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Taking a Stand Against Bad Astronomy

Truman Collins' planetary alignment page has a link to a company that is selling a book all about the upcoming "disaster" in May of 2000. They also sell survival gear. Can you guess whether they say that nothing will happen as scientists say, or whether they prophecy doom and destruction? Right. Well, this time I decided to take a stand. In May of 1997 I sent them a letter, copied below. I received no reply, so I have resent it (January 1998). This time I did get an answer, and they basically said that their research supports their claims. Also, that I should buy a copy of their book. I doubt I will do that; I have seen it in bookstores, and it is full of alarmist rhetoric and precious little critical thinking. Perhaps if my library has it I will read it thoroughly and post a critique here.

Dear Sirs:

I was pointed to your web page by someone who had read *my* web page. I read your page with growing alarm, though not because of the warnings of imminent disaster in May of 2000. I became disturbed because I believe your claims of doom from the planets' gravity are completely wrong.

The so-called "planetary alignment" coming up in a few years is certainly starting to receive a lot of attention, but this is a sensationalist reaction to a relatively mundane event. Even the word alignment is misleading, "multiple conjunction" is a better phrase. These conjunctions have happened quite often, and as a matter of fact many better, tighter arrangements have occurred in the past century with no measurable effects whatsoever. It is quite easy to show that not only does this conjunction have no measurable effect on the Earth, but that the monthly motions of the Moon completely overwhelm any tiny effect the planets can generate. Note also that the planets will be in conjunction on *the far side of the Sun*, further reducing any possible effect on the Earth. These calculations and conclusions can be found on several sites on the WWW. I invite you to look at my description of this event at

[Note: that link is no longer active, but I quote it for historical accuracy. Here is the correct link.]
and any of the links contained therein.

I am curious: your page says (and I quote):

On or around May 5,2000 (give or take a few days) these planets (see picture) Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn and the Sun plus our moon will line up on one side of Earth creating major stress on Planet Earth. Predictions range from a few earthquakes to major earth crust movement (slippage), polar ice cap movement, sea levels rising 100 - 300 feet or more,huge tidal waves, high winds 500 to 2000 mph, earthquakes so massive that Richter 13 or more could be possible, both coasts of USA under water, magnetic shift and much more.

Obviously, I would disagree with these predictions. May I ask, who are the people making these predictions? I would appreciate being able to contact them so that I may present my arguments on this issue. I would also like to know if any professional astronomers were used as advisors on the book "5/5/2000 Ice: The Ultimate Disaster" that you advertise in your page as well, and if so, who they were so that I might contact them as well.

Please note that I do not speak for anyone but myself. Specifically, I do not represent or speak for any institution I have attended, my employers, coworkers or any friends or relatives. I take full responsibility for any and all things I say or do.

You may contact me at the address in my signature below. Thank you for your time.

Philip Plait

I'd like to add one more thing. In the copy from their ad that I quoted, they say "Predictions range from a few earthquakes to major earth crust movement..." This is not true at all. Predictions range from nothing happening at all (which is what scientists say) to having major earthquakes (what people that stand to profit from this have to say). Ads quite often stretch the truth, but I think this time the truth is in more danger than the Earth.

©2008 Phil Plait. All Rights Reserved.

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