Date: January 6, 2010
Title: Fighting the 2012 Hoax
Podcaster: Bill Hudson
Description: Bill Hudson from 2012hoax.org issues a call to action for all amateur astronomers, stargazers, and people just interested in space science. The 2012 doomsday hoax is gaining traction in a vulnerable population: school children.
Bio: Bill Hudson is an amateur astronomer in California. He has spent the last decade looking up, and is involved in astronomy outreach programs in the California central coast area. He is the publisher of 2012hoax.org, a wiki that seeks to document and debunk all of the doomsday rumors surrounding the year 2012.
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This is Bill Hudson from 2012hoax.org. I’m very happy to be participating in the 2010 edition of the “365 days of astronomy” podcast. This is the first of 4 episodes that I’ve signed up for over the course of the year, and I hope to have some guests with me on future episodes. Today I’m going to be talking about a subject that is very important to me, and from the title of this episode, as well as the name of the website, you can probably guess that I’m going to talk about 2012. However, this is not a “2012 debunking “ episode, those will come later in the year. This is a call to arms, or a call to action.
If you are listening to this podcast, then you are interested in astronomy in some way. Many of you are amateur astronomers, like I am. You might be in a local astronomy club, or perhaps you are an occasional stargazer, or are just interested in astronomy in general without actually having astronomy as a hobby. Regardless of your level of participation, your interest in astronomy makes you uniquely qualified to debunk the “2012 doomsday” nonsense. So… I’m calling on you to help.
I became interested in the “2012 doomsday” nonsense because of my outreach into local schools, where I go into elementary school classrooms and give a talk on astronomy. I’ve been doing that for about 4 years. A couple of years ago I started getting a lot of questions from the kids about “the end of the world” and whether it was going to happen in 2012. I have spent a great deal of my free time in 2009 researching and debunking the various “2012 doomsday” rumors, and writing about them on 2012hoax.org. There are several people who are writing content for the site, and that is a big help, but I’m not here today to ask for more authors. What I am here to do today is to challenge you.
It is not enough to write about why the “2012 doomsday” is nonsense on a website. One website, or ten, or even a hundred, can’t compete with the vast sea of nonsense that is the “2012 phenomenon”. Sites like Yahoo!Answers and YouTube are full of people saying all kinds of crazy things about what will happen in 2012. There are thousands of videos on YouTube predicting various catastrophic events.
Even that is not as pervasive and persuasive as the shows that are playing on various cable and satellite channels. Channels such as the History Channel that once could be relied on to show quality programming have bowed to the pressure of ratings, and are now showing things like “Nostradamus 2012”, which is essentially an hour long brain-numbing mix of misleading statements, bad science, and outright falsehoods.
All of this has lead to what is perhaps the most persuasive vector of disinformation: Word of mouth. Consider that companies spend quite a bit of money in attempting to get a new movie or product to “go viral”, where people tell their friends about it. The marketing executives know that if your cousin tells you something, then you are more likely to listen than if a complete stranger tells you the same thing, and that if your parent or child or sibling tells you the same thing, you are more likely to listen than if it was your cousin.
This brings us to the most chilling aspect of this hoax: School kids. As much as this hoax has spread among adults, it is running like a wildfire through schools, especially at the upper elementary and junior high level, propelled by word of mouth. Kids are telling other kids that “the world is ending in 2012” and that the adults are keeping it secret. This appears to “sell” really well in the ten to eighteen year old age group, judging from the ages of people leaving comments at 2012hoax.org
So, what are we to do? Obviously, I’ve taken the approach of documenting and debunking, to the best of my ability, all of the 2012 rumors I can lay my eyes on. I hope that the website is useful as a resource, and that it serves to calm people’s fears, but this is not enough. Obviously the audience of the website is limited. Kids who may not have regular internet access are hearing about this from their classmates at school (remember, “Viral Marketing”) What is needed is a way to get the essential information, that the “2012 doomsday” is a hoax, directly to the kids to counteract the rumors.
This is where you come in.
As I said before, I became involved in this through my outreach into the local schools. This is where we can be most effective. I challenge you as amateur astronomers, as astronomy clubs, or as hobbyist stargazers to contact your local schools, libraries or other venues where you can reach a lot of kids, and talk them into letting you do a program on why “2012” is not real.
This is a perfect opportunity to teach these kids the differences between science and rumor. Use it to educate them about how science really works, and introduce the scientific method to them. Talk about things that we know are impossible (such as invisible planets on 3,600 year orbits), but also talk to them about what we know is real.
So, there you have it. This is my challenge to you. I’m throwing down the gauntlet. Get out of your comfort zone. Don’t just shake your head and wonder how this rumor, this hoax, this fraud got to be so widespread, but rather get out and do something about it.
If you think I am taking this way to seriously, then I invite you to read some of the comments in the forums at 2012hoax.org. What I am afraid of is that kids will become so distraught by this hoax that some of them will take their own lives.
So yes, I do take it seriously.
End of podcast:
365 Days of Astronomy
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