Based on all the email inquiries that I’ve been getting lately, it seems pretty clear that the world is going to end in 2012, and it is at least partially my fault.
The email inquiries are, of course, generally misguided: the world is not going to end in 2012, and whether it does or doesn’t has little to do with me.
For years I’ve been getting these emails, asking if Eris, the biggest of the dwarf planets, and something that actually does exists, is somehow related to Nibiru, a made-up planet allegedly known to the Sumerians that, in fact, does not actually exist. The main reason for the confusion is that both the real Eris and the mythical Nibiru have extremely elliptical orbits. The non-existent Nibiru does things that the real Eris can never do, however: in 2012 this made-up planet is supposed to swing close by the earth and, well, destroy life as we know it. Bummer.
I try to respond to most of the email that I get from people who are generally interested in understanding more about the universe around them, but I tend to simply ignore inquires about 2012 or Nibiru or Sumerians. People interested in this type of pseudo-science tend to be uninterested in understanding the scientific reasoning which shows that those beliefs are unfounded. But lately I have been getting an ever-increasing amount of this email along with frequent phone calls from 2012 people. What is different this time is that these people sound truly worried. One voice mail I received said “I’ve got kids; this really scares the hell out of me. Is there something I should be doing? Is this real?” He left an email address. Slightly shaken at his tone, I wrote back saying that, no, this is one of those crazy internet hoaxes and that I’ve got a four year old myself and my biggest worry for 2012 is what she is going to be like as a seven year old. He wrote back relieved. Weird, I thought. This didn’t seem like typical pseudo-science wackiness. This guy was inherently skeptical about the 2012 claims, and was happy when someone with a ring of authority told him there was nothing to it, but, still something had made him worried enough that he had tracked down some astronomer he had never met and called him to reassure him about the safety of his family.
Curious about why some people are more than usually worried about this sort of stuff, I actually read a piece of spam I got this week from something called the “Institute for Human Continuity.” It seemed ever so slightly more slick than usual:
As the Communications Director of the Institute for Human Continuity, I'd like to thank you for taking an active role in preparing yourself for 2012. Please note your ticket is only valid for one person. Therefore, we strongly suggest that you encourage your friends and family to register for lottery numbers at TheIHC.com.
The IHC has uncovered evidence indicating that the disasters of 2012 are both real and unavoidable. We believe with 94% certainty that exactly four years from today, cataclysmic events will devastate our planet and many who inhabit it. December 21, 2012 cannot be ignored.
Though the future is uncertain, there are several things we can and must do to prepare. You have already begun by entering the IHC lottery and visiting our website. In the coming weeks, I will be hosting an online discussion during which I will answer your questions and provide additional knowledge on how you can continue to prepare. You may submit your written questions to me via twitter and email. We will also be accepting video questions and will have more details for you in the coming weeks.
I look forward to receiving your questions and working together to ensure that the end is just the beginning.
Dr. Sorën Ulfert, PhD
The Institute for Human Continuity
Dr. Sorën Ulfert, PhD
The Institute for Human Continuity
Curious, I decided to check out the web page linked above. As I ran my mouse over the link, though, my eye was momentarily caught by the real address that popped up at the bottom of my browser:
OK, now I was really intrigued.
Check out the web site yourself. It’s got press releases, an “education” section all about Planet X, a history of the IHC, and a list of the Ph.D.-heavy staff. Some even wear bow ties. And, hey, you can participate in a poll! (“Which sport would you like to see reestablished first after 2012?” I vote for stock car racing, though basketball and football might be doing better so far.) You are encouraged to sign up for a lottery to see if perhaps, by the grace of the IHC, you will survive the cataclysm. But your chances are limited, and the number of slots is almost full. Best act quickly, you are told. An odometer showing how many people have already signed up for their chance to live continuously increases in the upper right corner of the web site (8,422,601, as of this moment). Most of these people, sadly, are destined to die.
On occasion – usually late at night at a telescope trying to stay awake -- I amuse myself by going to similar apocalyptic sites. They all have a similar look and feel, sort of like the web equivalent of a typewritten piece of paper that has been Xeroxed dozens of times. It’s clear that they’re kooky just by looking at them.
This one is different. It is slick. It is professional. There is no obvious sign anywhere that this is the work of kooks.
And then, if you look ever so closely, you might note at the bottom that all of this is copyright 2009 by Sony Pictures. And you might see a link to the “2012 Movie Experience.” But you’d be forgiven if you missed these, what with the end of the world happening and all.
So the entire web site and spam that I received that directed me here is an advertisement. Except that it never says that. It purports to be a real site from real scientists with real concerns about the end of the world, but, in the end, it just wants to make a buck by having you go to what is likely to be a crummy movie.
If the spam email had tried to scare me about the end of the world and then directed me to a web site which turned out to simply advertise the movie, that would have been distasteful. But what is the right word for a spam email that tries to scare me to go to a web site which then tries to scare me even more and doesn’t even admit to being simply an ad for a movie. Well beyond distasteful. Disgusting? Outrageous? Putrid? Reprehensible?
Am I overreacting? It’s just a movie, right? And a witty viral ad campaign, right? At some point they will break the silence and say “Surprise! The world is not ending! This is just a movie! Aren’t we clever?” And we’ll all be so happy that we’ll decide the best way to celebrate is to go see a movie. Any movie except one from Sony Pictures.
Maybe at that point I’ll quit getting phone calls from people who are scared for the continued existence of their families. Or maybe not. Maybe this fear-mongering ad campaign is not the reason I’ve gotten so many more scared phone calls and email messages lately. Sadly, though, if it is the fault of the ad campaign, Sony Pictures would presumably be pleased.