Ask A Scientist

What might happen on Dec. 21, 2012? Will it be a doomsday, a day of reborn or will nothing happen?

Asked by: Samantha Frey
School: Maine-Endwell Middle School
Grade: 6
Teacher: Mr. Kevin Wagstaff
Hobbies/Interests: Art, soccer and violin
Career Interest: Vet, nurse, art teacher

Answer from Hiroki Sayama

Director, Collective Dynamics of Complex Systems Research Group, Binghamton University

Research area: Complex systems, artificial life, mathematical biology, computer and information sciences
PhD school: University of Tokyo
Interests/hobbies: Traveling, walking, swimming
Family: Family: Wife, Mari, two sons, Takehiro (11), Yukihiro (6), and a beagle named Nick
Web page address:  

Answer: Don’t worry Samantha, it will NOT be the end of the world. December 21st (or some say 23rd), 2012, is just a final day of the 5125-year-long cycle of the Mayan calendar system. It is more like a New Year’s Eve, something we should probably celebrate, rather than worry about.

To reassure you, I can share some of my personal experiences. When I was a kid living in a rural area of Japan (alas, more than a quarter-century ago), people were all talking about the doomsday to come in September 1999 as predicted by Nostradamus. But the doomsday didn’t come at all in that month. Also, toward the end of the last century, many worried that computers would start malfunctioning and our society would be thrown into chaos when the clock rolled over into 2000, which was called the Year 2000 (Y2K) Problem. But no major problems occurred on the New Year of 2000 either.

There are always people who spread stories about the upcoming apocalypse but why? One reason is because the “end-is-near” idea always promotes people’s sense of fear and attracts their attention. Everyone gets anxious and wants to learn more if she is told that the world will end soon. This can bring economic profits to some people. For example, books about the apocalypse may become a big seller, and critics who talk about it may appear more frequently on TV programs. Another reason may be simply that many of us just love apocalyptic stories, because they are spectacular and dramatic. At least, they are great themes for novels and movies. 

The key lesson is, when you get information from the media, don’t accept everything on faith. It is very important to think about it critically and analytically with your own head, in view of its social contexts. There may be some hidden economical, cultural or political background behind it. The awareness of such social issues and the critical/analytical thinking skills will be a very valuable asset for your daily life and future career, no matter which way you go.

I would like to make one more point. I said it would not be the end of the world, but I didn’t say nothing would happen. In fact, there isn’t a single day when nothing happens. For example, you probably know that there was a big earthquake in Haiti several weeks ago that made a lot of people lose their lives, families and friends, and moreover, many more have been working hard to help them recover from the disaster. Various other good and bad things happen around us everyday. I think it is way more constructive to keep your eyes open to those actual events, think about what you can do for them, and take actions on your own, than get anxious about unrealistic prophecies. Do you agree?



Last Updated: 3/1/17