by John Baskette
My mother taught me, “When you are wrong, promptly admit it!” I have tried to live by that admonition, but I admit that I have never been in the terribly difficult position that the various Y2K alarmists find themselves in now. Take Dr. Gary North for example. Unlike some, he did not profit greatly from Y2K promotional hype. He did not write books or sell survival kits. He gave out his information package free. His web site had the most extensive set of Y2K links on the planet. He even had a link to this site’s small effort. He took the most extreme position and was a true believer. The failure of Y2K to yield any more than minor problems must be a terrible blow for him. For Gary North and others like him, I offer my prayers.
But now that Jan. 1, 2000 has come and gone with virtually no problems at all visible to the public, will the Y2K alarmists now admit that they were wrong? Don’t bet on it! Here are some of the stories and excuses you will read and hear
Y2K alarmists were a critical part of the solution!
This kind of self congratulation is the most egregious claim that Y2K alarmists will make. They will take credit for having raised the alarm which solved the Y2K crisis. For example, here is what Michael Hyatt has to say as of January 4, 2000:
Was the Y2K problem over-hyped? I don’t think so. I do not believe that we overstated the problem, but perhaps we underestimated the progress. Time will tell. Regardless, if we had not sounded the alarm and brought focused attention to this problem, things may have turned out much different. (from http://www.michaelhyatt.com/ on Jan. 4, 2000)
Don’t believe it. Most of the alarmists started there work in 1998. Michael Hyatt’s book, The Millenium Bug came out in the fall of 1998. Dr. Dobson’s Y2K broadcast was in October of 1998. Gary North was probably the earliest having started his web site in January of 1997. Ed Yourdon’s book, Time Bomb 2000 came out in Dec. of 1997 and most of his web site materials during 1998. Jim Lord’s survival guide came out in April of 1997.
All these “warnings” came too late to be of much help to the computer industry, not that anyone with the exception of Ed Yourdon would have had any credibility. The majority who like Michael Hyatt who started sounding an alarm in mid-1998, were far too late to be claim any credit for solving the problem. In fact, by mid-1998 computer industry testing and remediation efforts were well under way. Most industry remediation efforts began in 1997. The efforts and surveys were going well enough that by the middle of 1998, the premier Information Technology think tank, the Gartner Group had revised its earlier warnings about severe Y2K problems and expected only a small crisis like a mid-winter storm.  The infamous embedded chip problem was dismissed by the Gartner Group as causing few problems as early as August of 1998.
Most of the Y2K doom hype started up just as it was becoming clear that the problem was on its way to being solved. The truth is that there is only one early alarmist that deserves any credit for helping to solve the Y2K crisis, and that person is Peter de Jager who started warning the computer industry about this problem in 1993 — four years before the rest. The alarmists should have been listening to Peter de Jager, because in late 1998, he too began to change his views. According to the Bangor Daily News on November 17, 1998:
Peter de Jager, founder of de Jager and Co. Ltd. of Brampton, Ontario, told about 200 people that individuals and businesses need to practice “dire diligence,” or get ready for some inconveniences, but they needn’t expect the end of the world. “I don’t think we’re capable of entering Year 2000 without problems,” de Jager said. “But they should be minimal. There will be a couple of glitches. What we hope to achieve is that they’re all trivial problems and not the consequential ones. . . . .”
. . . . De Jager said he believes most of the problems derived from the Y2K computer glitch will last at the most a couple of days, because Jan. 1, 2000, falls on the Saturday of a three-day weekend. He compared this situation to a satellite knockout earlier this year that left hundreds of thousands of cellular telephones and other electronic equipment inoperable.
Steve Hewitt was the one Christian voice of sanity in the fall of 1998. His interview with Peter De Jager can be heard on the Christian Computing web site at http://www.gospelcom.net/ccmag/ra/
But didn’t Y2K alarmists promoted good risk management? Didn’t they do more good than harm?
We know that the Johnny come lately Christian Y2K alarmists contributed absolutely nothing to the solution to Y2K. But did they do good anyway? There is always the possibility of a natural disaster like a Hurricane or an earthquake. Aren’t people who prepared for a Y2K emergency now better off than before?
Perhaps that is a minor effect for some, but the primary fruit of Y2K doom mongering was largely negative. Steve Hewitt makes the point in his interview with CBD. You can read it at http://www.christianbook.com/html/Offshoot/hewittinterview.html/. In it he says:
There are two major things we are being damaged by Y2K with. One is the credibility of Christian sources. There’s a cartoon that was in the Kansas City Star called, “Judges Opinion.” A little boy turns to his daddy in the first frame and asks, “Is Y2K going to cause something horrible?” In the second frame, they’re standing on a street corner, and the daddy turns to the boy and says “Son, it already has.” And behind them is a huge crowd of really goofy- looking people holding up signs, “Y2K Nuts” “Y2K Survivalists” and in the middle of the group someone is holding up a Bible. That’s exactly the results of what Y2K is bringing on our society. Chicago Tribune, NY Times, Wall Street Journal, Wired Magazine, they’ve all done stories not about America’s reaction to Y2K but the Christian overreaction to Y2K. This is not legitimate persecution that we can be proud of. This is ridicule that we deserve. That’s pretty sad.
The second aspect that’s going to start becoming clear as we go farther along that I’m discovering from speaking across the nation on Y2K is we have maybe tens of thousands of victims of Y2K now, Christians who went overboard. I know Michael Hyatt has said, “If I’m wrong, people can just eat the food. If he’s wrong, they’ll starve and freeze to death.” I could give him the names and addresses now of people who cannot just eat their food. A lady in Eugene, Oregon told me how life is over because of Y2K. It’s not just because she sold her dream house, she quit her job before retirement, she cashed her IRAs at 10% loss, she pulled out of the stock market, she now has cows and chickens and 2 years of survivalist food. None of those are reasons of why her life is over. . . . The reason Y2K has destroyed her life, she now knows, is she’ll never be able to witness again. She’ll always be the crazy Y2K lady.
Among the victims I think we can count men like Dr. James Dobson of Focus on the Family. Regarding Focus’s Y2K coverage, he and his staff ought to have known better. In fact, the monthly Y2K updates that Focus started putting out early in 1999 contained pretty good data and documentation. They tried to slant things a bit in favor of Y2K alarmism, but the facts as reported did not give the alarmist predictions much credibility. The quality of the monthly updates makes their October 1999 Y2K radio broadcast and Citizen Magazine coverage all that more scandalous. You can read about that in the Millennium Bust article on this site. Regardless, I count Dobson as a true believer who put too much trust in his buddies like Ron Blue and Larry Burkett and not enough trust in critical thinking skills and sound investigative journalism. This has always been Focus on the Family’s weak point. Dobson has always been careful in areas of his own expertise, but he has made some dreadful mistakes in areas where he is less competent . I wish he would do a post- mortem on this issue and spotlight a good discernment ministry.
Christian apologist Craig Hawkins made an apt analogy to the negative effect of Y2K. I heard him compare the effect of Y2K alarmists with the words of Jesus in Mark chapter 2. In it Jesus said, “Which is easier: to say to the paralytic, `Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, `Get up, take your mat and walk’? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins….” He said to the paralytic, “I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.” Jesus proved his authority to forgive sins by his ability to heal the paralytic. The Christian Y2K alarmists do the opposite. They prove their lack of credibility by making ridiculous predictions about Y2K. If they are were so wrong about Y2K, why should we believe anything they have to say about Jesus?
But the Fat Lady hasn’t sung yet!
The Y2K alarmists will try to protract their various efforts through out the coming year. They will point out correctly that authorities like the Gartner Group have been telling us that only 10% of Y2K problems would occur on January 1, 2000. That is true, but what they fail to tell us is that their most worrisome predictions would occur on January 1st due to the embedded chip issue. It was embedded chip failures that would cause the power grid to fail and water systems to shutdown. None of this happened. It did not happen in the United States or England who were best prepared for Y2K. Nor did it happen in Egypt, Italy or Japan who were not well prepared for Y2K. Why? It is obvious. The same Gartner group has been saying since 1998 that only 1/100,000 embedded chips would have catastrophic failures due to Y2K issues. Truly critical systems like oil pipelines and power plants have redundant systems – very often triplely redundant systems. For there to be any failure at all in a critical system, you would have to have multiple chip failures. But the odds of two such related chip failures at the Garner group odds is 1 in 100 billion!  The odds of any real crisis from embedded chip failures anywhere in the world at all were always low. Remediation efforts (as I argued in 1999) made them vanishingly small.
It’s true. Y2K problems will crop up through out the year 2000. It would be a mistake to say that the new year brought no Y2K problems. Many problems are chronicled in The GIC discussion forum. In fact, numerous problems occurred throughout the year 1999. Many of these are chronicled on the Y2K alarmists sites. The most spectacular Y2K failures in 1999 as the Passantino’s show (see Y2K: Debunking the Myths) were not really Y2K issues, but there are enough legitimate problems to show that the Y2K phenomena was real. Here is what you must ask yourself: Did any of the problems that have occurred so far affect you in any way? Did anything happen on March 31, 1999 when many states and the government of Canada started their fiscal year 2000? How about July 1, 1999? Or August when the Global Positioning Satellite system cycled? How about on 9/9/99? Nothing? Next to nothing? I thought so. What happened on Jan 1, 2000? Nothing? What makes the Y2K alarmists think that the rest of 2000 is going to be any different? Any new Y2K issues will be just minor glitches.
Y2K alarmists weren’t predicting a disaster. They were always agnostic on the issue
Right. And I have a bridge to see you . . . . It is true that many Y2K alarmists kept insisting that “we” don’t really know what is going to happen in Y2K. In fact they most often insisted that nobody knows, therefore we ought to prepare for the worst. The Passantino’s comments regarding a “guarantee” of electric power are appropriate here. They say, “What it means is that no one knows the future absolutely.” But that does not mean that there were any good reasons to believe that catastrophe would strike in Y2K. Instead we had good reasons to believe that we would be in reasonably good shape and that any catastrophe was unlikely. The specific predictions of Michael Hyatt are reviewed in the articles on this site. He said quite specifically what he thought would happen. Any claims to “agnosticism” at this point is somewhat like a person claiming to be an agnostic with respect to believe in God, but affirming a strong belief in the God of the Bible. It makes no sense.
Some alarmists tried to obfuscate the issue by being alarmist but not very specific during most of 1998. Ed Yourdon tried this and insisted that his refrain has been that “we don’t know.” But he was specific in earlier writings. In the article My Y2K Outlook: A Year of Disruptions, a Decade of Depression he gets very specific and predicts that the US undergo an economic depression similar to the Great Depression of the 1930’s.
But weren’t the Y2K alarmists the real moderates? You Pollyanna critics who denied any problem and called it a hoax are the real extremists.
Some alarmists will try this gambit. On January 1, 2000, Ed Yourdon wrote the following:
“Inevitably, there will be observers who dismiss all of these arguments, and who conclude that the whole thing was a deliberate, malicious scam perpetrated by greedy charlatans. If so, these charlatans have succeeded far beyond anything ever before accomplished: they convinced hard-nosed business executives, and cash-strapped government agencies around the world to part with roughly $100 billion in remediation costs.” (see www.yourdon.com
But I haven’t seen any such observers. Not computerworld columnist John Gantz. Not Steve Hewitt. Not Robert X. Cringely. And certainly not Answers In Action. I am a programmer by profession. In the company I currently contract with, there have been four separate Y2K glitches related systems I work on. These were minor problems that we fixed quickly, but I know that if the company had not done a major Y2K remediation, our systems would have been in chaos. I do not know of any credible critic that regarded Y2K as a hoax or a scam. The problem was real. But when credible critics like those I list looked at the issue, they concluded that the problems would be minor with the biggest impacts being inside the bowels of larger companies. We were right. The alarmists were wrong were flat out absolutely wrong. I think they ought to own up to the truth and admit it.
 Finding references that are still on the net isn’t easy. See http://www.seattletimes.com/news/technology/html98/tech_102598.html
 One must be careful of mathematical reasoning. If 1/100,000 chips will fail then you would expect that out of 100 billion chips that you expect around 1 million chip failures. Considering that most of these are probably in old equipment in the local land fill, that would still leave a few hundred thousand possible failures. That’s quite believable. Considering all the chips in service. Actually finding such a failed chip would still be an unusual event, and a critical failure would be exceedingly rare. My 1 in 100 billion reasoning is based on the odds of two specific chips. For example if I have two chips in my hand. What are the odds that both of those two chips will fail? Only 1 in 100 billion. That is the kind of failure that would be needed to cause a redundant critical system to fail.