Shhhhh… Do You Hear That? That’s The Sound Of The World Not Ending

Perfect solstice sunrise by @STONEHENGE (Stonehenge UK)

‘Perfect solstice sunrise’ by @STONEHENGE (Stonehenge UK on Twitter)

Now, call your friends, grab a beer and celebrate the end of the Maya Long Count calendar’s 13th b’ak’tun and the winter solstice. (Sorry doomsayers, I will not be giving you a reference for your post-doomsday interview, you did a crappy job of the Apocalypse.)

Also, send your congratulations to my sister, Colette! IT’S HER 30TH BIRTHDAY! Congrats Sis!!

On a side note, a few of us appeared on the #TWISmageddon 21 hour marathon to talk about the end of the world (or lack thereof), science and the human propensity for believing the Mayan doomsday bunkum. Thanks to Kiki Sanford, Justin Jackson, Scott Lewis, Blair Bazdarich, Nicole Gugliucci and Andy Ihnatko for a terrific Google+ Hangout. Who knew doomsday would be so much fun! (We start at about 1hr 45mins into the Hangout.)

EDIT: Is John Cusack skiing? He’d better be — that’s what he told me during the premier of “2012” in 2009! More: “What Will John Cusack be Doing on Dec. 21, 2012? Skiing.

“Skiing” he told me. Skiing.

Read more: No Doomsday! The Quick Reference Guide (Discovery News)

Survive 2012 for the Crazy Price of $49.95 (and I mean Crazy)

bullet_earth2

I’ve often wondered how doomsayers can monetize their theories of the end of the world. It’s one thing to scare someone, but it’s quite another to get them to willingly hand over a wad of cash. It’s the classic door-step salesman problem: How do you get a homeowner to sign a contract after spending 30 minutes boring him/her to death with the reasons why they really should trust them — sweating in a badly-fitting suit — although they’ve only just met?

As far as I can work out, it seems the best way to profit from this doomsday tripe is to write a book. Apparently, publishers have little concern about what’s printed on the pages. If the cover art looks scary enough, and the numbers 2, 0, 1 and 2 are in bold type, the publication will sell itself. If that doesn’t work, hobble together a YouTube video with depictions of the Earth in flames… and Planet X (because Nibiru is so planet-killin’ cool). Oh, and add narration of some idiot with a superiority complex.

If this amazing marketing ploy isn’t upsetting enough people, build a website. Besides, if you fill that site with enough text, you’re bound to hit all the doom keywords and have a flood of Google search traffic. Hell, if this is the case, you can supplement the future royalties of your best-selling novel with some juicy advertising revenue. Yeah, that will work.

Oh yes, and sell fridge magnets (really).

However, all these ploys (including the awfully flawed “How to Survive 2012″ YouTube clips) aren’t a patch on what I’ve just seen: a “I Will Save Your Life In 2012 If You Buy My Book” website.

A screenshot of the "2012 Official Countdown" website.

A screenshot of the 2012 Official Countdown website.

It’s one of those classic “I can show you how to earn $5000/hour” set-ups. One long page, filled with text that takes a whole evening to read. This particular site is called the “2012 Official Countdown” and the URL is http://www.2012officialcountdown.com (I won’t link to it). A screenshot of the top of the page can be seen to the right.

So how do I know this is a scam? You mean apart from the transparent desperation to tell you that the government is lying to the world? The insane statements that “well-meaning experts” have got it all wrong (those silly scientists)? Or is it the the complete overuse of bold type, red type, yellow highlights and claims that they are the only ones that know the “truth”?

Actually, I can look past all that crap, and skip to one key detail that suggests to me that the author has an even looser grasp on reality than all the other crackpots I’ve encountered (thank you Greg for pointing this peach out):

Mr. Sayer is a respected Internet scholar with a concentration on the topics of history, spirituality and exposing untruths.

So Mr Sayer is, in fact, a guy that spends all his time on the Internet? You mean he’s a graduate of Google University? Poor guy, he must be a little warped. Oh, no, actually he’s more than a little warped:

There is one thing that remains completely undisputed by anyone who is truly informed…

“Every Major Religion… Minor Religions You’ve Never Heard Of… Non-Religious Spiritualists… And Even Atheists And Agnostics Agree…”

In 2012… something will happen.

What?

Aaaah… that’s the issue in dispute. That’s the issue that is causing all the debate.

And that’s where you’re having the most trouble deciding what is fact… and what is pure Hollywood fiction.

Hi. My name is J. Michael Sayer. And… I have the answer.

Unfortunately, the superiority complex is strong in this one. Mr Sayer is a self-professed “Internet scholar” who “has the answer.” The answer to what? Well, something bad is going to happen in 2012! No, really? Really. What’s more, he presents his material like a true soothsayer on a mission. People are pleading for his help! He has the answer! He helps people by telling them the answer! (After clicking on the PayPal button.)

I’ll be honest, I felt a legion of braincells die as I read through the story that ensues. For some reason “James” decides to chronicle the events of Hurricane Katrina and how we can prepare for a similar catastrophe in 2012 if we read his book. But the book is just a re-hash of all the old theories that have come before (as I outlined in No Doomsday in 2012) — ancient civilizations/prophets predict doomsday in 2012 etc. Even though the Mayans never predicted doom when their Long Count calendar ran out, and Nostradamus never accurately predicted what he was going to have for dinner, let alone the events that would happen hundreds of years after his death. In short, it’s all total rubbish.

Plus, there’s Planet X. Only this time, the planet killer is hiding behind the Sun, waiting to strike! Isn’t the Planet X theory dead and buried already?

The one thing that really ticks me off however, are questions like, “How much is it worth to you to have the peace of mind you need for your family?” Apparently, the package James is offering is “worth” (it seems you can put a price on bullshit these days) $7,850. Why? That’s because he’s put 157 hours of “research” into this package (so it looks like he charges $50/hour for his Internet surfing expertise). But wait! He doesn’t want to sell it for $7,850.

We both agree a mere $1,000.00 to change everything about your life and the future lives of your family members. That’s a bargain.

But he’s not even selling it for $1,000! What a guy. A hero.

You won’t pay $99… $89… or even $79. This price cutting is getting crazy.

Oh James, you’re making me cry. You’re such a crazy, crazy guy!

After some more nonsense about throwing in an mp3, another book, and a little piece of his soul, James is flogging this whole kit for $49.95. Amazing, right?

What is amazing is that I actually read that entire page and I’m not dribbling. This is 100% pure-home-grown bullshit, a scam. And I can call it a scam because absolutely none of what he is promoting is provable, and every theory presented can be debunked with real science. Unfortunately, this is the most brazen attempt yet to screw people out of their money. Although I’m fairly sure most people will see the page and know it’s a con, some will see it as a lifeline, unfortunately.

Another very unfortunate thing is that I found this page via a Google Ad on Astroengine.com. It’s now blocked, but I suspect we’ll be seeing more and more of these websites pop up the closer we get to December 21st, 2012.

For more detail about the science behind the pseudo-science of the 2012 doomsday theories, read the whole No Doomsday in 2012 series

Deconstructing Doomsday

Alex Young in front of the cameras in the post-Apocalyptic setting of a Brooklyn building site.

Alex Young in front of the cameras in the post-Apocalyptic setting of a Brooklyn building site.

The funny thing about being involved in a doomsday documentary is trying to find a suitable balance between entertainment and science. This is the conclusion I reached after the interview I did for KPI productions in New York for the upcoming 2012 documentary on the Discovery Channel last week (just in case you were wondering why Astroengine.com was being a little quiet these last few days).

Apparently, the Apocalypse will be very dusty.

Apparently, the Apocalypse will be very dusty.

Naturally, the production team was angling for what it might be like to be hit by a “killer” solar flare, what kinds of terror and destruction a brown dwarf could do to Earth and what would happen if our planet’s magnetic poles decided to do a 180°. It’s always fun to speculate after all. However, I wasn’t there to promote half-baked theories of 2012 doom, I was there to bring some reality to the nonsensical doomsday claims. But with real science comes some unexpected concerns for the safety of our planet — not in 2012, but sometime in the future.

An added bonus to my NYC trip was meeting the awesome Alex Young, a solar physicist from NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. Alex was asked to New York for the same reasons I was, but he has a current and comprehensive understanding of solar dynamics (whereas my solar physics research is so 2006). He actually works with SOHO data, a mission I have massive respect for.

Alex Young and myself... very excited about doomsday.

Alex Young and myself... very excited about doomsday.

My interview was carried out on Wednesday morning, and Alex’s was in the afternoon. The KPI guys were great, a joy to be involved in such a professional project. The documentary producer, Jonathan, asked me the questions in a great location, a huge Brooklyn building that was undergoing renovation. Very dusty with a post-apocalyptic twist. If I was going to shoot a movie about the end of the world, this building would be it.

The KPI documentary will certainly be very different from the Penn & Teller: Bullshit! episode I was involved with, but it was just as much fun, if not more so (it was like a day-long science fest).

Of particular note was Alex’s sobering words about the woeful lack of funds in solar physics (i.e. Earth-damaging solar flares and CMEs). I hope his closing statement about NOAA space weather prediction funding makes the final cut; it was nothing less than chilling.

Jon and Sarah from KPI on the set.

Jon and Sarah from KPI on the set.

Although we both hammered home the point that the fabled Earth-killing solar flare wont happen in 2012 (let’s face it, our Sun is still going through an epic depression, why should solar maximum be anything spectacular?), it is probably the one theory that holds the most scientific merit. In fact, as both Alex and I agreed, for a civilization that depends on sensitive technology in space and on the ground, we really need to prepare for and understand solar storms far better than we do at present.

I won’t go into any more details, but the documentary will be on the Discovery Channel in November, so I’ll give plenty of warning to fire up those DVRs.

Thank you Sarah, Jonathan and the rest of the crew from KPI for making the New York visit so memorable…