MSNBC interview: 2012, the year the Earth doesn't end. Again.

By Phil Plait | March 14, 2012 7:00 am

I was at the SXSW tech conference over the weekend to be on a panel about 2012 doomsday nonsense. Right after, Helen Popkin of MSNBC interviewed me about this stuff:

[If the video above doesn’t load, hit refresh; I’ve found that happens sometimes and refreshing usually fixes it.]

The panel was fun — I gave an overview to and quickly debunked a bunch of 2012 claims, while JPL scientists Don Yeomans and Veronica McGregor talked about asteroid impacts, and what NASA is doing to calm unfounded fears about them. Asteroids are indeed a threat, but that danger is routinely exaggerated way beyond reality by lots of folks (YouTube fearmongers, I’m looking at you). There’s no real danger of the Earth ending in 2012, Mayan calendar-wise or otherwise — but the real danger is the overhyped fear of nonsense.

Forewarned is forearmed. Be aware of the reality of the situation, and save yourself a lot of trouble.


Comments (27)

  1. Chris

    It doesn’t load the first time because THEY don’t want you to know the truth!

  2. Allen L

    But why would THEY block the video and not the associated text? Unless THEY are aliens and cnt red English! ZOMG! Aliens are here, Aliens are here!

  3. Chris

    @2 Allen (whose name is very close to alien)
    Unless THEY are aliens and cnt red English
    Apparently THEY can’t spell in English either! ūüėõ

  4. Mayan god Ah Pukuh reoriented Betelgeuse’s spin axis some 600 years ago Terran time, then popped a supernova. The gamma burstar is little more than nine months away. Earth’s only hope is to fabricate and deploy a giant orbital gamma-ray mirror made of mu,mu-H2 (hydrogen with its electrons replaced by muons). But wait! Though having a density of 677,000 g/cm^3, that is only a first ionization energy of 2530 eV!

    We have ten months to fabricate and deploy tau,tau-H2. One doubts the EPA is up to it. Start the human sacrifices.

  5. Marc JX8P

    … Unless the world has already ended and it’s only Phil’s awesome level of convincing-ness that we all still think it’s still there!

    Which would explain all the doomsday theorists and complottheories as well – Phil put them there since he enjoys a challenge.

  6. Nigel Depledge

    There is a theory, that states that if ever it were to be discovered why the universe is here and what it is for, it would instantly collapse and be replaced by something even more bizarrely inexplicable.

    There is another theory, that states that this has already happened.

  7. Chris

    @4 Uncle Al
    Unfortunately muons only have a mean lifetime of 2.2 microseconds, so we’d need to time it very accurately. And as for the tau, it only lasts 10^-13 seconds. Both are literally gone the second they are made.

  8. I read that the date “predicted” by the Mayan calendar has already passed because the Mayan calendar didn’t take leap years into account. Is that true? It might save a lot of debunking work if we can just say, “guess what, it’s already happened…”

  9. Daniel J. Andrews

    Forewarned is forearmed.

    You said that once before. So is twice forewarned an octopus?


  10. Jeff

    I’m glad Phil is frustrated with this psuedoscience/ATM stuff that seems to have cropped up a lot. Back in 50s and 60s, I remember people like those that promoted UFOs , most people looked at them like they were kooky. But with george Noory, Art Bell, not to mention Ancient Aliens on H2, , etc., this pseudoscience stuff has hit the mainstream so to speak. People are losing their marbles, and I’m glad a few like Phil are out there to straighten people’s thinking, I hope it’s enough. Scientific literacy is always an uphill historical fight. When some of those guys talk oh so seriously about “disclosure”, I feel like grabbing them by the collar and telling them, there are no aliens, dufus. This stuff is obviously the lowest baby-think that humans are capable of. Science is so sublime in comparison, although, as I’ve gone throough my career, I’m becoming aware more of science’s limits even.

  11. Kirk Aplin

    Of course, it could just be that 2012 (our calendar) is the year that Mother Earth has finally had enough and manages to eliminate the infestation of homo sapiens that causes her such pain and suffering.

  12. Jazz

    Since NO ONE can calculate how or when the earth will end, you too are full of it. You know nothing, but don’t have the ability to say the three words that lead to wisdom: I Don’t Know. Stop trying to debunk others thru defemation of what you don’t agree with and get on with some serious science, ok?

  13. Jeff

    #11 but I guarantee you it won’t be 2012

  14. Hevach

    Jazz, when a probability is so low as to be zero (i.e. the Earth is no more likely to end in 2012 than any of the previous four billion years, giving an estimated probability that doesn’t even show up for ten digits), saying it is zero is not generally considered wrong.

    For example: It’s sunny today, I’m going to go outside and I will NOT get hit by lightning. Pretty reasonable statement, though I’m actually more likely to get hit by lightning when I step out my door than I am a meteorite or chunk of airplane toilet ice.

    Anyway, I was digging through nutjob websites the other day looking for novel arguments to use against a particular crazy relative, and I found something interesting. Judging from the several flamewars I found in 2008-11, the December 21, 2012 date wasn’t even accepted by all of the conspiracy theorists until a few months ago.

    Since they just adopted the date from somebody else’s calculations and had no real understanding of the calendar itself, when they figured out in 2008 that the Mayans didn’t account for leap years anywhere in their system, there came the debate on whether the 12/21 date accounted for that already or if they had made some stunning discovery and had to correct for it, and if they did, did they have to correct from the start of the long count, when leap years were first created, or when century leap years were adjusted, leading to a total of eight dates (logically that should only make four, but they also couldn’t agree if they needed to account again for leap years cut off of the end in the adjustment, turning every alternate date into two dates).

    The argument threads seem to have dried up last September when the last alternate interpretation passed. People so sure their understanding was infallible and the 12/21 people were the crazy ones made the only logical conclusion when their dates didn’t hold up: They jumped the 12/21 bandwagon.

    On the downside of that, as far as I can tell, the original calculation (which wasn’t done by a conspiracy nutter but somebody who actually understood the Mayan calendar) did account for the leap year discrepancy, so the 12/21 group was “right,” at least that far.

  15. amphiox

    Jazz, “I don’t know” are NOT the three words that lead to wisdom. They are the words that lead to willful ignorance.

    The words that lead to wisdom are “This is what I think is true and this is what I’m going to do to check if I am wrong or right.”

  16. amphiox

    Betelgeuse isn’t massive enough to gamma ray burst, Uncle Al. Pukuh the Glorious One on the Mostest High of Highests would have done better to fiddle with Eta Carinae.

  17. mike burkhart

    I think I’ll take this oppertunity to set the record straight about the Bibles Book of Revelation. As a ameture Astronomer ,Catholic and Biblacal sclor I am qulified. Frist the book of Revelation (called the Apocalypse in older Catholic Bibles) is the last book of the Bible, it has 22 chapters.The frist 3 are letters to 7 churches in Asia minor the rest of the book is about a vision the author has from God, this vision is heavy with symbolism . It was writen by a man who calls himslef John (once thought to be Jesus apostle John but this is munch in doubt) probally about A.D.(CE) 96 or 97 . Now the question , is this a prophecy about the end of the world? No ,It is important to understand Revelation we must look at the age it was writen. Christans were being persecuted under the Roman Empor Domitian, John himslef is a victum , he is imprisoned on the island of Patmos . So what the book is realy about is to tell Christans to hold on to there faith and that the persecution will end ,witch it did. Revelation has allways been contrivesal and in fact whene the Church Fathers where cosidering the cannon for the New Tesament they thought about excluding Revelation but later changed there minds. In short Revelation is not the future newspaper and should not be read as if it is.

  18. Blargh

    “your video is loading”

    (Seriously, I can’t get it to work. It starts by displaying an annoying interstitial ad, then goes into “your video is loading” mode, then pops into a video selection menu with a “return to video” button, gloatingly insinuating that you’ve actually gotten to see anything)

  19. vic

    OK, I don’t believe that the Mayans (or anyone else) had the miraculous ability to determine the end of the world and built their calendar around it.

    But, if that doesn’t work, my alternate belief is that the Mayans did in fact design their calendar based on when they believed the world would end, or more correctly, when their world would end; but they were off by 700 years.

  20. vic @ 19:: “OK, I don‚Äôt believe that the Mayans (or anyone else) had the miraculous ability to determine the end of the world and built their calendar around it.”
    Don’t worry – the Mayans don’t either (there are still many around).
    And they are pretty pissed at having their culture so awfully hijacked.
    Cheers, Regner

  21. The Mayans NEVER said the world would end on Dec. 21, 2012. We have studied with indigenous Maya teachers and elders. My husband, Jim Papp was asked to write about this by our Mayan teachers in 1999. Now he has updated that article: Get the truth…not the fear-based misinformation and deception.

  22. MoMan

    While the rest of you are busy making great scientific discoveries, and so on and so forth, I have been wasting time….just a little…watching this show about “preppers” (on National Geographic, of all places), the paranoid of the paranoid. These people are spending six figures in many cases on food, weapons,and bunkers. Each one has a different reason…the economy, an asteroid, Yellowstone exploding…but they are all deadly serious. But in many cases, when you look at how unhealthy they are, you realize how inconsistent they are, being more worried about some unlikely event than they are about being killed by a drunk running a redlight, or their own diets. So, Phil, are you going to get a chance to address the concerns of the people on this show? It needs someone to say that these people are floating through the atmosphere, and really should come back to earth. Hey, I’m a former survival instructor. I believe in being prepared, but these people are the perfect examples of Thoreau’s statement that most men lead lives of quiet desperation. They just ain’t all that quiet.

  23. Bill

    If somebody has dedicated the extreme time and financial commitments that these preppers have, no amount of reasoning or evidence will sway their beliefs (sadly). From watching this show, many seem to revel in the admiration that they’ll receive when their “event” comes to pass and they are sitting pretty on their massive cache of stuff. Unfortunately they’ll just get overrun by hungry and desperate mobs ūüėČ

  24. Hevach

    I have to agree with Bill. There’s some people you can only really say exist, you can’t really address them. I’ve never seen anyone nearly as extreme as the people on that show, but I’ve had people of the same mindset come into my work (computer shop) demanding some kind of protection against everything from government surveillance to terrorist EMP weapons. Even playing along (telling them that if there is an EMP attack, protecting your X-box saves is the least of your worries or showing them information on law enforcement spy programs like Narus and why if they are being watched, there’s literally nothing they can do about it) doesn’t really work – they’ve bought into a fantasy so whole heartedly that they’ve stopped living in the real word.

    Ultimately, all I can do is do a full security overhaul on their computer or refer them to an electrician I know who can build them a Faraday cage at probably fantastic expense, and know that if the terrorists really do attack, it probably won’t work and I’ll get sued.

  25. Jeffersonian

    I already had to straighten out a relative who said “Did you know the Aztecs knew the Earth was ending this year”? Aside from confusing Mayans with Aztecs, I explained that their calendar ending was more akin to their subscription running out or the calendar-maker suddenly dying rather than suggesting a demise prediction.

    @12, Jazz
    Since I can’t calculate how many invisible pink unicorns are in my backyard I must know nothing, have no wisdom, and be full of it.

    Don’t what brought that up, but, the “vision from god” has been shown to be highly similar to the hallucinations that modern manic-depressives have, showing that this malady hasn’t changed much since the 1st (or 5th, counting Roman rewrites and added verses) century.

  26. Jeff

    Phil says this has been going on forever..2000 blah blah blah..this guy sounds like hes 5,000 years old…he may be in his 40’s, so who is he to give advice? 40 yrs on this earth is not even close to forever there buddy.

  27. Catalyst

    Holy crap! Check it out @1:50. It’s Bobak!



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