In four days, Nibiru will strike the Earth, raining destruction upon us all. September 23, 2017 to be precise. At least according to a YouTube video with nearly 3 million views. Of course, that’s crazy. There is no Nibiru, and nothing remotely planet sized has any chance of striking Earth. But that hasn’t stopped people from sending astronomers emails, or calling local science centers to ask about the apocalypse. Even when we assure them there’s no risk, or explain how we know Nibiru doesn’t exist, they still have doubts. We’re probably lying, or haven’t looked at the “real” evidence.
It’s the same pattern for other topics. The Earth is flat, vaccines are dangerous, the Sun is electric, climate change is a hoax. In every case, there is a wealth of scientific evidence to disprove these claims. In every case, supporters point to the “real” evidence, and claim that scientists are ignorant of the facts, or intentionally lying. The loudest skeptics of climate change use the same type of arguments as the loudest skeptics of a round Earth.
It’s deeply troubling, because it means there is no longer a common basis of scientific knowledge. The number of people who think the Earth is flat is rising. People who think vaccines are poison are digging in their heels, and the majority party of the United States claims that global warming is a lie. The facts don’t matter. The more evidence you present, the more entrenched the skeptics become.
I wish I had a solution, but I don’t. I only know that I used to be amused by emails claiming Nibiru is going to kill us or the Earth is flat. I’m not amused any more. It is a sign that our society is becoming increasingly detached from the wealth of hard won knowledge. Knowledge we have spent centuries gathering and testing. Knowledge that has made us healthier, wealthier and more peaceful. If we walk away from that, we will have a world of famine, ignorance, and a harsher life for our descendants.
I don’t want that future for humanity. I suspect skeptics of climate change or a flat Earth don’t want that either. But until we can find common ground, it is the future that awaits us.