Contrary to what you may read on the Internet, the world is not going to end in 2012. A rogue planet named Nibiru is not on a collision course with Earth. And a solar flare won't toast the planet.
It's all fiction, though the makers of the film "2012" may lead you to think otherwise.
"I don't have anything against the movie. It's the way it's been marketed and the way it exploits people's fears," NASA scientist David Morrison at the Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif., told Discovery News.
Morrison has launched a counter-attack through his "Ask An Astrobiologist" online column, which he says has gotten more than 1,000 questions about the end of the world.
Scientific misinformation about 2012 has been ramping up for a few years, with more than 200 books and 1,000 Web sites purporting to explain various doomsday scenarios. Sony Pictures is behind a particularly viral campaign to build publicity for its upcoming apocalyptic movie "2012," which debuts on Nov. 13.
The company has set up an interlinked family of Web sites and Facebook pages to infuse a sense of reality to its fictional work.
The lead character in the film, played by actor John Cusack, for example, is the faux author of a faux book about a murder, conspiracy and disaster aboard the space shuttle Atlantis, which, coincidentally, is poised for launch on a space station construction mission the weekend the movie debuts.
10 failed doomsday predictionsThe fictional fiction, named "Farewell, Atlantis," has a Web site, a Facebook page to follow "author appearances," fans and friends, a faux publisher with a faux Web site, a faux press release and endorsements from the very real son of the late Carl Sagan.
There's also a fake institute that presumably dispenses "real" science supporting the movie's claims, as well as a fake news website that distributes fake press releases about a fake aerospace company winning government contracts.
Warren Betts, owner of a California-based publicity firm that peddles real science stories tied to movies, says the type of marketing campaign Sony is executing for "2012" is nothing new.
"It's been done before," said Betts, citing the 1999 horror movie "The Blair Witch Project," a story about a group of amateur documentary film-makers who have a really bad couple of days in the woods.
"Some people went to that movie and they thought it was reality, that it was an actual documentary," Betts said.
Morrison says Sony has crossed a line with promoting "2012."
"I think people are really, really worried about the world coming to an end. Kids are contemplating suicide. Adults tell me they can't sleep and can't stop crying. There are people who are really, really scared," he said.
"People are very gullible," he added. "It a sad testimonial that you need NASA to tell you the world's not going to end."
© 2012 Discovery Channel