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Astronomical Pseudo-Science: A Skeptic's Resource List


11. On Nibiru and Doomsday 2012

The latest internet myth to gain traction is the notion that the world will experience a catastrophe on the winter solstice of 2012, either from collision with a (mythical) planet called Nibiru or from some other astronomical cause. A large number of books and websites have touted this notion for a while, as have documentaries on the History Channel, but in the summer of 2009, the producers of a major movie thriller, called "2012" began to spend quite a bit of money on "viral marketing" -- even setting up fake website purporting to show the science behind the idea. Lots of people are worried and asking astronomers about this. NASA's David Morrison has coined the term "cosmophobia" for the fear of astronomical disasters, and it appears that cosmophobia is significantly on the rise, despite the absence of any evidence.

David Morrison's introduction to and debunking of 2012:

The Top 20 Questions about the Doomsday 2012 Myth (answered by David Morrison):

Morrison, David "The Myth of [the planet] Nibiru and the End of the World in 2012":

Krupp, E. C. "The Great 2012 Scare" in Sky & Telescope, Nov. 2009, p. 22. Good introduction to the history of such doomsday predictions.

2012 Hoax site (a well-executed, exhaustive examination of claims and counter-arguments by a group of professional and amateur astronomers):

The Mayan Calendar Connection:

Planet X/Nibiru Cult Discussion by Phil Plait:

Fraser Cain's detailed critiques on the Universe Today website (and the further columns listed therein):

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12. Miscellaneous Topics in Astronomical Pseudo-science

Phil Plait on Naming Stars for Money:

Hale, A. "Hale-Bopp Comet Madness" in Skeptical Inquirer, Mar/Apr. 1997, p. 25. On a cult that saw a spaceship behind the comet:

Frazier, K. "Was the 'Rare Earth' Hypothesis Influenced by a Creationist?" in Skeptical Inquirer, Nov/Dec. 2001, p. 7. University of Washington astronomer who was secretly a creationist.

Meeus, J. "Planetary Groupings and the Millennium: Why Panic?" in Sky & Telescope, Aug. 1997, p. 60. Analyzes 40 so-called "alignments of the planets".

Garwood, Christine Flat Earth: The History of an Infamous Idea. 2007, St. Martin's Press. A nice history that includes 20th century groups that believed the Earth was flat.

Branham, R. "Did the Moon Sink the Titanic: Astrology, Lunar Phases, and Maritime Disasters" in Skeptical Inquirer, Jul/Aug. 1995, p. 30. Examination of over 1400 ship disasters to see if there was any astronomical connection.

Burnham, Robert Great Comets. 2000, Cambridge U. Press. Chapter 6 discusses the "Heaven's Gate" affair (where cult members committed suicide) connected with Comet Hale-Bopp.

Krupp, E. "Lost Worlds" in Sky &Telescope, Apr. 2000, p. 93. Debunks notion that earlier civilizations knew about Uranus, Neptune, or Pluto, long before they were discovered.

Krupp, E. "The Sphinx Blinks" in Sky & Telescope, Mar. 2001, p. 86. Examines some astronomical connections suggested for the Sphinx and the Pyramids and finds them wanting. (See also, Sky & Telescope, Feb. 1997, p. 64.)

Kusche, Lawrence The Bermuda Triangle Mystery Solved, 2nd ed. 1995, Prometheus. A librarian researches the extravagant claims about disasters in a small area of the Earth and finds little to support them.

Oberg, J. The Tungusca Event: (Analysis by science writer James Oberg from 1982, debunking the notion that the impact event in Siberia in 1908 was an alien spaceship.)

Olson, D. & Lytle, T. "Tidal Forces on May 5, 2000" in Sky &Telescope, May 2000, p. 109. Examines the effects of planetary alignments on the Sun in 2000 and through history.

Stenger, Victor The Unconscious Quantum. 1995, Prometheus. A physicist examines "new age" claims that quantum mechanical ideas underlie psychic powers or paranormal experiences.

Voss, D. "New Physics Finds a Haven at the Patent Office" in Science, 21 May 1999; (vol. 284, p. 1252.) Discusses how weird, new age physics is sneaking its way into U.S. patents.

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13. General Books and Sites that Include Sections on These Topics

Frazier, Kenneth, ed. Paranormal Borderlands of Science. 1981, Prome¬theus Books. Science Confronts the Paranormal. 1986, Prometheus Books. The One Hundredth Monkey and Other Paradigms of the Paranormal. 1991, Prometheus Books. Anthologies of articles from The Skeptical Inquirer magazine.

Harrold, F. & Eve, R., eds. Cult Archaeology and Creationism: Understanding Pseudo-scientific Beliefs About the Past. 1995, U. of Iowa Press. Essays about bizarre ideas in academia and in the media.

Hines, Terence Pseudoscience and the Paranormal, 2nd ed. 2003, Prometheus Books. An overview of many topics, including astrology, UFO's, ancient astronauts, and mass hysteria.

Kurtz, Paul, ed. Skeptical Odysseys. 2001, Prometheus Books. Essays by leading skeptics.

Sagan, Carl The Demon-Haunted World. 1995, Random House. Eloquent, impassioned, informed analysis.

Shermer, M. Why People Believe Weird Things. 1997, W. H. Freeman. Heartfelt ode to skeptical thinking.

Stein, Gordon, ed. The Encyclopedia of the Paranormal. 1996, Prometheus Books. Mammoth reference.

Fraknoi, A. "Dealing with Astrology, UFOs, and Faces on Other Worlds: Guide to Astronomical Pseudo-science in Classroom," Astronomy Education Review, (2004):

Committee for Skeptical Inquiry (CSI): Best site -- many articles from Skeptical Inquirer, links, activities for young people, and much more.

The Skeptic's Dictionary: An excellent source of brief reviews, references, and links on dozens of areas of pseudo-science. Especially good for beginners or students.

The Bad Astronomy Site: Astronomer Phil Plait criticizes movies and TV shows with bad science, and has several responses to pseudoscience.

Robert Shaeffer's Debunker Pages: Has lots of good information on UFO's and other pseudo-science. Some of the pages deal with political issues, however.

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