‘EXPERT’ BLUNDERS

by Asifur Rahman Khan

016Whenever ‘blunders’ are discussed in my friend circle, the name ‘Michael Bay’ reverberates amongst us like a cult gone wild. It’s not because he successfully killed off one of the best toys of yesteryears, it’s because NASA shows his film ‘Armageddon’ during their management training programme where new managers are given the task of trying to spot as many errors as possible. At least 168 have been found!
While ‘blunder’ in the Oxford dictionary is defined as Michael Bay (it should), it would be wrong to surmise that only mortals possessing the lowest of IQ commit blunders. If I were to characterise ‘blunders’ as a human character, I think it would be the Joker from the Dark Knight. Unwaveringly unpredictable!
For instance, did you know that NASA lost a $125 million Mars orbiter because one engineering team used metric units while another used English units for a key spacecraft operation? $125 million is a lot of money, and to think that a misunderstanding between ‘metre’ and ‘pound’ has sent a spacecraft crashing on Mars is simply pathetic, more so because the movie ‘The Martian’  was shot with an estimated budget of $108 million that netted a gross revenue of more than $226 million. It’s not fair!
017This wasn’t NASA’s only blunder. NASA’s Genesis Probe crashed in Utah because engineers at Lockheed Martin thought it would be funny if they inverted the position of the probe’s accelerometers. The result was that the craft never knew it was decelerating into the Earth’s atmosphere, and therefore never deployed its parachute. The cost? A cool $260 million paid by American taxpayers.
If that was not enough, children were told to smoke tobacco in 1665 during the London plague, according to the US National Institutes of Health. During the 16th century, tobacco was widely prescribed in Europe as a cure for many illnesses, including cancer. It’s hard to say if ignorance was at play or just plain greed by the tobacco companies of that era! Welcome to the world of Boosting Average Tendencies, or BAT.
In fact, the scientific world was, before the twentieth century, against all new ideas. They could not believe that germs could kill people, and Louis Pasteur was laughed at by the scientific community like he was the victim of ten of the world’s best stand-up comedian. Naveed not included!
Almost the same fate happened to Fritz Zwicky In 1933, who suggested that much of the universe is unseen and invisible to our current technology, attributing this missing mass as ‘Dark Matter’. He was laughed at for almost 40 years despite scientific observations showing that galaxies were rotating at a speed much higher than its visible matter allowed, which meant, the galaxy carried much more matter that could not be seen. Just because galaxies did not exhibit bellies like human beings, Fritz Zwicky’s sensational discovery was put in the back pages of Michael Bay’s diary and forgotten like Transformers. Oh the geniuses of yesteryears!
On April 26, 1986, Soviet nuclear experts thought they were supermen minus the red under garment worn outside, and tested one of Chernobyl’s four reactors by turning off the backup cooling system and using only eight boron-carbide rods to control the rate of fission instead of the 15 rods required as standard operating procedure. The result was a wonderful runway chain reaction that blew the steel and concrete lid off the reactor, creating a fireball that released 100 times more radiation than the Nagasaki and Hiroshima bombs combined. 4,300 people tragically died as a result of the radiation, and more than 70,000 were permanently disabled.
In 1989, Paul Brodeur published a number of articles in The New Yorker that claimed it was likely that there was a link between electromagnetic fields and cancer. Britain, Canada and the United States undertook several expensive epidemiological studies only to find out 8 years later that there was no danger. The Clinton administration estimated that US citizens alone has paid taxes of $25 million to identify that all power lines do is deliver power. Fascinating discovery!
Lastly, but not the least, there was the Y2K Fiasco, where twentieth century programmers allotted just two digits to register years, failing to anticipate the turn of the century. The problem was as simple as the solution, but the cost was not. Worldwide, the cost is believed to be around $308 billion, paid in full by mankind. Just to sense the magnitude of the number, Manchester United is the costliest team in the history of football, valuing at just over $400 million. Now, if $1000 million equals 1 billions, then you can buy Manchester United 770 times. Or, you can buy 863 Boeing 747s. Or, you can buy 123 Hubble Space telescopes.
So if ‘experts’ can make such colossal and costly mistakes, who are we to run away from Murphy’s Law? Let’s embrace it, and at least start watching ‘Fight Club’. Not the Bollywood one!

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