The Doomsday Clock: What Is It?

The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists recently updated the Doomsday Clock to two and half minutes closer to midnight. Part of the board’s official statement reads: “The probability of global catastrophe is very high, and the actions needed to reduce the risks of disaster must be taken very soon.”

But what is the Doomsday clock and why does it matter?

If you’re as clueless as the next person, then you’re in luck. We’ve come up with a guide on the Doomsday clock, from its origin to its relevance. Let’s get started on defining what the Doomsday clock is.

What is the Doomsday Clock?

The Doomsday Clock is a metaphorical clock that evaluates the end of the world. The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists is the group that conceived the idea of using a clock to update the human race annually. They base their assessment on different global threats they find imminent. The clock is reset every year according to the threat level.

The clock established by the Bulletin doesn’t coincide with Doomsday prophecies and hypotheses generated for centuries. The Doomsday Clock is an imaginary reminder that the planet is suffering and it is up to us to ensure there is a future for the human race.

As to which time they set the clock to, all depend on scientific evidence and empirical data.

The global threats

It is more than just nuclear arsenal that motivates the Bulleting to keep the public updated. The group behind the clock takes into account the various global factors such as:

  • Nuclear threats
  • Climate change
  • Bioterrorism
  • Biosecurity
  • Disregard of scientific expertise
  • Miscellaneous threats like AI or cyber warfare

More and more threats were added for consideration throughout the years the Bulletin devoted themselves to preserving human civilization.

Who is the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists?

The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists was established in 1945. Biophysicist Eugene Rabinowitch and physicist Hyman Goldsmith founded the newsletter.

The Bulletin consists of engineers, scientists, and other experts who are responsible for creating an atomic bomb as part of the Manhattan Project. These experts knew that the new weapons pose an incredibly powerful global threat. That’s why they’ve made it their life’s work to continuously warn the public about its dangerous consequences.

In 1947, the Bulletin graduated from being a newsletter to a full-blown magazine with a clock on its cover. This was an effort to make the public aware of the urgency of nuclear dangers.

With each news conference held by the Bulletin during the annual clock announcement, they call on world leaders to act wisely. They ask that these influential people keep the planet and human preservation as their top priority.

How are the Decisions Made?

Many wonder how the Bulletin come up with their assessment; how close they end up setting the clock to midnight.

The Science and Security Board of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, together with their sponsors review which events and trends are threatening the planet and humanity. From here, they assess how dangerous these threats are. The group also gathers input from seasoned experts in various fields such as biodiversity, climate change and nuclear weaponry.

The Doomsday Timeline

The Doomsday Clock has been set differently each year since its conception. It moved further back when historic moments paved the way for a more positive, hopeful atmosphere. For example, the Doomsday Clock was set to 17 minutes to midnight in 1991 because the Cold War ended. Furthermore, there was a subsequent collapse of the USSR nuclear weaponry.

It was in 1953 when the clock of doom was set closest to midnight. It was the year the USA first tested their hydrogen bomb. It was a fusion weapon much more destructive than the fission bombs that hit Nagasaki and Hiroshima.

Now, the clock is set at two and half minutes to midnight. It’s the closest it’s ever been since the 1950s.

Below is a partial Doomsday timeline set by the Bulletin.

  • 1947 – 7 minutes to midnight: Highlighted the urgency of nuclear weapons
  • 1949 – 3 minutes to midnight: Soviet Union tested their first nuclear device
  • 1953 – 2 minutes to midnight: US conceived their first hydrogen bomb
  • 1963 – 12 minutes to midnight: Ending of atmospheric nuclear testing
  • 1984 – 3 minutes to midnight: US-Soviet tension
  • 1991 – 17 minutes to midnight: End of Cold War
  • 2015 – 3 minutes to midnight: Modern nuclear weapons and climate change
  • 2016 – 3 minutes to midnight: Global danger due to climate change
  • 2017 – 2.5 minutes to midnight: Rise of nationalism, nuclear threats and blatant disregard for scientific expertise

The clock has been adjusted 20 times since 1947. It has not only highlighted the threats surrounding nuclear weaponry. It has also been influenced by other factors that are equally alarming.

Backlash and Criticism

The Doomsday Clock may be a powerful symbol of human vulnerability. However, it’s not safe from widespread criticism. The Bulletin has received countless amounts of backlash throughout the years.

One of its most vocal critics is Katherine Pandora, a history of science researcher at the University of Oklahoma. She said in a previous interview: “I don’t think that using apocalyptic rhetoric helps us to do the hard work of discussing difficult and complicated issues in a democracy.”

Others have also raised the group’s exercise of false authority fallacy. The keepers of the clock are were under fire for their ability to “predict” political and scientific events that may lead to the extinction of humanity. However, it’s important to note that none of the members’ expertise was ever questioned.

Another critic of the Doomsday Clock is The Conversation’s Anders Sandberg. The philosopher at the University of Oxford said: “It was perhaps much easier when they started, when it was just nuclear war, but since then we have gained other existential risks.”

Others may believe that the Doomsday Clock is an inaccurate and ineffective symbol. However, it doesn’t mean that all the efforts exerted by the Bulletin were in vain. It has helped the public become more aware and understanding of the current stature of the planet. It has also drove people to help save it in their own way.

 

Viktor Rudov

Viktor is the main founder of the site. Came up with the idea for the site after being friends with the rest of the squad for 4 years. One Skype call is all it took for us to click.

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