Media FAIL *again* (HuffPo and Apophis edition)

By Phil Plait | February 9, 2011 5:20 pm

Oh for FSM’s sake. Again?

First, let me be clear: the odds of the 250-meter-wide asteroid Apophis hitting the Earth in 2036 are extremely slim, like less than 1 in 135,000 (and I just heard 1 in 250,000 from another expert). This is less than the odds of getting dealt a straight flush in five-card stud poker. Those are teeny tiny odds.

So then why oh why did The Huffington Post just put up an article about Apophis hitting us in 2036? With the headline "Apophis Asteroid Could Hit Earth In 2036, Scientists Say"? After I already posted that this original story was totally garbled by a Russian journalist, who grossly misquoted a Russian astronomer?

Sigh.

Now, they claim this info comes from a UPI article, but that article is pretty clear about the odds. While the HuffPo article also puts in the odds, they interlace it with a lot of doomsday stuff.

For example, they used a graphic illustration right at the top of a huge asteroid impact, just to make sure they scare their readers. They also include a video, saying "Watch a shocking visualization of what the event could look like,"… and the video shows what it would look like if the Earth were hit by an asteroid that was 800 km (500 miles) across.

That’s a little bit bigger than 250 meters. By a factor of 30 billion (in volume, which is what counts in impacts). I actually wrote about this video a couple of years ago. While an Apophis impact would suck (if it happened, which it almost certainly won’t), it would not rip the crust of the planet off and eject it into space, leaving behind a boiling, seething mass of lava and killing every thing down on Earth to the last bacterium.

OK?

Grrrrr.

So, nice going HuffPo. You’ve managed to once again mangle science and reality, adding to the already shameful articles about the Betelgeuse nonsense, and the nearly daily dangerous antivax and alt-med stuff.

Man. The least they could do is space this stuff out a little bit so I have time to breathe between debunkings.


Related posts:

- Media FAIL (or, Superstorm followup)
- Betelgeuse and 2012
- Repeat after me: Apophis is not a danger

Comments (103)

  1. Thopter

    Hey, they need something to impress their new AOL overlords with.

  2. CB

    Man. The least they could do is space this stuff out a little bit so I have time to breathe between debunkings.

    ZOMG, Phil, stop reading these things! They’re trying to kill you!

  3. Link bait.

    I think Huff threw out good journalistic principles a long time ago in the search for a profitable exit (which of course they got very recently from AOL). The once shining example of “new media” success is nothing more than the old guard in new garb.

  4. Jess Tauber

    I think these pieces are for my old ex friend, who no matter how I tried, could never wrap her head around the idea that the world was a rational, if often cryptic, place. Maybe if I put a spell on her….

  5. Now now. Don’t get all in a Huff.

  6. DerKlempner

    Technically, Phil, the odds of 1 in 135,000 (or 1 in 250,000) *are* a chance.

    Just a very, very, very, very, very, VERY *slim* chance.

  7. Steve

    Again, we see the problem with journalist without scientific credentials reporting on scientific matters. They are encouraged to sensationalize an issue that they may not actually understand.

    Where you say, “1 in 135,000 of (insert event) happening”, they hear “There’s a chance that (Only the most catastrophic outcome) will happen.” without regard for likelyhood of scope or probability.

    They don’t care how miniscule the possibility of disaster is, it’s just that it might happen, and that’s a juicy story.

    This of course is because “Asteroid might strike the Earth OH NOES!” is a lot better story (in their eyes) than “Asteroid will very very likely completely miss the Earth and do nothing.”

    On that score, I’ve maintained that there should be a separate class of journalist, one who is specifically tasked with reporting on scientific issues, and which are classically trained in the scientific method so that they understand what they’re reporting about and can actually report things accurately.

    They do this for Sports. They hire people that really know sports and sporting entertainment and put them in charge of a whole section of the daily newspaper. They can wax rhapsodic about sports facts and figures. But when it comes to science, I don’t think that many reporters are well versed in physics and probability.

  8. Kishore Hari

    I love the photoshop skills of the BadAstronomer.

  9. Tim

    At least HuffPo has SETI’s Seth Shostak writing for them. Although all he seems to do over there are opinion pieces and the occasional UFO debunking.

  10. But, remember, this is Apophis… meaning the asteroid is almost certainly possessed of a core of pure Naquadah, which will amplify the explosion a million times! ;)

  11. You can’t fool me. That is happening AFTER TEOTW in in 2012! Silly journalists.

  12. James H.

    The real question is: how can I make money off of the people who believe this? Thinking…

  13. Chief

    Looks like Fox just had another seminar.

  14. Jason Dick

    Let’s not forget that 800km across is about the size of Ceres, which is the largest asteroid in the solar system (it’s also a dwarf planet). We won’t impact anything that big because we can be quite sure that there isn’t anything that big to hit any longer, at least not within the path of Earth.

  15. Tensor

    @Steve #6. It’s not necessary to be classically trained in the scientific method to understand and report properly on science. I wasn’t and I occasionally write an science or a science opinion piece for our paper (and more than occasionally write a rebuttal to nonsensical reporting, editorials, or letters). I may have been unclassically trained (lots of self study with college textbooks), but I do know science, know the history, know the scientific method, and generally know male bovine exhaust science when I see it (I am also quite aware of my limitations and seek assistance when needed). And while that may sound like braggadocio, here are many other out there who are also quite capable of doing the same thing I am, and who also may not have had the classic college training. Look no further than the BAUT forum. If you’re not a member, the link is on the old BA site. The link to that is on the sidebar.

  16. Wert

    Huff Post is a bastion of ignorance.

    Which would probably explain why it’s so popular.

  17. corhen

    Thats no asteroid… THATS A MOON! (clearly a geologically active one too, to judge by the magma shown on its surface!

  18. TheEvidence

    This is either laziness or malicious weaseling.

    “Scientists can’t rule out impact with 100% certainty,” is weakly similar to “Scientists say impact could happen”

    It’s just a) misleading and b) has a lower information content.

  19. Utakata

    Thopter @ 1 Says:

    “Hey, they need something to impress their new AOL overlords with.”

    …someone needs to rebrand AOL as LOL now.

  20. According to that graphic, Apophis is going to put a fiery hot nipple on the surface of the planet?

  21. Jesus

    We’re all dead.

  22. Robin Byron

    HuffPo headlines and much of their journalism is the equivalent of giving shiny objects to our primate cousins.

  23. A comment from one of the moderators at over there:

    I don’t want to freak anybody out, but 2036 is a Nostradamu­s year.

    I don’t know what a “Nostradamus year” is, but after reading Dr. Plaitt’s posts today, I was too afraid that my brain would asplode from all teh stoopid, if I looked it up.

    Especially, on days like today, you sir, have my sympathies. Thanks for fighting the good fight.

    Off topic: On one of the other posts, recently, someone asked if Mars had evidence of tectonics or magnetism… there is certainly evidence of tectonics , and probably evidence of magnetism. Cut and paste this into your browser: cmex.ihmc.us/data/catalog/TectonismonMars/Paleomagnetism.html

  24. CB

    They do this for Sports. They hire people that really know sports and sporting entertainment and put them in charge of a whole section of the daily newspaper. They can wax rhapsodic about sports facts and figures. But when it comes to science, I don’t think that many reporters are well versed in physics and probability.

    There’s a good reason for that. Everyone who reads a lot of sports news is interested in sports, watches a lot of sports, and thus understands sports. So the sports journalists also need to know sports or it’s going to be really obvious to the readers. And there are a great many of these people reading everything from dedicated sports magazines to sports columns in the daily papers.

    Whereas science news in popular media is not read entirely by people well-versed in science, or for that matter interested in science for its own sake. They still like big dramatic stories though, which is what the journalists give them. The people who are really into science and understand it well enough to know when someone is completely full of it are reading Nature and other such publications. And those do have good science reporting. But HuffPo? No, not so much, because they have no need to.

  25. brendan

    Again, HuffPo is a cheap tabloid/nude celebrity rag for chain-email-forwarding baby boomers who think that they’re smarter than that.

  26. to be fair, they’re kinda drunk rolling in piles of filthy money.

  27. Sandor

    Poor Phil… Trying to save the ignorant from the stupid… Be careful that could end up sucking all your time away from your other endeavors.

    We get it though, so, please back to the real science ok?

  28. Snowshoe the Canuck

    #19 Utakata said …someone needs to rebrand AOL as LOL now.

    Does LOL stand for Loads of Losers?

  29. RayW

    The stupid. It burns!

  30. HuffPo – Just ‘cuz it thinks it’s Left doesn’t mean it’s Right.

  31. Beelzebud

    Hey Phil, I was wondering what your thoughts are on a website you used to be pretty involved in. skepticblog, which is the group that tried to start the Skeptologists TV show have taken a noticeable shift to pro-libertarian ideology. Recently Brian Dunning used junkscience.com as a source to proclaim DDT was safe.

    It’s easy to attack the Huffington Post, but how about a skeptical site that is using pro-industry think tanks to push an agenda that says DDT is safe, organic farming is pointless, and the jury is still out on climate change?

    These people are representing the skeptical community, and IMO they’re doing just as much damage as Huffington Post. Arguably more so because they’re billing themselves as skeptics.

  32. worlebird

    I’m sure you know this already Phil, but I’m going to make teeny tiny nitpick:
    “By a factor of 30 billion (in volume, which is what counts in impacts).”
    Actually, volume is not what counts in impacts, but rather mass.

    But like I said, you already knew that.

  33. KC

    The Stupid: It burns like the surface of a Blue Supergiant.

    AOL buying HuffPo = FAIL

  34. @ 27 Concern troll wrote:

    We get it though, so, please back to the real science ok?

    We get it, you are concerned. And, you are boring.

  35. … or rather, boorish!

  36. beth q's bff's so
  37. Derek

    HuffPost updated the article with a link to Bad Astronomy to show the big impact video but no mention that Phil rip and debunked them.

    If I were Phil, I’d be pissed.

    Flame war anyone?

  38. John Baxter

    It’s all about page views, not about facts (or even rational conjectures).

  39. Bruce

    Oh Phil, you make me laugh. This is the exact same thing you warm-mongers do. “If the Earth warms up just a fraction of a degree, it’ll be the end of the world!” Then Al Gore shows his mockumentary with shocking visualizations of what the world will become because of our evil ways. A picture of a polar bear floating on a piece of ice is added just to make the viewers feel sorry for exhaling that poison carbon dioxide.

    It’s amazing that you can be such a hypocrite and still keep a straight face while doing it.

  40. Messier Tidy Upper

    @4. Jess Tauber Says:

    I think these pieces are for my old ex friend, who no matter how I tried, could never wrap her head around the idea that the world was a rational, if often cryptic, place.

    Whaaa .. say again? The world is a rational place? :-o

    That’s news to me – if only it were true! ;-)

    Human nature and the behaviour of all too many human organisations and instituitions – such as HuffPo – is very much irrational and illogical. :-(

    @37. Derek : Flame war anyone? No thanks. [Applies wet blanket of moderation.]

    @23. Sman :

    A comment from one of the moderators at over there:
    I don’t want to freak anybody out, but 2036 is a Nostradamu­s year.
    I don’t know what a “Nostradamus year” is but after reading Dr. Plaitt’s posts today, I was too afraid that my brain would asplode from all teh stoopid, if I looked it up.

    Nostradamus got one thing right – he correctly predicted today’s level of human guillibility! ;-)

    (Shamelessly yoiked from a recent Letterman Top Ten list.)

    Especially, on days like today, you sir, have my sympathies. Thanks for fighting the good fight.

    Mine too. Seconded and thanks for your superluminous (beyond merely brilliant) blog, BA. :-)

  41. Messier Tidy Upper

    @14. Jason Dick :

    Let’s not forget that 800km across is about the size of Ceres, which is the largest asteroid in the solar system (it’s also a dwarf planet). We won’t impact anything that big because we can be quite sure that there isn’t anything that big to hit any longer, at least not within the path of Earth.

    At least not *currently* and not far into the past and distant future.

    Remember that Earth’s Moon was created by a gargantuan impact with a Mars-sized planet and there is a 1% chance that Mercury’s (over immensely long timescales) chaotic orbit may one day wreck havoc in the inner solar system perhaps involving interplanetary collisions with Mercury & Earth or Venus and Earth.

    Plus there’s the star Gliese 710 on eventual close pass to our solar system. It will approach to about 1 light-year in 1,360,000 years time (source : wikipedia – Gliese 710, have added link in separate post) and possibly seriously disturb the Oort cloud. Which could be a bit of a problem, esp. considering the Oort cloud includes objects up to at least two-thirds of Pluto’s size – eg. Sedna.

    Then there’s the upcoming Galactic Collision with the Andromeda galaxy and the possible effects that might have on our by-then red giant Sun to take into account! ;-)

    Not that that’s anything to lose any sleep over for our lifetimes and far beyond. So, broadly speaking, I agree. 8)

  42. Messier Tidy Upper

    See : http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gliese_710 for info on Gliese 710.

    See : http://kencroswell.com/MercuryCrash.html

    for the slim chance of Mercurian chaos & see :

    http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/badastronomy/2011/02/09/media-fail-or-superstorm-followup/#comment-357659 (My comment #31 – link to the ‘Felicia Day Collides Galaxies’ post by the BA.)

    For more on the Andromeda collision and the silliness of journalists trying for sensation and messing up on the science. Its a classic – if sadly too true. 8)

  43. Messier Tidy Upper

    @39. Bruce Says:

    Oh Phil, you make me laugh. This is the exact same thing you warm-mongers do.

    Warm-mongers? Really? :roll:

    Of course, one major difference here is which proposition (Anthropogenic Global Warming / Apophis impact) is supported by solid scientific evidence following hundreds even thousands of dedicated studies & has a majority of expert support.

    “If the Earth warms up just a fraction of a degree, it’ll be the end of the world!”

    Strawman – that’s NOT what any climatologist is claiming. In fact, they agree our planet has warmed up by well over half a degree already.

    Also, we know our Earth will survive a mass extinction event – it’s already survived many. Our Earth – the oblate sphere of rock – may even escape the Sun becoming a red giant. That doesn’t mean a mass extinction event (or our Sun swelling into a yellow sub-giant let alone a Mira like star) is going to be good news for us!

    Then Al Gore shows his mockumentary with shocking visualizations of what the world will become because of our evil ways. A picture of a polar bear floating on a piece of ice is added just to make the viewers feel sorry for exhaling that poison carbon dioxide. It’s amazing that you can be such a hypocrite and still keep a straight face while doing it.

    Al Gore did NOT invent Global Warming. Yes, his movie messed up and had some bad errors in it – but the Climate Contararians are guilty of far worse scientific errors and have to prove their case using the actual observational and experimental evidence. Not playing the man in ad hominems, not setting up strawmen, not cherry-picking from hacked emails but showing real serious evidence that shows :

    a) AGW is scientifically flawed
    &
    b) provides a better alternative explanation for the GW we know we’ve experienced.

    They have so far failed to do so.
    I wish we didn’t have a problem with AGW, I really do.
    But reality – not Al Gore – says otherwise.

    Argue about solutions to the problem if you must but denying the problem exists at all will only make things get ever worse and probably make the eventual measures required more radical and painful. :-(

    It’s analogous to many medical problems, address them early and the recovery is a lot easier, leave things till later & procedures get far more difficult, recovery slower and more risky.

  44. Messier Tidy Upper

    @39. Bruce :

    ..Then Al Gore shows his mockumentary with shocking visualizations of what the world will become because of our evil ways.

    The errors in Gore’s movie compared with Durkin’s ‘Great Global Warming Swindle here :

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N2B34sO7HPM

    & see here :

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o6tSYRY90PA&p=029130BFDC78FA33

    For Isaac Asimov on AGW “greenhouse effect” – long before Gore stomped onto the scene.

    A picture of a polar bear floating on a piece of ice is added just to make the viewers feel sorry for exhaling that poison carbon dioxide.

    See :

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=02EpAMm8rfo&p=029130BFDC78FA33

    to examine that whole “Co2 = poison” notion.

  45. Bob Studer

    Science doesn’t matter when it comes to increasing hit counts for advertisers, sensationalism does. Nothing personal, it’s just business…

  46. Solitha

    “ZOMG, Phil, stop reading these things! They’re trying to kill you!”

    I think I smell a new story… Excessive facepalming can lead to brain damage and serious delusions, including but not limited to: belief in GW/AGW; disbelief in astrology, anti-vax, documented UFO evidence and other perfectly valid science.

    *facepalm*

  47. IsobelA

    Eh, the Betelgeuse Supernova story is getting more and more ridiculous, too – I read in Stylist magazine how we were going to have two suns for a few weeks in 2012 (or was it later this year?), complete with an illustration of two suns and a mock-up of Factor 100 sun cream. This ‘information’ apparently came from un-named scientists in Australia.

  48. Inertially Guided

    Love the doomsday video–of course, I love just about anything with a ‘Floyd’ soundtrak!

  49. Messier Tidy Upper

    Hmm ..On second thoughts to examine that whole “Co2 = poison” notion this :

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WPA-8A4zf2c&p=029130BFDC78FA33

    is an even better clip.

    Look whose talking there too – John Boehner, then House minority leader, now famously weepy Speaker. I hope Boehner has learned a few things about carbon dioxide and the problem of Human Caused Global Overheating since then .. :-(

  50. RwFlynn

    #43. Solitha,

    Allow me to prescribe 50 individual facepalms per day for the next month and a half.

    Twice as long for #39. Bruce.

  51. sneaky hamster

    Sorry Phil, you lost me on this one… I’m switching over to the other side – they have cool videos with big explosions (…and floyd!!)

  52. As expected, Salon is running essentially the same article, including that video.

  53. Michel

    “The least they could do is space this stuff out a little bit so I have time to breathe between debunkings. ”

    They are trying to wear you down. Like a bullfighter who tries to exhaust the taurus.

  54. Gary Ansorge

    39. Bruce

    “If the Earth warms up just a fraction of a degree, it’ll be the end of the world!”

    That was never a claim of climatologists but it IS a claim of people like you.

    What IS likely is an increase in storm intensity in both summer and winter(Oh no, we’re already seeing that) and subsequent difficulties for several billion people but I guess for YOU that’s not a problem since most of THOSE people are little brown folk.

    If we were to get hit by that 800 km asteroid, we’d likely end up with another debris cloud around earth and (eventually) another moon. That would be cool, except for the dead ecosystem,,,ie, nobody around to appreciate the sight.

    Gary 7

  55. Nigel Depledge

    Bruce (39) said:

    Oh Phil, you make me laugh. This is the exact same thing you warm-mongers do. “If the Earth warms up just a fraction of a degree, it’ll be the end of the world!” Then Al Gore shows his mockumentary with shocking visualizations of what the world will become because of our evil ways. A picture of a polar bear floating on a piece of ice is added just to make the viewers feel sorry for exhaling that poison carbon dioxide.

    It’s amazing that you can be such a hypocrite and still keep a straight face while doing it.

    Go ‘way, troll.

    AGW is a real phenomenon – all of the evidence points to it.

    Obviously, there are local fluctuations and so-called climate sceptics often take local data and pretend that it contradicts GW. However, it is no longer rational to doubt AGW.

    GW is not the end of the world, though – that’s a strawman. If GW proceeds as seems most likely from the latest models, it will dramatically impact our way of life, and probably accelerate the anthropogenic mass extinction that has been under way for the last 200 years.

    OTOH, Apophis really isn’t a threat. We are each more likely to be run over by a bus.

  56. Timmy

    I keep people who read HuffPo that they are gibbering idiots that can’t find their own junk in a dark room and that they shouldn’t be allowed to breed because their kids would be short bus riding morons, but for some reason I can’t seem to convince them to be more skeptical… Maybe it’s my approach? Naaaah, they are just too mind-numbingly stupid to understand it.

  57. Dan I.

    ANNNNND it continues Phil;

    FoxNews (who else) has picked it up and includes this lovely line:

    “Now, reports out of Russia say that scientists there estimate Apophis will collide with Earth on April 13, 2036. These reports conflict on the probability of such a doomsday event, but the question remains: How scared should we be?”

    Read more: http://www.foxnews.com/scitech/2011/02/10/doomsday-determined-asteroid-apophis-strike-earth/#ixzz1DYx2WGGO

    Of course the answer is, terrified, very scared and keep tuning in to FoxNews for details on just HOW SCARED YOU SHOULD BE! Note how there is no qualifier in that sentence, they say flat out that scientists estimate it “WILL” collide with Earth.

    My favorite part of the article though is the picture, an “artists conception of an asteroid striking Earth.”

    Now I’m no math whiz (I washed out of the University of Maryland’s Astronomy Department and ended up in Political Science…thank you Calculus) but, assuming that planet and asteroid are supposed to be to scale…THAT IS A HUGE ROCK!

    Can anybody figure out the scale we’re talking there? That looks like something that would dwarf the K-T event. And last time I checked Apophis, even if it hit us, is NOT a global killer, it would be bad (particularly if it hit the ocean) but it wouldn’t be an extinction level event right?

  58. Dru

    That’s what happens when you sell out to AOL

  59. Tony

    HuffPo = HuffPoo. Moving along.

  60. cedric

    Fox news ran the story 2 nights ago too. They brought that guy from Discovery channel that does the “how to make real versions of sci-fi stuff” show. He said we’re going to lose a continent or 2.

  61. Dan I.

    A CONTINENT or two? If something big enough to wipe out a CONTINENT slapped into us I think the loss of the landmass would be the LEAST of our concerns.

  62. BD

    Salon also has it today, though it seems slightly more measured.

  63. DennyMo

    DerKlempner Says:
    Technically, Phil, the odds of 1 in 135,000 (or 1 in 250,000) *are* a chance.

    And since the target audience for most online media is the same crowd that thinks 1 in 195,249,054 is good enough odds for them to play Powerball, 1 in 135,000 is as good as a sure thing…

  64. Messier Tidy Upper

    60. cedric Says:

    Fox news ran the story 2 nights ago too. They brought that guy from Discovery channel that does the “how to make real versions of sci-fi stuff” show. He said we’re going to lose a continent or 2.

    Well, technically he’s right on that one statement anyhow. Actually, *all* our familiar continents will eventually be lost. Just like India went from being an island continent to part of Asia and Africa is breaking apart and Siberia was once a continent of its own. One day the grand geological cycle will once again combine all the lands of Earth into one; fusing up a new Pangea before splitting it up anew in novel variations on a billions of years old theme.

    But, I’m guessing he wasn’t meaning losing continents in the plate tectonic sense there was he? :roll:

    ******

    PS. Bruce, Unless the BA asks you to do otherwise, please stick around – I recommend you lurk & learn – but also please think twice before posting nasty comments using stale old lines that have been debunked a hundred times already. Before you post on the AGW topic again, I urge you to spare yourself some embarrassment & the rest of us some aggro and fact check what you might be thinking of saying first.

    PPS. I was a Climate Contrarian once myself. I got better. ;-)

  65. Nadim

    The way I see it is this. Let them spew out Armageddon rubbish that the end of the world is nigh. Those that believe it will be screaming their heads off. It’s their fault for reading such utter codswallop. Let us just watch them run about screaming like mad. :-)

  66. Messier Tidy Upper

    @ ^ Nadim : Tempting! ;-)

    Sometimes.

    But no, let’s not.

    Let’s try to teach them all to think better instead.

    Screaming people running around like mad tend to bump into others & cause hassle. Like bumping into me whilst deafening me even more with their yelling & spilling my beer. We can’t have that! ;-)

  67. kurt_eh

    Looks like the blog in which BA sometimes guest posts (Syfy’s Blastr) has also picked up the story.

    http://blastr.com/2011/02/2036-is-the-new-2012-that.php

    Funny, a couple of commenters over there have already directed people back to BA!

  68. Francois T

    When it comes to health and science, HuffPo sucks to no end. Incurring the wrath of Respectful Insolence AND Bad Astronomy in the same week should trigger every alarm bell known to humankind.

  69. Bob Terwilliger

    I’m not volunteering, but someone really should create a site dedicated to calling out the major news outlets on their bad journalism.

  70. Chris

    To Huff po’s credit, they have now included an update and linked to your comments.

  71. Kyle

    From HuffPo:
    UPDATE: While the Apophis asteroid is merely a bit larger than two football fields, it’s also interesting to watch the following visualization of a much larger — but only theoretical — impact. As Bad Astronomy reminds us, the asteroid depicted here is NOT comparable to Apophis, as the one in the video is many times larger and there is nothing this big being tracked that could reach Earth in your lifetime (or your grandkid’s). That was unclear in an earlier version of this story, which included a video that was incorrectly labeled by another site. Bad Astronomy has more background on this cool (and scary) visualization.

    Yeah they listened, kinda, to Phil

  72. Michel

    What´s next? Huffpoo directing their readers here for more info on vaccinations? After first scaring them pantless ofcourse.

  73. CB

    @ whoever that was

    Oh Phil, you make me laugh. This is the exact same thing you warm-mongers do. “If the Earth warms up just a fraction of a degree, it’ll be the end of the world!”

    Of course, that is exactly correct. Your impressive discernment skills and eye for nuance surely means you are the best equipped to get to the truth of the matter. Why, for you to even think of using hyperbole is, itself, unthinkable, and thinking of it being thinkable is more unthinkable yet.

  74. James Harmer

    Phil, I don’t understand why this gets you all so, to use the Americanisim, “riled up”.

    Newpapers are not in the business of coolly reporting facts. They’re in the business of selling newspapers. And that’s all.
    They have no moral qualms about printing distortions/untruths/damn lies.
    As long as they can sell newspapers.

  75. Paul A.

    At what odds do you think I should become concerned about an event that could trigger THE END OF THE EARTH! 1/100,00, 1/10,000, 1/1,000, ect. when?

    The chances may be slim but the risk is basically infinitely bad. I’m making a philosophical argument, but you are basically telling we don’t have to do anything, when there is a real, but very, very slim chance, that in 2036 we might have wished we had done everything possible to deal with this.

  76. Number 6

    Well, the only good thing about this is that Phil may get more exposure and follow-up interviews on his quotes taken out of context than if he was quoted correctly.

    If he had been quoted correctly, there’s no excitement or panic to report…He says we won’t all die in an “asteroid/earth” collision. How ho-hum is that?

    Yet, with all of these frustrating mistakes by other web sites, with Phil correcting all the quotes taken out of context, somewhere along the line some people will get scientifically-educated. And, that could be a positive. (Now, the caveat is that those web sites would have to print corrections of what they quoted Phil as saying…Do they do such things and/or is the text not so microscopic that people can read it?)

  77. Tom

    The clip that the visual is taken from is one of my fav pieces of documentary footage. It’s from the Miracle Planet, and the narrator in the English version is the great Canadian actor Christopher Plummer, AKA General Chang from Star Trek VI

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hTKau14cvQ4

  78. CB

    The chances may be slim but the risk is basically infinitely bad. I’m making a philosophical argument, but you are basically telling we don’t have to do anything, when there is a real, but very, very slim chance, that in 2036 we might have wished we had done everything possible to deal with this.

    No, that’s not what he’s saying.

    He’s saying we don’t have to panic because we’re almost certainly safe. However Phil is very much for continuing to study this object (to better learn its orbit and thus whether or not it will hit us) and to develop methods to divert asteroids and comets should it become necessary. That, however, is already going on, so hysterical news stories about the end of the world don’t really help.

  79. Chris

    The media response reminds me of this scene from Dumb and Dumber.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KX5jNnDMfxA

  80. DrBB

    @68 re the Blastr post:

    I don’t know who reph978 is (the entity who posted and linked to BA over there) but he/she/it deserves to go down in the annals of Greatest Internet Epithets Ever Conceived by referring to the Huff-n-Stuff Po as the “Jar Jar Binks of Science news.”

    At least we can console ourselves that Bad Science journalism provides rich opportunities for Great Internet Quippery.

  81. DrBB

    @76. Paul A. Says:
    At what odds do you think I should become concerned about an event that could trigger THE END OF THE EARTH! 1/100,00, 1/10,000, 1/1,000, ect. when?

    And yes, we have confirmation that people will in fact just look at the video and not even bother to read the article, distorted as it is. All-caps do not an argument make, Paul, “philosophical” or otherwise, and just so ya know, the awesome pix you were looking at? No relation to the actual object we’re talking about.

    Plus post-Syd Barret Floyd mostly sux.

  82. gss_000

    @75. James Harmer

    Except this is not a newspaper: this is new media and UPI

    In fact, papers haven’t picked up the story and I haven’t seen papers pick up something from UPI in ages since its now basically a press release site with little actual reporting. It’s usually just websites and bloggers that repeat that misinformation.

    Moreover, most science websites days ago had statements from scientists like NASA’s Don Yeomans that this was an exaggeration in the RIA Novosti article. People should actually start reading more of the science news that comes out on a daily basis. While not always the best and definitely not equal in quality all around, recently not only has it been accurate (see the Kepler reporting as it was very similar to what was done here) but its often been very timely as well.

    Frankly, I think people here find the bad examples and use it to reinforce their biases, always ignoring all the good examples. It’s like using the Huffington Post article and assuming that means Bad Astronomy is a horrible site since they both have bloggers.

  83. Well, when the big one hits, it is important to know what to do. Fortunately, FEMA has some contingency plans they can dust off.

    FEMA releases preparation guide for an extinction-sized meteorite impact
    http://www.thechicagodope.com/2010/07/22/fema-releases-preparation-guide-for-an-extinction-sized-meteorite-impact/

    Also, there’s The Onion’s take on it.

    Republicans Vote To Repeal Obama-Backed Bill That Would Destroy Asteroid Headed For Earth
    http://www.theonion.com/articles/republicans-vote-to-repeal-obamabacked-bill-that-w,19025/

  84. unlucky13

    When someone says there is a 1/250,000 chance of an asteroid hitting earth, what are they measuring against. In poker, if I played 500,000 hands and I got 2 straight flushes, then I could say that there is a 1/250,000 chance of getting a straight flush. Granted this could mean that if I played another 500,000 hands I may not get a staight flush, but I know that what they are talking about is rounds in poker. For a cosmic event are they talking about all cosmic events, similar events, or scenarios? So if there are 250,000 asteroids in the Kupier belt, are they saying that there is a 1/250,000 chance that this is the asteroid that will hit the earth, because of the number of asteroids? Or are they saying that the earth gets hit on average every 250,000 years, and there is a 1/250,000 chance that this is the year the earth gets hit? Or are they saying that 250,000 cosmic events happen per second that may impact the earth and there is a 1/250,000 chance that this cosmic event will impact the earth? So in the last scenario, the dice gets rolled every second, so the probability that it will be likely increases because of the number of times the event happens. Can someone clarify?

  85. Mean and Anomalous

    The HuffPo is a disaster! They keep disseminating distorted scientific information. Are they stupid or do they do this on purpose?

  86. fishskicanoe

    Just a question about Apophis. How much of that 800′ rock would survive entry into the Earth’s atmosphere? I imagine a fair amount but certainly some percentage would ablate off on its trip to terra firma.

  87. amphiox

    re #85;

    As I understand it, the probabilities are based on the uncertainty of the given object’s trajectory over time. The object’s future trajectory is predicted based on its locations as observed a different time points in the past, and applying the the known laws concerning the forces that may affect its motion (ie gravity). But there will always be some degree of uncertainty. Thus at any given future time, the predicted location of the object is not a precise point, but a volume. We know it will be in that volume, somewhere, but we don’t know exactly where within that volume it will be.

    So, if at a given future time, the earth finds itself within the same volume of space where the asteroid is predicted to be, then there will be a chance for a collision, which is quantified by the ratio of the volume occupied by the earth (plus whatever degree of uncertainty there will be in the earth’s position) to the total volume of space within which the asteroid is predicted to be. So, a 1/250 000 chance of a collisions means that on that particular moment in time, both the asteroid and the earth will be found within a volume of space 250 000 times larger than the volume of the earth, and if it happens that the earth and the asteroid end in the same place within that volume at the same time, there will be a collision.

    Or, in the case of the keyhole, it is the volume of the keyhole region we are concerned about, and not the volume occupied by the earth.

    As further measurements are made, the degree of uncertainty in the asteroid’s trajectory is reduced, and the predicted volume of space in which the asteroid will be found shrinks, and the odds of collision change. If that volume shrinks in such a way that the earth is no longer found within it, then the risk of collision falls to zero. If the earth remains within the shrinking predicted volume, of course, the risk of collision increases.

  88. amphiox

    However Phil is very much for continuing to study this object (to better learn its orbit and thus whether or not it will hit us) and to develop methods to divert asteroids and comets should it become necessary.

    As we continue to observe the object and increase our certainty about its trajectory, the odds of impact will change. It will either fall to zero or start to rise. If it should rise high enough, then something obviously will need to be done.

    The chances may be slim but the risk is basically infinitely bad.

    The risk is most certainly not “infinitely bad”, at least not if we’re talking about Apophis. An asteroid has to be about 10km in diameter or greater to cause global devastation/mass extinction. At substantially less than half a kilometer in diameter, impacts of objects the size of Apophis would cause severe regional damage, but would not be a threat to the survival of the human species (notwithstanding other concurrent stressor factors), and whether or not such a disaster would threaten civilization will depend much more on the robustness or fragility of the state of the civilization(s) in question at the time of the event than the actual damage caused by the event itself.

    Indeed, if Apophis actually does impact in 2036, we will probably be able to gather enough data on its trajectory to know where in the world it will hit many years in advance, in which case the damage will be quite quantifiable (within a range of error of course, and notwithstanding any mitigation efforts which may be tried). It will not be “infinite”.

  89. unlucky13

    @amphiox: Thank you. That clears things up. Now when they talk about these cosmic events, I will have a solid understanding of the ideas behind them. Thanks again.

  90. Stan9fromouterspace

    It’s a pretty animation, but like most of Huffpo, it’s there as total clickbait. I mean, I like my “New National Enquirer” as much as anyone, but I make it a policy, while there , to never, ever, click on a post showing excessive cleavage or $ara Failin’s face. I feel better about myself in the long run.

  91. Björn

    A Dutch news site also picked up this story, headlined “Apocalyps in 2036″ with an illustration of something much larger hitting Earth.

  92. Another Phil

    From http://politicalhumor.about.com/library/bldailyfeed3.htm:

    “Russian astronomers say an asteroid is heading toward our planet and will hit us in 2036. You have to keep in mind that Russian astronomers use empty vodka bottles for telescopes.” –Craig Ferguson

  93. I think it’s time to take action. I’m going to start selling Apophis-repelling umbrellas for just $19.95 each (plus shipping and handling). Guaranteed* to keep Apophis from striking the Earth in 2036. Buy one today to ensure the future survival of the human race! Act now and I’ll throw in a tiger-repelling rock for free!

    * 99.9993% guaranteed

  94. amphiox

    TechyData, #94;

    And make sure the warranty expires before April 2029!

  95. Keith Bowden

    “Never tell me the odds.”

  96. Falcon

    @70 – There is a website dedicated to pointing out bad journalism (and the media’s liberal bias) – it’s called NewsBusters (www.newsbusters.org). It’s pretty entertaining.

  97. Pen

    To be clear, though, this IS the Huffington Post. While people may consider it an actual News Organization (capital N, capital O), one should really use the HuffPo for news as a university student should use Wikipedia for a term paper: for the “references” section. If you aren’t reading those sources yourself, you aren’t doing your job.

    Like Wikipedia, it can sometimes be very useful as a place where information from a wide range of sources has been collected and condensed; but also like Wikipedia, it should never be used as a source on its own. Anyone who does so is risking a failing grade.

  98. Mike

    Ok, so clearly, in the very, very, very tiny chance that it hits it’s not big enough to destroy all life on Earth. But what damage could it do? There seems a lot of scare-mongering but nothing to debunk it as far as this is concerned.

  99. daos

    Apophis??

    nevermind if this thing is going to hit the earth or not (not), who named it? was it named before or after someone decided it was a (non) threat? and have they studied ancient egypt or are they an SG fan..? burning questions.

  100. Sarah

    Just to throw gasoline onto the fires here I’ve just finished reading The Impact And Exit Event – which discusses an impactor colliding with Earth (at a shallow angle, from what I can see) and then exiting as it disintegrated in the area of the Himalayas. The evidence used to promote this is mostly geology based and looks quite convincing. In fact I was surprised to find that all of Earth’s landmasses are actually connected (Google – Buckminster Fuller Dymaxion Map), which fits with what the author is proposing (thats not in the book, I found the Dymaxion map myself, lol).
    Other parts of the book focus on (for example) Mars and the author refutes any idea that Valles Marineris was created by tectonic upheaval. His take is that the surface of Mars provides a ‘timeline’ of events following an impact with another planet that culminated in the creation of the vast Valles Marineris canyon system. I’m not ruling this out given his explanation of how the impact created antipodal outcomes including the way in which the Noctis Labyrinthus (the western end of Valles Marineris) and the Olympus Mons regions were formed.
    I found myself cross referencing the books claims with what is available from NASA etc and have to say it was an educational and enjoyable experience.
    If you are interested the ebook is available from Amazon and from the website of the books name.
    I have just realized that this sounds like an advert for the book so I had better leave it there.
    Bye!
    Sarah.

  101. Arthur Kinney

    Yeah you scientists are so absolutely sure this flying rock is going to miss us, you went and named it Apophis. I mean most comets and asteroids are named after the people that discover them. But no this one you went and named after the Greek God of Evil and Chaos etc etc, I mean do you morons even read up on these guys before you name stuff after them? I mean what’s the point of naming it Apophis if its not going to reign down destruction on us? if you had named it something like Rose pedal you wouldn’t be here trying to explain how rose pedal is about to kill every living thing on earth.

  102. Yoda

    Scientists, claim themselves to be, do they? Sampling small, a dangerous thing it is!… Extrapolation, uncertain… (ugh)… Seriously, folks…

    The percentage they quote (a fraction, as a probability) is an estimate of the ERROR in their theoretical processing of the data. Statistics is an attempt to describe a quantity of observations. Too few observations and the risk of “embracing falsehood” is HIGH. Too many observations and risk of “rejecting truth” is HIGH. The two behave inversely proportional to one another – when one grows the other diminishes. Interpolation (looking between available data points) is risky at these two extremes. Extrapolation (projecting outside of available data) is FAR MORE risky than interpolation, because the analyst is trying to describe a region where no data is available…

    Jumps in probability (to the magnitude discussed here) should not be viewed as very encouraging. Sampling the trajectory in a small region of the available “orbit” cannot predict violent aberations (i.e. passing by larger astronomic bodies with high density and significant gravitational affects). That would drastically change the orbit and place it onto a new trajectory… So much for 2029 and 2036… Now, they’d have to observe for a new period to calculate the new path. How long until it returns after this change? Who knows? Be wary of what you’re told, and question the basis upon which the conclusions are based!

    Oh, and remember this… LOW probability does not mean ZERO chance.

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