MU hosts doomsday discussion to debunk end of the world theories

Wednesday, December 5, 2012 | 10:08 p.m. CST

COLUMBIAWhen Rosie Robinson’s sixth-grade history teacher told her that the world was going to end in 2012, it struck fear in her heart.

Now 17, Robinson says she has been dreading this month for years.

On Wednesday night, Robinson and so many students, faculty and other members of the community piled into a lecture hall for a discussion of doomsday predictions that the group had to move to a different room to accommodate all the visitors. Angela Speck, professor and director of astronomy at MU, delivered the presentation debunking end of the world theories as a part of the "Cosmic Conversations" lecture series.

Speck’s goal was to show people the Mayan calendar wasn't meant to predict the end of the world.

"It’s just a calendar," she said, laughing.

The doomsday discussion was the kick-off event for the MU Department of Physics and Astronomy’s "Countdown to the End of the World," which will include various events and discussions leading up to Dec. 21, the supposed Mayan prediction for the end of the world. The countdown will end with a Dec. 21 rooftop party on MU’s Physics Building.

With shows such as "Doomsday Preppers" airing on television and frequent chats on the Internet about the end of the world, it's no wonder people want to seek out information and discuss predictions surrounding the world's supposed impending doom.

After attending the event, Robinson said she feels much better and thinks people need to stop making predictions.

"Why cause fear when there is no backup?" Robinson said.

Speck thought it would be a good conversation to put on the department's "Countdown" schedule after attending an event this summer where experts on the Mayan people discussed the myth and updated research.

"This is a great opportunity to involve people who might not usually come to a science talk," Speck said. "We get to pull in a new audience."

Doomsday predictions have been made before, but none have reached the hype the myth of the Mayan calendar has since it began. Speck says that there are a lot of factors that add to the hype surrounding this prediction.

"It's just another fad for people to get behind and talk about," Mikah Sargent, 20, said. "It just goes along with other groups who have said similar things."

Although predictions have been made before, the Internet and social media have greatly contributed to the amount of attention this particular myth has received. The danger is that incorrect information is also being spread, Speck said. 

"Everyone is entitled to the truth," Colby Delise, 20, said. "It can be dangerous when people feel like they have nothing to lose."

Speck doesn’t believe the world is going to end in a catastrophic event, but she isn't surprised there are people who are scared. She says that though it is ill informed to think the world will end on a certain date, there are still other natural disasters people should be prepared for. 

"If this pushes people to be prepared for some kind of catastrophe, that isn’t a bad thing," Speck said.

Supervising editor is Zach Murdock.

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Tracy Greever-Rice December 5, 2012 | 11:21 p.m.

Abe Lincoln,P.T. Barnum, Will Rogers, et al aren't just spinning in their graves, their rolling (possibly roiling) with laughter in their graves. And... there's a 6th grade teacher out there seriously in need of a pink slip, Freudian or no.

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