Saturday, January 23, 2010


If you have nothing else to worry about or just want a chuckle, check out the new doomsday fear. Someone is making bucks from this.

"Doomsday redux: Y2K came and went; now they say 2012 will really be it"


Todd Kinkelmeyer

January 21st, 2010

The Capital Times

If you’re looking for a can of freeze-dried turkey tetrazzini that has a shelf life of 25 years or need a handbook on emergency food storage and survival, the website has you covered.

The much-hyped theory that the world will end on Dec. 21, 2012 — a premise that is often attributed to the fact that the Mayans’ 5,125-year-long calendar ends on that date — has spawned a virtual industry, including movies, television shows and websites that variously entertain, explain and help one prepare for the impending cataclysm.

It’s not the first doomsday prediction, and likely will not be the last, as Peter Sobol, a historian of science, told an audience of about 50 last week at UW-Madison’s Space Place. In his presentation, “2012 and All That: A History of the End of the World,” Sobol surveyed more than 2,000 years of history to identify the many previous, incorrect, doomsday predictions — from the apocalyptic literature in the Hebrew Bible’s Book of Daniel penned around 165 BC to the 16th century astrological predictions of a great flood to the Y2K computer bug that was supposed to create widespread chaos.

It’s difficult to say when, exactly, folks started pinpointing 2012, but it was likely shortly after Jan. 1, 2000, when it became clear Y2K would not bring down humankind. The movie “2012,” released in November, certainly ratcheted up public awareness and fanned the flames of hype.

The most recent predictions of impending doom are generally tied to the Mayans, an ancient civilization that dates back more than 4,000 years and is recognized, in part, for its highly advanced mathematical and astronomical systems. “Some innocent guy probably said, ‘Hey, look, the Mayan calendar flips over in 2012 — and that started the ball rolling on all this,” says Sobol, who notes the Mayans themselves never predicted doom and gloom for 2012.

There’s been so much buzz surrounding these end of the world theories that NASA felt the need to devote a page on its website to debunk such predictions.

One of the most popular search phrases on the NASA site is “2012 end of the.” Brian Dunbar says it was important for NASA to address an issue that virtually all scientists view as much ado about nothing. “If we ignore the topic, then people think it’s because we’re hiding something,” says Dunbar, who manages the NASA website.

“People are coming to us looking for information,” adds Dunbar. “So we’re trying to set the record straight — the world is not going to end.”

NASA scientist David Morrison, who hosts a website called Ask an Astrobiologist, told the Los Angeles Times just before “2012” was released that two years ago he got a question a week about end-of-the-world predictions. Now, he gets 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,” he told the Times.

Earlier this month, History (formerly known as The History Channel) promoted a weeklong series of shows as “Armageddon Week.” Some of the programs that aired included “Doomsday 2012,” “Nostradamus Effect: The Apocalypse Code,” “The Bible Code II: Apocalypse and Beyond,” and “Mayan Doomsday Prophecy.”

Sobol found the connections between 2012 and Nostradamus, a 16th century French physician and alleged predictor of the future, especially laughable. Sobol says Nostradamus’ predictions go up to the year 3793. “So for the History Channel to call this the ‘Nostradamus Effect,’” says Sobol, “is to completely misrepresent Nostradamus.”

On a dedicated page on the NASA website titled “2012: Beginning of the End or Why the World Won’t End?” scientists set the record straight about claims that: a brown dwarf planet called Nibiru or Planet X or Eris is headed on a collision course with Earth (astronomers would have been tracking such a body by now); the Mayan calendar ceases to exist on Dec. 21, 2012 (it actually just starts over, like the Julian calendar does each year on Jan. 1); the earth and sun will align with the approximate center of the Milky Way galaxy on Dec. 21, 2012 (this is an annual event of no consequence); the magnetic polarity of earth will shift (unlikely to happen in the next few millennia, and even if it does, it’s not expected to affect life on earth); giant solar storms will hit (solar flares can affect such things as satellite communications, but these cycles have occurred throughout history with little significant impact).

Sobol says a fundamental dislike of science may cause some to glom on to destruction stories. “There are people who don’t like science, who don’t get science, and who want to see this way of understanding the world shown up,” he says. Sobol believes others simply use the topic as a form of entertainment. “It’s like going to a horror movie,” he says.

Sobol, who taught history of science courses at UW-Madison from 1985 to 1995 before changing careers to work in computer technical support for Wisconsin Public Broadcasting, has one prediction of his own.

“I predict on New Year’s Day 2013 or thereabouts, we will all sleep in and have a good laugh with our morning caffeine,” says Sobol, who holds a PhD in the history and philosophy of science. “And I also predict that before the day is over, someone will want you to know that the end of the world is nigh.”

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