The ’2012′ doomsday craze is keeping scientists busy and frustrated

Oct. 18, 2009 | 8:26 p.m.

Los Angeles Times staff writer John Johnson Jr. writes about science for the paper, not science fiction, so you don’t see his name pop up in this blog. That changes today, though, because Johnson and the scientists he covers are busy dealing with pockets of public hysteria regarding “2012,” the doomsday year according to the coming disaster film and a growing number of true believers. Here’s an excerpt from his thorough and enlightening report; I’ve added most of the links so you can make up your own mind about the science and the scare. And, by the way, how thrilled is Columbia with all these headlines about the hysteria? — Geoff Boucher


Is 2012 the end of the world?

If you scan the Internet or believe the marketing campaign behind the movie “2012,” scheduled for release in November, you might be forgiven for thinking so. Dozens of books and fake science websites are prophesying the arrival of doomsday that year, by means of a rogue planet colliding with the Earth or some other cataclysmic event.

Normally, scientists regard Internet hysteria with nothing more than a raised eyebrow and a shake of the head. But a few scientists have become so concerned at the level of fear they are seeing that they decided not to remain on the sidelines this time.

“Two years ago, I got a question a week about it,” said NASA scientist David Morrison, who hosts a website called Ask an Astrobiologist. “Now I’m getting a dozen a day. Two teenagers said they didn’t want to see the end of the world so they were thinking of ending their lives.”

Morrison said he tries to reassure people that their fears are groundless, but has received so many inquiries that he has posted a list of 10 questions and answers on the website of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific.

2012

Titled “Doomsday 2012, the Planet Nibiru and Cosmophobia,” the article breaks down the sources of the hysteria and assures people that the ancients didn’t actually know more about the cosmos than we do.

“The world will not come to an end on Dec. 21, 2012,” E.C. Krupp, director of Los Angeles’ Griffith Observatory, declared in a statement released Thursday by the observatory and Sky & Telescope magazine. Krupp debunks the 2012 doomsday idea in the cover story of the magazine’s November issue.

Morrison said he attributes the excitement to the conflation of several items into one mega-myth. One is the persistent Internet rumor that a planet called Nibiru or Planet X is going to crash into the Earth. Then there’s the fact that the Maya calendar ends in 2012, suggesting that the Maya knew something we don’t. Finally, end-of-the-worlders have seized upon the hubbub about the 2012 date to proclaim their belief that end times are drawing near.

Maya-Calendar Morrison, who heads the Lunar Science Institute at the Ames Research Center in Northern California, has coined a term for the phenomenon: “cosmophobia,” a fear of the cosmos. According to Morrison, for the most vulnerable among us, all of the things we’ve learned about the universe in the last century have only increased the number of potential threats to our existence.

Besides fearing a rampaging planet, the worriers think the sun might lash out at the Earth with some calamitous electromagnetic force. They also fear that some sort of alignment between the Earth and the center of our galaxy could unleash catastrophe.

Krupp said that the scare-mongers would have us believe that the “ancient Maya of Mexico and Guatemala kept a calendar that is about to roll up the red carpet of time, swing the solar system into transcendental alignment with the heart of the Milky Way, and turn Earth into a bowling pin for a rogue planet heading down our alley for a strike.”

According to Rosemary Joyce, a professor of anthropology at UC Berkeley, the Maya never predicted anything. The 2012 date is approximately when the ancient calendar would roll over, like the odometer on a car; it did not mean the end — merely the start of a new cycle.

THERE’S MORE, READ THE REST.

– John Johnson Jr.

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Top photo: Amanda Peet, center, with Morgan Lily and Liam James, stars in “2012,” opening next month. Credit: Columbia Pictures. Bottom photo: The Maya Calendar. Credit: Mayan World Studies Center

More in: Uncategorized

Comments


16 Responses to The ’2012′ doomsday craze is keeping scientists busy and frustrated

  1. ANGRY says:

    HOW DARE YOU REFUSE TO POST MY COMMENTS!! YOU ARE THE PERPETRATOR OF ALL HOAXES!

  2. Geoff Boucher says:

    Angry I have no idea what you're talking about but, well, I bet you're used to that.

  3. Garbanzo Bean says:

    I believe that the Learning Annex over the years had listed seminars on 2012, emphasizing the Mayan Calendar. On internet sites, there are mentionings of a temporary cosmic event that would cause the earth to significantly tip away from it's current axis or position for a few days, causing even more changes in climate, then it would return to it's previous position within a few days. But seriously, I have to agree with professor at UC Berkeley, that 2012,according to the Mayans, signifies the rolling over of the odometer. But just "maybe", 2012 is the start of a new era…maybe enlightenment of some sort, especially if man made calamities effect the world order in the years before 2012, such that we'd have to approach global issues differently. My 2 cents worth….

  4. Alex says:

    Hmmm… isn't the real background of crazes like this not that anyone actually believes the world will end in 2012 or that anyone fears it, but that it (sad but true) would be kind of cool, if we were the apocalypse-generation?

  5. dereck mailles says:

    I think World war 3 is going to happen and it would be a nuclear war

  6. Rob says:

    Oh no! The calendar on my wall predicts the world will end at midnight on Dec. 31….of this year!
    Well, no, it doesn't actually PREDICT anything, the calendar's single-year cycle just ends then, and then resets – which is the only thing that the Mayan calendar does. Just because one of its cycles is long, over 5000 years, doesn't mean that its end predicts anything at all. But people, being the religious, superstitious morons they are, read all kinds of things into what is nothing more than a meaningless resetting of an arbitrary man-made measuring aid. It's like believing that the world will end if you use a 12 inch ruler to measure an object over a foot long, or that it will end when your odometer turns over – or that my Far Side calendar from Wal-Mart predicts the end of the world on December 31.

  7. nostrildumbass says:

    I think this is awesome. Mankind has been playing the end of the world games to itself since they were able to scratch markings on a rock. Now that info travels around the world at the speed of light,this 2012 prediction of doomsday will most likely become a worldly rumor/event. Who knows,maybe the civilized world will use this futuristic "non-event" to unite and finally realize that we share 1 thing in common as humans and take this place we call home…EARTH… seriously for a change. I say we start making a list of ALL the "fiction-ados" out there, and there's plenty,and make a reservation for 12/22/2012 at a real nice arena,if it'll be large enough(lol),and listen to their excuses of why we are all still around. Their treat,of course, from all the money that the next several months of fear mongering will generate for themselves.

  8. AJStarhiker says:

    It's Orson Wells and War of the Worlds all over again.

  9. Rob says:

    As for “astronomical alignments”, consider this – the body with by far the greatest gravitational pull on the Earth is the Moon. The Sun, despite its larger size, only pulls about half as strongly on the Earth, because of its greater distance from us. All the rest of the universe only exerts on us a tiny fraction of the pull of the Moon and the Sun combined, so an alignment of just the Moon and Sun would account for over 99.99% of the gravitational pull on us that even the greatest degree of cosmological alignment would ever cause. In other words, if there was even remotely any truth at all to the silly idea that some kind of planetary or galactic alignment would shift the Earth in any significant way, we should see such a disturbance every time just the Sun and Moon align with the Earth.
    But get this – the Earth, Moon, and Sun align with each other every 14 days. That’s right, every new or full moon is the result of an alignment of the Moon and Sun with the Earth. And yet we don’t see the Earth splitting open, or massive tsunamis engulfing coastal cities, or giant supervolcanoes erupting, every two weeks. All we see is a slight change in the height of ocean tides. Period. So let the entire rest of the universe align however it wants. Compared to what the Moon and Sun do to us every fortnight, the effect would be less than a fart in a hurricane.
    Do a poll of “born-again” Christians, and you find that the majority believe that the world will end during their lifetime, and that they personally will be taken up in the “rapture”. The funny thing is, you would have gotten the same results 20 years ago, 40 years ago, or 60 years ago. People, especially people who believe in some sort of supernatural reality, are simply conceited. They believe that they personally are somehow central to the functioning of the Universe, and that if anything as important as the end of it is ever going to happen, then it has surely been waiting all these billions (or thousands, if you’re really silly) of years just for them to personally witness it. Of course, there’s the additional bonus for the “born-again” that they believe they personally are so special that they won’t have to experience even physical death, because they’ll all be snatched up just before the cataclysm vaporizes all us evil sinners. No wonder they don’t want to believe in science. It constantly tells them they are so special. They don’t want to hear that.

  10. J J says:

    It is absolutely amazing at the number of highly educated people who are totally ignorant as to what is about to befall them. Yes, our sun's brown dwarf sister is going to do a fly by in 2012, between earth and Mercury. It usually flies by on the other side of Mars. The very LEAST it will do, is take out our electrical grids, and most of our satellites people! Watch that movie 2012. Multiply what you see by 2. THAT is what is most likely going to occur! YOU most likely, are NOT going to survive the fly by. If you DO manage to survive, think 5-10 years of nuclear winter, followed by 1,000 year ice age! Yellowstone is going to blow, and that will pretty much take out the USA as we know it. I wish I were kidding. I'm NOT! Google up Michio Kaku's report on how bad the solar mass coronal ejections are going to be in 2012! (He's one of the top astro-physicists in the world) Go ahead and pooh pooh the brown dwarf's approach. It's going to singe your ignorant asses! 3600 years ago, it devastated the Egyptians during the Exodus. 3600 years before that, it caused the great flood. 3600 years before that, it sunk the continent of Atlantis! Do you see a pattern developing here, yet? Go ahead. Mock Y2K. Steep in your ignorance. At least when you wake up, maybe you'll have the guts to admit that you were wrong, and will die like a man.
    J J
    In Colorado

  11. Geoff Boucher says:

    JJ, tell you what: Since you won't be needing your bank account in 2012, why don't you just sign over all your assets to me in December 2011…

  12. LaylaViolet says:

    That is just so dumb. For us Christian believers, only God knows when he'll end the world. Humans can't even begin to figure that out. How do we know the Mayan calendar is accurate? What about the time before calendars came into existance?

  13. 2012 is getting old says:

    I believe in God (like many) but I don't follow any particular denomination, as each version is a version created by man. That being said, God is not going to choose to end the world (although maybe he should) and the mayan calendar isn't a fuse that will explode when it expires. It's a circle, a big circle! If you follow the lines of the circle, then you just start over, you don't end. Seriously for believers, did you panic when "Day after tomorrow" premiered? Raise your hand if you ran screaming in fear every "Independence Day" and breathed a sigh of relief when the giant alien ships didn't show up this year. Hollywood can really get to some people. I plan on touching on the 3 big doomsday support mechanisms.
    1. the pole shift as the Earth passes through the Galactic Axis: this is not something that will happen in days, or hours and cause cataclysms. it takes a bare minimum of decades if not centuries or even millenia for these things things to happen. Remember, space is big, Earth is small.
    2. The Eruption of the Supervolcano in Yellowstone: Yes, it could be an enormous explosion, but hardly the type to end civilization. We're talking an area of 500 square miles. If you look at the history of the yellowstone eruptions, they get smaller each time it erupts. Doomsday believers need to learn the facts!
    3. Biblical and prophetic writings: I'm sure if I wanted something from the bible, or from a prophecy to be true, and I was so intent on finding it in current events, eventually I'd find something that matched up close enough to spawn a following of believers. Prophecies only come true after die hards make reference to the them after the event has already happened, and though I believe there is a higher power, God had nothing to do with the bible. There is no divine prophecy to be heard there.
    Finally, for those mentioned above who were thinking of ending their lives to avoid doomsday, use your preparation time to do some concrete research, and don't buy in to everything that you hear. Reputable sources will not bring Nostradamas, or the Bible into the running as viable reasons for the world's contenuity or demise.

  14. Annitta I. Lykins says:

    Only when the Earth, becomes the bug, on the winshield. Then we will know. No government will "establish" a pandemic histeria. Not, at any cost. They can't control the enviroment, or the people, on this planet now. So, why waste energy on something you cannot control or change? Common sense says you don't. It is easier and safer to deny everything. So, whether it's, 2012, or 3010. Someone will live long enough to say "WOW".
    I didn't see that one coming!

  15. YRM says:

    Well, at least people can't say down the road they weren't warned. One of the benefits of conveying this sort of material on the entertainment circuit is that the subject gets more widespread attention than it would otherwise. Having said that, the movie strays mightily from the pile of facts that suggest a mass species extinction is in the works. If anyone wants to explore the various 2012 prophecies and relevant science, they should check out all the History Channel programs on this subject and visit the 2012 section at thecityedition.com, which contains a fairly comprehensive compilation of articles and websites.

  16. Heather says:

    Ok, well here is my outlook. People will believe what they want as long as it entertains them. For those of you that want to end your lives before it happens…that is not a good Idea at all. For one thing, if you do that not only would you be kicking yourself when it doesn’t happen, you will be suffering much more pain in hell than a split second on earth because anyone who commits suicide cannot seek God’s forgiveness. Plain and simple!

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