End of the World in 2012 (Cont.)

New Gallery: The Great San Francisco Earthquak

Yesterday I wrote about how Caltech planet-hunter Mike Brown was disturbed by a variation of the "World Will End in 2012" hoax perpetrated by a big media company's movie promotion that leaves some people genuinely worried.

This hoax has been floating around in various forms for years now, but it's reached critical mass lately (and one can only hope that means an apex, too).

Now NASA astrobiologist and asteroid expert David Morrison weighs in. That's good, because Dave is really smart, knows a lot about science, has been around long enough to see plenty of these doomsday predictions come and go (like the May 5, 2000 planet alignment that was supposed to wipe us out, since Y2K didn't), and is not afraid to speak frankly about it all.

It'd be nice if there was not really much to say here. But the fact is, from self-described (and underperforming) psychics to religiously oriented doomsday prophets (like the one who predicted there would be riots by Christmas 2008 due to President Obama's election) and out-and-out profiteers who prey on the basic human desire to believe, there is plenty of debunking that needs to be done.

Morrison has posted 20 questions, with answers, surrounding all this. In the first one, reproduced here, he sums up how silly this all is (see the key phrase in bold):

Question No. 1: What is the origin of the prediction that the world will end in December 2012?

Morrison: "The story started with claims that Nibiru, a supposed planet discovered by the Sumerians, is headed toward Earth. Zecharia Sitchin, who writes fiction about the ancient Mesopotamian civilization of Sumer, claimed in several books (e.g., The Twelfth Planet, published in 1976) that he has found and translated Sumerian documents that identify the planet Nibiru, orbiting the Sun every 3600 years. These Sumerian fables include stories of 'ancient astronauts' visiting Earth from a civilization of aliens called the Anunnaki. Then Nancy Lieder, a self-declared psychic who claims she is channeling aliens, wrote on her website Zetatalk that the inhabitants of a fictional planet around the star Zeta Reticuli warned her that the Earth was in danger from Planet X or Nibiru. This catastrophe was initially predicted for May 2003, but when nothing happened the doomsday date was moved forward to December 2012. Only recently have these two fables been linked to the end of the Mayan long-count at the winter solstice in 2012 — hence the predicted doomsday date of December 21, 2012."

Ah, yes, the old "it didn't happen but it still will" trick. Read more about that tactic in an article from last year by our Bad Science columnist Benjamin Radford.

If you're still a believer in the end times coming in 2012, or if you need more ammo to debunk the crazy stories you hear from grandma, the nut in the next cubicle, or from your internet-savvy 11-year-old, then check out Morrison's 20 Questions (and answers) about the End of the World.

In The Water Cooler, Imaginova's Editorial Director Robert Roy Britt looks at what people are talking about in the world of science and beyond. Find more in the archives and on Twitter.

Robert Roy Britt

Robert is an independent health and science journalist and writer based in Phoenix, Arizona. He is a former editor-in-chief of Live Science with over 20 years of experience as a reporter and editor. He has worked on websites such as Space.com and Tom's Guide, and is a contributor on Medium, covering how we age and how to optimize the mind and body through time. He has a journalism degree from Humboldt State University in California.