“I do not pretend to know what many ignorant men are sure of.” Clarence Darrow
The Age of False Fears
We need a television program that brings to account everyone who has fostered false fears and profited. We could begin with the Y2K fiasco because it was the perfect start to the new millennium. People were so spooked that we celebrated the new millennium in the wrong year. Technically the millennium began on January 1, 2001, but science and facts are always pushed aside in these cases.
Recently CNN presented a skeptical report on the claim that a catastrophic event would occur on December 21, 2012.
Does the skepticism mark a change? Are the mainstream media starting to question such exploitations of fear? Does it presage a shift to them questioning the false claim human CO2 is causing global warming, by far the largest example of exploiting fear?
A bestselling book The Jupiter Effect by Gribbin and Plagemann was released in 1974 claiming a potential catastrophe on March 10, 1982.
It claimed the planetary alignment scheduled for about that time would trigger a variety of events including increased pull on the earth’s crust to trigger earthquakes such as on the San Andreas Fault. Actually it wasn’t a full alignment but simply many planets being in a sector on one side of the sun. None of the predicted catastrophes occurred. Plagemann, the scientist, has virtually disappeared. Commendably, co-author John Gribbin publicly announced the falsity of the book in Omni magazine.
“The book has now been proved wrong. The whole basis of the 1982 prediction is gone. I should know. I was coauthor with Dr. Stephen Plagemann, of the Jupiter Effect. …I want to make it clear that there is no reason now to expect any unusual seismic disturbance in 1982 from the causes given in the book.” He reviews his experience and gives advice about similar “forecasts of doom.” “In retrospect some of the accusations that our book was alarmist seem justified. I am older now and, I hope, wiser. I would certainly not present the same material in the same way if the idea had just occurred to me. … Don’t believe anything you hear about “scientific” forecasts of doom without reading the original.”
Use of a specific date was enough to rouse suspicions, but it didn’t. The story was given the usual amplification by media seeking sensationalism. The only thing it lacked was vigorous support from the environmental extremists, but they were not so active then and there was no possible human cause essential to their environmental claims.
Another Projected Day of Doom
The specific date of December 21, 2012 in the CNN report should arouse suspicion. It is calculated as the day on which the Long Count Calendar of the Ancient Mayans ends. They gave no significance to the day – a calendar has to end somewhere. Some claim it’s significant because it’s the date of winter solstice. The trouble is winter solstice is a constantly changing date and was different when the Maya were at the peak of their power. It changes because of the constant changes in sun/earth relationships collectively known as the Milankovitch effect, but mostly due to the wobble of the earth’s axis.
One web page has a list of 22 “2012 Possibilities.”
This simply underscores how many ‘events’ are occurring in the universe, the solar system and the earth’s systems at any given moment. So there is no shortage of material for doomsayers. The same is true for causes of climate change. There are a myriad changes mostly cyclical, but occasionally catastrophic. Unfortunately, in official climate science of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) most of these factors are ignored. This includes the major cyclical mechanisms of the Milankovitch Effect.
Number three on the list of “possibilities” is “Magnetic Pole Shift” and the one I expect to be part of another scaremongering moneymaking scheme. A few are already exploiting the idea and saying it will occur in 2012.
I used it for a different purpose a few years ago before a Canadian Parliamentary Committee investigating another false fear mongering story – the so-called ozone hole. It was apparent during other testimony the politicians did not understand how easy it is, especially for scientists, to create many threatening scenarios. The IPCC do it in all their Reports. I scrapped my intended presentation and gave them an example. The earth’s speed of rotation is slowing, the magnetic field is weakening and if continued the magnetic field could disappear in 120 to 150 years. The top diagram illustrates a decline in strength of the field in all regions except Japan. The bottom diagram shows the most dramatic decline in Eastern Europe.
Figure 1: Upper; plot of magnetic filed strength in different regions. Lower plot the decline in eastern Europe.
In the past when the magnetic field has disappeared there were mass extinction of species. I asked what my government was doing to avert this disaster. The point was to illustrate how a few facts could be strung together to invoke another potential threat and the ozone destruction by CFCs they were hearing about was another example. They were not amused, probably because it exposed their ignorance and they might have to set priorities.
What We Know
People are vulnerable to the magnetic scare because most don’t know the Poles reverse themselves. We know this happens because when lava emerges and cools magnetically sensitive particles such as magnetite align themselves with the Earth’s magnetic field. This polarity is locked in at a temperature known as the Curie Point. Current layers have today’s polarity that is called normal. Earlier layers may have a reverse polarity. As the plates of the earth’s crust separate lava pours up and takes on the magnetic polarity of the time. Vine and Matthews used these stripes as part proof of continental drift.
Figure 2; Magnetic stripes on each side of the separating plates on the sea floor. Source:
Over time the pattern is for long periods called epochs with normal polarity alternating with epochs of reverse polarity. There are some 9 epochs in the last 4.5 million years, however, within an epoch there are much shorter periods, called events, of opposite polarity. The “possibilities” article claims, …pole reversals have been happening on average once every 400,000 years, with the most recent one being 730,000 years ago – so we are well overdue.
The problems start with no understanding of the mechanisms causing magnetism in general and polarity reversals specifically. It was originally assumed the magnetic field was induced by rotation of the planet. This would require rotation stop and reverse itself for polarity reversal, but there is no evidence. Now it is thought each of the three spheres that comprise the earth, the Solid Inner Core, The liquid Outer Core and the Mantle all rotate at different speeds. Each induces a magnetic field that interacts with the others that in combination create normal or reverse polarity. But the “possibilities” blog notes, Not only do we not know much about reversals, scientists are still unsure about how our magnetic field is generated. If this is true then any story claiming it will occur on December 21, 2012 is more than suspect.
H. Aaron Cohl’s book is titled “Are we Scaring Ourselves to Death.” He writes, “Our society has become so focused on risks and fears that we really are scaring ourselves to death.” While this is generally true we also have an increase in people exploiting fears and in the vehicles to achieve their end. Likely the best position is to consider that with all the predictions of doom very few have occurred and if they had we would not be here.
A Real Catastrophe in 2012?
Of course, I can play the catastrophe game for 2012. A catastrophe for the Democratic Party will occur on November 6, 2012 when President Obama fails to be re-elected. Of course, like all such predictions it makes assumptions. In this case it assumes his own party does not push him from office earlier or that he will gain the nomination as their candidate. I wonder what the planetary alignments and cycles portend?