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After Fisher's invention, demand for professional laundresses plunged. Chart: Michael Osborne's Twitter account.

In 1910, a Chicago engineer named Alva J. Fisher was awarded a patent for his invention of Thor, an electric-powered washing machine, and forever made fools of prior bets on the job prospects of professional clothes launderers.

This history came to mind Tuesday for Michael Osborne, an Oxford economist and co-author of perhaps the most-cited contemporary paper on the future of work.

Why it matters: Osborne suggests it shows why forecasts of the jobs future — many of them couched in ultra-certain terms — merit scrutiny.

  • In a tweet, Osborne argued that — if you rely only on data and trends — you might go dreadfully awry forecasting the future of automation and employment.
  • His proof — the fate of laundresses before and after Thor: "Imagine yourself in 1910, trying to forecast the future prospects for laundresses," Osborne said.

That was by explanation why, in his work, he uses both data and expert forecasts, he says in a prior thread of tweets, also on Tuesday.

Go deeper

Updated 2 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

  1. Health: Coronavirus cases rose 10% in the week before Thanksgiving.
  2. Politics: Supreme Court backs religious groups on New York coronavirus restrictions.
  3. World: Expert says COVID vaccine likely won't be available in Africa until Q2 of 2021 — Europeans extend lockdowns.
  4. Economy: The winners and losers of the COVID holiday season.
  5. Education: National standardized tests delayed until 2022.
4 hours ago - Health

Standardized testing becomes another pandemic victim

Photo: Edmund D. Fountain for The Washington Post via Getty

National standardized reading and math tests have been pushed from next year to 2022, the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) announced Wednesday.

Why it matters: There’s mounting national evidence that students are suffering major setbacks this year, with a surge in the number of failing grades.

4 hours ago - World

European countries extend lockdowns

A medical worker takes a COVID-19 throat swab sample at the Berlin-Brandenburg Airport. Photo by Maja Hitij via Getty

Recent spikes in COVID-19 infections across Europe have led authorities to extend restrictions ahead of the holiday season.

Why it matters: "Relaxing too fast and too much is a risk for a third wave after Christmas," said European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen.