07 November 2009

Astronomical Pseudoscience and the 2012 Hoax

With the imminent release of the movie "2012" there is a blitz of pseudoscience on the internet that is helping to market the movie but is also unnecessarily fueling fears of "Doomsday." My view is that good science fiction is fun and entertaining, but the movie 2012 has opened a new chapter in viral marketing and the use of social media to misinform in the name of entertainment. The movie makes numerous (but inaccurate) claims of disaster based on changes to the Earth's magnetic poles, collision with planet Niburu, alignment of the Sun with the Galactic Center, and of course the prediction of this by the Mayan Calendar. Good science fiction is engaging and this movie could have been just that, but it is trying to do much more.

I've found a number of informative and helpful websites to counter the fears being propagated. NASA's astrobiologist David Morrison has been the primary spokesperson fielding questions for NASA from concerned citizens and has an excellent site. Andrew Fraknoi of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific rebukes a broad range of pseudoscience on the ASP website. The Universe Today has gathered a number of articles by Dr. Ian O'Neil that clarify the misconceptions associated with 2012. My favorite collection of information and debunking is on the 2012hoax website, which is a direct assault on the movie and the misconceptions.

I was particularly moved by the comments I heard by David Morrison on the SETI Institute podcast "Are We Alone" and by the 2012hoax website, both of which point out that vulnerable people will look at the 2012 marketing websites such as "The Institute for Human Continuity", the blog "After the IHC" and the blog "This is the End" as legitimate sources of information about doomsday, as a reason to give up, to commit suicide or worse. Anyone with a willingness to learn and understand real science won't be fooled by the blitz of pseudoscience. If you choose to see the movie, I am sure it will be engrossing. But don't think for a minute that it is based on real science. It's not even close.

There are genuine scientific projects underway that are on the lookout for real threats. Here is the NASA Near Earth Object program, cataloging and tracking potentially hazardous objects. Thank goodness for science!

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