I'm looking forward to this weekend; it's a holiday in the States on Monday so we get three days off. Plus, my nephew Derek the biology student from Kansas is coming to visit, which is always cool.
But some people fear that this weekend will never come! Regular readers know that I have been busily debunking the notion, promulgated by Eric Julien, that a comet fragment will impact the Atlantic on Thursday May 25 (check this blog entry for a list of stuff I've written on this topic). This latest doomsday crap is making the rounds; checking my logs, the most common referrer to my blog lately is from a forum devoted to this nonsense. There are lots of folks there lamenting our impending demise, and I wonder (as I always do in these situations) what they will say on May 26 when nothing has happened.
If you haven't heard of this, I assure you a lot of others have. That forum I mentioned above has a list of sites and blogs discussing this topic, and there's a lot of chatter. What's funny is my blog is there twice (and actually, the same blog entry is listed twice -- checking facts and such is generally not the forte of doomsayers), as are other pages and blogs which debunk this silliness.
I do sometimes make light of this, but you should know that there is a serious undercurrent here, one I understand all too well: doomsayers, whether they are dishonest or deluded, are scaring people using antiscience and nonsense. Some people ask me, "What's the harm in believing in astrology or the Face on Mars?", and I point them to crap like this alleged comet impact. When you don't understand science, when you have no clue how the Universe really works, you are vulnerable, a wide-open target for hoaxsters, conmen, and others of their ilk. When Nancy Lieder was peddling her Planet X nonsense, people actually sold their homes and moved, scared that an impending earthquake or tsunami would kill them. When her deadline of May 15, 2003 came and went, I wonder what happened to those people? It's amazing no one lynched Nancy; but then, cult leaders who fall out of favor rarely get punished. They lose a majority of their flock, and the <i .really deluded ones become even more fervent.
Most of the people who get involved with this sort of thing are seeking something, yearning for something. Perhaps its knowledge, a sense of wonder, or a feeling of belonging. Almost everyone has these feelings, but for some, they seek answers in places that not only won't help them, but can actually cause them harm. Coupled with a distrust of science, a misunderstanding of how it works, these feelings make people prey to the antiscientists. Even after the doomsday deadline comes and goes with nothing happening, the emotions still linger, and the feeling of social disenfranchisement runs deep. Something else will no doubt come along -- a solar flare, perhaps, or another comet-- and the cycle starts again.
So on May 26, I have no doubt that this will go away, for the most part, but not entirely. There will always be people who are willing and ready to be tricked, deluded, fooled, whatever word you want to use. And they will be found by the Nancy Lieders and the Eric Juliens of the world. The best we can do is try to minimize it, by educating people about science, showing them the true wonder of things.