What is the worst idea in history?

Reality TV has come second only to the atom bomb in a poll to discover the worst ideas in history. Capital punishment, credit cards and plastic bags completed the bottom five in the survey. What is your top five of all time clangers?

76 Responses to “What is the worst idea in history?”

  1. May 21, 2008 at 11:32

    Can I set the ball rolling with:

    1) automated telephone answering systems…for irritation press one.
    2) paper cups
    3) caffeine free coffee
    4) tanning salons
    5) vegetarian sausages

  2. 2 steve
    May 21, 2008 at 11:34

    Gotta agree with Jon. Tanning salons. Nothing worse than winkled, leathery skin, or orange skin..

    Traffic speed cameras

  3. 3 VictorK
    May 21, 2008 at 11:37

    Marxist Socialism
    National Socialism

    What they all have in common is that tens of millions have died or lost their freedom as a direct consequence of putting these ideas into practice.

  4. 4 Brett
    May 21, 2008 at 12:45

    1) Racism
    2) Nationalism
    3) Nuclear Weapons
    4) The Internal Combustion Engine
    5) Capitalism

  5. May 21, 2008 at 12:48

    Hello Precious Jon… To me the worst idea in history ever is EXAMINATIONS !! Anyone agrees ?! :-)… With my love… Yours forever, Lubna…

  6. 6 steve
    May 21, 2008 at 12:57

    @ Brett

    Without capitalism, just about everyone would be lazy, expecting the government to provide their needs for them, nothing would get done. As much as I cannot stand some of the consequences of capitalism, such as materialism, and the personality disorders that go along with it, it’s still better than people waiting around to have someone else solve their problems for them, people whining about how they’re not getting what they feel entitled to, etc…

  7. 7 Brett
    May 21, 2008 at 13:04

    And daily life / people worsts:
    1) Multi-tasking while driving
    2) Double Parking
    3) Ignorance
    4) Fast Food
    5) The idea that it is cool to put on rims worth 5 times more than the cost of your car, and then drive around with the windows down and music up so loud that your speakers are distorting and screaming “OH OH OH!!! ME ME ME!!! I WANT ATTENTION!!!”

  8. 8 ZK
    May 21, 2008 at 13:07

    This may/probably will sound incredibly naïve, but I’d argue the worst idea in history is the idea of conflict/war.

  9. 9 steve
    May 21, 2008 at 13:18

    @ ZK

    War is pretty natural. One way or the other, the earth is going to depopulate itself. If it’s not war, it will be a flu outbreak, like in 1918. If there’s too many people, there will be a die off, one way or the other.

  10. 10 John in Germany
    May 21, 2008 at 13:39

    1 Capitalism
    2 Lazy every ones
    3 Governments that support capitalism instead of the poor. and lazy.

    Child labour in the mills in England that made Capitalists and those that wanted to be rich, allowing them to tread harder on the poor.

    Slave labour in America, that made the better of, better of, and the slaves into animals instead of people. In exchange for freedom they got work, and more work, and some food.

    The robbery of all interesting commodities, from where ever it could be taken from. leaving the rightful owners to sort out the mess.

    The feeling in some people that they have the right due to birth control others.

    Blaming the younger generations for the stupidity, and arrogance of the older.

    Neutrality for Politicians.

    Prominence bonus scheme. in life and in law.

    Two tier health systems.

    Wow had to pull the plug, one can go on forever.

    @ ZK why naive? Solid as it goes. answers the question. you are looking ahead, and not up or down.

    And to close, the snake in the garden of Eden, the Apple was ok. or visa verse.

    John in Germany.

  11. 11 John in Germany
    May 21, 2008 at 13:43

    Sorry Ros.
    To between birth and control. Thanks

  12. May 21, 2008 at 13:54

    Hi Jon, Akbar here in Tehran
    Communism is the worse misconception of mankind in history, and to think that some of the brightest men have devoted their lives to such a trivial and false concept is sad.
    The issue probably arose when men lived together and tried to develop a creed to accomodate communal defence and provide for families and dependants: But that the concpet should have been adopted as a religious creed in such ideas as the kibbutz and so forth, is irrational and false.
    It is always the same story for major breakthroughs in ideology: Suffer the flaws of an idea, go through the painful process of forcing it on everyone else, until you are proved wrong.
    Man must first and foremost look to his comfort and those of others; take it further and develop it into an idea and a model. Men will do best at what they excel, and continue to do so as long as they are happy.

  13. 13 selena Jacobs
    May 21, 2008 at 14:00

    The worst idea in history… the stock exchange!


  14. 14 Tino
    May 21, 2008 at 14:09

    1.) Slavery
    2.) Political Correctness
    3.) Islam
    4.) Attendance Grades
    5.) Other religions

  15. 15 Julie P
    May 21, 2008 at 14:27

    Worst idea in the world – censorship.

  16. May 21, 2008 at 14:29

    Hello again Precious Jon… Boxing as a sport, eye shadows (although I do wear them sometimes, but not often, I swear ! :-), and EXAMINATIONS, EXAMINATIONS, AND EXAMINATIONS !! With my love… Yours forever, Lubna.,

  17. 17 Bob UK
    May 21, 2008 at 14:30

    Speedos…what a terrible blight on mankind!

    Bono…Need i say more

    T shirts with logos…not cool

    Limos…don’t wonder who’s inside, it’ll only be a nonody on an 21st.

    Call centres!

  18. May 21, 2008 at 14:55

    Pyramid scheme style economies- Ones that require continuous growth to maintain
    Using E=mc^2 to kill a bunch of people instead of supply endless energy
    Reality TV
    Fish on the bottom yogurt

  19. 19 nicholas kariuki muthaara
    May 21, 2008 at 15:11

    nuclear weapons,guns,fast foods,internet and oil.

  20. May 21, 2008 at 15:13

    * Nationalism fulled with extremism towards other nationalities.

    * Unnecessary wars, when conflicts could have been solved through negotiations.

    * The exploitation and the manipulation of weak nations by strong nations.

    * The domination of materialism, so relations are based not on “who you are”, but on “how much do you have”

    * The culture of consumerism, which has made many dissatisfied with their lives because they can have more items, however unnecessary they may be.

    * Globalization, which is threatening the local identity of many societies and their local (traditional) economy.

    * BBC WHYS, which has become an addiction to many! ( in fact it’s one of the best radio inventions to make people think and worry)

  21. 21 gary
    May 21, 2008 at 15:17

    Many know history; while few understand its lessons. All the difficulties facing us have faced our progenitors. Avoiding calamity usually consists of simply knowing where to stand. The worst Idea in History is becoming an indistinguishable part of it.

  22. 22 Ros Atkins
    May 21, 2008 at 15:42

    Jet skis.

  23. 24 selena
    May 21, 2008 at 16:00


    I never gave my students examinations… wish you were here.

  24. 25 Erin
    May 21, 2008 at 16:02

    Bono (@ Bob – I agree he is the worst thing ever)
    Beta tapes

  25. 26 Bob in Queensland
    May 21, 2008 at 16:03

    Organised religion.

    I have no problem with anyone’s private beliefs but, as soon as they develop organisation and hierarchy (and, inevitably, start collecting money) religions seem to become the number one cause of strife and war in the world.

    Or, on a lighter note, any form of processed “fast food” including, but not limited to, plastic sliced bread.

  26. 27 Greg in the States
    May 21, 2008 at 16:13


  27. May 21, 2008 at 16:23

    Imperialism. The one we live under began with the conquest of the Americas. It brought us racism and capitalism, and we are still suffering its effects.

    We might also consider aviation. It gave us good things and bad. Good: Easier travel for all. Bad: Hordes of tourists, the spread of diseases, bombing from five miles up.

  28. 29 Peter Gizzi UK
    May 21, 2008 at 16:31

    The European Union.

    This is a documentary that tells you why.


  29. 30 Jens
    May 21, 2008 at 17:08

    is an SUV an idea?

  30. 31 John in Salem
    May 21, 2008 at 17:52

    1.internal combustion engine
    2.nuclear weapons
    3.organized religion
    4.fast food
    5.Lawn Darts

  31. 32 Syed Hasan Turab
    May 21, 2008 at 18:27

    Emotional damage is mother of all, no doubt all mishap begin with woman, wealth & land. Communication upto satisfaction is the key to resolve the issue, decent & delicate handling with issues plays master role too.
    Indeed we need global leadership for a moral revolution which will help us out from prevailing desasterious approaches of life, why not we begin with a speakers forum from urban to ruler & religion to political culture & society.

  32. 33 Will Rhodes
    May 21, 2008 at 18:46

    1. Golf
    2. American ‘Football’
    3. Political Correctness
    4. Margaret Thatcher
    5. American Independence.


  33. May 21, 2008 at 18:54

    lol @lawn darts now how is that a bad idea? heavy sharp pointy objects given to kids to throw at each other.

    two more really bad ideas.
    -Survival of the fittest.

    Not that I don’t believe in these concepts, just that I think they were bad ides. Who thought of these things anyway?

  34. 35 Julie P
    May 21, 2008 at 18:56


    I agree about American football. Yawn.
    As for American Independence I have made a public proclamation in a Have Your Say forum and I will share it with you, “Sorry about that.” I did attempt to try and give back thirteen states a week or so ago when I was in London, but the Queen wasn’t home.


  35. 36 Janet T
    May 21, 2008 at 19:11

    Organized religion
    TV preachers
    64 ounce soft drink cups
    No fault divorce

  36. 37 steve
    May 21, 2008 at 19:13

    Wow JanetT. No fault divorce. Wish I had thought of that! I think that “I just don’t feel like being married any more” is probably behind most of the divorces that occur in over 50% of marriages these days. Perhaps if people didn’t have that escape clause, they would take more thought about getting married in the first place.

  37. 38 Jens
    May 21, 2008 at 19:23

    stupid people

  38. 39 Zak
    May 21, 2008 at 19:27

    With a little leeway let me lump this into one cause and reaction: The interment/execution orders in Germany – Truman’s decision to drop the atomic bomb.

    It’s the irrational dissimilarity between these decisions that make them one symptom of the dysfunctional mistakes in every war. Even if there ever was justification for war these decisions are beyond it.

    Throughout all history mother nature has always taken a greater toll on Humanity than war ever can so I don’t buy the argument that “war is necessary”. Just look at the combine total of Burma and China getting close to 200,000 in a period of less than a week each.

  39. 40 Zak
    May 21, 2008 at 19:42

    It’s bizarre how everyone seems to think this is a multiple choice Jeopardy type answer and if that’s the case then I agree with Lubna’s answer of exams and to that I would add multiple choice exams.

    Another bizarre point, in my last post I meant to write internment/execution but the first word was a typo and came out interment. Seems fate is justifying my point as that word interment does in itself sum up the worst thing ever in history which is beyond decision but absolutely harms the soul the most when people are buried in mass.

  40. 41 Pangolin
    May 21, 2008 at 19:52

    Burning Coal- Yes I know that burning coal has been the foundation of technological civilization but all of that work could have been done with natural gas, oil, solar, wind and hydropower.

    Only burning coal threatens a mass extinction of the majority of species above the level of a earthworm. Only burning coal can cause smog clouds that stretch from China all the way across the Pacific. Only burning coal can inspire the removal of whole ranges of mountains. Only burning coal could have led to the concentrated industrial power that led to WWI, WWII and the current Chinese industrial hegemony.

    Nasty, sulfurous, dusty, mercury-filled, radioactive, smog-producing, lung destroying, politically corrupting coal.

    Quit burning it.

  41. 42 time waster
    May 21, 2008 at 20:00

    Internet blogs and chat lines

  42. 43 Zak
    May 21, 2008 at 20:02

    So let me formally rephrase my answer to this question since the posts are stacking up noting that it’s barring natural disaster when it’s unavoidable:

    The absolute worst decision in history can be considered the decision to bury people that have been executed; in mass. Examples are of course WWII in Germany or the civil war in Rwanda. Beyond what anyone might do to another in life the ultimate indignity is when there are no burial rights and the body is just interred unrecognized. The proof is also in Rwanda where those mass graves were dug up and the real skeletal remains are preserved on display to emphasize the horrific crime perpetrated on the people there. The postures of children in defense of themselves is enough to rip the soul out of anyone just like happened to them. Just the extra footage on the DVD Hotel Rwanda is the most intense images I’ve ever seen.

  43. 44 Rebecca Kesby
    May 21, 2008 at 20:03

    Hi guys, Rebecca here – with you on The World Today this weekend.

    I have to agree with my esteemed editor, Jon Donnison, on automated telephone answering systems….listen to options 1 – 7 before you realise you don’t want any of them and then stay on the line to hear the same options again!

    Limos… Bob in the UK…? Don’t get me started! But the worst idea has to be STRETCH Limos. Or even worse…..stretch humvees as we now have in London. Any unnecessarily long vehicle is a bad idea in my view.

    A couple of my own to add….Crossing the Atlantic in a barrel. Or a bath. Or any unseaworthy vessel that fails to respect the power of the ocean.

    And platform shoes. Right up there with the stretch limo / humvee for me!

    Catch you on Saturday 😉

  44. 45 Angela in Washington D.C.
    May 21, 2008 at 20:09

    I agree with Jens about stupid people. Also, stupid airheaded/ ghetto people on television having reality shows. However, I think american football is awesome, especially college footbal (SEC)!!!

    It is not an idea but I think G.W.Bush is one of the “not so smart people” in the world.

  45. 46 Tino
    May 21, 2008 at 21:33

    “two more really bad ideas.
    -Survival of the fittest.

    Not that I don’t believe in these concepts, just that I think they were bad ides. Who thought of these things anyway?”

    How is evolution possibly a bad idea? Anyway, credit tends to go to Darwin. Evolution is an excellent idea that has stood up to experimental scrutiny for years!

  46. 47 Taisa in Brazil
    May 21, 2008 at 22:41

    1) Nationalism (as a political basis AND as an identity)

    2) Marxist Socialism

    3) War rather than dialogue

    4) British Food

    5) Starbucks Coffee

    6) Telemarketing

    7) The Academy Awards

    8) Vegetarians who see themselves as superior human beings.

    I don’t think capitalism should be classified as an ‘invention’ as it was a system that took shape ‘naturally’, throughout the course of history – in fact, the term ‘capitalism’ was first defined by Marx himself.
    Well, by that logic war and nationalism shouldn’t be considered inventions too, i suppose? I got confused now.

  47. 48 Zak
    May 21, 2008 at 22:49

    Jens and Angela there’s a little saying on the playground you obviously missed: it takes 1 to know one.

  48. 49 Jens
    May 21, 2008 at 22:51


    the word is “educationally challanged” and yes he is the afore mentioned. But so are the x million morons that have voted for him not only once BUT twice…..’nough said.

  49. May 22, 2008 at 00:04


    The reason these are bad ideas is because they are not working so well for the human race.

    It would have been nicer if we were all just strong and smart from the beginning, instead of having to go through this horrible learning process where were held back by the lowest common denominator.

    Saying Darwin had the idea is like saying that the Columbus thought up the idea of the North American Continents.

  50. 51 Tino
    May 22, 2008 at 01:58

    No it isnt. Prior to that people had varying theories – Lamarck for example thought use/disuse of body parts would cause changes in the present in an animal. Darwin is credited for -sometimes Wallace is also – recognizing that changes did not happen in the present to an organism but via selection of better adapted offspring (genetics). Nothing like finding a continent, which is apparent to everyone. He had the insight to recognize what was going on in the natural world – to a far better degree than those who came before him.

    The idea also works well for humans, as it has led to a far greater understanding of microbial life in particular (wherein we can actually see evolution in our lifetime). This has implications for medicine specifically.

    “It would have been nicer if we were all just strong and smart from the beginning, instead of having to go through this horrible learning process where were held back by the lowest common denominator.”

    True, this is one of many reasons I cannot believe in a God. I feel a kind, omnipotent God would simply have made everything work perfectly from the outset. Hence religion making my list 8.

  51. May 22, 2008 at 08:37

    some of these are making me laugh out loud. John….lawn darts!!!! this sounds like genius to me.

  52. 53 lydia nayo
    May 22, 2008 at 15:47

    The concept of physical beauty and standards thereof. I bet there’s been a war or two instigated because of the concept of physical beauty. Human beauty, I mean. Not trees or flowers or chirping birds being beautiful. Nothing is more deadly, divisive or destructive than the notion that one person or group of people is more beautiful than another.

  53. May 22, 2008 at 15:47

    Worst ideas in history

    The thong… not comfortable to wear, not nice to look at.

    Dog carrying hand bags and fashion for animals…. a dog is a dog not your surrogate child.

    Here is a controversal one…. mobile phones and lap tops. Have completly removed privacy and extended the working environment into the home.

    When my mum was growing up my nan would tell her to meet her somewhere in town and then let her go off and meet her later. My mum now wants me to take a mobile with me when i go travelling so she can check in with me every two days.

    Plastic Surgery- Human bodies are all unique and individual, to have surgery to make yourself look like paris hilton or brad pitt is a) wierd and b) wrong.

    I could go on but like Lubna i need to start revising 😀 xx

  54. 55 steve
    May 22, 2008 at 15:51

    @ Lydia

    “Nothing is more deadly, divisive or destructive than the notion that one person or group of people is more beautiful than another.”

    I have to strongly disagree. The “you have this, I don’t, and I want it” is the most deadly and destructive thing. War is usually about resources, not about Beauty. Even the Trojan war likely never happened, and if it did, it was surely not about Helen of Troy. The problem you state really lays in insecurity. only insecure people worry about that sort of thing. Sure, there are many insecure people out there, but it’s not the greatest threat to world peace or safety. Remember, as Elenor Roosevelt said, nobody can make you feel inferior without your consent.

  55. 56 Sandra Patricia, Colombia
    May 22, 2008 at 16:18

    😛 Hi, WHYS team, listeners and bloggers!!!

    I love this topic!!! Here you have my top 5:

    5) Reality shows
    4) Nuclear weapons
    3) E! Entertainment
    2) Hawaii Chair
    1) …

    … Britney Spears and Paris Hilton.

    Thanks indeed! Love you all!
    Hugs from Colombia 🙂

  56. 57 Dan
    May 23, 2008 at 14:23

    The worst ideas in history are the “isms”
    -Hedonism….wait..maybe I can live with that one :))

  57. 58 Seth
    May 23, 2008 at 14:27

    Worst idea in history – Colonialism

  58. 59 Jessica-NY
    May 23, 2008 at 15:40

    Politics and Media:
    1) Inequality.
    2) Barbra Bush deciding to have “it”. VERY bad Idea.
    3) News programs present gossip as news! IE: everything Britney & Paris.
    4) Unbiased media! You’re reporting on the Kool-Aid not selling it.
    5) Opinionated people who don’t vote.

    Pop Culture:
    1) That celebrities should be idolized.
    2) Botox. Some people look down right scary.
    3) Fashion Magazines with million dollar dresses.
    4) Diets and silly gyms.
    5) Frivoulous lawsuits.

    Everyday life:
    1) Low fat cheese and diet food.
    2) Blinking adds and pop-up windows on the internet and junk mail from the post office.
    3) Jehovah Witnesses…I believe in religious freedom, but your freedom should really stop trying to infringe on mine.
    4) Oblivious people who stand in the middle of a side walk blocking it during rush hour.
    5) Borrowing this from Jon: Automated telephone answering systems…for irritation press one and press two for dummies who think you’re ever going to get live person.
    6) Lazy people who don’t read… I don’t mean books. I mean people who burst into my office asking where “so and so” office is when they had to pass it by in the hallway to get to my office.

    1) World champion titles: PEOPLE, it’s NOT a world champion ship if you only play “American” aka United Stated Teams teams.
    2) Having to call futbol, soccer in the United States. Urggg! There feet don’t even touch the ball in American football.
    3) Athletes’ salaries.
    4) Athletes’ endorsements.
    5) Athletes who use steroids.

    🙂 Hardly anything annoys me…

  59. May 24, 2008 at 01:51


    I still think it isn’t working. Have you seen any of the judge shows or Maurry Polvich lately. If you have how can you say evolution and survival of the fittest is working?

  60. 61 Blaise (Blez)
    May 24, 2008 at 08:33

    In no particular order

    1. Neuticals



    4.George W. Bush

    5.Burma Junta

  61. 63 Rick
    May 26, 2008 at 09:57

    stickers on fruit
    patio heaters
    baseball hats on backward
    body piercing

  62. 64 Dennis Jr
    May 26, 2008 at 21:14

    this is my own list:

    1] credit cards

    2] american independence


    4] allergies

    5] medical problems

  63. 65 Mohammed Ali
    June 9, 2008 at 16:36

    The worst idea in history was is the invention of fire arms of any sort.

  64. 66 slimslowslider
    July 16, 2008 at 19:59

    1/religion and/or God
    3/ people who park their car in the front of the car wash and then go and buy the token leaving the rest to queue behind.

  65. 67 Kaxmo
    August 8, 2008 at 17:53

    Here’s my list:

    1. Nationalism

    2. Motorcars

    3. Professional politicians

    4. Trash media – celebrity culture, reality tv and all the other mind polluting media

    5. Tattoos

  66. 68 ...
    August 20, 2008 at 19:05

    1. Socialism
    2. One word sentences such as “Yawn.” for dramatic effect, even though every retard with a superiority complex use them
    3. Superiority complexes
    4. People who think socialism works and all the countries who tried it or are trying must be too stupid to understand how to make it work right
    5. People who say “I’ve never heard of that before” in a negative connotation because they have no creative talent
    6. People who think that human beings are too dumb to take care of themselves and think everything should be a government handout or censored
    7. People who think businesses are evil and people trying to make their evil profits and evil livings need to be stopped
    8. The irrationality and anti-evolutionary point of the previous statement
    9. Self-sacrifice as a means to get laid, look cool, or control the world when instead it should be but rarely is used for helping someone
    10. My internet connection because I can’t stand reading some of the illogical and irrational garbage arguments on the internet . The internet is a place I go when I feel the need to lose faith in humanity. Most of your “blogs” are complete pieces of shit not worthy of one kilobyte of hard drive space in my temporary internet files folder, but I respect your freedom to write them, I just thought I’d let you know.

  67. 69 Hamza Bendani,Tangier Morocco
    September 13, 2008 at 00:40

    Surely globalization is the worst idea in the world. many cultures are disappearing, many langages are equally disappearing. The identity of people are under threat here.

  68. 71 TeeJay
    February 11, 2009 at 23:03

    Electing George Bush

    In that order.

  69. 72 Nicholas from Milwaukee
    February 18, 2009 at 00:48

    In my opinion the worse 5 iedas/creations are…

    1. inequalities..
    2. plastic disposal water bottles that are sold in 5 million packs…
    3. Tattoos
    4. Chrysler
    5. Greed.

    These are just opinion….no need to argue…



  70. 73 Robert in Indianapolis, USA
    March 26, 2009 at 19:03

    Most of the worst ideas in history have an “ism” involved. These things also involve being used as an excuse to kill. Organised religion, Political movements, Cults of personality, Schools of combat … Even dietary plans. Taken too far, the ism proponents forget the present, thinking only of the good things made in its wake. Refusing to see the bodies, the blood, the hardship caused.

  71. 74 adam buchanan
    April 18, 2009 at 10:59

    Believing that a good old boy from Texas, who wrecked any previous project that he touched, was a good choice to run the U.S. for eight years. We’re still waiting for someone to come along and pull the bus out of the ditch.

  72. 75 Mikaela Chaltas
    May 4, 2009 at 04:31

    1. Nuclear anything…….nothing good can come of it.
    2. Reality T.V……………….need I say more.?.?
    3. Fast Food Chains…..we need healthy, creative foods….
    4. Multi-million $$ homes…..I mean, how much square footage do you need???..

  73. February 7, 2010 at 07:04

    Communism –
    A bad idea that sounds good until it’s put into practice; and the ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’ becomes just the dictatorship, fullstop. Over and over again throughout history; Tens of millions dead and still counting.

    Religion (all of them) –
    Mysticism that erodes the faculty of rational thought.

    Political Correctness –
    And it’s ‘multicultural’ brother which says that all ideas are equally valid and there’s no such thing as a bad idea. Right…

    Inflationary Spending –
    The magic bullet that magically devalues my money while magically forcing prices to rise. What a nifty trick.


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