Thursday, February 17, 2011

Doomsdays of Yesteryear: "The Jupiter Effect," 1982

With so many people getting worked up over Doomsday predictions for 2012, I think it's instructive to look at some previous End-of-The-World hysterias. That should help put such claims into perspective.

In 1974, the book The Jupiter Effect by John Gribbin, PhD and Stephen Plagemann was published. It became a huge best-seller. Its argument was simple: in March of 1982 there will be an "alignment" when seven planets (six if we correctly ignore Pluto) will be lined up on the same side of the Sun. And "lined up" is used in the rough sense: they're within an arc of 95 degrees, or in other words, all within one quadrant, more or less. Somehow this was going to affect the Sun, which would then affect the Earth by the solar wind, and trigger a catastrophic earthquake along the San Andreas Fault near Los Angeles. I don't know why the solar wind wanted to single out Los Angeles and not Tokyo or Lisbon, but it clearly had sinful California in its sights, where the book sales to easily-frightened flakes, fruits, and nuts could be maximized. There were other catastrophes that would occur as well. Probably about as many people were then frightened about 1982 as are now frightened about 2012.

And of course, 1982 came and went without any of the predicted catastrophes occurring. In February of 1982, these same two authors published The Jupiter Effect Reconsidered. They didn't even wait for March to come and go before they started writing their apologia. They claimed that, even though the alignment didn't cause any major earthquakes in 1982, it was responsible for triggering the giant eruption of Mt. St. Helens in 1980 (two years before the "alignment" had occurred). "Psychics" do this all the time, re-interpreting their failed predictions as successes. If a "psychic" predicts A, which doesn't occur, but B does, the prediction will be re-interpreted to have meant B.

Surprisingly, neither Gribbin nor Plagemann has ever been tarred-and-feathered for their journalistic malfeasance. And what was Isaac Asimov thinking when he agreed to write the Foreward to this book, and sound almost like he agrees with them? Probably the same thing as the authors: big Dollar Signs.


  1. Did Asimov write a foreword to the 1982 "Reconsideration"? Did he ever retract what he wrote in the original book?

    Presumably Asimov was not paid any royalties, only a fixed sum for the foreword, so it is perhaps unfair to say he was thinking of big dollars at the time.

  2. Zarkon did something similar. In 1974 he published a book predicting apocalypse in 2000.

    In 1995 he revised the book under his real name (Kenneth Rayner Johnson) and argued that so many of his predictions had come true so far, that the end of the world was indeed about to happen.

    I got all this from reading the back covers in second-hand stores. That will be my full investment.

  3. Very dissapointing from Gribbin, who can and has done better.

  4. Aren't we all forgetting something very important?? The Jupiter Effect, or alignment of the planets and their respective gravitational fields, on minor planets, asteroids, comets and the like??!! What about the collision of Jupiter itself back in 1994 via an broken up comet or asteroid, whichever??!! The effects of the planetary alignments are still being experienced today!! Need I mention the close calls Earth has had recently over Russia and the asteroid that came so near to Earth lately??!! Just some 17,000 miles over Earth!! Could the gravitational effects of the planets gravity field have caused a collision in deep space, and setting the 'spacial pool game' in motion??!! NASA needs to do much more sky watching, don't they??!!

    1. If we were to take just the gravitational effect of the Sun, we'd arrive very close to the total effect on a body within the Solar System.

  5. Lawrence, are you saying that before this so-called alignment, these events didn't happen? They happen all the time!

  6. Well the solar flares did happen, and the SUN is acting as if it was dying, so the end may be around :)

  7. This is just another example of pseudoscience. This irrational way of thinking has no place in modern society. Unfortunately, it's 2018 and you still have this type of thinking going on. Old habits die hard I guess.


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