In 1949, Gallup polled Americans on what scientific advances they thought would happen by the year 1999. 88% believed cancer would be cured, and 63% believed planes would be nuclear powered. Only 15% thought a man would walk on the moon.

Polls of Future Past: Public Expectations for the Future of Science

Science fiction sometimes barely beats out science fact, as technological advancements rapidly transform the world. But the changes that are anticipated aren’t always the ones that arrive. A look back at what the polls tell us the public has expected for the future of science – and how often they’ve been disappointed. From the Roper Center for Public Opinion Research archives:

Reality outpacing expectations: the moon landing

When Gallup first asked Americans in 1949 whether they expected man to reach the moon in the next fifty years, only 15% said yes. Despite the shocking power of new wartime technologies like the atom bomb, the public remained skeptical about the idea of space travel. Just six years later, the proportion saying ma… Continue Reading (4 minute read)

13 thoughts on “In 1949, Gallup polled Americans on what scientific advances they thought would happen by the year 1999. 88% believed cancer would be cured, and 63% believed planes would be nuclear powered. Only 15% thought a man would walk on the moon.”

  1. VerisimilarPLS

    What a lot of people forget about cancer cures is that it’s not one disease, but a large number of different ones with different causes and different prognoses. Some are much more treatable than others, and a single treatment that cures all of them is probably impossible.

    As for nuclear planes, they looked into it but a properly shielded reactor is heavy, and there were concerns over nuclear contamination if they crashed.

  2. Fuck_You_Andrew

    Before 1957 we hadnt even launched the simplest probes into space. Im surprised people had that much confidence it would happen.

    Edit: Sputnik I was the first probe in *Orbit*.

  3. Woodcharles

    I have a delightful science book of around 1870ish that deems airplanes to be unlikely to really, ahem, take off, and muses upon the theory of space travel and of the rocket engine, but believes these will remain only theories.

  4. CryptoTheGrey

    Tldr: the average person was at bad at understanding science and engineering in 1949 as they are today.

  5. throwaway75252837

    We have cured a lot of cancers. 100% success may be impossible though.

  6. minimal_jimmy

    If the same question was asked today, the guesses would still be pretty far from what actually exists in 50 years.

  7. Calber4

    Could you make a nuclear powered aircraft? I mean it would be a safety nightmare, but is it possible engineering wise?

  8. ImgurianIRL

    I’d like to see what 1970s people would have thought about Moon stations/towns. Would they predict we would never develop a Moon Station by 2021?

  9. dangil

    They did cure the cancer people would get in nuclear planes by not developing nuclear airplanes.

  10. JaeCryme

    *But they were all of them, deceived…*

  11. zpe42

    To be fair, there exist prototypes for nuklear powered planes (developed in the 50s, but they were stopped in favor of submarines, where accidents could be concealed much easier). We do cure quite a lot of cancer. (65% success rate), and we even have vaccines against some kinds.
    And then there were only 6 manned moon landings, and actually none for the last 47 years.
    So, I guess the poll outcomes are rather correct in relation to the probability of the events.

  12. Lupin_AAGL

    Do we have nuclear powered planes? I’m a layman but that sounds reasonable to me but I can’t think of ever hearing about that. If we don’t, why don’t we?

  13. imflukeskywalker

    Did anyone predict Michael Jackson’s moonwalk though?

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