Profit in Spreading Fear

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 all the people who have fostered false fears and profited from them. We could start with the Y2K fiasco, because it was the perfect start to the new millennium. Ironically, 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.

CNN presented a skeptical report on the claim that a catastrophic event would occur on December 21, 2012. Does the report mark a change? Are the mainstream media starting to question such exploitations of fear? Does it presage a shift to questioning the false claim human CO2 is causing global warming, the largest example of exploiting fear?

The 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 has virtually disappeared. The other author, John Gribbin, totally, publicly, and commendably 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 co-author 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 and there was no possible human connection essential to all 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 is 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 in part 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.

There are four pivotal points in the Earth’s rotation around the sun. Winter Solstice is the shortest day of the year in the Northern Hemisphere (NH). It’s a measure of the dominance of NH on science, because it is actually the longest day of the year in the Southern Hemisphere (SH). Summer Solstice is the longest day of the year and the Autumnal and Vernal Equinoxes have equal lengths of night and day. These change and go through a complete cycle every 25,800 years, so 12,900 years from now Winter Solstice will occur on the day Summer Solstice occurs now.

One web page has a list of 22 “2012 Possibilities”. All it underlines is 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, with the official climate science of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), most of these factors are completely 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 that politicians did not understand how easy it is, especially for scientists, to create many threatening scenarios. The IPCC do it with everyone of their Reports. I scrapped my intended presentation and told them the earth’s speed of rotation was slowing, the magnetic field was weakening, and if it 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.

Decline in Earth's magnetic field

Figure 1: Decline in Earth's magnetic field

In the past, when the magnetic field has disappeared, there were mass extinctions of species on the planet. 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 was another example.

What we Know

People are vulnerable to the magnetic scare because most don’t know the Poles reverse themselves periodically. We know they change because when lava emerges from a volcano and cools, the 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, after its discoverer Marie Curie. Current layers have today’s polarity, which 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.

Magnetic stripes on each side of the separating plates on the sea floor

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 and 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 polarity reversals specifically. It was originally assumed that the magnetic field was induced by rotation of the planet. This would require rotation to stop and reverse itself for polarity reversal. 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.

In his book titled Are We Scaring Ourselves to Death?, H. Aaron Cohl 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 risks and the vehicles to achieve their end. Likely the best position is to consider that with all the predictions of doom, none have occurred; because if they had, we would not be here.

A Real Catastrophe in 2012?

Of course, I must 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?

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  1. March 13, 2014

    […] thesis of the “Jupiter Effect” was that on a date in the early summer of 1979, all the major planets would be in the same […]