Dec. 21 doomsday rumours keeping scientists busy

Source: Toronto Star

Author: Kate Allen

Depending on the doomsday theory, the world will end on Dec. 21 because the Mayan calendar is expiring, or because the planet Nibiru is about to hit Earth, or because galactic alignment will cause the gravitational release of hidden asteroids (whatever that is).

For most, the pending apocalypse is wisecrack fodder.

For the small handful of scientists and science enthusiasts working furiously to debunk these theories, the humour leaked away long ago.

They say the frightened people on their digital doorstep are, at best, a troubling indicator of the state of science education and critical thinking. At worst, they’re a public health concern.

“It’s disturbing,” says NASA senior scientist David Morrison of the scared, sometimes suicidal questioners who have flocked to his blog, “Ask an Astrobiologist.”

The blog originally was intended to answer the public’s questions about the study of life in the universe. Today, it’s almost exclusively devoted to queries about Earth-destroying planetary collisions and the like. Morrison explains on the blog, for example, that if a planet were about to hit us, it would by now be the brightest thing in the sky after the sun and moon.

Emails about the 2012 apocalypse began dribbling into his inbox four years ago. Now he gets hundreds every week, a commitment that consumes several hours a day.

He doesn’t know why the doomsday fretters sought him out at first. But he says: “I know why they continue coming — it’s because I answer the questions. It would have been easy, and maybe even smart, just to ignore such things.”

Suicide threats are a weekly occurrence, and one came from an apparent 11-year-old. In fact, many of those who write him are “truly frightened” young people, he says.

“They really sound upset. That’s the worst thing.”

Bill Hudson, a California IT professional, amateur astronomer and founder of the website 2012hoax.org, fell into doomsday-debunking in a similarly haphazard way. Ten years ago, after he taught an astronomy lesson to his daughter’s Grade 3 class, requests started coming in from other teachers. It became a semi-occasional gig.

By 2007, Hudson says, children started asking about 2012.

“By 2009, the kids were basically terrified,” Hudson says. They were watching doomsday theorists on YouTube and reading them on web forums. After two tearful 9-year-old girls asked him whether everyone they loved was going to die a terrible death, Hudson decided to act.

He founded 2012hoax.org, and with the help of several others, began writing pages debunking the most popular apocalypse theories, more than three dozen in all. A team of 30 to 40 others help run the site’s forums.

In October, the website was averaging in 3,000 views a day. Last Wednesday, it pulled in 20,500 hits.

Hudson and Morrison met at a conference, Hudson says, and have bonded over their shared disgust at those who are profiting from these fears with books, bunkers and other products, and their shared dismay at the state of critical thinking among the general public.

“The lack of scientific education and the lack of scientific knowledge — scientific illiteracy — that is a public health concern,” says Hudson. Children and those with anxiety issues or mental illness are particularly vulnerable, he adds.

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1 reply

  1. Muslims may never be duped into such things. Our prophet Muhammad s.a.w.s. has told that nobody knows about the last day or last hour. It could be any time, not necessarily on 21 December.
    The important thing is that nobody knows about it. That is what Jesus a.s. also said. It is in bible NT. He said nobody knows about the last hour, neither the son (i.e. Jesus) not any one else knows the exact day. so Christians and Muslims should keep away from such rumors.

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