Doomsday 2012 and Cosmophobia: Challenges and Opportunities for Science Communication was presented as a Plenary Session at the Astronomical Society of the Pacific (ASP) “Communicating Science Conference” held Tuesday August 7, 2012.

Movies, “documentaries,” books, blogs and websites are doing their best convince many in the public that some kind of catastrophe awaits us around the winter solstice of 2012, and that its cause will be an astronomical or geophysical event. Some people are seriously worried, others are mildly concerned, while others are cynical about both the scare mongers and the scientists who rebut these suggestions. “Doomsday 2012″ represented both a challenge and opportunity for science communication and education. Panelists explored the basic ideas of the 2012 scenario, including rogue planets, end of the Mayan calendar, celestial alignments, pole shifts, asteroid strikes and solar catastrophes. They also considered what is being done and could be done in the coming months to help the public understand what is real, what isn’t and how the scientific method allows us to decide. Q&A followed, and a guide to other resources follows.

Below are the videos from each panelist:


David Morrison, Ph.D.; excerpts from “Doomsday 2012 and Cosmophobia: Challenges and Opportunities for Science Communication” presented as a Plenary Session at the Astronomical Society of the Pacific (ASP) “Communicating Science Conference” held Tuesday August 7, 2012. Video Credit:NLSI

David Morrison is the Director of the Carl Sagan Center for the Study of Life in the Universe at the SETI Institute and is the Senior Scientist at the NASA Lunar Science Institute. Dr. Morrison is one of the founders of the multidisciplinary field of astrobiology, and he is also an authority on asteroids and the asteroid impact hazard. He has written extensively about the struggle against pseudoscience, such as the denial of evolution and global warming, and today he is one of the most outspoken scientists exposing the hoax of doomsday 2012.


Kristine Larsen, Ph.D.; excerpts from “Doomsday 2012 and Cosmophobia: Challenges and Opportunities for Science Communication” presented as a Plenary Session at the Astronomical Society of the Pacific (ASP) “Communicating Science Conference” held Tuesday August 7, 2012. Video Credit:NLSI

Kristine Larsen is Professor of Physics and Astronomy at Central Connecticut State University where she also teaches classes in debunking pseudo-sciences. In recent years she has presented on the 2012 phenomenon to numerous professional and public groups. She is also a contributor to the website 2012hoax.org.


Bryan Mendez, Ph.D.; excerpts from “Doomsday 2012 and Cosmophobia: Challenges and Opportunities for Science Communication” presented as a Plenary Session at the Astronomical Society of the Pacific (ASP) “Communicating Science Conference” held Tuesday August 7, 2012. Video Credit:NLSI

Bryan Méndez is an Astronomer & Education Specialist at the Center for Science Education at the UC Berkeley Space Sciences Laboratory where he conducts programs for the public through the web and museums, develops classroom materials for K-12 students, and conducts professional development for science educators. He has a B.S. in physics and astronomy and a B.M.A. in saxophone performance from the University of Michigan, and a Ph.D. in astrophysics from the University of California at Berkeley. Bryan is bicultural, of Mexican and European backgrounds, and strives to foster diverse perspectives in his work.


Mark Van Stone, Ph.D.; excerpts from “Doomsday 2012 and Cosmophobia: Challenges and Opportunities for Science Communication” presented as a Plenary Session at the Astronomical Society of the Pacific (ASP) “Communicating Science Conference” held Tuesday August 7, 2012. Video Credit:NLSI

Mark Van Stone, an autodidact calligrapher, won a Guggenheim Fellowship to study the history of written forms in 1988. He earned his doctorate in Maya hieroglyphs in 2005 at the University of Texas, coauthored “Reading the Maya Glyphs” with Michael D. Coe in 2001, and wrote and published “2012: Science and Prophecy of the Ancient Maya” in 2010. Currently, he teaches art history at Southwestern College, in Chula Vista, California.


Question and answer session from “Doomsday 2012 and Cosmophobia: Challenges and Opportunities for Science Communication” presented as a Plenary Session at the Astronomical Society of the Pacific (ASP) “Communicating Science Conference” held Tuesday August 7, 2012. Video Credit:NLSI

Moderator Andrew Fraknoi is the Chair of the Astronomy Program at Foothill College, Senior Educator at the Astronomical Society of the Pacific, and the Founding Co-editor of Astronomy Education Review. A Fellow of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry, he has written and lectured over several decades on techniques and resources for dealing with the astronomical pseudo-sciences. His hobby is compiling bibliographies, and he will distribute a guide to “Doomsday 2012″ resources at the conference.

Letter from David Morrison, July 2012

Many young people are afraid of the cosmos. Perhaps stimulated by exaggerated press releases and by the hyperbolic videos common on TV and the Internet, people are fearful of many things that scientists consider quite ordinary. The Sun and solar activity are high on the list of threats that people worry about. Some are convinced that the Sun is certain to produce a giant outburst within the next year that will silence space communications satellites and destroy our electrical distribution system on Earth. Others are afraid of asteroid or comet impacts, or that nearby stars will explode and bath the Earth in lethal radiation. People write to me saying they are unable to sleep out of fear of the galactic center, or the Andromeda galaxy, or the star Betelgeuse. But by far the worst outbreak of cosmophobia deals with predictions that the world will end on December 21, 2012.

Stories about the fictional planet Nibiru and predictions of doomsday in December 2012 have blossomed on the Internet. There are more than 300 books listed on Amazon.com dealing with the supposed 2012 doomsday. Children are especially vulnerable, with many writing to say they are unable to sleep and are even contemplating suicide before the world ends in December. A May 2012 poll reveals that two out of ten Americans participating believe that that Doomsday is on the way and one in ten do not expect to survive past December 21 of this year. Every elementary and middle school teacher that I have talked with says that their students are all talking about the December doomsday, and many are greatly upset by the prospect of dying in just a few months along with their families and everyone else. One California teacher told me that the parents of two of her students had told her that they were planning to kill their children and themselves before the December 21 catastrophe.

There are many elements to the 2012 doomsday hoax. They most commonly involve a rogue planet, called Nibiru or Hercubolus or Planet X, which is supposedly entering the solar system and will collide with the Earth on December 21. Another thread blames the coming destruction on an alignment of planets, or a line-up of the Earth-Sun-Galactic center. Many people who dread the next winter solstice base their fear on a supposed prediction of apocalypse by the ancient Mayans, without articulating any particular scenario for the end of the Earth. One thing all of these stories have in common is a complete lack of rational evidence to support them. This is all fantasy, from the Mayan prediction to the incoming rogue planet. When scientists or government agencies like NASA point out that more than 100,000 astronomers have failed to see this rogue planet or that there has been not the slightest shift in planetary orbits due to gravity, they are generally accused of suppressing the information. They claim a grand conspiracy to deny the truth, while governments are frantically building underground bunkers to serve as a refuge for the selected elite, leaving the bulk of the population to die on the surface.

This is a sad, complex story spread by thousands of conspiracy theory websites and YouTube videos. Dozens of documentaries about the coming doomsday are repeatedly rebroadcast on several cable channels. Millions of people believe in a December 21 doomsday and dismiss all scientific evidence to the contrary. For those who want to examine the details of the arguments and counter arguments, there are two good resources. One is the summary of issues on my NASA Astrobiology website. The other is a comprehensive private website called 2012hoax.

Following is list of additional resources for those who are interested:
• NASA home page story 2012: Beginning of the End or Why the World Won’t End?
• Neil de Grassse Tyson posted a nice video clip on the Nibiru-2012 issue.
• Wikipedia has several useful entries. Start with 2012 Phenomenon, Nibiru Collision, then look at Nibiru Mythology and Nibiru Sitchin. Also informative is the entry for 2012 doomsday predictions.
• For a detailed description of the origin of the Planet X / Nibiru cult see the discussion by Phil Plait on his Badastronomy website.
• Detailed debunking of the Sitchin fantasies about the Sumerian god Nibiru are found at Mike Heiser’s website Sitchin-is-wrong
• There is an excellent short video by JPL’s Don Yeomans, and another video with Dr. Yeomans titled NASA Response to Crazy 2012 Claims
• I have posted three short videos on YouTube:
The Truth about 2012

The Truth about Comet Elenin

The Truth about Nibiru

For additional resources for responding to Doomsday 2012, read our Doomsday Fact Sheet.

Also, here is a great article by Dan Duray about Dr. Morrison’s efforts to dispel the doomsday hoax.

Posted by: Soderman/NLSI Staff
Source: David Morrison

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