From the Editor: 86.1 Science and the End of the World

Despite the flurry of apprehension, the world did not end on December 21, 2012. As the winter solstice passed and midnight crept by on the 21st, there was no onset of natural disasters, no planetary collision, no apocalyptic catastrophe. Just like a classic automobile resets to zero after reaching 99,999.9 miles and like our calendars restarted in the year 2000 after the conclusion of 1999, the course of the supposed doomsday only brought about the beginning of the next day. And while the Mayan calendar may have ended on this day, this culmination likewise only signified the end of a cycle — not the end of the world. As the New Year was ushered in, any credence of Mayan doomsday theories have largely dissipated; however, it is likely that new doomsday theories will take its place, nestled again in popular culture.

It would seem wise to learn from these false alarms, but tales of brimstone and fire have spread throughout the course of history. For example, the Millerites believed the world was ending in 1843; an ancient Sumerian culture is claimed to have predicted the encounter of Earth with another celestial body in 2003; and the evangelist radio broadcaster Harold Camping forecasted dates of supposed rapture in both 1994 and 2011. Clearly the world did not end in any of these instances, and experts assured that there was no reason to buy into the hype of the Mayan doomsday — there was no scientific basis for these predictions, no hard evidence, but still, many entrenched themselves into the phenomenon.

Although these cycles of doomsday frenzy will likely continue to occur, this is not to say that the world will not end. According to scientific data, Earth has a defined expiration date of approximately four to five billion years as the supply of hydrogen from the sun dwindles. Scientists also speculate the possibility of catastrophic collision of meteors or comets, wiping out all life before the biological expiration — though the estimated timeline is still sometime far in the future.

Until then, scholars suggest that humans are accelerating our own demise as we are unable to resolve aspects of problems such as diminishing natural resources, thinning ozone, increasingly pervasive natural disasters, and emerging epidemics. Though some of the rhetoric in arguments may be exaggerated, these issues shine light on arguably more realistic threats to our lives, those that have grounding in actual evidence, as opposed to doomsday theories that are generally based on superstition and speculative rumors. In this issue of the Yale Scientific, we found it apt to explore some potentially disastrous threats and the scientific developments in these fields, ranging from the mysterious phenomenon of honey bee colony collapse with potential ripple effects in the greater ecosystem to the perils of biological warfare and research at Yale conducted on predicting the theoretically catastrophic events of volcanic eruptions.

As the 2012 Masthead concludes its tenure, we thank you all for your readership and support as we welcome in the new year, the new Mayan era, and the scientific advancements that will hopefully preclude the world from ending anytime soon.

William Zhang