonkblog Analysis

We have a pretty good idea of when humans will go extinct

By Christopher Ingraham October 6

“The probability of global catastrophe is very high,” the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists warned in setting the Doomsday Clock 2.5 minutes before midnight earlier this year. On nuclear weapons and climate change, “humanity’s most pressing existential threats,” the Bulletin’s scientists found that “inaction and brinkmanship have continued, endangering every person, everywhere on Earth.”

Every day, it seems, brings with it fresh new horrors. Mass murderCatastrophic climate changeNuclear annihilation.

[…]

The Washington Post

Mass murder! Catastrophic climate change!  And nuclear anihilation! OH MY!!!

Thankfully, the Washington Post article actually has nothing to do with the Soviet Union of Concerned Scientists.

Princeton University astrophysicist J. Richard Gott has devised a probabilistic method of pinpointing the exact date of human extinction….  Well, maybe not the exact date… But he has nailed down the 95% envelope.

Professor Gott previously predicted the Fall of the Berlin Wall with pinpoint accuracy:

[T]here was a 50 percent chance that the Wall would come down between 1971 (2.66, or 8/3 years into the future) and 1993 (24, or 8 x 3 years into the future). In reality, the Wall fell in 1989, well within his predicted range.

[…]

The great thing about Gott’s prediction is that it relied solely on statistics. He didn’t have to try to make assumptions about human behavior, which is wildly unpredictable. No need to take the pulse of East German politics, or calculate the odds of war between West Germany and the Soviet Union. He just ran the numbers.

[…]

As it turns out, all that requires is a broadening of the initial assumption: Instead of a 50 percent chance that you are observing something in the middle 50 percent of its lifetime, you could say you have a 95 percent chance of observing that thing in the middle 95 percent of its lifetime. According to the Copernican Principle, this is a very safe bet: You’d have to be incredibly fortunate to be observing something either at its inception (the first 2.5 percent of its timespan) or at its end (the last 2.5 percent).

[…]

The 95 percent assumption broadens the predicted timespan considerably. In the case of Gott’s visit to the Berlin Wall, to achieve 95 percent confidence on his prediction he’d have to say the Wall’s future life span was somewhere between 0.2 and 320 years, instead of the 2.66 to 24 years predicted at the 50 percent accuracy threshold. To improve your confidence in a measure like this, in other words, you have to sacrifice some of its precision.

[…]

The Washington Post

Sacrificing precision to gain accuracy… Just like Gavin’s Twitter Trick!

webp-net-gifmaker-4

So now that we know that the fall of the Berlin Wall could have predicted to within one hair of a gnat’s ass (±160.1 years) on the day it was completed!

When does Professor Gott forecast human demise?

We shall “snuff it” sometime between 7,100 AD ad 7,800,000 AD… So… “Last orders please!”

Featured image:

science_made_stupid

Science Made Stupid: How to Discomprehend the World Around Us is a 1985 book written and illustrated by Tom Weller. The winner of the 1986 Hugo Award for Best Non-Fiction Book, it is a parody of a junior high or high school-level science textbook. Though now out of print, high-resolution scans are available online, as well as an abridged transcription, both of which have been endorsed by Weller [1]. Highlights of the book include a satirical account of the creationism vs. evolution debate and Weller’s drawings of fictional prehistoric animals (e.g., the duck-billed mastodon.)

Wikipedia

Previous Editions of Science Gone Stupid

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132 thoughts on “Science Gone Stupid: Human Extinction Edition

  1. In other news, Tesla has dis-invented the automated assembly line with hand built production of small numbers of model 3 electric cars for the masses.

    • That news is pretty funny – Elon Musk hid the fact that all of his comments about wonderful production lines were all smoke and mirrors. So, he’s building Ferrari Pininfarina’s and planning to sell them for the price of a Volkswagen. Oh yeah that is going to work.

      • New revelations about Tesla Inc.’s production of the highly anticipated Model 3 sedan should shock, but not surprise, investors.

        The Wall Street Journal reported Friday that Tesla has recently been building major portions of the Model 3 by hand. This comes less than a week after Tesla announced it fell short of its third-quarter production guidance of 1,500 cars by more than 80%.

        At the time, Tesla attributed the shortfall to “production bottlenecks.” On Friday, Tesla said it would postpone its launch event for a new truck to November to deal with Model 3 issues and to help provide assistance to Puerto Rico.

        Tesla Chief Executive Elon Musk is known as a risk-taker, which has endeared him to Wall Street analysts and investors alike. There is a fine line, however, between setting aggressive goals and misleading shareholders.

        Tesla is inching closer to that line. Tesla was making three Model 3s on an average day in the third quarter. Mr. Musk should have known in August, when production guidance was reiterated, that the company wasn’t going to produce 1,500 Model 3s by the end of September.

        […]

        https://www.wsj.com/articles/the-truth-is-catching-up-with-tesla-1507399374

      • Well yeah, building card by hand could be accurately described as a production bottleneck I think. Wasn’t it Henry Ford who discovered that?

        Elon will be playing this horse until someone successfully prosecutes him for securities fraud, which will be a cold day in hell near as i can see (and I’m near sighted).

        No help coming. Musk and his ilk rule the day I’m afraid. I can hardly wait to see him bilk US taxpayers for the funds he wants to dig holes under Los Angeles. Its hard to understand how anyone, even mindless government minions, could honestly fund digging tunnels under a city riddled with faults and in an active seismic zone 4. The stupid, it burns.

        Thanks again David. I hate having to live through this, but your sense of humor helps a bit.

    • Resource guy,

      Well, it’s hard to pay for electricity (snark) when you are hemorrhaging money!! Lol

      “As Tesla begins ramping up production of its crucial Model 3 sedan, the company on Wednesday reported a second-quarter net loss of $401.4 million.”
      LA Times

      • The problem may be that few want to be seen riding around in a modern “Model T”–even if some say it’s the first affordable electric automobile.

  2. The post does not mention when Gott made his prediction/developed his model. Looks like the Texas Marksman strikes again?

    • More to the point, he didn’t predict WHY the wall came down. His “prediction” was incredibly bad statistics, at best. If he’d applied the same logic to almost any major landmark a few years after it was built, he’d have been obviously wrong…

      • You’re missing the point that this was a prediction made after the fact. If he had gone public before the wall went down, now that would be a real prediction.

    • For all we know, Gott made dozens of estimated predictions.

      Then when the USSR actually allowed the wall to come down, Gott selected the nearly correct one and then trashed the rest.

      Any prediction that is unable to name the exact causes behind an event is accidental or evidence of a flim flam.

  3. Even before modern technology, mankind had spread to every continent on the planet save Antarctica, and inhabited every conceivable ecological niche, including jungle, temperate forest, taiga, prairie, desert, alpine, marsh, arctic, marine archipelago, and so on. I can not name another vertebrate species that was so wide spread.

    This suggests that mankind is extraordinarily adaptable and resilient, and won’t be easy to kill of in its entirety,

    • Well, maybe not every conceivable ecological niche. While we have visited the deep oceans (75% of the earth) we have yet to inhabit them. We did have basically a underwater “pup tent” in the Florida Keys for a while but again we were just visiting, sort of like the Apollo missions to the moon.

      • What Conshelf, Sealab and the others demonstrated was that it isn’t necessary to inhabit the depths when you can reasonably go there in short notice. Interesting sideshows that merely reinforced the principle:
        “Just because you can doesn’t mean that you should.”
        However we did learn a great bit about blood gas solubility and dissolution in human physiology.

    • “…and won’t be easy to kill of in its entirety,”

      In it’s entirety being the key phrase.

    • “I can not name another vertebrate species that was so wide spread”

      There are a few that come close. Peregrine falcon and Osprey for example.

      • And we’ve taken our dogs with us everywhere we’ve gone, to include Antarctica.

        Arctic terns migrate from the circumpolar Arctic to coastal Antarctica.

        There are also some fish and marine mammal species with effectively global distribution, but I assume we’re talking land vertebrates.

      • Rats are not one species. Some species of rats are now found the world over, but that only occurred due to the age of exploration (15th to 17th century).

    • People like to talk about cockroaches outliving the human race. Let’s see a roach survive above the Arctic Circle.

      • There are about 4600 species of cockroaches.

        They can withstand extremely cold temperatures, allowing them to live in the Arctic. I don’t know if there are any on Antarctica (probably not, but not because of cold). Some species are capable of surviving temperatures of −188° F by manufacturing an antifreeze made out of glycerol.

    • Average existence span for an animal species is two million years before extinction or evolution into a new species.

      Anatomically modern humans are at most 300,000 years old, so if we are average have some 1.7 million years to go. But Neanderthals, Denisovans and Homo heidelbergensis are also arguably our species, which would make us a bit older.

      The high estimate of 7.8 million seems unlikely. If we become space farers, our evolution will speed up.

      • At one tenth light speed, we could colonize the whole galaxy in a million years. There’s probably too much radiation in its center, however.

      • “But Neanderthals, Denisovans and Homo heidelbergensis are also arguably our species, which would make us a bit older.”

        There is good genetic evidence that sapiens-neanderthal and sapiens-denisova hybrids had strongly reduced fertility, at least for males, indicating that they were separate biological species.

    • And this assumes that we won’t, in the next 8 million years, expand beyond this planet’s confines. Sorry to burst his bubble but once we get off this forsaken rock and establish footholds on other worlds, it will take much larger catastrophes on a galactic scale to eradicate us.

      • If humans are not wiped out, then we will still go extinct via evolution into new species. We will probably guide much of that evolution ourselves, given our growing understanding of biochemistry, genetics and aging. We are already conducting genomic engineering on human embryos to rid us of genetic diseases.

      • Willy Pete

        Unless of course we cock it up……….Orrrr…….perhaps not cock it up, depending on the evolutionary development.

  4. Eight million yeas from now? Well, gee whiz, Perfeeser Gott, I probably won’t be around, so it’s a mental exercise, and it will depend on how fast we become so inbred that our own genetic materials destroy us.

    It’s more likely that by the time he’s projecting our demise, we will have migrated to and are inhabiting other solar systems and aren’t living here any more. The Sun’s going to become a red giant in abut 4.5 billion years, so I think we still have time. I have stuff to do.

    • When it is a red giant, the sun’s habitable zone will stretch from 49.4 AU to 71.4 AU. That’s well beyond Neptune, at 30.1 AU. It’s in the Kuiper Belt, which means presently icy worlds there will melt, and liquid water will exist beyond the highly elliptical orbit of Pluto (presently 49.3 to 29.7 AU).

      But the sun’s then lower mass will mean that outer solar system bodies such as Eris, Makemake and Haumea, will orbit even farther out. Their generally highly elliptical orbits also mean that they sometimes might freeze or boil during their long trips around the red giant.

    • “Eight million yeas from now? Well, gee whiz, Perfeeser Gott, I probably won’t be around”

      How do you know?

      The twilight zone beckons.

      :)

  5. 7.8 million years seems exceedingly unlikely. I don’t think there is any known case of a mammal species that has survived for that long. Most mammal species seem to last about half a million years during the Pleistocene. Neanderthals and Denisovans lasted about that long too.

    By the way does those figures apply to the species Homo sapiens or the lineage Homo sapiens belongs to? Lineages of course usually last very much longer than species.

    • Tarsiers are considered living fossils. They’re at least superficially identical to Oligocene ancestors. Maybe Eocene.

      If Homo habilis counts, then our animal species average span of two million years was up about 700,000 years ago.

      • I looked tarsiers up. The modern genus only dates from the Middle Miocene. Thus the modern species might be “only” Late Miocene or Pliocene in age.

      • Since there is good evidence that neanderthals and denisovans were separate species, and they separated from the lineage that led to sapiens less than a million years ago that is the maximum possible age for Homo sapiens

      • Homo habilis is definitely a different species, though possibly ancestral to Homo sapiens. You are confusing species with lineages. Our lineage as a matter of fact is traceable about half a billion years back. At that time our ancestors looked somthing like this:

        I don’t think that quite qualifies as a Homo sapiens

      • Tty,

        Lineage doesn’t have a specific (!) definition. It could refer to the human lineage (to include the species H. habilis and genus Australophithecus), or, as you use it, the chordate lineage. But why stop there? We also belong to the bilaterian and animal lineages, which latter begins with sponges under current classification schemes, to the exclusion of our closest unicellular kin, the choanoflagellates.

    • tty

      Has any other species, in your experience, had fitness instructors in leotards?

      Has anyone ever seen a dead leotard clad fitness instructor?

      Our species has a long way to go yet assuming leotard sporting fitness instructors agree to continue as our guardians.

  6. In 8 million years, humanity wouldn’t be recognizable to us, so it’s safe to say that no matter what happens, by that time homo sapiens sapiens won’t be around any more.

      • I know only Karel Gott. And he was a good singer. Among other songs, he sang “The Bee Maja”. But I have never heard that a researcher Gott has predicted the fall of the Wall of Berlin. When was that supposed to be? Five years before (1984), e.g. each person with an intelligence score of 1/4 of the average intelligence foresee this. Even with a range of two years. The reality in the GDR to the “ideal picture of the real existing socialism” was too different. It was not only a fall of the Wall and the GDR, but of the entire Eastern bloc. It was a bankrupty with announcement.

      • What’s the betting that two musicians had a better handle on humanities future than all the scientist’s currently making predictions.

        And had the term ‘trillion’ been invented when they sing about humanities billion tears?

    • “…by that time homo sapiens sapiens won’t be around any more.”

      There could be zoos like in Sirens of Titan or “game” preserves.

      • That’s true, but there are entities out there that seem worth mating with; and there’s a chance of fertile offspring.

    • yep. Also in order to LEAVE this planet, cross just our solar system, or exit this arm of the Milk Way we can’t do it in human form. Exposure to space causes genetic damage, which increases, even in a protected state as “DNA material/eggs/sperm/etc.” There is simply no way to protect the flesh/substance of human beings from continued radiation exposure during ‘flight’…now, if we manage FTL/ fast, magical worm hole jumps, well we shall see. A book I read (can’t recall title) ended with “we will leave the planet, but we will not be speaking English”..that gave me pause…how long in the future, what blend of languages or other language will be the one spoken?

      • We could leave the planet right now if we wanted to do so.

        Mars and the asteroid belt are colonizable already.

        Radiation flux in space need not be lethal everywhere, but it’s one reason why our evolution would be accelerated by space travel.

      • The “more radiation, more genetic damage” is an anti-nuke big lie. It’s like more “running, more bone damage”, it seems intuitive but patently false.
        More radiation, more DNA damage is true only in vitro. In reality, more radiation => more immune stimulation & more repair.

      • Willy Pete, I might caution your exuberance a bit. While it is inevitable that we will colonize more than our home world, we aren’t going anywhere just yet. We think we know what it takes to cross the vast distances between out island worlds, but we haven’t solved many of the “known” issues yet. We have just begun our spacefaring. It is analogous to simple near-shore craft bouncing around within sight of land because our current craft cannot as yet handle the rough seas that await us beyond our friendly confines. long duration life support is a real as yet unsolved issue especially in regards to radiation. And as we have begun to gather data on living just off-shore in LEO we are noticing significant effects on human physiology and anatomy caused by the effects of very low gravity (almost 0, but not quite).

        To further the analogy, how many early settlements in the new world were successful? And, they were moving intro similar environmental conditions.
        As I have stated to my colleagues, “The first permanent human inhabitant on Mars will be a corpse.”

        We aren’t there yet.
        Science fiction is not science.

  7. ‘There were no psychologists then…You had to re-think your life by yourself.’ (if you have the time it’s a fascinating glimpse at the outlook of a generation that had experienced the Depression and WW2 )

    • observa

      My old man owned, raced, and won, I believe, the first international race won by an XKSS following the Le Mans tragedy.

      With scant knowledge of that tragedy, I spectated at the 1990 Le Mans when the Walkinshaw, Silk Cut Jaguar won.

      My Dad’s Trophy, helmet, and photographs of his winning event are displayed in the Jaguar Heritage Museum.

      Life is short. Make the most of it.

  8. Doomsday Clock

    The lowest point for the Doomsday Clock was 1953, when the clock was set to 2 minutes until midnight after the U.S. and the Soviet Union began testing hydrogen bombs. In the years after, the clock’s time has fluctuated from 17 minutes in 1991 to 3 minutes in 2016. In January 2017, the clock was set at 2½ minutes to midnight, meaning that the clock’s status today is the second-closest to midnight since the clock’s start in 1947. When discussing the changes, Krauss, one of the scientists from the Bulletin, warned that our political leaders must make decisions based on facts, and those facts “must be taken into account if the future of humanity is to be preserved.”
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Doomsday_Clock

    It’s had its ups and downs. There is likely a point to be made about atomic power as a way move away from doomsday by preventing “catastrophic global warming” and the atomic (hydrogen) bomb as a way to move closer to doomsday.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Doomsday_Clock#/media/File:Doomsday_Clock_graph.svg

  9. As an astrophysicist myself (retired) I like to know if Professor Gott can give us approximate dates for the fall of the Great Wall of China, Hadrian’s Wall and Offa’s Dyke?

    • Does Offa’s Dyke really count as a wall?

      Its wooden palisade has long since rotted away, leaving only earthworks. It seems like more a ditch than a wall now.

  10. The issue with this doomsday prediction isn’t the long time period until the latter limit of humanity’s existence. It is the spread between the earliest date of our demise and the final possible date. The spread makes planning based on the prediction impossible. That prediction is as worthless for guiding our actions today as the prediction that our sun will go Red Giant in 4,500,000 years.

    Even if we choose to apply the Precautionary Principle (as many think it works), and decide to act on the earlier date, that date is so far into the future as to be worthless for planning purposes. Nothing we are doing today could be the cause of a demise 5000 years from now. Nothing we a capable of doing now could prevent whatever it will be that would cause our end at that time, either.

    SR

    • Nothing we are doing today could be the cause of a demise 5000 years from now. Nothing we a capable of doing now could prevent whatever it will be that would cause our end at that time, either.

      Such actions are undoubtedly possible. The problem is that we have no way of knowing what they are. It’s kind of like the butterfly flapping its wings in the Brazilian jungle causing a snow storm in Detroit. Controlling chaos is essentially impossible.

      • Therefore impossible to plan for…

        Exactly. The trick is to avoid falling into nihilism.

        Decisions I made in my early life have paid off in spades. Had my luck been different, I could have ended up as a bitter old drunk living on skid row. That said, I am very glad I made the decisions and took the actions that I did.

        There are two things that predict the outcome of a person’s life. 1 – Childhood conscientiousness. 2 – Interpersonal relationships. link Get those right and there’s a much better chance that you will live to a contented old age. No guarantees though.

        Notwithstanding the chaotic nature of the world, it is still wise to do some things and to avoid doing other things. Judith Curry advocates no regrets public policy making. Always go for the win-win solution. You could still be knocked off your bicycle by a black swan but your chances of success are much greater if you avoid hubris and don’t do dumb things.

  11. So he predicts a 50/50 chance of something happening and then declares he was “correct” when one of the two things happens.

    This guy is just a taro card reader with an advanced degree.

  12. Oh hell, we’ll all be slaves to our AI android masters, begging for our extinction WELL before that!

    • The problem with the Cuckoo Clock is that it would only be moved forwards. Within a few weeks, it would be a year and a half past midnight!

      • Well that would be a step up from the doomsday clock! If I were running the DD clock, I wouldn’t let 12 be a limiting time. For instance it could be a model for forecasting. One could say, Had Hillary Clintstone become Pres, we would be at 12:30am – game over.

  13. On remembrance of things past…

    https://wattsupwiththat.com/2012/03/02/quote-of-the-week-alarmists-missing-targets/#comment-911452

    Excerpt:

    This statement reminds me of the sudden fall of the Berlin Wall in early November 1989.

    Five of us were on a multi-week trip to West Germany in July 1989, when at the last minute we were asked to also travel to East Germany for a long weekend to meet with industry representatives there. One of our group refused on conscientious grounds, and we met him later in Cologne. The rest of us saw a piece of history – the last days of the repressive East German Honecker regime.

    We arrived at Tegel Airport in West Berlin on a Friday night, and were met by an East German Stasi driver in a VW minibus. We were driven through West Berlin, alive with bright lights and partying crowds, and entered East Berlin at Checkpoint Charlie just before dusk. A sharp left turn and there was the Brandenburg Gate to our left; a right turn onto Unter den Linden, and to our left was the Reichstag. I raised my camera to take a picture and our driver screeched to a halt – this seemed a dangerous move and I braced in case our vehicle was rear-ended – just then I realized ours was the only vehicle on the street, and there were no pedestrians. The contrast with the vibrant energy of West Berlin was startling – the sun was not just setting physically, it seemed to have suddenly vanished spiritually as well. Where the hell was everyone?

    We arrived at our hotel, the Metropole, and later had dinner with our hosts. I was admonished over dinner conversation that “we do not jog in East Berlin”. I asked if I could go for a walk, and was told ”You can walk anywhere in East Berlin. You will be perfectly safe. Not like your New York and Los Angeles.” We went for a stroll after dinner and understood the comment – in every block there were eight police guardposts, each about the size of a bus shelter, encased in dark glass, to prevent East Germans from trying to defect through the nearby Western Embassies.

    We walked past a storm sewer grate and the smell almost knocked me down – I realized then that the East Germans did not treat their sanitary sewage – they merged it with their storm runoff and dumped it into the rivers – yuck!

    In the next two days we travelled though the city and countryside, visited an operating mine and had lengthy meetings in a very hot room with our counterparts. I was generally impressed with the professionalism of our hosts and particularly our interpreter, who had a remarkable memory.

    I was totally unimpressed with everything else in East Germany – the people were terrified of authority and particularly of any unauthorized contact with us Westerners, clearly identifiable by our clothing – the newer buildings had rivers of rust running down their facades, probably because re-bar had not been properly buried in the concrete and was corroding dangerously – the mechanical and electrical systems were WW2 vintage, and the electronics were decades behind ours. East Germans were well-fed, but lived frightened, grey lives behind the barbed wire of the Wall.

    We were fed up with the East and left a day early without our Stasi driver, made our way to Checkpoint Charlie and were allowed to leave after a rather thorough checkout process. We walked around West Berlin, and saw a memorial to those who had been killed trying to escape from East Berlin. Officially 136 people were killed trying to escape across the Wall, and hundreds more were wounded. The last person to be shot and killed trying to escape was Chris Gueffroy, on February 6, 1989. He was shot ten times in the chest and died between the wire fences. Chris Gueffroy was twenty years old.

    Later, our West German industrial hosts quizzed us at length about what we saw – most had never been into the East. I described the fear I saw in the eyes of East German people, and the terrible state of their physical plant – the buildings, mechanical and electrical systems, highways, railways and the lack of sewage treatment. I ventured that given the political situation, the East German regime could not last, but I was thinking it would take five to ten years for the Wall to fall. It took 4 months.

    Maybe that is the real “tipping point” that the global warmists are so worried about. There is a point when they will just drown in cesspools of their own BS. Let us hope that day is soon.

    Denouement

    A few years later, I returned to Berlin with two colleagues. We walked from the West toward the Brandenburg Gate, and although I no longer jogged due to cratered knees, I asked my friends if they would excuse me for a few minutes. I broke into a slow painful jog, passed under the Brandenburg Gate and ran a short distance down Unter Den Linden into former East Berlin. A curious sight for passing motorists, no doubt, but a small triumph for those of us who remember the dark days of East Germany.

  14. Stupid people are doomed to produce stupid science. Just clever enough to tack into the grant money though

  15. Science vs religion.
    Religion asserted the beginning of the world some 6000 years or so in the past, a more precise (but no more accurate) than reality suggests.
    Science asserts the end of the world over a range of 40 times the actual time of civilisation to the present a much less precise and no more accurate a result than reality would suggest.

    • This calculation isn’t science. It’s a misapplication of statistics.

      Science does have a pretty good idea of when and how life on earth will end, but can’t predict with much accuracy or precision how long Homo sapiens will endure as a species.

      Maybe life on earth won’t end, if future beings can move the planet to safer orbits.

  16. Will there be such a thing as a “physical” man in one-two hundred years? We may become some sort of digital entity. In the near future is the possibility of plugging ourselves directly into a so called smartphone, and then?

  17. You know, there have Doomsday Scenarios going on for centuries, from Revelations to all those dystopian books and the movies based on them. I doubt seriously that the human species will be gone by 7100AD. We’re too stubborn and possessive for that. If anything, we will have moved away from Homeworld Earth and gone to other systems.

    NASA has 10 new planets int he latest Goldilocks zone count, in our corner of the galaxy. Maybe we could talk Elongated Musk into building starship so that we can go settle them and have some cotton-pickin’ peace..
    https://www.nasa.gov/feature/goddard/2017/nasa-s-webb-telescope-to-witness-galactic-infancy

    For the Doomsday folks, the dinosaurs are still with us. Crocodilians are as old as you can get, going back some 200 million yeras, birds (including waterbirds like ducks) are descendants of the various aerial critters called “toothed birds”, frogs and turtles and other amphibians are still here and have been here since before the Big Rock from Outer Space smacked down, and sharks go back some 409-million-years to an intact specimen of a small, primitive species known as Doliodus problematicus.

    I doubt seriously that Homo sapiens is going to do anything more than explore and settle. And in regard to H. Neandertalis, we all have Neandertal DNA in us. We bred them out of a separate existence long, long ago.

    • Mammals are also about as old as dinosaurs, if Triassic protomammals be considered mammals, as they arguably were, since they had the mammalian jaw joint and other characteristic traits, while still laying eggs, as of course monotremes still do today.

      It is fairly rare for whole classes to go extinct, but species always do, sooner or later.

    • Cyanobacteria are still around after 2.8 billion years or so.

      The second longest around species, a sponge species, a jellyfish species, the Nautilus, Horseshoe Crab. 400 to 500 million years for these. Honorable mention to the Coelacanath at 360 Mys.

      • Bill,

        Hard to say if today’s cyanobacteria are the same species as the original versions, but probably not. Species are hard to delineate in microbes, anyway.

        I’d be surprised if any modern sponge or jellyfish is the same species as the first of their phyla. Same goes for any of the six modern nautilus species in two genera. They aren’t the same as the first members of subclass Nautiloidea back in the Late Cambrian. Similarly, the four extant species of horseshoe crab in three genera differ from the first members of their subphylum in the Late Ordovician and class in the Silurian.

        Modern coelacanths aren’t the same species or genus as their most recent fossil relatives, from the Miocene. They’re pretty different from the earliest Devonian coelacanths. However their lobe-finned kin the Australian lungfish is considered a living fossil, millions of years old. It’s quite distinct from the more up to date African and South American lungfish. Lungfish are the closest living “fishy” relatives of tetrapods.

      • Comments on living fossils.

        No extant species, no matter how superficially similar to its extinct ancestors or relatives of ten million years ago, let alone 100 Ma, is truly the same as they. One million years, maybe. Not in the case of humans, however. Anatomically modern humans are still a young species. Like polar bears and other Arctic animals, the present Arctic environment being at most 2.6 million years old.

  18. Funny – I’d think extinction would be more related to behavioral patterns that undercut the human race’s ability to feed itself, heat our homes, defend our own lives and territories, fight disease, or reproduce as we please.

    If I was pushing for extinction, that’s how I’d do it.

  19. So now that we know that the fall of the Berlin Wall could have predicted to within one hair of a gnat’s ass (±160.1 years) on the day it was completed!

    My hamster weighs about 50 kg +/- 10 t and the elephant in the downtown zoo weighs about 1 kg +/- 5 t – this proof hamsters are bigger (or at least heavier) than elephants!

    • And… If you dropped your hamster and an elephant from the same height on the Moon, they would both hit the ground at the same time… However, nether would survive the fall (± 0%).

      [Depends on the length of the fall, doesn’t it? And the following winter, spring, and summer in their mouse suit and elephant suite. .mod]

  20. So Man is going to survive Man’s CO2 and CAGW’s boiling oceans and other assorted and ever-changing catastrophes?
    Time to pour on the coal!

  21. In actuality J. Richard Gott predicted NOTHING. Assuming GZORKS from the plant BTFPLK actually exist, I can say confidently that there’s a 50% probability that they’re living in the last half of that species’ existence, there’s a 1% chance that they’re living within the first 1% of that species’ lifetime, there’s a 1% chance that they’re living in the last 1% of the species’s lifetime.

  22. Personally it depends whether we survive peak stupid or not and that will probably occur in the next 20 years or so. The next hurdle is the loss of our magnetic field predicted for 3991AD but we probably won’t be able to survive at about 3500AD. :)

    • Geomagnetic field strength fluctuates naturally. That it is weakening at present doesn’t mean that it will keep doing so forever. Extrapolation from the past 150 years or so is totally unwarranted.

      Variations in virtual axial dipole moment since the last reversal (Brunhes/Matuyama), c. 780 Ka:

      • I don’t suppose you saw the :) after my post?

        Also there are deep divisions in the scientific community over this issue. I don’t know who is correct. :)

      • Steve,

        I did miss that.

        But I don’t think that any geophysicist imagines that earth’s magnetic field is going away in 1974 years. As shown in the image I posted, it has been much lower in the past than now, but always rebounds.

  23. “The probability of global catastrophe is very high,” the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists warned in setting the Doomsday Clock 2.5 minutes before midnight earlier this year. On nuclear weapons and climate change, “humanity’s most pressing existential threats,”

    On the other hand, if the Doomsday Clock of the Atomic Scientists is in a black hole, 2.5 minutes is an eternity.

  24. Fermi had it right, according to me. Conquering the whole galaxy (not the universe, just the galaxy) can be done in less 1 My with our current tech, that make 1000 opportunity for an intelligent life form to have done it in the last Gy is there was just 1 in the whole galaxy. Still they didn’t.
    Meaning, our current tech level will kill our specie outright very quickly. It will not kill us in a way that would prompt an escape (back to conquering the galaxy again), so it will kill us the drug addict way: making us so happy we don’t feel any need anymore.
    Live a happy life anyway.

  25. Prof. Gott,
    I see why you’re an astrophysicist and not a statistician. Predicting the population from a sample size of one with unknown standard deviation. You wouldn’t pass an undergrad stat course. Your method is a joke. That Nature published your nonsense is proof that its editors are just as ignorant as you. It belongs to tabloid stories together with sightings of Bigfoot and Elvis Presley.

  26. Just when you think the stupid can’t get worse…..I’m starting to think there is no limit to the insane rantings of “scientists”. Worse, or maybe better, science is being destroyed rapidly by the fiction and lack of reason and scientific method. Science is the casualty of the this whole mess. You’d think these people hated science. If they don’t, I don’t see how they could damage it any more than they are if they did hate it. It’s just insane…….

  27. Folks, humans are not “evolving.”
    We just keep reproducing within our gene pool. We are overcoming the various genetic drifts that had given our population all of the various regional physiological distinctions. We are getting more homogeneous as time goes by, not less.

    And, selection pressure is getting weaker and weaker, as each succeeding generation has a greater survival to-reproductive-age likelihood for any given individual.

    I don’t believe in evolution. But I understand it. As always, in “scientific circles,” most don’t.

  28. The solution is self-evident.
    Build spaceships to travel to another inhabitable planet. Invite all the world’s dystopians, those anxious about global warming, plastic in the sea, etc., to board the craft and prepare for a new life on a pristine new world with no capitalism or polluting industry.

    Then send them off – with assurances that the rest of us will follow in a second wave. (not)

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