Chicken Little or Cassandra? How to Save the World from Future Disasters Being Ignored Today

Global security expert Richard A. Clarke explains the traits of a "Cassandra"—someone who predicts colossal disasters—and why people very rarely listen to their warnings.

Before Bernie Madoff got caught, before Hurricane Katrina and Fukushima devastated cities, and before ISIS formed, there was an expert for each one of those events warning people in power that it would happen. What did those powerful people do? Absolutely nothing. These experts are called 'Cassandras' in hindsight, because as global security expert Richard A. Clarke explains in a previous Big Think video: "Cassandra in Greek mythology was a woman cursed by the gods. The curse was that she could accurately see the future. It doesn’t sound so bad until you realize the second part of the curse, which was no one would ever believe her. And because she could see the future and no one was paying attention to her, she went mad." So how can we graduate from sheepishly identifying Cassandras in hindsight, to recognizing and acting on their real predictions before the impending chaos hits? It's tough because everyone and their uncle is trying to get in on the prediction game. Who can you trust? Fortunately, Clarke and his research partner R.P. Eddy have used case studies to build a detailed template of the four aspects that determine whether we can avoid a Cassandra event: the quality and personal traits of the Cassandra themselves, the reaction of the audience or decision makers in power, the nature of the predicted event (is it too ridiculous to believe?), and the critics of the Cassandra. Even today, there are potential Cassandras predicting events that could be catastrophic to humanity this century. Can we learn from our mistakes in time? Richard A. Clarke and R.P. Eddy's new book is Warnings: Finding Cassandras to Stop Catastrophes.

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Misfortune Telling: How to Predict Disasters So We Can Prevent Them

ISIS, Hurricane Katrina, Fukushima—for each of these disastrous developments, there was someone with a bunch of data that no one would listen to.

Noticing a pattern emerge in the aftermath of some of the worst catastrophes in recent years—like Hurricane Katrina, Fukushima, and the formation of ISIS—global security experts Richard A. Clarke and R.P. Eddy wrote a book called Warnings: Finding Cassandras to Stop Catastrophes. It is an historical investigation and instructive framework that can be used to predict disasters before they occur. How can they do that? Well, the predictions already exist, it's just that no-one is listening. These people making the predictions—who are always experts with strong data to support their claim, but who are dismissed by other experts—are known as 'Cassandras' (a name taken from Greek mythology). By sifting through history to find past Cassandras, they have developed a system to know which predictions are false alarms, and which are absolutely critical to humanity's future. Richard A. Clarke and R.P. Eddy's new book is Warnings: Finding Cassandras to Stop Catastrophes.

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