Today I learned that I'm out of the loop of wacko conspiracy theories about the End of the World in 2012.
I listened to a podcast featuring astrobiologist David Morrison, who answers questions submitted to NASA's "Ask an Astrobiologist."
I'd heard about the supposed Mayan prediction that Earth ends this year (Morrison says that's news to the ancestors of ancient Mayans still living in Mexico), but didn't know that lots of people are freaked out about a large planetary object -- Nibiru/Planet X -- that they believe is on a collision course with Earth.
Of course, that isn't true.
Just like religious fantasies founded on unsubstantiated holy books, this one sucks in gullible people who uncritically accept what is said on You Tube videos and web sites. Amazingly, Morrison said that he regularly gets messages from people who are contemplating suicide prior to the cataclysm, rather than suffer through it.
One woman asked him when she should put her beloved little dog "to sleep," so her pet would be spared the fires, floods, or whatever caused by the Nibiru/Planet X impact.
Morrison said all he can do is tell people to relax and stop worrying. Since the messages to NASA contain no email address or other identifying information, there's no way for him to notify a suicide prevention agency, even if someone seems seriously suicidal.
A recent video by Morrison, "The Science of Doomsday 2012," persuasively explains why there's no evidence that a planetary object is headed our way.
So why do people believe such crazy stuff?
The whole Nibiru/Planet X thing clearly is a hoax, easily debunked by reputable scientists. But we live in a largely science-illiterate world where, all too often, those who really know facts about reality aren't trusted, while charlatans are believed. Worshipped, even.
Bottom line: The Nibiru tall tale is not based on a single crumb of scientific evidence. Nibiru simply does not exist; not now, not ever.
...But it’s like playing the arcade game Whack-a-Mole. You beat down one crazy idea and another one pops up.
...we live in a largely science illiterate society where the pronouncements of real experts are often suspect and derided. This is obvious in the political debates over global warming, evolution, and questionable alternative medicine.
...The Nibiru mania is the epitome of a pseudoscience: reject a huge collection of knowledge, conventional wisdom, and rational thought and come up with an ad hoc solution no matter how implausible it is.
For anyone who may think I’m being a snooty Nibiru-basher, all you need to do is post the planet’s orbital ephemeris here. I’ll get one of my amateur astronomer buddies to go out and photograph the region of sky where Nibiru supposedly is, and then I’ll gladly publish the picture.
After all, seeing is believing.
As I've said before (here and here), conspiracy theories are like religion: faith-based. On the podcast and video Morrison said there's about 100,000 amateur and 10,000 professional astonomers with access to telescopes capable of seeing Niribu/Planet X.
They're all over the world, living in countries with vastly different political systems. So the notion that the United States government somehow is keeping secret the truth about an upcoming 2012 cataclysm is unbelievable.
Yet many people believe it. Like Buffalo Springfield said in their song:
Paranoia strikes deep
Into your life it will creep