Apocalypse Soon?

The other night I went to see the new remake of the science fiction classic The Day the Earth Stood Still (you might say that that’s my own fault, and you would be right). It was chock full of wacky science, plot holes and a performance by Keanu Reeves that make cabbages look downright emotive. However the most troubling part of the whole experience came before the movie even began. The teaser trailer for the upcoming film “2012” flashed across the screen, and I nearly walked out.

I never thought I would see a movie advertisement that actively disparaged real science outright. But there it was, in big white letters.

The film’s overall premise sounds like your typical end of the world faire. A group of people have to struggle to survive against the oncoming apocalypse which includes storms, volcanoes and glaciers. I would expect the same kind of attention to scientific detail that you see in a movie like The Core, but really nothing to rustle any feathers. 2012 refers to the year that the Mayan Long Count Calendar runs out, and apparently is the harbinger of Armageddon. Last time I checked, when any of my calendars run out, the world doesn’t end, I just have to buy a new calendar. But it sounds like a half decent excuse to see major metropolitan areas get leveled on screen for the umpteenth time.

The problem is that there are a lot of people who really believe the end is going to come in 2012, and they’ve been using a lot of very bad pseudoscience to “prove it.” This is where things start getting ugly. The only actual information in the trailer is a few sentences spliced between scenes of destruction. They read:

“How would the governments of our planet prepare six billion people for the end
of the world? They wouldn’t. Find out the Truth; Google: 2012″

When I typed “2012” into Google, the film’s webpage didn’t appear until the 7th page, and even then because of poor marketing, the only thing on it is the trailer. I had to wade through pages and pages of wild theories “proving” how the world will end in four years time. These sites claim everything from pole changes to rogue planets, cosmic rays, asteroids, little green men and possibly Elvis will bring about the end of the world. Some of these have a rudimentary base in science, but there is no evidence that any of them are going to actually happen, much less destroy the planet. When the trailer tells people to find out “the truth” and points them here, it adds a lot of undeserved credibility to these wild conjectures.

I’m not going to take time to dispel every wild allegation on the internet. There’s too many of them that are either completely groundless or twist actual physics into something absurd. The folks over at the National Astrobiology Institute have been inundated by questions about it, and over the last year Universe Today published a stellar series of articles that set the record straight.

The real trouble with the marketing of “2012,” it tacitly encourages very bad misinformation about physics in the public mind. The film’s tagline adds to the paranoia and discourages real rational thought. We went through this kind of silliness a decade ago with the Y2K scare, it wasn’t particularly fun then, and isn’t today.

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