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The World Remains Five Minutes From Midnight 301

Posted by Unknown Lamer
from the hands-that-threaten-doom dept.
Lasrick writes "The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists announces whether their Doomsday Clock has been moved with this open letter to President Obama, outlining progress on a number of fronts, but also detailing what still needs to be done to avoid various threats to humanity." From the article: "2012 was a year in which the problems of the world pressed forward, but too many of its citizens stood back. In the U.S. elections the focus was "the economy, stupid," with barely a word about the severe long-term trends that threaten the population's well-being to a far greater extent: climate change, the continuing menace of nuclear oblivion, and the vulnerabilities of the world's energy sources."
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The World Remains Five Minutes From Midnight

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  • Doomsday clock (Score:4, Insightful)

    by AG the other (1169501) on Monday January 14, 2013 @07:17PM (#42587275)

    I've been seeing reports of this so called clock for a long time and I can't help pointing out that so far, for thousands of years, every single prediction of the end of the world and humanity has been wrong.

    • Re:Doomsday clock (Score:4, Informative)

      by p0p0 (1841106) on Monday January 14, 2013 @07:24PM (#42587319)
      It's not really a prescription. It's more symbolic, since it is decided by a group of persons on when and where to move the hands of the clock.
      Whether there is physically a clock, or if it is all symbolism I'm not entirely sure.

      In the end (ha!) the clock has lost most of it's shock value and is mostly ignored.
      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by fustakrakich (1673220)

        The clock is a lie

      • Re:Doomsday clock (Score:5, Informative)

        by guttentag (313541) on Monday January 14, 2013 @08:42PM (#42587913) Journal
        It's a symbol that has been used for 66 years by the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists at the University of Chicago to draw attention to the Global Thermonuclear War edition of the fiscal cliff. It started out at 7 minutes to midnight before the Cold War started and the hand was moved whenever they wanted to draw attention to moves by governments that the directors of the bulletin deemed good or bad with respect to the threat of a nuclear apocalypse. The furthest it has ever been from midnight was 17 minutes after the U.S. and U.S.S.R. signed START.

        In 2007, with the Cold War long over and no nukes traded between India and Pakistan, people had become desensitized to minute changes (such as "we're moving the hand one minute closer to midnight because you haven't signed any new treaties promising to disarm additional weapons... So you'd better start signing treaties or we're going to scare people with our big symbolic clock") it was repurposed to also draw attention to climate issues that could also bring about apocalyptic scenarios.

        Unfortunately, most people don't know that, and the clock has little meaning for the general public. Like the March of Dimes (which was founded to eradicate polio -- mission accomplished, and good luck getting a straight answer from them on where your money goes now...) it became a self-important PR Zombie in search of a purpose for its once-massive mobilization abilities. Climate change is important, but this is the 21st century. They need to find a more informative way to inform people, because no one knows what the hell a minute means in terms of the climate cliff. Tell them to use more sunblock and less freon... Something concrete. Not a meaningless abstract clock symbol.
        • Like the March of Dimes (which was founded to eradicate polio -- mission accomplished, and good luck getting a straight answer from them on where your money goes now...)

          In the mid-1960s, the March of Dimes changed its mission to the prevention of birth defects. See Initiatives after polio [wikipedia.org].

        • Re: polio (Score:5, Informative)

          by girlinatrainingbra (2738457) on Monday January 14, 2013 @10:52PM (#42588553)
          It's just a symbol meant for PR and to draw attention. As for polio, it's mostly eradicated in the majority of the world thanks to the dead ( formalin inactivated) virus vaccine invented by Salk (founder of the Salk Institute here in La Jolla, next door to UCSD) and to the weakened live virus invented by Sabin (not as well remembered here in La Jolla). Polio still runs rampant in Nigeria and north central Africa and Pakistan (check out the colorful distribution heatmap [wikipedia.org] on the wikipedia article about poliomyelitis), but the March of Dimes' activities are limited to the USA.
      • Because it's more bullshit than symbolic. You do as they want you to do, the clock moves further from midnight. You do what they don't want and/or ignore their issues, and they move it closer.

        How close we really are to doomsday is not measured here, there's no accurate and unbiased measure of things as diverse and unrelated as nuclear proliferation and climate change, there can't be. If there was we'd ride that sucker like the fiscal cliff, right up to the very last second for DECADES. It seems like we're m

      • Re:Doomsday clock (Score:4, Insightful)

        by neyla (2455118) on Tuesday January 15, 2013 @02:04AM (#42589147)

        True, but there's 1440 minutes in a day, so five minutes to midnight is 99.35% which is a insanely high score.

        Basically, by using a clock they claim to be using a 0-1440 scale and that the present value is 1435, but in actual reality, they're only using the last ten minutes of that scale, so the actual scale is 0-10 with a current value of 5.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by k6mfw (1182893)

      every single prediction of the end of the world and humanity has been wrong.

      Let us hope such predictions continue to be wrong. All it takes is just ONE to be right and then no more predictions are necessary.

    • Re:Doomsday clock (Score:5, Informative)

      by DigitAl56K (805623) on Monday January 14, 2013 @07:32PM (#42587389)

      The Doomsday clock isn't predicting the end of the world, it's symbolic and reflects an assessment of the state of potentially many topics that pose a serious risk to our civilization. The closer the clock is to midnight, the worse condition we're considered to be in, all things considered. The clock moves forwards and back depending on the problems of the world, what we're doing about them, what we've committed to do about them, etc. etc.

      If the clock were at midnight the world would not necessarily end, but we'd be in very bad shape (maybe imminent nuclear war, loss of energy supply, etc.)

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by icebike (68054)

        Thank you captain obvious.

        Its not like any of us would have stumbled on that symbolism in 66 years since they started making their predictions.
        We are all so dense you know.....

        • Maybe you should look at the post I was replying to, which certainly did conflate the doomsday clock with predictions of the end of the world.

        • by hawguy (1600213)

          Thank you captain obvious.

          Its not like any of us would have stumbled on that symbolism in 66 years since they started making their predictions.
          We are all so dense you know.....

          Go back to the post he's replying to and it seems that maybe it's not so obvious to everyone.

          I've been seeing reports of this so called clock for a long time and I can't help pointing out that so far, for thousands of years, every single prediction of the end of the world and humanity has been wrong.

          • by icebike (68054)

            The post he was replying to had it right.

            The dooms day clock is in fact a prediction of doom, done with symbolism, and not very meaningful symbolism at that.
            At least the Mayans set a date certain.

            With the clock, those using it for their annual fear mongering, claim "oh its just symbolism", to weasel out of anything they can be held to, actual time frames, level of seriousness, or anything other than annual hand wringing.

            Does the clock symbolize all of mans time here on earth, or only from the Pleistocene f

      • by PPH (736903)

        But who prioritizes the issues? One person worries about nuclear weapons. Another imagines global warming. Yet another cries over a dead tree [youtube.com].

        Personally, I have grave concerns over our inability to bring a flying car to market.

      • The Doomsday clock isn't predicting the end of the world, it's symbolic and reflects a highly politicized, opinionated, and subjective view of the state of potentially many topics that pose a serious risk to our civilization.

        There, fixed that for you.

        Seriously, the state of clock is set by a small number of people and the setting based on their personal opinions. It's not formal, it's not scientific, it's nothing but an editorial piece.

      • Re:Doomsday clock (Score:5, Insightful)

        by LordLimecat (1103839) on Monday January 14, 2013 @09:48PM (#42588247)

        Except according to wikipedia this adjustment was not because "we're worse off", it was adjusted because nothing had changed and apparently a statement needed to be made:

        Lack of global political action to address..... [wikipedia.org]
        So if it wasnt already clear that this is a stupid arbitrary soapbox, here you go.

    • Re:Doomsday clock (Score:5, Insightful)

      by hawguy (1600213) on Monday January 14, 2013 @07:52PM (#42587561)

      I've been seeing reports of this so called clock for a long time and I can't help pointing out that so far, for thousands of years, every single prediction of the end of the world and humanity has been wrong.

      Well, of course every prediction of the end of the world and humanity has been wrong - you wouldn't be able to make that observation otherwise.

      • I guess the point is that they have all been wrong but people keep making them. They never seem to learn about predictions not working.

        • Re:Doomsday clock (Score:5, Interesting)

          by silentcoder (1241496) on Tuesday January 15, 2013 @05:19AM (#42589737) Homepage

          >I guess the point is that they have all been wrong but people keep making them. They never seem to learn about predictions not working.

          A major factor ignored by this thinking is this: the vast majority of "doomsday predictions" are NOT in fact pessimistic claims of "The end is nigh" (especially today). And this lumps genuine scientific concerns in with "Mayan prophecy" idiots - as if they have anything in common.
          In fact the vast majority of doomsday prophecies both today and right back to ancient times (compare all the ones in ancient writings like the Old Testament) are self-unfullfilling prophecies. The very PURPOSE of making the prophecy is to prevent itself from coming true: they are not saying "we are all going to die" - they are saying: "repent or face the consequences" - with the sincere hope that people will, in fact, repent.

          Take an easy example - in the mid-90's when we became aware of Y2K problem computer scientists predicted massive chaos if it wasn't fixed. They were not saying "the world is going to end" - they WERE saying "fix the problem OR the world is going to be in trouble".
          So we fixed the problem - millions of techs around the world who worked very, very hard fixing computers to solve that problem before it happened - and we almost entirely averted the crisis. What was left was one nuclear plant that shut down and a few minor inconveniences (like a centenarian born in 1903 who was told she couldn't vote in the 2004 elections because the system thought she was only 1 year old).

          Many people subsequently claimed that the whole thing was overblown. It wasn't. The problem and it's potential impact was very, very real - it didn't happen because we invested time, money and ingenuity enough to solve it IN TIME.

          So this spouting-line completely ignores all the doomsday prophecies that MAY or WOULD have come true except that people DID "repent".

          The closest the doomsday clock ever got to midnight was 2-minutes two midnight during the Cuban Missile Crisis (this is what inspired the Iron Maiden song: 2 minutes to midnight). It was an accurate prediction of the level of threat of nuclear war at the time. The world has never been at so high a risk of a nuclear war since, and so the clock has never been there again.

          Now whether the doomsday clock is a good or bad way to represent the IDEA of the risk to the population can be debated, but to imagine that "because the world has never ended, it obviously never will" is er... fucking stupid.

    • by mug funky (910186)

      there's a bit of an anthropic principle to what you're saying. if one of those predictions had been right, we would be unable to post here.

    • by riverat1 (1048260)

      Maybe they're not wrong, just premature.

    • by Nyder (754090)

      I've been seeing reports of this so called clock for a long time and I can't help pointing out that so far, for thousands of years, every single prediction of the end of the world and humanity has been wrong.

      Or the prediction has been written down after it's happened and then claimed as a prediction... The Bible has that.

  • Doctor Manhattan (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday January 14, 2013 @07:19PM (#42587283)

    "...I would only argue that a doomsday clock is as nourishing to the intellect as a picture of oxygen to a drowning man."

  • Climate change? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by phantomfive (622387) on Monday January 14, 2013 @07:19PM (#42587285) Journal
    If AGW is the worst thing facing humanity, then we're currently in a REALLY good situation.

    What's the biggest danger to humanity? Probably nuclear winter, still.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      The biggest and fastest growing threat to humanity is disease and religion (including anti-human greens). Think 12 monkeys or "The White Plague" (frank herbert).

      in 2011 a researcher invented a flu strain with human mortality of probably about 50%. A small number of motivated nut jobs, perhaps even a single person with a couple of million dollars could probably replicate this with far less visibility than for example nuclear weapons programs. There are a large number of highly educated people in the world

      • by terec (2797475)

        There are plenty of viruses in the wild with high mortality rates and every combination of incubation period and contagiousness you can imagine; none of them have wiped us out yet. It seems to take a bit more to create a global pandemic, and nobody knows how to do it.

        Sooner or later, there will be a serious pandemic, something that will wipe out a significant percentage of humanity. There are genetic traces of such past disasters, and we see them in animals occasionally. But it won't be cooked up deliberate

    • That's an interesting point of view. What metric did you use to define the relative likelihood + impacts of a nuclear winter versus anthropogenic global warming?
      • The IPCC report. I don't claim to know the full impact of nuclear winter, but we are talking about hundreds of millions dead in the first few days.
        • by Alioth (221270)

          Nuclear winter is a bit of a misnomer - it's more like nuclear months-long night. In the event of a large scale exchange (let's imagine a 1980s scenario where the Soviets and the West exchange 3000 megatons worth), in the months after the exchange due to stratospheric soot injection, at mid day the lighting conditions would be that of a moonlit night.

          Go out on a moonlit night. Imagine that's how light it will get for a significant period of time. Very few people will survive that. Imagine that it happens at

  • by gl4ss (559668) on Monday January 14, 2013 @07:24PM (#42587317) Homepage Journal

    it makes the clock bullshit. it will never be even 23 pm. and now it's totally useless as indicator for following how the nuke situation is going.

    the number is just pulled out of the ass, status quo remaining the same has pushed it closer to midnight several times. but moving it to half past eleven or whatever wouldn't be right because "they don't want to give the wrong message that you shouldn't be afraid".

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Its like the terrorist colour thing. They want you worried or they don't have a point.

      • Its like the terrorist colour thing. They want you worried or they don't have a point.

        Nope. They are correct because they are in possession of the facts and you, clearly, are not. Hence, you imply a conspiracy theory since it is so much easier than checking the facts (the information is actually out there in the public domain if one bothers to look). I'll do you a favor and give you a link to the number of terrorist attacks since 9/11: The wikipedia list, which is a subset of the real list: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_terrorist_incidents [wikipedia.org]
        http://www.thereligionofpeace.com/ [thereligionofpeace.com] lists 20

    • by Sycraft-fu (314770) on Tuesday January 15, 2013 @12:02AM (#42588817)

      The fact that it has always been "right next to doom" is all the evidence you need of that. There have been massive changes in the world, particularly regarding the likelihood of total nuclear war, and it budged hardly at all. It has been "the boy who cried wolf" for a long time now.

      It may have started with good intentions about really showing people how close we were to nuclear war, but it has long since just been a random scream about doom with no basis in reality.

  • by girlintraining (1395911) on Monday January 14, 2013 @07:32PM (#42587397)

    It's not a terribly good model. Since it came out it hasn't moved very much compared to the total time represented (24 hours, of which it seems to have always been in the last 15 minutes -- or about 1% of the available time). It's not unlike making a global warming map and then plotting it on a scale from -400F to +4000F... You get a straight line. You need to calibrate it to the min/max values you're actually seeing within that range, which would be more like -60F to +170F.

    One wonders if this isn't a case of a bunch of scientists getting together and showing us a gimmick that show's were perpetually at the edge of an imaginary cliff, but has no real value visually or comparatively.

    • It's not a terribly good model. Since it came out it hasn't moved very much compared to the total time represented (24 hours, of which it seems to have always been in the last 15 minutes -- or about 1% of the available time).

      Look at the clock face as presented on the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. The range _is_ 15 minutes.

      Also, perhaps the overall risk hasn't changed too much. There has been ongoing war, proliferation, food scarcity, fuel scarcity, pandemics, global warming, economic collapse in major nations, terrorism, drugs, etc.

      but has no real value visually or comparatively.

      Line more to the left, things are going better. Line upright, things are going bad. Or perhaps they hope that people will read the reasons they give instead of just looking at the graphic for 2

  • by icebike (68054) on Monday January 14, 2013 @07:35PM (#42587415)

    This "doomsday clock" hasn't ticked in years. The Atomic Scientists bulletin has used it for every Cause célèbre since the day it was invented. No amount of change will ever move those hands again, because there will always be another issue to adopt, another bandwagon to jump on, another social issue to champion.

    Once the threat of nuclear war subsided from the fever pitch of the 60's, they, like most anti-everything protest movements, had to find other horses to ride, preferably one that couldn't reject them. So climate change it is. And cyber technologies!!

    And if we don't heed them, we are reminded (annually it turns out) that We are DOOMED, Doomed I tell you! [barrypopik.com].

    • by oodaloop (1229816)
      Just because this clock is a fucked up doesn't mean we're not doomed.

      "Hey is it hot in here or am I crazy?"
      No, it's hot in here.
      "Oh good, then I'm not crazy."
      No, you may still be crazy.
    • Living without fear and ignoring existential threats are two different behavious. The first requires faith in your fellow man and personal courage, the second requires a lobotomy.
      • by terec (2797475)

        Homo sapiens hasn't faced an existential threat since we migrated out of Africa. You couldn't wipe out humanity if you tried with current technology.

        The only existential threats to humanity are massive geological events or a huge asteroid hit. By the time our technology becomes a realistic threat, we'll already be all over the solar system.

    • by jd2112 (1535857)

      This "doomsday clock" hasn't ticked in years.

      And Iron Maiden still haven't updated their song!

    • Don't worry. If Iran complete the research programme that gives them the ability to construct nuclear weapons this year (which *all the facts* show they are working on) then the Doomsday Clock will move. Will you be happy then?
    • Has everyone forgotten this?

      It's _insane_, people go off about the environment, and everything else, but right now, there are between 3-5,000 nuclear weapons aimed at every major population center on earth.

      People are crazy.

    • The superpowers have backed down but there are many more chances for miscalculation today among the smaller nuclear weapons states.

      I don't want to be downwind of the next India-Pakistan war.

  • by PPH (736903) on Monday January 14, 2013 @07:35PM (#42587423)

    Somebody forgot to wind the clock!

  • Not even close (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward

    "The economy, stupid" was James Carville's coining for Bill Clinton's campaign of two decades ago. Obviously this last election was nothing about the economy, else the president who presided over it wouldn't have gotten re-elected. These chaps may be geniuses of atomic science but they make asses of themselves with the totally ignorant comment about current American politics.

  • This clock has always bothered me, since I have no idea of the scale. Does it run from 12:01 AM to Midnight, or do they only use 11 PM to Midnight? Maybe they only ever move this thing between five minutes to midnight and one minute to midnight. I have no way of understanding the meaning of it, it's random. They might as well say "doomsday clock set to five sevenths.

  • The two questions are:

    One: if those tiny shelled organisms that eat algae are unable to form proper shells due to the CO2 turning seawater into carbonic acid and this process is irremediably progressed then why isn't the clock at 12:00 just before it tolls? I've even read that the algae will turn the oceans into a hypoxic wasteland once these creatures that eat them are removed from the foodchain.

    Two: if the heat problem is recognised by everyone then why are we waiting like crabs in a pot and arguing
    • Re:Two questions (Score:4, Informative)

      by amorsen (7485) <benny+slashdot@amorsen.dk> on Monday January 14, 2013 @09:11PM (#42588075)

      We do not know for sure that ocean life is doomed because of increasing CO2 levels. It is a plausible theory and past extinction events certainly provide reason to worry, but it is not a scientific certainty. Also note that the ocean is not yet close to turning acid, it is going from quite alkaline to somewhat less alkaline.

      As to the geoengineering question, I would think it rather obvious why we are not doing it. It is not necessary yet, and playing with the climate is risky. It would be nicer to stop playing with the climate (stop net CO2 emissions) instead of adding even more uncertainty.

      I bet that deliberate geoengineering with measurable effects will happen, perhaps even within 10 years. Once it becomes clear that CO2 emissions are not stopping quickly enough, it will be necessary and people will demand it.

      • They are probably the most intelligent comments I've ever come across concerning climate change. Thank you. Thank you very much.

        But with regards to geoengineering I would have thought we'd like to keep the albedo (light reflected off the ground) bright and glary in the Arctic regions to keep on reflecting heat back into space. That window is closing very fast.
      • by riverat1 (1048260)

        By the time it becomes enough of a scientific certainty for you it will be too late to do much about it.

  • Maybe not literal ones [ted.com], but are heading toward us, and are as unstoppable as the rock ones, putting politics dynamics into the equation.
  • I'm a night owl.

  • by perceptual.cyclotron (2561509) on Monday January 14, 2013 @08:25PM (#42587785)
    ... but my impression was always that the time on this particular doomsday clock was not meant to represent 'time to doom', nor even 'likelihood of doom', but rather something to the effect of 'margin of error for doom'. i.e., "given the present circumstance, how big of a mistake do we need to make to seriously fuck shit up?" This isn't prophesying, nor is it inconsistent that it hasn't much changed over the years. It is simply a reaffirmation that the potential for great harm remains, and very little effort would be required to tip that scale... According to these guys, 5 minutes worth – but how about we don't dwell too much on the metaphor?
  • Your clock is ticking, but the end is not from commies, it's from the army of Allah.

    • it's from the army of Allah.

      Well, the Shia Army of Allah (as in Iran) are working on nuclear weapons capability. It doesn't matter whether it was the Soviet Empire or the Islamic Caliphate (Empire) that kills you, you will still be dead. The clock is neither moronic nor obsolete. It is intended to raise public consciousness about the risk of Weapons of Mass Destruction to the entire human race. In that sense it succeeded and still has a point to make. Particularly as the Shia believe the 12th Imam, "The Mahdi" will not come to earth

  • These scientists have become almost foolish. They continue to speak about Russian and American nukes, but ignore the fact that China now has more nuke launchers than they have warheads. So, why would China keep more launchers going then warheads? Because they did not. Each of those launchers have at least one nuke warhead, if not more.
    That is why it would be stupid for the west to cut back on nukes.

    And when it comes to CO2 emissions, they scream about USA. Yet, CO2 is not linked to per capita, but to GDP
  • Nice Iron Maiden reference, UL!
    • by jonnythan (79727)

      Glad I'm not the only one who saw that.

      Up the Irons!

      • by Onuma (947856)
        It just so happens to be one of their best songs, IMHO, which is from my favorite Maiden album. I like the speed & dynamics of Aces High a little better, but 2MtM is a great song.
  • ...if it went the other way, nobody would listen to Chicken Little any more.

  • That all the doomsday clock is good for.

  • by DeeEff (2370332) on Tuesday January 15, 2013 @01:01AM (#42589005)

    Doesn't know shit about economics. The world is a several billion year old depreciated asset. A simple replacement analysis will show you that the most economic thing to do is use everything for what it's worth and replace it sometime in the next decade.

    Seriously, it's like you guys don't want to be part of the 1%.

FORTRAN is a good example of a language which is easier to parse using ad hoc techniques. -- D. Gries [What's good about it? Ed.]

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