2012: A Summary of Myths and Facts

Remember the year 2000? You know, that apocalypse from 9 years ago with the pyramid calendars and the Y2K bug. Remember June of last year (and every June before that since at least 2006)? Remember September? Or last week? Or August 29, 1997…just kidding. Well, in January 2013 we’ll probably get to ask “remember last month when absolutely nothing happened to destroy the Earth…again?”

Just to put everything into context, this past weekend the movie 2012, based on an epic disaster that destroys the Earth in some year I can’t remember, was released and made over 200 million dollars worldwide. For “amusement”, also see the far less popular 2012: Doomsday released in 2008. A number of books and “documentaries” have been making the rounds lately as well. 2012 is on the brain.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with disaster porn like 2012. The whole point of a movie like this is to be over-the-top entertainment crammed with impressive CGI, and what better opportunity to maximize that than with a good old-fashioned worldwide apocalypse? But there are people who are genuinely fearful that the world will end in 2012 and hypocritical promotion campaigns that intentionally contribute to fear and confusion are inexcusable.

That’s right. Movie promoters for this fictional, topical, non-documentary movie though it would be a super idea to release a fake website for a fake organization called the Institute of Human Continuity. This slick-looking website is full of baffling unsupported statements (like this one about Planet X) originally with no hint or wink/nudge except that Sony Pictures can be seen as the copyright holder in teeny tiny print at the bottom [edit for clarity: there is now a short flash declaring the website "part of the 2012 movie experience"]. Apparently they had never heard of Poe’s Law (not usually used in this context, but the concept still applies) and apparently don’t have any regard for the possible consequences of contributing to panic and confusion.

Let’s now add the 2012 doomsayers that don’t have unlimited resources at their disposal, but only need one anyway – the internet. And let me just be clear up front: I’m not trying to pick on people for being genuinely confused. When, for example, a production company so convincingly goes out of their way to fake a website proclaiming “zomg! this is totes for realz!”, I completely understand how people would be confused (though perhaps they need to hone their critical thinking skills). Rather, I aim my well-deserved mocking squarely in the direction of those who go out of their way to intentionally, or at least carelessly, spread fear to those people.

2012 fear is based on the belief that the world will end on 21 December of that year. Apparently an arbitrary culture had some arbitrary numbering system for their arbitrary calendar and this is supposed to mean something to us today. So the ironclad evidence for the impending apocalypse is Mayan numbers that didn’t go on forever. Of course this is dressed up a little for the sell with words like “ancient” and “prophecy”. On the bright side, at least we get almost the whole year, but on the down side our last days in this universe will apparently be filled with obnoxious Christmas music and Bill O’Reilly’s annual War on Sanity.

The last thing you will ever see. Isn’t Bill cute with that Christmas rocket launcher? He looks so happy.

The reason for this horrible demise, as the 2012 disasteristas would have us believe, is that they didn’t bother counting further because they knew the world would end. These beliefs are supposedly written all throughout ancient Mayan texts. Except there are no indications in Mayan culture that they had a concept of “apocalypse” and the end of the calendar (i.e., 2012) is only mentioned once in one partially obscured inscription. Mayans celebrated a calendar turnover in about the same way we do every single year when our calendar ends – with a party. There’s no evidence to suggest that there was any other reason to stop counting than arbitrary roundness of numbers or plain old pre-computer fatigue.

For those who also consider an arbitrary Mayan calendar not nearly enough evidence upon which to base an apocalypse, we have several other sources of “evidence” – bible codes, numerology, a misunderstanding of the concept of punctuated equilibrium, and prophecies. My favorite is how Nostradamus’ year 2000 -ahem- predictions have been updated to “around the year 2000″ so that they can be recycled for 2012. Adorable.

All of these sources have some things in common:

  1. Doomsayers tell us nothing helpful about prevention. They are not lobbying government with their hard facts demanding funding for an attempt at survival. That displays either incompetence or extreme callousness.
  2. Every prophecy of doomsday thus far has been wrong (obviously), so the reliability of their evidence is in serious question.
  3. There is no scientific evidence for any of their vague claims and in some cases (i.e., the claims that are testable) scientific evidence that clearly refutes them.
  4. There exactly as much evidence to support that the world will end in 2012 as there was to support the world would end in 2000 — and we’re still here. I’ll let that speak for itself.
  5. The theories are often peppered with somewhat racist and insulting “noble savage” and “ancient intelligence” language.

The ways in which this disaster is supposed to descend upon us also varies. The — um, Twelvers? — are throwing their hat in to every single disaster basket they can think of. My completely unfair, although humorous, impression:

Ok guys we need one more to make it an even 10. We’ve got galactic alignment, Venus transit, timewave zero (numerology), geomagnetic reversal, planetary collision (Nibiru, Planet X), black hole (collision or LHC), killer solar flare, sunspots, meteor impact… We need one more… Ooh, I know the internets will explode! Perfect!

And there are even more. We know they’re serious because look at the fonts!

I’m not going to take the time to carefully debunk each one, as other more clever people than I have already done so. And laid it out clearly with diagrams (if you click on just one link in this post, make it this one). Even the Mayan descendants are a little ticked off at the 2012 hubris.

But again notice a common theme among the above claims – they are either demonstrably wrong or completely unfalsifiable (a fancy science word for “there’s no way to see if this is true or false because it’s just that vague”). There is no evidence to support that there is anything to be specifically concerned about in 2012 any more than any other random year.

You know what, I’ll let NDT tell it because he does it so well:

If there were real danger, why isn’t it more specific? The Twelvers — Twelverinos? Twelvites? — are picking from a list of all the things that they think could happen ever, regardless of whether or not the events have any significance, or even take place in 2012 at all, and can’t seem to decide on which disaster to get behind. Each claim is backed up with similar “evidence”. So if their theories are really valid (which they’re not) and have similar evidence, that means upwards of a dozen separate disasters are equally as likely to hit us that year (which they won’t). Twelvers can’t even agree on the planet that’s to collide with us, probably due to the notable handicap of neither one existing.

The claims can be summed up thusly: “I don’t know how it’s going to happen, but it will happen. I just know the world will end in 2012, so here’s 10 ways in which I might be right just so I can cover my bases.” as opposed to, say “Here’s a good reason to think X will happen in 2012.” accompanied by -*gasp*- evidence. Casting a wide net almost ensures that any minor disaster can be counted later as “what I meant the whole time” or “the start of something bigger”. Beautiful.

Clearly, the Twelvers started with a biased premise and are coming up with as many ways as possible to stick to it. So basically I can decide that cookies are disgusting and ignore any evidence otherwise and make up any evidence I want to support that obviously ridiculous claim (cookies are, in fact, awesome). In the real world, we have reason to believe that something is likely/true because there’s evidence supporting the claim in the first place.

This is one of those things that’s not a matter of opinion so I don’t feel the need to be polite and contemplative, hence my humorous and sarcastic tone. Doomsaying is ridiculous. It’s failed time and again, it’s depressing, and it adds nothing to the human experience. It’s possible that some celestial event that we somehow missed could cause us problems, but that could happen any time (not saying this to worry people – the relative risk is the same now as it ever was, which is almost nil). But nothing is slated for 2012. The sun is quiet, there are no special alignments (even if there were, they do nothing), no asteroids are scheduled to come by at that time, and there are no rogue planets flying about the inner solar system.

So relax, don’t buy into any end-of-the-world economic panic or so-called survival products, and make sure to a have a huge “we’re still here, suckers” party on 22 December. Actually, there’s some dispute over whether the Mayan calendar ends on 21 or 23 December. So, have a party on the 24th after the inevitable “well, it must be the 23rd then” that will be claimed after nothing happens on the solstice. Just like in 2000 when the doomsday hucksters said “no, the real millennium is in 2001″…

I guess some things are predictable.

Disclaimer: Please don’t interpret the inevitable conclusion of this article to be an indication that the internet will up and apocalypt itself when you stop reading. I just had to stop typing eventually.

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  • Kim Hebert

    Kim Hébert is an occupational therapist. She is interested in the promotion of science and reason, particularly regarding therapeutic health interventions. She blogs occasionally about occupational therapy and other health topics at Science-Based Therapy. Her hobbies are art and astronomy. **All views expressed by Kim are her personal views alone, and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of current or former employers, associations, or other affiliations. All information is provided for discussion purposes only, and should not be used as a replacement for consultation with a licensed and accredited health professional.