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November 15, 2018

Newspapers and TV news programs love a scary beatup. Facts don't seem to matter when there's readers, viewers and eyeballs to web sites to be attracted and counted. Everyone was talking about a big wave coming to drench Sydney, and as I'm a bona fide journalist (with a union card to prove it) I wrote about the wave in Australasian Science magazine.

Don't wave goodbye just yet.

In the days leading up to the time when I sat down to write this, news outlets have been full of stories and images of the destruction and loss of life cause by a tsunami which struck parts of Indonesia. Just prior, however, the same media outlets had been giving publicity to a prediction that Sydney would be wiped out by a tsunami on September 20th. I was able to joke about this by saying that as I live 1100 metres above sea level I wouldn't be directly affected but it might spoil the party for my birthday two days later when my friends and relatives were washed out to sea.

For many people though it might not have been a joking matter. The fact that some television shows which purport to cover news had covered the story could have given it credibility, and had the Indonesian disaster happened a few days earlier it would have been easier to imagine the damage to Sydney of a huge wave rushing up the harbour and across the beaches.

Apocalyptic predictions have been around for a very long time, and inductive reasoning would suggest that it is a safe bet to assume that things that have never happened will continue to not happen, just as things that always happen can be assumed to keep happening. (Yes, I am aware of Hume's criticism of inductive reasoning, as are all those people who thought that the managers of their superannuation funds would continue to back winners in the stock exchange.)

Get more on this wavelength here.


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