2012 – The end of the world and scientific misinformation

Each year, predictions of major discoveries, new developments and breathtaking scientific breakthroughs are published in scientific journals across the world. More than in previous years, previews of 2012 are dominated by pseudo-scientific predictions and conspiracy theories.

2012: The end of the world!

Scientific misinformation about 2012 has been ramping up for years, with more than 200 books and 1,000 websites purporting to explain various doomsday scenarios. Discovery News and other magazines like Science follow up on the “doomsday hype” by asking experts what we, the amateurs, should know about the myths and rumours fanned by pseudo-science and blockbuster movies.

Discovery, for example, asked NASA if the world will end in 2012 by a collision with the famous planet Nibiru. But NASA, despite of having seen the movie “2012”, is certain, that there will be no collision with the planet previously known as Planet X. David Morrison, director of SETI, CSI Fellow and Senior Scientist at NASA’s Astrobiology Institute at Ames Research Center, receives 20 to 25 emails a week about the impending arrival of Nibiru: some are frightened, others angry and naming him as part of the conspiracy to keep the truth of the impending apocalypse from the public. Morrison mentioned in a lecture recorded on FORA.tv “that there is a huge disconnect between the large number of people on the Internet who believe in Nibiru’s arrival in 2012 and the majority of scientists who have never heard of it.”

Another widespread opinion is, that according to the ancient Mayan calendar, the Earth will cease to exist on December 21, 2012. Fact is, that in 2012 on December 21 a period named B’ak’tun will end and the so-called “Long Count” marks the end of a 5125 year long era. But in contrast to the belief of apocalyptic disaster supporters, this will only mark the beginning of the new 14th B’ak’tun, a period of roughly 394 years. In a USA Today article, Sandra Noble, executive director of the Mesoamerican research organization FAMSI, notes that “for the ancient Maya, it was a huge celebration to make it to the end of a whole cycle”. She considers the portrayal of December 2012 as a doomsday or cosmic-shift event to be “a complete fabrication and a chance for a lot of people to cash in.”

The year of the Higgs

The BBC focuses in its preview of the scientific year 2012 on which scientific discoveries lie just around the corner. And it looks like 2012 could be the year of the Higgs Boson. In accord with Science Magazine, the discovery of the Higgs Boson is scheduled for March 2012, when the Large Hadron Collider will restart.

Another common topic among top ranked publications is the “Mission to Mars”. In August 2012, the Mars Science Lab (MSL), also called the Curiosity rover, will reach the red planet. The autonomous robot vehicle is aiming to land in a 150 km wide depression at Mars’ equator, the Gale Crater. The rover, equipped with optical cameras, laser scanning systems and other geo-chemical gadgets will take samples of Mars rocks. This will unveil the history of the rust-coloured planet.

Whether it is Mars, the Higgs Boson or the End of the World, 2012 will be an exciting year for scientists all over the world. Now, let us know what you think about the scientific year 2012. What do think will be the top scientific story to make headlines over the coming year?

Simon Schneider
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