Nibiru, Climate Change, and Other Pseudoscience

In Pseudoscience by Brian Koberlein29 Comments

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.


  1. I’ve never heard the ‘electric sun’ one. And I only heard about ‘flat earth’ers in the last two years. Climate Hoax folks I categorize as human ostriches who don’t want to face reality, and this nonsense about Nibiru I tossed off as something spawned by the Onion. So…it’s not, they’re not, and these folks are very deluded. I just don’t think ‘common ground’ is possible given this level of negative IQ/IK. Honestly.

  2. I would guess this phenomenon is more prevalent in relatively wealthy Western countries such as the U.S. But I could be wrong. Is there any research on that?

    1. Unfortunately, you’d be wrong. Google for Thabo Mbeki’s AIDS policy, that costed South Africa somewhat around 300 thousand lives.

  3. “As long as our civilization is essentially one of property, of fences, of exclusiveness, it will be mocked by delusions.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

  4. I wonder if this sits at the intersection of feeling like we’re not in significant control of our lives and problems and knowledge that are too big to absorb. Climate change encompasses the entire world, one person’s influence on that seems dauntingly small; the same holds true for the threat of war, the resurgence of communicable disease, the accelerating rate of technological progress, the cost of education and housing, and on and on.

    Even those who buckle down and do the hard work of gaining deep understanding in the narrow topics available for study find themselves struggling to keep pace with current research in their fields. In the years they dedicate to their own research, they inevitably fall behind in all others, making integrative work challenging at best.

    And those who don’t have the resources or the dedication or the capability to progress find themselves pushed further to the discardable edges, and in larger numbers.

    Perhaps these are sparks in the tinder of rejection and refutation, the start of the fire of religion and cultism and destructive extremism that spreads on the winds of highly-connected internetworks.

    Is it a disease or a symptom?

  5. Nothing new here. Nothing at all. Velikovsky’s Worlds in Collision comes to mind. That bestseller was meticulously researched and utterly wrong, but some people believed.

    On a more comical note, there comes to mind a book I checked out of the Boise State library in the late 70’s. The obscure work by George Leonard, Somebody Else is on the Moon was something else. Mostly, the book is a collections of photographs with annotations implying that they are “evidence” for others occupying our moon. I looked and looked at the photos and I just didn’t get what the author was talking about. Maybe I just wasn’t smart enough. I still wonder if the book wasn’t a tongue-in-cheek spoof. But the book sold copies. To libraries!

    Go back a few decades, and we have the, ah, “science” of eugenics. Scientists of the early 1900’s were backing away from the idea, but prominent people believed. Those included Alexander Graham Bell, Adolf Hitler, and Theodore Roosevelt. What is disturbing is that the idea of eugenics seems to be making a comeback. Is someone going to try and create a “master race” again? I doubt it.

    But hell. I can go further back in history. Let’s not forget Paracelsus. Writings attributed to him claimed to have a method to create a Homunculus. Of course it’s all bunk, but it seems he had the arrogance to think that nobody would check up on him. Maybe a few of those alchemy experiments got to him.

    So, here’s the point. Did any of these missteps derail progress and the advance of science? Nah. Not these examples and a thousand others.

    Oh, God. Dare I mention cold fusion again? Some people still believe in that, too.

    Better to be amused than to wring your hands.

  6. Good article, but I think you omit an important aspect: money. It amazes me that people, organisations and governments continue to enrich themselves whilst destroying lives and the planet. I’m sure if we followed the money, congressmen deny climate change because lobby groups are paying for their re-election. Our capitalist society, and human nature, is setup for short term profiteering at any cost. Sadly, this can be seen in almost any industry you look at: health, tobacco, lead, sugar, arms dealers, financial. What is professed to be believed just follows what is profitable, and by denying what is inconveniently patently true you buy time to make more money. Sometimes you “buy” years, as in the tobacco industry, sometimes you can keep on obfuscating and denying forever, as in financial services and arms dealers.

    Sadly you then get the ‘Fox’ generation who will do not want to think deeply so avoid it at all costs, making the denials much easier to sell.

    It is not all bad though, there are still amazing things happening in this world. I am cautiously optimistic. : )

    1. “Follow the money” argument is actually a pretty bad one because it can be too easily turned around. Vaccines are dangerous. Why? Because pharmaceutical companies make money on them, and that means that any pro-vaccine research cannot be trusted. There are quite a lot of people, organisations and governments that enrich themselves trading carbon credits, and by that very logic global warming is bogus (I actually heard that more than once). Et cetera, et cetera.

      Money always go somewhere. That does not mean anything. (Unless you consider capitalism a prime evil.)

      1. Interesting point, money is everywhere so perhaps you might see the “follow the money” argument as lazy thinking. I agree it is more nuanced though I disagree with your main premise.

        It is right to look at the pro-vaccine researchers to see if they have been corrupted by money/power etc. Science is often infiltrated by lobby groups paying for scientists to “scientifically” prove their position, because as amazing as humans are easily corruptible and are still motivated by power/money/sex. Nothing in science is pure. However, vaccine’s save lives and the fanatical opposition to them is ridiculous but really this is a poor example for our discussion anyway. The climate deniers are not part of the scientific community, they are apposing the overwhelming scientific consensus. They are more like the anti-vaccine fanatics. A better example is the tobacco industry. They used smoke and mirrors (pardon the pun) to cast doubt on cancer links so that they can earn more money. They literally killed people for the purposes of making more money.

        Capitalism is not prime evil, however it provides perverse incentives because it’s only motivation is to make money. This is useful for us because it creates amazing products and benefits, when market forces work well. The laptop I’m writing on is a modern wonder. However, it is also hellish for us when their making money goes against our human interest. There is nothing ‘pure’ about capitalism. It is not a particularly good system, it is not even very stable. Rogue money lenders almost took our the whole world economy in 2007, and we are all in debt up to our eye balls because countries had to bail them out. Thus, the capitalism perverse incentive is to use smoke and mirrors so you can continue to make money for as long as possible. We see it in industry after industry. But more than that, it is our human nature. We are both Jekyll and Hyde: propensity for amazing discovery and progression as well as monster who would sell his own grandmother down the river for a few bucks…or in this case his own children and all of humanity.

        So sure, it is not all about money. It is also about our greed, corruption and indolence. Sure, it goes to the very heart of what it is to be human and to the heart of why each advanced civilisation in history has ultimately failed. Sure we could write tomes on it and I overly simplified the situation …

        but the money metaphor sums it up quite well. One might think “oh I wonder why the head of the coal industry lobby in America might disagree with climate change? Could it be a well reasoned appraisal of the available evidence.” Nope it’s probably because he would lose money, and his job, if he agreed with it.

        1. Since probably the Middle Ages, you cannot do ANY science without money. So if you agree that most of the science is good science, you have to agree that more often than not paying money for science produces scientifically sound research.

          How to determine if the science is good or bad? By looking at methods and results. And if you are looking at methods and results anyway, do you still need to know where did the money come from? Absolutely not. Bad science remains bad even when good people pay for it, and vice versa.

          That’s why vaccine example is so important. If you want to know are vaccines good or bad, you have to study if vaccines actually save lives or not. That’s the only thing that really matters. But you cannot do that by following the money. You only can do that by studying actual health statistics. Following the money just leads you astray.

          Following the money is much easier than studying the issue in-depth, that’s why your argument is so appealing. But if you want to follow the money, you cannot do it only when you like the results, you have to do it all the time. That’s how science works.

          As for your further arguments on the evils of money, let me remind you just one thing: before money were invented, you just killed the other guy and took his things. (Yes, I know about barter economy. It gave birth to a common measure of value (AKA money) very quickly.)

          Last question: why the head of the coal industry lobby in America might disagree with climate change? Answer: why do we care? He’s not a climatologist, he should keep his opinion to himself. End of story.

  7. I’m sad that you feel so pessimistic today. The research and experiments being done today are so numerous and amazing i cannot even remember the names of the new fields themselves. And the researchers may be global and they can attract the rare gifted student from the undeveloped world who ingeniously, miraculously finds a way to advance their studies.

    It is so easy to reach out today that it just seems like more crazy people – most of the world has always been uninformed. Really sad to be a public figure or celebrity – that would quite destroy your personal life. The more well known, the more crack pots will find you. So sorry. Please don’t let it color your vision. Thanks for all that you do to advance knowledge for us ordinary non science educated folk.

      1. You surely say that only to cover the Commie plot to poison our precious bodily fluids!

      2. Who are you to say Fluoride in water is safe and effective? In Europe it is banned for decades because the opposite was proven to be true.

        1. “Not implemented” is not the same as “banned”. The only country in Europe that actually stopped fluoridation is Czech Republic. And the reason was public opposition, not scientific research.

        2. Hi Henry,

          Natural groundwater contains fluorine compounds. Running streams and rivers contain fluorine compounds. Black tea has a very high quantity of fluorine compounds.

          Dental fluorosis and skeletal fluorosis are much more common in areas WITHOUT water treatment (such as much of rural India) than in places WITH water treatment. There is a recommended daily quantity of fluorine compound intake, and many groundwater wells in the US actually have to have fluorine compounds REMOVED in order to bring them down to the recommended levels.

          Flourine is like anything else — the dose makes the poison. In low doses, it is beneficial, but get too much and you are looking at having issues. Just like aspirin. Just like plain water. Drink too much plain old water, and you could die from disruption of brain functions.

          The fact that high doses of fluorine compounds cause fluorosis is not evidence that fluorine compounds have no benefit.

          Many places don’t need to treat their water with added or removed fluorine because it already has near the recommended amount.

          Don’t think for a second that water in Europe doesn’t contain fluorine compounds. It does.

    1. Normal fellows can learn how to gather up information and think critically about that information by studying – preferably from an early age onward. Evidence suggests fluoride is a pro. And this is not a con.

  8. I think its good that so many people want to question things. Although I agree that it can be frustrating.

  9. “Climate change” is the new name for “Global Warming”. Maybe because there has been no significant warming now for 18 years, and counting. ‘We have a consensus’, and, ‘the science is settled’, according to one Albert Gore – so why is there a group of more than 30,000 scientists who disagree?
    Anybody heard of Judith Curry?
    Google her – it’s fascinating…

    1. Author

      If you were a regular reader, you’d know comments go into a moderated queue before being posted. It prevents spam. But bless your heart for trying.

  10. “Global Warming” is to Climate Change as “Obamacare” is to The Affordable Care Act. The exact same thing, but given a nickname by the media in an effort to simplify a more complex concept. I suppose we are living on different planets, because on mine the average temperature is consistently rising to new records. 2016 was the warmest on record. The reason scientists call it Climate Change is because the general warming of the global average temperature has tremendous effects on climate. The warming is not the biggest concern, it’s the floods, super storms, droughts, rising sea levels, disappearing glaciers, etc, etc that are of major concern.

  11. The basic problem is that scientific method/thinking is beyond the grasp (and willingness to think) of vast chunks of humanity. The notion of disproof and competing hypotheses, the true nature of theory and models, are all unacceptable to the above average minds who want “proof” and “certainty”. Add to that the volumes of knowledge out there to digest, and you now have a situation where the majority of people would simply prefer to “believe” rather than know or understand. I think we are screwed as a species, just like we’ve always been. It’s just that now we are large enough in population to actually have a real affect on the planet and we are still too dumb to understand and control it. Have a beer and relax b/c in 4 billion years, we are all toast anyway.

Leave a Reply