“The greatest enemy of knowledge is not ignorance; it is the illusion of knowledge.”
On the evening of 20 December 1954, a small group had gathered together in Dorothy Martin's front room. They were waiting for their midnight rescue by spaceship, ahead of the imminent apocalypse that Martin, their eccentric but earnest leader, had been warned would take place by dawn the next day.
This is one of the most famous doomsday predictions because a social psychologist named Leon Festinger, and two associates, were able to study the beliefs and actions of the “believers”, both in the run-up to the event, and afterwards. After spotting a newspaper article about the group, the researchers ...