They Walk Among Us, and Have Before

[RC: Commenter Thomas Brown sent the following list of quotes and predictions that sounded possibly true at the time but didn’t work out very well. He compares it to current Birther thinking. 😉 ]


They Walk Among Us, and Have Before

I recently started to wonder if the peculiar constellation of psychological phenomena that comprise Birtherism (partisan politics aside) might have reared its ugly head before.  Sure enough, this pattern of haughty, condescending, rock-solid assertions of certainty supported by exceptionally frail and delusional reasoning has a long, if ignoble, history.

Some notable Birther-type thinking:

“Animals, which move, have limbs and muscles. The earth does not have limbs and muscles; therefore it does not move.”
Scipio Chiaramonti, Professor of Philosophy, 1633

“The abolishment of pain in surgery is a chimera. It is absurd to go on seeking it… Knife and pain are two words in surgery that must forever be associated in the consciousness of the patient.”
Dr. Alfred Velpeau (1839), French surgeon

“Men might as well project a voyage to the Moon as attempt to employ steam navigation against the stormy North Atlantic Ocean.”
Dr. Dionysus Lardner (1793-1859), Professor of Natural Philosophy and Astronomy at University College, London.

“There is a young madman proposing to light the streets of London—with what do you suppose—with smoke!”
Sir Walter Scott (1771-1832) [On a proposal to light cities with gaslight.]

“Rail travel at high speed is not possible because passengers, unable to breathe, would die of asphyxia.”
 – Dr. Dionysus Lardner (1793-1859), Professor of Natural Philosophy and Astronomy at University College, London.

    “Well informed people know it is impossible to transmit the voice over wires and that were it possible to do so, the thing would be of no practical value.”
Editorial in the Boston Post (1865)

“Radio has no future.”
Lord Kelvin (1824-1907), British mathematician and physicist, ca. 1897.

“While theoretically and technically television may be feasible, commercially and financially I consider it an impossibility, a development of which we need waste little time dreaming.”
Lee DeForest, 1926 (American radio pioneer and inventor of the vacuum tube.)

“…no possible combination of known substances, known forms of machinery, and known forms of force, can be united in a practical machine by which man shall fly long distances through the air…”
Simon Newcomb (1835-1909), astronomer, head of the U. S. Naval Observatory.

“Heavier-than-air flying machines are impossible.”
Lord Kelvin (1824-1907), ca. 1895, British mathematician and physicist

“That is the biggest fool thing we have ever done. The bomb will never go off, and I speak as an expert in explosives.”
Admiral William Leahy. [Advice to President Truman, when asked his opinion of the atomic bomb project.]

Without question, all the claims now promulgated about President Obama’s Constitutional ineligibility for the Presidency will be looked upon in posterity with the same mixture of pity, scorn, and amusement with which we view the above ill-fated pronouncements today, and will share space with them in the dust-bin of history.

-TB, with grateful acknowledgement to Donald Simanek and his webpage It’ll Never Work

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