Big news you guys! The Doomsday Clock, which was created in the 1940s by a group of concerned scientists to demonstrate just how close we are to finally purging the planet of our pesky presence via nuclear destruction, ticked 30 seconds closer to midnight. We're doomed, doomed!
Or, you know, not.
The Doomsday Clock is the worst sort of pseudoscientific claptrap, one given a veneer of respectability by the fact that NOBEL SCIENTISTS are the ones who arbitrarily move the hands on its face closer to, or further away from, midnight, the zero hour, the time when we wipe ourselves from the face of the Earth. How do I know that NOBEL SCIENTISTS are the ones who arbitrarily pick and choose where to place the minute hand? Because many, many outraged people on Twitter informed me that NOBEL SCIENTISTS are totes in charge of it when I pointed out that calling a press conference to announce the movements of a fake clock is the height of silliness.
And are these NOBEL SCIENTISTS, say, experts in grand strategy? Do they have any special insight into politics or international relations or military planning and tactics? Were their NOBEL PRIZES awarded for being particularly in tune with the ways in which the nuclear hammer might fall? Well … no. Not really. Let's check, just to make sure, though! David Baltimore's wasn't. Paul Berg's wasn't. Nicolaas Bloembergen's wasn't. Manfred Eigen's wasn't. Jerome Friedman's wasn't. Sheldon Glashow's wasn't. Dudley Herschbach's wasn't. Roald Hoffman's wasn't. Masatoshi Koshiba's wasn't. Leon Lederman's wasn't. Ben Mottelson's wasn't. John Polanyi's wasn't. Richard Roberts' wasn't. Steven Weinberg's wasn't. Frank Wilczek's wasn't.
So, that's uh … hold on, carry the one … yes, right: oh-for-fifteen.
"But that's not a fair way of judging things," you might be thinking right now. "After all, they don't really give out Nobel Prizes for grand strategy!" That's true!* But that's, you know, kind of the point? Those guys all seem very very smart—I barely understand what would constitute "contributions to the theory of the unified weak and electromagnetic interaction between elementary particles, including, inter alia, the prediction of the weak neutral current," to pick one winner's bio at random. But that mess of physics up there doesn't mean that Dr. Glashow is, well, you know, an authority on saving the planet from destruction, either.
As Professor Alan Jacobs** noted in the American Conservative last year, all the "Doomsday Clock" really is is a naked projection of fear. "Eventually someone decided to make a fake clock with moveable hands to make the occasional Doomsday Press Conferences a little more dramatic, but that’s not a timepiece; rather, it’s an image of an image of an emotion: fear," Jacobs wrote. "I say ‘image of an emotion' because no actual science goes into the decision of where to place the hands of the clock." Or, as another genius put it, "A symbolic clock is as nourishing to the intellect as a photograph of oxygen to a drowning man."
And, really, that's all there is to say about the Doomsday Clock and its reliance on the glamour of the Nobel to give its press conferences any weight: it's a gussied-up bit of fearmongering, a way for swells to impress upon the dulled masses that the anti-intellectual vulgarian sitting in the White House is a nasty bit of work.
But hey, who am I to question The Science? After all, we know that the highest form of scientific truth can only be symbolized by dudes bombastically moving the fake hands of a fake watch in totally arbitrary and meaningless ways seemingly dictated mostly by the level of distaste for the political moment.
Praise be to Science!
*It's worth noting that none of those guys won for their work in the environmental sciences either, if only because this ridiculous clock now includes climate change in its "calculus."
**Prof. Jacobs hasn't won a Nobel—bias!—yet, but he does have a doctorate from the University of Virginia, so he gets partial genius credit as long as we're making naked appeals to authority, I guess?