How Have the 2012 Doomsday Myths Become Part of our Accepted Lexicon?

by Nancy Atkinson on October 22, 2012

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The whole “December 21st, 2012 Doomsday” hype had pretty much fallen off my radar. I hadn’t received an email from a concerned or fearful person for months and no one had alerted me to any new breathlessly hyped end-of-the-word videos for quite some time. Optimistically, I began to think that the Mayan-Prophecy-Pole-Shift-Nibiru (et. al) nonsense was just a passing fad.

But, somehow it seems, doomsday hype has made it into the public’s psyche. I recently saw a local newscast that mentioned the world would be ending soon, albeit jokingly, and sometimes even well-meaning publications give the Mayan prophesies undue credence with unfortunate headlines. But a couple of recent polls say that 10-12% of people have doubts they will survive past Dec. 21st of this year. And a few conversations I’ve had with those who have been on the front lines of debunking the 2012 doomsday predictions reveal that an upcoming “end of the world” is somehow very real for a measurable segment of the population.

How has something that is steeped in nonsense with no scientific accuracy whatsoever managed to capture such attention?

Dr. David Morrison has been answering the public’s questions on the 2012 predictions for over five years on NASA’s “Ask and Astrobiologist” page on the Astrobiology website. Even after all the information Morrison and other NASA scientists have made available debunking the doomsday myths and providing real scientific reasoning, Morrison said he still steadily receives 5-6 emails every day from people asking if the world will end in December.

“These are for the most part from people who fundamentally distrust science and the government,” Morrison said in an interview for a podcast for the NASA Lunar Science Institute and 365 Days of Astronomy. “It is very hard to get through to them. These are people who… get their information from the internet,” (and You Tube videos and History Channel documentaries, Morrison later added.) “And among the kids, the information just passes from person to person. I’d like to think that the things I’ve posted and the videos I’ve made help, but a lot of people just don’t get it.”

And some people don’t want to get it.

“They are so invested this,” Morrison said, “with their books and websites and videos,” and when Dec. 22 rolls around, they may not want to admit they’ve either been part of the hoax or taken in by a hoax. They may end up changing the goalposts by saying they were off by a couple of months or years, like many of the failed end-of-the-word predictions have done.

Bill Hudson, who helps maintain the 2012Hoax website – a site that offers scientific information of why the world won’t end and a forum for people to express their concerns – says he has seen a steady uptick in traffic to the website in recent months and he anticipates there will be a surge ahead of December 21st.

“Most of the astronomical claims are easily dismissed, but a lot of our visitors have apparent anxiety issues, and the 2012 rumors set those off,” Hudson said. “So they realize intellectually that it is bunk, but emotionally they struggle to get past it.”

For example one woman has written in for the past few years in a constant up and down cycle of first feeling fears for herself and her child, then feeling calm when reading information on the 2012Hoax site, but then falling back into fear if she watches a new You Tube video hyping doomsday, or if she sees a big star in the sky she thinks she hasn’t seen before (it usually end up being Venus.)

Unfortunately, Hudson said, there are more people like this, who just can’t get past their fears.

Ian O’Neill producer of Discovery Space News and former Universe Today writer who authored a series of articles for UT debunking the 2012 doomsday myths says that he’s also witnessed how the “Mayan doomsday” has worked itself into society’s lexicon.

As an example, O’Neill shared via email a story of a person next to him at the gym watching TV reports of the recent swarm of earthquakes south of LA:

“The guy watching the TV next to me asked what was going on — I said that it was a USGS press conference to discuss the mini quakes. He responded with “Yeah, it’s not long until the world ends, we’re bound to be seeing more of this kind of thing.” A little taken aback, I questioned him on it (thinking he was joking) and he was positive that the world was really going to end and that he’d seen “videos on YouTube” about it. No matter what I said to him, his view was that he’d rather be safe than sorry — he’d stocked up on fuel and water.”

O’Neill said he’s found that among the public, stories of doomsday are generally accepted. “Some people know that it’s all crap, but others are totally convinced that it’s real,” he said. “It’s really sad that, after I’ve written countless articles on the topic and appeared on several news shows and documentaries communicating the real science, people are still out there needlessly worried, happy to believe a badly edited YouTube video over science and reason.”

The real unfortunate effect here is that children are being caught up by these doomsday predictions, whether by adults in their lives who are buying into the hype or by having access to websites and videos that purport to have the “real” truth and answers.

Hudson says the 2012Hoax site has been receiving a constant stream of questions from children who are fearful, and Morrison said many of the emails he gets are from children. There are at least two documented cases of young people committing suicide from their fears of the world ending, and Morrison shared a story from a teacher he knows where parents of two children in her class have come to her saying the families plans to commit suicide so they don’t suffer in the end times coming up.

This is almost more than anyone involved in debunking these doomsday myths can bear. Morrison called the people propagating the doomsday myths “evil.”

“These are evil people, whether consciously or unconsciously whose main effect is to frighten children,” he said. “I think it is a terrible thing.”

Morrison, Hudson and O’Neill said they all hope Dec. 21 can come and go without anyone else taking drastic actions that are completely unnecessary.

Asked what he will be doing on Dec. 22, Morrison said all he really hopes is that this whole subject will be dropped, never to be heard from again.

“I’ve never dealt with anything like this before and I hope I never have to deal with it again,” he said.

About 

Nancy Atkinson is Universe Today's Senior Editor. She also works with Astronomy Cast, and is a NASA/JPL Solar System Ambassador.

Richard_Kirk October 22, 2012 at 9:00 PM

Of course, if the world does end, he will be facing six years in an Italian prison for manslaughter, of the earthquake guys are anything to go by…

Zoutsteen from Holland October 23, 2012 at 1:55 AM

funny joke, but fails on reality of danger assesment. Example:
The odds of something hitting a space vehicle is small, but not because we fly blindly into that good night. Earth space Junk Tracking is a job. And would be an easy one 60 years ago.
That 60 years ago mentality is out of date.
.
As for the whole Mayan thingy … right, less then two months to go. Than we can discuss the accuracy of the Mayan calendar itself instead of thinking of anxiety and giggle.

David Allen October 23, 2012 at 3:08 PM

there’s nothing wrong with the Maya calendar, it’s the wacky misinterpretations of a few opportunists that are wrong

Larry Michael October 22, 2012 at 10:44 PM

Why are you not posting your articles to facebook? The last article was posted on Oct 12.

NancyAtkinson October 22, 2012 at 11:43 PM

Hmmm, thanks for the note. Obviously our automatic FB posting thingy is not working.

Simon Donaldson October 23, 2012 at 12:40 AM

Lets talk simple brainwashing, it’s quite easy to do – the Nazi’s and other scientific studies have proven it.

If you tell the average person something, again, and again, and again, and again – and so fourth (Extra effect if it starts from childhood), slowly, their mental capacity hits its limit on the subject and a seed of doubt and fear is planted within. There, I just explained the ‘anxiety’ so many people feel concerning this subject – kudos me? Maybe? Please? Pat on the back?! :P

Ironically, this kind of thing(The world’s gonna end, PANIIIICCCCC!) happens every ten years or so – some ‘big’ story about the end of the world hits the headlines (Such as the ’2000 computer crisis’) causing a small majority of the population to complain about it, often asking ‘what if’ and ‘will it really happen?’ – it’s similar to, in some ways… a virus… it spreads.

But hell, at core, this kind of behavior and effect – Is nothing but human nature. People get scared, and scared people make a fuss. Personally, I’ve no peculiar view on the subject of the Mayan Calender ending – although people are, increasingly, talking about it around me… But the sheer, as they say, fearful social construct that builds up in society because of it is fascinating!

Doomsday Jesters October 23, 2012 at 12:45 AM

It’s funny until it becomes dangerous. People are contemplating suicide and one girl in England has taken her life because she was worried about what December 2012 might bring. Nancy, check out my site http://www.doomsdayjesters.com for a laugh at all of this 2012 hype stuff.

balbaro51 October 23, 2012 at 3:06 AM

Maybe this is sad to say but i believe that people who commit suicide for the 2012hoax will commit suicide anyway.
The 2012hoax is just a justification in their head.

Olaf2 October 23, 2012 at 3:58 PM

No it is not.

There are many stories that actually prevented them from killing themselves because people fighting these 2012 hoaxes.

The people most affected by this scary thing are kids as young as 8 and young fathers/mothers that just are having/expecting a new baby. Yes, those hoaxers hurts little kids!!!! For fun! Sometimes directly. Sometimes indirectly because a teacher starts to promote it in school!

Anyone being part of this hoax, even for fun, is part of a mob that wrecks young families. You are basically a child abuser.

Melissa Cartun October 23, 2012 at 4:14 AM

“How has something that is steeped in nonsense with no scientific accuracy whatsoever managed to capture such attention?”

The same way religion has been doing it for thousands of years.

Richard_Kirk October 23, 2012 at 1:22 PM

Yep. Pretty much.

The weird thing is that there is plenty of real doomsday in global warming and overpopulation. This has a good factual basis. We may not be as badly off as “The Limits to Growth” predicted back in the seventies because we have made some progress, but it is still touch-and-go. Some people may not believe it yet, but is very much more credible than just saying “It Is Written”. And yet it is not getting the attention it should, partly because there is no point in saving the earth if the people who matter are all going to get taken up in the Rapture anyway.

Is this a brainwashing plan with an agenda? I can’t believe it is. Or if it is, then people are a lot more cunning at producing propaganda then I think they are. No, I think it is just a random thing that happens when large numbers of people can talk to each other, and the most purple stories are the ones that spread.

All the same, I do wish they wouldn’t…

balbaro51 October 24, 2012 at 4:03 AM

Maybe its the same reason that makes religion so strong

Fear of death.

Guest October 23, 2012 at 7:09 AM

So, does this Mayan calendar thing mean I can get out of spending a small fortune of gifts this year or that I can not worry about my January Visa bill?

Kelli Snider October 23, 2012 at 7:11 AM

So, does this Mayan calendar thing mean I can get out of spending a
small fortune on gifts this year or that I can not worry about my
January Visa bill?

Smalltalkofdoom October 24, 2012 at 5:14 PM

Sure, but if you are counting on the end of the world offsetting your Visa bill you need to give the gifts early as well. The world is scheduled to end on the 21st.

Paul Scott Anderson October 23, 2012 at 7:12 AM

December 21 just happens to be my birthday… ;-)

Alex Carev October 23, 2012 at 8:56 AM

After 22 December will be the new “time” and “form” of the end of the world. There is the “demand”. Will be offer. I think the matter – in the psychology. People have always liked – be amused and frightened by someone. Since from the time of the Greek tragedies and .comedies.

Prism2Spectrum October 23, 2012 at 2:53 PM

A sense of doom and gloom, shallow or deep, in serious minded–well informed–people, may actually have little to do with the Mayan prophecy nonsense, and much more to do with Global conditions.

Trends, events, conditions, seismic movements of the Geopolitical kind, Economic slippages of threatened catastrophic kind, and marshal rolls, echoing from various distant shores. All that and more, may be lining peoples’ brows with anxiety, and darkening their thoughts with fear. Don’t assume its all from naive, gullible Y-Tube viewings.

Science has soared to dazzling, undreamed-of heights, but the World of man seems to be cast in a shadow of many shades. Look at all the graphs (I did not say glyphs)–those that have not been massaged in certain directions, and selectively dotted with slanting biases: Oil and raw materials resources; wildlife extinction rates; the health (or would that be death) of seas, vast Oceans at risk. Ozone holes, and pocket-book holes–rising cost of living. Nasty infestations of plants in one area, and insects in another (forest stands …); diseases seemingly multiplying, becoming more potent, etc. Major droughts. Societies unraveling at the seams, on one hand; shifting Geo-political gravity-centers, on the other. No denying unseasonal, stormy atmospheric events (not referring to “Global Warming”)… A roll of harmonic tremors, with occasional ground jolts, regional shakes, and global shocks (literally, but more figuratively). The relentless news of all this may be playing into that prevalent sense, among some (a growing number?).

A prevailing sense things are just not right. Something is very wrong. And in a way, maybe the incredible revelations of Science (and, unfounded assertions of its science), has contributed to that sense, somehow.

Europe had its historic premonitions of doom–but they were regional, even continental. Now, there is no denying, problems have, or are threatening to encompass the globe, and are worldwide. They have, or are quickly becoming, Planet-scale.

Beck45 October 23, 2012 at 3:24 PM

Humans have a very large capacity for being irrational. In this case and that of religious nonsense however, it’s feeding a need for understanding, for some sort of certainty–a need that is hardwired if you will. The fact that such things are totally made up and have essentially zero chance of being true, apparently isn’t strong enough to overcome this need. And that’s pretty easy when you have no rational center at all in your brain, which describes 90% of the US south, for example. :D

David Mead October 23, 2012 at 6:04 PM

This also explains why people support Mitt Romney and actually believe he really gives a s**t about them.

Rex Bachmann October 23, 2012 at 10:19 PM

” . . . sometimes even well-meaning publications give the Mayan prophesies undue credence with unfortunate headlines.”

With this statement you are inadvertently furthering the misinformation. I, in this forum, and others elsewhere (experts in the field of Mayan hieroglyphs) have said it before and it obviously bears repeating. THERE IS NO ***MAYAN*** DOOMSDAY PROPHECY! There is no Mayan written text nor any oral tradition of doomsday handed down to us. Don’t blame the Mayans. “Westerners” made this stuff up (for moolah).

JonHanford October 25, 2012 at 2:23 PM

Mayan descendents in Guatemala are not thrilled about it either: http://phys.org/news/2012-10-maya-demand-doomsday-myth.html

Rightly so.

DatPrettyMF October 23, 2012 at 11:51 PM

Here ignorant fools that don’t have any clue about the astrophysics of Dec 21 so they dismiss the possibility of whats to come…a MAJOR DNA and Conciousness shift: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1q2Du_DkKbo

magnus.nyborg October 24, 2012 at 9:45 AM

And if that does not happen, what would that say about you?

SorlSee October 24, 2012 at 1:04 AM

That jsut looks like its gonna be really good I can hardly wait.
Privacy-Wonders.tk

James Savik October 24, 2012 at 1:24 AM

Maybe the crazy, paranoid shut-in lexicon. To me it’s just a lot of primitive hog-wash.

We will have forgotten about this in 2013 like the Y2K crap and the rapture that wasn’t last year.

Robert Bast October 24, 2012 at 5:43 AM

I find it bizarre that Universe Today feels the need to promote a 2012 doomsday to this extent. Yep, the text sure isn’t promoting it, but it seems like they giving the meme more publicity than it warrants. The mentioned polls were many, many months ago, and so the official reason for the post is an off-hand remark on a local newscast. Hardly reason for writing about something that had “fallen off the radar”…

Believe it or not, in popular media – that is, the TV, radio, print and web that gets massively more attention than a few conspiracy forums and blogs – the 2012 meme is 100% debunked. Everybody knows there’s no science to it.

So why keep writing the same story about it over and over again? At least on my blog I find new aspects of 2012 to write about.

PavelSmutny October 24, 2012 at 7:41 AM

Nothing happens,…. though North magnetic pole is accelerating
its motion 4x or more how it was 100 years ago,..there are so many
strong earthquakes per last 10 years how it was during previous whole
century,..last Mayan cycle ended so that tropical plants were covered by
ice sheet in Peru,..C14 evidences are there,..Milagros Los Alamos
cosmic rays survey results were ignored,………………
http://senmut.webs.com/apps/blog/ senmut.webs.com,..

CD Cruz October 24, 2012 at 7:04 PM

This story is a classic example Pseudoskepticism The Mayan Calendar was in fact the most accurate Calendar ever created. Done by people viewing the stars with only the naked eye The Mayans ended their Calendar on an astronomical event that happens every 26,000 years, and did so by including the Earths wobble that wasn’t discovered by US astronmers until the late 1800′s They built huge pryamids and structures with accurate alignments, without the use of metal tools or the wheel. The Mayans believe that the world has been created and destroyed 4 times in cycles they call the “Worlds of the Sun”. The end of the “4th Sun” and the beginning of the “5th Sun” happen on December 21, 2012 The Mayans believe that the God Bolon Yokte will return on that day bringing destruction These are facts not opinion. The story above is just smug opinion not fact

Shaun Steenkamp October 25, 2012 at 8:38 AM

So how do you explain the last few million years of human evolution? If the world has been destroyed and recreated 4 times then why do archaeological records indicate otherwise? I’ll tell you why. The Mayan’s had their own religion, just as modern cultures do. For some reason, quite a number of people have taken Mayan religion as fact. I don’t understand why. You make this quite apparent in your comment when you use the word “believe” quite extensively. Perhaps your subconscious is trying to tell you that you’re sprouting nonsense.

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