(CNN) – In the movie “Back to the Future,” the year is 1955 when Marty McFly introduces the song “Johnny B. Goode” to a high school dance. That was three years before this tune was actually written, but McFly knows it well because he’s from the future.
It would stand to reason that in real life, time travelers from a future era – or who had at least visited the future – might give themselves away by mentioning events that haven’t yet occurred. They might even do so online.
I mean, you’d obviously take to social media to broadcast your foreknowledge of world events, right?
Scientists at Michigan Technological University wanted to see if they could catch any such slips by residents of the future. So Robert Nemiroff, professor of physics, and graduate student Teresa Wilson conducted a whimsical study in hopes of identifying accurate predictions of future events. They are presenting their study at the American Astronomical Society Meeting on Monday.
The online platform that allowed them to look most comprehensively for prescient posts was Twitter, because the social network doesn’t allow back-dating. Facebook users can alter timestamps on posts, and the popular search engines Google and Bing were not as helpful as Twitter in looking for “prescient information,” the authors found.
Study authors focused on two major search terms they believe will have lasting significance for years to come: Comet ISON and Pope Francis. They looked for mentions of these from January 2006 to September 2013.
Before the identification of comet ISON in 2012, there were no mentions that the researchers could find of this icy space rock. Similarly, before Jorge Bergoglio took on his papal name in 2013, the phrase “Pope Francis” did not appear in the researchers’ search results, except for one person’s blog, which appears to have been speculating – not remembering something from the future.
It appears that no one posted about his or her neighbor or acquaintance declaring the name Pope Francis early, either.
“It’s not proof, but it’s an indication to me that it’s not possible,” Nemiroff said, referring to time travel.
There are, of course, several reasons why this technique might not detect any time travelers. Nemiroff and Wilson may have missed them by using the wrong search terms. Temporal adventurers might avoid posting to social media altogether, or even using the Internet, for fear of being found out.