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I toady to my Seed overlords

In an attempt to periodically provoke discussion on various issues, our overlords at Seed plan on posing questions to us ScienceBloggers. The first question, which some of us have already answered is this:

If you could cause one invention from the last hundred years never to have been made at all, which would it be, and why?


At first, I was going to go with RPM‘s answer (and Razib’s almost answer), nuclear weapons. But then I thought about it again, and changed my mind. For one thing, it is unlikely that nuclear power would have been invented without the prior development of nuclear weapons. But, more importantly, it is very likely that there would have been a World War III that would have been even bloodier than World War II had mutually assured destruction not stayed the hands of the leaders of both the U.S.S.R. and the U.S. And let us not forget that conventional bombing during World War II was quite capable of leveling cities and killing tens of thousands in a single night, with, for example, the firebombing of Tokyo killing more people than the bomb did at Hiroshima. There’s no reason to think that the destructive capacity of warfare wouldn’t have continued to increase, even without nuclear weapons.

So what would I choose now?

I’m tempted to choose the internal combustion engine, in the naive hope that, had it not been invented, some other form of power for transportation might have been developed that does not rely on a non-renewable resource that requires us to be dependent on despotic regimes in unstable parts of the world and leads us into wars that we almost certainly would not engage in if we didn’t need oil so much; cause so much pollution; and so radically alter our cities.

Of course, that takes the risk that a suitable substitute wouldn’t have been developed by the time I was born. (And I like driving.) It also takes the risk that whatever substitute that would have been developed wouldn’t have been worse than vehicles driven by the internal combustion engine.

Ah, hell. I think I’m with PZ on this one. It’s a hypothetical question that no answer to is likely to sound plausible.

By Orac

Orac is the nom de blog of a humble surgeon/scientist who has an ego just big enough to delude himself that someone, somewhere might actually give a rodent's posterior about his copious verbal meanderings, but just barely small enough to admit to himself that few probably will. That surgeon is otherwise known as David Gorski.

That this particular surgeon has chosen his nom de blog based on a rather cranky and arrogant computer shaped like a clear box of blinking lights that he originally encountered when he became a fan of a 35 year old British SF television show whose special effects were renowned for their BBC/Doctor Who-style low budget look, but whose stories nonetheless resulted in some of the best, most innovative science fiction ever televised, should tell you nearly all that you need to know about Orac. (That, and the length of the preceding sentence.)

DISCLAIMER:: The various written meanderings here are the opinions of Orac and Orac alone, written on his own time. They should never be construed as representing the opinions of any other person or entity, especially Orac's cancer center, department of surgery, medical school, or university. Also note that Orac is nonpartisan; he is more than willing to criticize the statements of anyone, regardless of of political leanings, if that anyone advocates pseudoscience or quackery. Finally, medical commentary is not to be construed in any way as medical advice.

To contact Orac: [email protected]

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