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Doomsayers retain doubt, ignore science


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POSTED: Sunday, February 15, 2009

Nature is unpredictable, and there are any number of natural events that have the potential for death and mass destruction.

With a widespread distrust of authority and ignorance of science, you have a recipe for conspiracy theories. Born of fear and fed by misinformation, they can spread like wildfire in the vast forest of the information age.

More than 1 million Web pages cite a panoply of "evidence" that the apocalypse is coming in 2012.

The basis for this growing phenomenon originates from the ancient Mayan calendar that ends in December of that year, the last cycle that they calculated with their sophisticated astronomical mathematics.

Some Mayan scholars contend that the Mayan calendar ends on the solstice that occurs on Dec. 21, 2012, at 11:11 a.m., which will supposedly coincide with an alignment of the sun with the center of the Milky Way galaxy, causing any number of imagined effects that defy reason.

Actually, the sun will not come closer than 5 degrees to the center of the Milky Way, and on Dec. 18 rather than on the solstice. This happens every year with only slight variations.

Paranoia and creative speculation have parlayed this into a collection of convergent "evidence" from diverse sources that appears on the surface to confirm that a disaster of biblical proportions is imminent.

Many books and millions of Web sites misrepresent, exaggerate, distort and invent factoids to "prove" it.

Some factoids appear feasible or plausible to those who take the written word at its face value, while others are so outrageous that it is hard to believe that anyone could take them seriously.

One unenlightened speculation has the sun reversing its magnetic poles at the end of its sunspot cycle, causing it to eject a solar flare of unprecedented strength that destroys Earth's magnetic field, which will allegedly be weakened while undergoing a reversal.

This will purportedly cause numerous changes on Earth, the most absurd suggestion being that Earth will turn upside down so that the sun will rise in the west.

One writer to NASA's Astrobiology Institute Web site claimed that we are already experiencing pre-apocalyptic effects such as shortening of the day from 24 to 16 hours, that being the reason why the days seem to go faster as we get older.

Speculative doomsayers incorporate the prophecies of Nostradamus, the Revelations of John, and anything else that might vaguely support the notion.

The apocalypse of 2012 is also linked to a mythical planet called Nibiru, which is said to have an odd orbit. It supposedly enters the solar system only every 3,600 years and will interact with Earth to add to the other astronomical effects, which include bombardment by meteors.

There is no astronomical evidence for the existence of such a planet, although believers insist that the government and the scientific community are aware of it and are hiding it from the public.

David Morrison of NASA's Web site concluded that anger concerning alleged conspiracies about Nibiru came "from people who seem to want the world to end in 2012, who are upset to be told that this catastrophe will not happen."

The human psyche is a unique feature in that it allows us to conceptualize the future and cogitate the certainty of our own demise.

There is no guarantee that the world will not end tomorrow, the day after, or in 2012, and there is nothing we could do to prevent it or prepare for it anyway.

The future is a Rorschach and we project our hopes and our fears onto it.

Ignorance of how science works and distrust of authority fuel these apocalyptic visions with a collective consciousness of fear.

I would rather not know when the end will come and just continue unabated enjoying the Earth as if it and civilization will outlive me.

 

Richard Brill is a professor of science at Honolulu Community College. E-mail questions and comments to .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).