End of the world? Mayan doomsday the latest hoax

Saturday, January 7th 2012. | Science News

End of the world 2012So here we are in 2012, a new year full of hope and promise. My heart sings with possibilities.

But somewhere, someone is already predicting the end of the world. Bummer.

If this prediction sounds vaguely familiar, you’re right. We’ve heard it before, and I suspect the hype over imminent destruction and mass extinction appeals to the doomsayer in all of us. Deadlines tend to make us work faster. As a journalist, I know that better than most.

This year the apocalyptic prophesies have the same logic and rationale as past ones — which is to say, they are based on nothing. Nevertheless, the Internet is abuzz with the news that on Dec 21 we’re done. Kaput.

Life as we know it will … actually, I’m not sure what happens after the catastrophe. In any case, it won’t matter. We will all be fried, drowned or swallowed up by a hungry earth, along with our worldly possessions, including the two pineapple plants I just potted, the Barbie skates Santa Claus brought my granddaughters and the file cabinet I so carefully organized over the holidays. So not fair.

Dec. 21 is the new Judgment Day. Believers arrived at this date after examining the Mayan calendar which, according to somewhat circuitous interpretations, forecasts the end of the world. According to this line of thinking, the date of reckoning — in Mayan numerology, which corresponds to this year’s winter’s solstice — was carved on a stone plaque in a building in Mexico and discovered by Mayan scholars in 1996. Some experts claimed the date was a prediction of disaster; others debunked the notion. Guess which theory grabbed attention.

A book followed, as did a movie. It went nowhere in theaters, but a viral marketing campaign caught on, and it ended up selling a respectable number of DVDs.

Of course, plenty of scientists have issued reassurances to the contrary, including this succinct one from physicist Ian O’Neill: “There’s no evidence to suggest the Mayans believed the end of their Long Count calendar would spell doomsday.” But such statements have done little to quell the quacks.

One woman and her followers believe a rogue planet named Nibiru will collide with Earth. Never mind that no such planet exists. Others say stars might line up in ways that will cause massive flooding. No stellar realignment is expected in December, but why let facts get in the way?

The Mayan calendar is the latest in a long line of dread and panic divinations. Last year, preacher Harold Camping warned that the world would end on May 21. When it staggered on, he recalculated doomsday as Oct. 21, but that date came and went and no Christians ascended to heaven. Nor did earth ignite into a fireball. Before Camping, there was Y2K, Pat Robertson’s 1982 prediction, the 1910 Halley’s Comet and 1844’s Judgment Day, to name a few.

I don’t know why one might want to invent catastrophes. There are plenty of real ones to go around, both natural and manmade. But fear, I suspect, is so much more exciting than the humdrum of existence. Maybe it’s energizing, in a perverse kind of way, to know the end is nigh.

Future doomsayers might want to note, however, that through the mess of history, the chaos that is our collective existence, humanity has kept on trucking. And it will truck on, come hell or high water.

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