Myth, Hype and Nonsense: Days Before 'Doomsday'
Myth, Hype and Nonsense: Days Before 'Doomsday'
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NASA has released a video intended to put the world's mind at rest about Dec. 21, 2012 -- the much hyped end-date of the Mayan "Long Count" calendar. Titled "Why the World Didn't End Yesterday," the video does a sound debunking of the misinformation being bandied about by doomsayers trying to make a fast buck out of people's fears.

But why did the space agency bother releasing a video intended for Dec. 22 (i.e. one day after "doomsday") a week early?

The ever watchful Alan Boyle at NBC News' Cosmic Log questioned NASA on this oddity and received a, well, very rational answer. Kinda.

"The teaser for the video explains everything: 'NASA is so confident that the world is not coming to an end on Dec. 21, that they have already released a video for the day after,'" Tony Philips, writer and editor for the excellent NASA Science and Spaceweather.com websites, told Boyle.

Philips attributed the video as his idea, adding: "I felt it was a lighter and more creative way to approach the topic than some of the other treatments we've seen. Some people have been confused by it, but not all. The unorthodox approach is definitely a conversation-starter, which was our goal all along." (emphasis added)

While this may seem to make sense, I was left banging my head on the desk. I keep hearing confused voices: "If NASA was that confident that the world wasn't coming to an end on Dec. 21, why didn't they release a Dec. 22 video on... Dec. 22? Does NASA know something we don't?"

Until now, NASA has handled the "Mayan doomsday" nonsense excellently. The agency first went on the record denouncing various doomsday scenarios during the sinister marketing ploys employed by the production company of the movie doomsday-disaster movie "2012" in 2009. Since then they have knocked down each flawed cosmological theory in turn.

David Morrison, NASA scientist based at NASA Ames, has been combating the doomsday misinformation for many years via questions submitted to his "Ask an Astrobiologist" website (an excellent summary of the questions fielded by Morrison can be found here). Morrison attributes the public's fear of this doomsday to "cosmophobia" -- a growing trend that's based on people's fear of the cosmic unknown.

Doomsday scenarios such as a marauding Planet X (or Nibiru), killer solar flare, weird galactic alignments and polar/geomagnetic shifts fall firmly in under "cosmophobia," and doomsayers that stand to make money out of doomsday books and website advertising use this phenomenon to great effect.

Also, the idea that there is some kind of grand conspiracy (i.e., the government or some secret society has some privileged information about the end of the world) is another strong factor. To many, NASA debunking various doomsday scenarios from their ivory towers of science is "proof" that something weird is going on. To those people, no amount of debunking or logic will stop them believing in doom and gloom, despite the overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

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