On the last Friday of every month, I look at an apocalyptic prophecy that failed miserably when the apocalypse didn’t happen in a feature called “End of the Month, End of the World.”
When people try to use the Bible to predict the end of the world, it seems funny to most seasoned internet-goers, who consider themselves more educated than those foolish religious plebes. (Go ahead, you can sneer if you want.) After all, doesn’t the Bible itself say that man will not know the date of the end times? Unless you think God pulled some Dan Brown shit and hid it deep within the text (and if you do, keep in mind that the Bible has been through several translations to make it what it is today) then, it could be argued, there’s no real way to figure it out from that direction anyway.
“Well, this is useless now. Guess I’ll hollow it out and keep porn inside.”
But what about when someone tries using science to predict the end of the world? Science has things like falsifiability and peer reviews. Science is generally pretty reliable, right? In a perfect world, of course, science would be absolutely reliable, assuming you had all the relevant facts. In reality, though, science can be used to reach a conclusion from valid data, or it can be used like a big stick to bludgeon facts into fitting with your already-chosen conclusion.
Let’s assume your conclusion is “Bad shit is gonna happen.” Now you take a fact. Let’s say, for the sake of argument, that your fact is “On March 10, 1982, all the planets (except Neptune and Uranus, but fuck them) are going to be perfectly aligned.” Now, you take that fact and you beat the ever-loving shit out of it with your conclusion-stick. You beat it until it stops moving. Then, you write a book about it and sell a fuckzillion copies. Congratulations, you’re Drs. John Gribbin and Stephen Plagemann.
“One Fuckzillion Copies Sold!”
“Wait a goddamn second, these guys were doctors?” Indeed they were. And not fake doctors with phony diploma mill credentials. They were trained astrophysicists from Cambridge University. Gribbin was also the editor of Nature magazine at the time of the book’s release in 1974, eight years before the purported disaster. (Kindly note that that gave them eight years to collect the royalty checks from their publisher before the end of the world was supposed to happen.) So what the hell? How did these guys come to this conclusion?
Quite simply, they worked backwards with their conclusion-stick, then beat the hell out of everything that could potentially be beaten by that stick and… okay, this metaphor’s getting stupid. Anyway, they took their conclusion and their initial fact and strung together the most improbable chain of events to make the two seem at least somewhat remotely related.
In reality, they’re about as related as this is to… anything at all.
What kind of chain of events are we talking about? The book claims that the combined gravitational effect of seven of nine planets (remember that Pluto actually counted back then) would cause increased tidal pull on the surface of the sun, causing eruptions and sunspots. This, in turn, increases solar winds, which, in large gusts, could affect the Earth’s axis. This, Gribbin and Plagemann said, would result in catastrophe that would most likely eliminate all life on the planet, since even a minor variation in the Earth’s rotation could cause earthquakes, tidal waves, volcanic eruptions, and possibly even polar magnetic shift.
So what really happened on March 10, 1982? Did those huge planetary masses all in a line really affect the Earth? Actually, they did, and measurably so. The effect of that mighty gravitational force? The tides were 0.04mm higher than usual.
Fuck. I’m terrified.
Gribbin and Plagemann’s book had already caused a stir, though. In the weeks and months leading up to the alignment, people began to panic, especially those in coastal areas. Observatories were inundated with calls from terrified residents and newspapers did their best to try to help contain the madness by publishing refutations from scientists who had known The Jupiter Effect was bad science for years.
“Bad Science. That’s very bad.”
But after the disaster didn’t happen, Gribbin and Plagemann weren’t done. Oh no. One year later, they released The Jupiter Effect Revisited. In it, they claimed that the event had actually happened in 1980, despite the lack of planetary alignment at that time, and had caused Mt. Saint Helens to erupt. That’s right, they threw away their entire premise, then pointed at some other shit and said, “Look, see! We were right all along, we were just wrong first!”
The Jupiter Effect Revisited also sold one fuckzillion copies.