NEO IMPACT SYMPOSIUM & SECRECY ISSUES (Posted 2/25/03)
Let’s hear from Lee Clarke, in his own words, concerning the issue
of panic in a global catastrophe. This article comes from the
NEO IMPACT SYMPOSIUM & SECRECY ISSUES
Responding To Panic
In A Global Impact Catastrophe
A common fear among high level
decision makers is that people react badly to bad news (we don’t
want to cry wolf ) and that they will panic if a catastrophe
happens. Scientists who think and write about global catastrophes
also worry that the public will panic. But our leaders are wrong,
because panic in disasters, at least in the United States, is quite
rare. And our scientists are often unscientific, because they’re
neglecting the empirical evidence on how people behave in dire
Fifty years of social science research
on disasters and extreme situations show
that panic is rare even when people feel
excessive fear. Panic, according to the
Oxford English Dictionary, is an
excessive feeling of alarm or fear
leading to extravagant or injudicious
efforts to secure personal safety. Panic
usually refers to desperate acts of self
preservation that have the contrary effect of harming self and/or
others. People escaping from the destruction of the
Center didn’t act like that, nor did they disregard the needs of
others around them. Instead, they behaved civilly and cooperatively.
We now know that almost everyone survived if they were below the
floors where the airplanes struck the buildings. That is in large
measure because people did not become hysterical, but instead
facilitated a successful evacuation.
Hollywood’s disaster movies
Armageddon and Deep Impact are
obvious examples, but any disaster movie will show people running
wildly from catastrophe, knocking over their own grandmothers to
save themselves. That’s dead wrong. Not only will they save their
grandmothers, they’ll save complete strangers, before saving
themselves. This is surprising if one assumes that people are
naturally self-interested. But looking at the evidence leads to the
inescapable conclusion that people are naturally social.
A major reason that the panic myth persists is that it provides
authorities (i.e., decision-makers, politicians, and administrators)
with an easy explanation for complex events. Even when panic does
happen, say at soccer matches, focusing on it usually detracts
attention from more important factors such as official misconduct or
In addition, by using pacifying
speech (e.g., “Everything is under
control.”) and to allay public fear and hiding information from the
public, spokespersons cultivate distrust at a time when nothing
could be more important to public safety than trust of the
information that authorities disseminate.
The truth is that disasters are normal.
Disasters are special situations but they
are still social ones, and people
generally follow community
expectations when things go awry, just like in less tumultuous
Furthermore, people don’t usually lose
their sense of community, even when
every building has been destroyed. The
more consistent pattern in disasters is
that people connect in the aftermath and
work to rebuild their physical and
The lion’s share of thinking and
research concerning Near Earth Objects (NEOs) has gone into
detection and deflection. It’s a mistake to neglect the social,
political, and organizational aspects of the problem. Our concern
is, after all, with people: saving them, helping them, educating
them, working with them.
This presentation will consider these issues, and try to specify the
utility, and limitations, of extant social science research for
trying to predict and manage the public response to a global impact
catastrophe. Some of the presentation will be built on a paper,
Panic: Myth Or Reality, which appeared in the Fall 2002 issue of
Contexts, the American Sociological Association’s general-interest
On the question of why governments fear public panic, my hunch is
that it’s just common sense, which is sometimes more common than
sense. But it’s very real among high-level decision-makers. Even
professional emergency managers often believe it. One quick example:
a fellow who works for the NYC mayor was speaking at a conference
for emergency managers last October. He made a big deal about how
one of the lessons of Guiliani’s handling of risk communication
after 9/11 was that he asserted a single, strong voice; had he not,
this fellow claimed, New Yorkers would have panicked. Sadly, he
totally dismissed me, even though I offered real evidence to the
My claim in Denver won’t be that
panic never happens, or that it isn’t an
issue regarding NEOs. It will be more
measured than that. I will point to the
research on disasters, all of which
suggests panic, at least the usual
conception of it, probably wouldn’t happen. But there are big limits
to the validity of the extrapolations we can confidently make from
present knowledge to NEO-related issues. We can predict confidently,
I believe, that if policy makers act as if people can’t handle bad
news, then they can help produce the very irrationalities they fear.
The problem of risk communication in this venue hasn’t been
Let’s take a closer look at the subject of Near Earth Objects. Don’t
you wonder why, all of a sudden, this is such a hot topic for debate
on all sides? Let’s consider an article from NASA
Center’s website page on “Asteroid And Comet Impact Hazards”:
What Is A NEO?
Near-Earth-Objects (NEOs) are small bodies in the solar system
(asteroids and short-period comets) with orbits that regularly bring
them close to the Earth and which, therefore, are capable someday of
striking our planet.
Sometimes the term NEO is also used loosely to include all comets
(not just short-period ones) that cross the Earth’s orbit. Those
NEOs with orbits that actually intersect the Earth’s orbit are
called Earth-Crossing Objects (ECOs).
What Size NEOs Are Dangerous?
The Earth’s atmosphere protects us from most
NEOs smaller than a
modest office building (50 meter diameter, or impact energy of about
5 megatons). From this size, up to about 1 km diameter, an impacting NEO can do tremendous damage on a local scale.
Above an energy of a million
megatons (diameter about 2 km), an
impact will produce severe
environmental damage on a global
scale. The probable consequence would be an “impact winter” with
loss of crops worldwide and subsequent starvation and disease.
Still larger impacts can cause mass extinctions, like the one that
ended the age of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago (15 km diameter
and about 100 million megatons).
Are Any NEOs Predicted To Hit The Earth?
As of the end of 2001, astronomers had discovered more than half
of the larger Near Earth Asteroids (diameter greater than 1 km).
None of the known asteroids is a threat, but we have no way of
predicting the next impact from an unknown object.
How Much Warning Will We Have?
With at least half of even the larger NEOs remaining undiscovered, the most likely warning today would be
zero. The first indication of a collision would be the flash of
light and the shaking of the ground as it hit.
In contrast, if the current surveys actually discover a
NEO on a
collision course, we would expect many decades of warning. Any
that is going to hit the Earth will swing near our planet many times
before it hits, and it should be discovered by comprehensive sky
searches. This is the purpose of the Spaceguard Survey. In almost
all cases, we will either have a long lead-time or none at all.
Let’s look a bit closer at the
Spaceguard System mentioned above, from the
What Is The Spaceguard System?
The Spaceguard System is a collection
of observatories all around the world that
are engaged in Near Earth Object (NEO)
observations. At this time these
observatories are all ground-based. A
few of these centers are conducting “discovery” programs, while others are
mainly involved in “follow-up”
It is the purpose of the Spaceguard
Central Node to provide these
observatories with services that may result in optimizing the level
of international coordination for follow-up of NEOs.
The participation of observatories to the services offered is on a
Now consider the following article
How Dangerous Are Earth-Crossing Objects? by Philip R. Burns, which appears at the
Artist’s conception of large meteor strike.
Earth Crossing Objects
Spacewatch and other Near Earth
Object search programs demonstrate that the Earth is surrounded by a
swarm of asteroids and comets that threaten us with collision and
world-wide destruction. The danger from Near Earth Objects has
sparked research into the probability of occurrence of damaging
impacts, as well as the possibility of deflecting potential impactors before they strike the Earth.
The extent of the damage that even a
small impactor can cause is exemplified
by the asteroid or comet fragment which
exploded in the air over
Siberia in June of 1908, with a force
equivalent to between ten and twenty
megatons of TNT. (Such an explosion in
the air, in which the impactor does not
reach the ground intact, is called an airburst
or air-blast.) The resulting blast
wave leveled hundreds of square
kilometers of forest. The area was
sparsely inhabited, so only two people are reported to have been
killed: Vasiliy, son of Okhchen, died from wounds sustained after
being hurled against a tree by the blast, and the aged hunter
Lyuburman of Shanyagir died from shock.
The Tunguska object was probably a
stony body about 50-70 meters (around
200 feet) in diameter. An object of this
size could easily destroy a large
metropolitan center. This nearly
happened with Tunguska; a difference in arrival time of a few hours
might have seen populous St. Peterburg or another European city
destroyed. In fact, at about the same time as the Tunguska object
exploded, a small object struck near the city of Kiev. The
coincidence in time leads some scientists to speculate that the Kiev
object may be a fragment of the Tunguska impactor, or at least a
fragment of the same parent object as the Tunguska impactor.
Smaller scale air-bursts over populated areas have caused minor
damage. For example, an air-burst over Madrid, Spain in 1896 smashed
windows and leveled a wall. There are many reports of air-bursts
causing tremors and minor damage in inhabited areas.
John Lewis’s book Rain Of Iron And Ice lists a couple of dozen such
incidents over the past century. A small air-burst which occurred
over El Paso, Texas, USA, on October 9, 1997, caused no apparent
damage but did alarm residents. Another which occurred July 7, 1999,
over New Zealand was captured on videotape. Fortunately, most
air-bursts occur over the oceans, so no damage to human habitations
What size impactor makes it through the atmosphere to the lower
atmosphere or the ground with enough remaining velocity to produce a
damaging air-burst or crater-forming impact? It turns out that the
Earth’s atmosphere is ineffective in preventing ground impact damage
for stony meteorites greater than 200 meters (about 650 feet) in
For iron meteorites that impact at greater than 20 km/sec
(12.5 mi/sec), the critical diameter is about 40-60 meters (130-200
feet). Stony bodies greater than 60 meters and less than 200 meters
can cause significant air-burst damage as at Tunguska.
The greatest danger from an ocean impact occurs when the incoming
body does not disintegrate in the atmosphere, but instead strikes
the water relatively intact. The impact raises a tsunami which, if
the object is large enough, can devastate coastal areas hundreds of
Tsunamis of unknown origin are usually attributed to
earthquakes and volcanos, but it is likely that some—including the
largest and most damaging—result from cosmic impacts. An asteroid of
sufficient size to raise a tsunami with an average height of 100
meters along the entire coast of the ocean strikes once every few
thousand years on average.
Stony bodies less than 200 meters in
diameter do not produce tsunamis, while
those larger than 200 meters can produce
catastrophic tsunamis. Water waves
generated by such an impactor are two-dimensional
disturbances that fall off in
height only inversely with distance from
the point of impact. The average run-up
in height of a tsunami as it reaches the
continental shelf is more than an order of
magnitude. An impact anywhere in the
Atlantic of a stony asteroid more than
400 meters (1,300 feet) in diameter
would devastate coasts on both sides of
the ocean. Tsunami run-ups would exceed 60 meters (200 feet).
Frequently it is asserted than there
have been no recorded deaths caused by meteorite strikes. In fact,
as John Lewis points out in his book Rain Of Iron And Ice, there
have been a number of injuries and deaths attributed to meteorite
impacts throughout history.
The well-known Richter scale is often used to gauge the severity of
an earthquake. The recently developed Torino Scale measures the
potential damage from a cosmic impact on a scale on 0 (no damage) to
10 (an impact event capable of causing a global climatic
catastrophe). The Torino Scale was developed by Richard P. Binzell
of MIT. The idea of deflecting impactors before they strike the
Earth goes back at least to Lord Byron, who in 1822 wrote:
“Who knows whether, when a comet shall approach this globe to
destroy it, as it often has been and will be destroyed, men will not
tear rocks from their foundations by means of steam, and hurl
mountains, as the giants are said to have done, against the flaming
mass? And then we shall have traditions of Titans again, and of wars
A few ideas for deflecting a threatening
near-Earth comet or
• Attach rockets to the
NEO’s surface with the engines pointed away
from the object. Fire the rocket engines for a sufficiently long
time to nudge the NEO into a new non-threatening orbit.
• Build a mass driver on the
NEO’s surface. A mass drive accelerates
fragments of the NEO into space. The reaction would nudge the NEO
into a different non-threatening orbit.
• Attach a thin solar sail several square kilometers in size to the
NEO with strong cables. Solar wind pressure would eventually nudge
the NEO into a new non-threatening orbit.
• Detonate sizable nuclear weapons near the
NEO. The energy pulse
released by the bombs would vaporize part of the NEO’s surface. The
vaporized material blown away from the surface would propel the NEO
in the opposite direction, again moving the the NEO into a
no threatening orbit.
All of these methods—and many more which have been proposed—rely on
sufficiently early detection of the threat from a particular Near
Earth Object. That is why the NEO search programs are so important.
If we don’t know a threatening object is coming, we can’t prepare to
deflect it. If we don’t deflect the NEO, the impact may destroy our
civilization. A sufficiently large impactor will extinguish us and
most life on Earth. We could go the way of the dinosaurs without
even knowing what hit us.
James M. McCanney, M.S.
You’re correct in suspecting there’s a good reason for presenting
the array of background material I’ve shared to this point. That
reason is James McCanney. I first became aware of James McCanney at
the International UFO Congress in Laughlin, Nevada, this year.
Having purchased his book (and booklet) at the convention, and after
hearing the “buzz” after his talk, I knew that he would factor into
a story concerning Planet X and our “busy” universe.
Let’s start by examining Mr. McCanney’s unique background, prior to sharing some of his
information. He has certainly had more than his share of challenges.
Professor James McCanney, M.S. is a physicist who has spent decades
promoting his theoretical work showing that the solar system is ever
changing and is electrically active.
These theories have been confirmed with space probe data and prove
that there are definite Earth effects resulting from our Sun’s
electrical activity. He has openly opposed NASA’s view that outer
space is electrically neutral and has direct knowledge of NASA’s
Prof. McCanney received a sound classical physics training at St.
Mary’s University, receiving a Bachelor of Arts degree with a double
major in physics and mathematics in 1970. He was offered full
scholarship awards to three major U.S. physics graduate schools to
pursue graduate physics studies.
However, he chose instead to postpone graduate studies for a period
of three years while he traveled and taught physics and mathematics
in Spanish in Latin America.
During this time he spent a good deal
of time traveling to ruins of ancient cities
and archeological sites, studying firsthand
many times as the ruins were dug
from under dirt that had not been moved
for thousands of years. Also during this
time he developed the basis for his
theoretical work that would, at a later
date, deal with the celestial mechanics of
N-bodies and plasma physics. It was here
also that he learned to appreciate the fact
that the ruins and devastation he was
witnessing had to have come from celestial events that were so
devastating that they left the Earth and these stone cities in
ruins, in some cases leaving no trace of the inhabitants.
With this new understanding of archeology, astronomy of the
ancients, physics, and the world around him, Mr. McCanney returned to graduate school
in 1973 and earned a master’s degree in
nuclear and solid-state physics from
Tulane University, New Orleans, LA. He
was again offered a full fellowship to
continue on with Ph.D. studies, but once
again he declined and returned to Latin
America to study archeology and teach
physics, mathematics, and computer
science in Spanish. He continued his
work to explore the mysteries of celestial
mechanics and its relationship to the
planets, moons, and other celestial
In 1979 he joined the faculty of
Cornell University, Ithaca NY, as an introductory instructor in
physics. It was during this time that he had access to NASA data
returning daily from the Voyager I and II spacecraft as they
traveled by the planets Jupiter, Saturn, and beyond (as well as data
from many other spacecraft).
It was here he recognized that his theoretical work regarding the
electrodynamic nature of the solar system and universe had its
signatures in the new data that was streaming in from the edges of
the solar system.
All standard science continued to look at gravitational explanations
for the working of the planets, moons, and other objects of the
solar system, while Mr. McCanney was applying his electrodynamic
scientific theories, and ventured to say for the first time that
comets were not dirty snowballs.
His papers were published at first in the standard astrophysical
journals, but soon he began to receive resistance from the standard
astronomical community, and within a short period of time, the
journals would no longer publish his theoretical work. Mr. McCanney
was removed from his teaching position because of his beliefs
regarding the electro-dynamic nature of the solar system.
Contrary to the traditional belief that the solar system formed all
at one time 4.5 billion years ago and has not changed significantly
since, Mr. McCanney’s theoretical work essentially stated that the solar system
was dynamic and adopting new members on an ongoing basis.
He pointed to the planet Venus, the Jovian moon
Io, the Saturnian
moon Titan, and the small planet Pluto (which supports an atmosphere
even though it is so distant from the warmth of the Sun and has
insufficient gravity to hold an atmosphere for long) as being
obvious new members of our solar system. He stated that all this was
proof that the way this occurred was by “planetary capture”.
His theoretical work additionally
stated that comets were not dirty
snowballs, but were large electrical “vacuum cleaners” in outer
space. The comets were drawing in vast amounts of material by way of
powerful electrical forces, and there was potential for very large
comets capable of disrupting the planetary structure that was
already in place.
His innovative theories on plasma physics and a new model for fusion
in the solar atmosphere provided the basis for the electric fields
and plasma discharge phenomena that have become the core elements of
his theoretical models of the true nature of the solar system in
which we live.
Upon being fired from the physics department for his radical
beliefs, Mr. McCanney was rehired shortly thereafter
by the mathematics department, also at
Cornell University, where he taught for
another year and a half and continued to
publish his papers in astrophysical
journals. Once again astronomers forced
his removal and he was once again
blackballed from publishing in the
astrophysics journals in 1981.
During this time Mr. McCanney
established himself as the originator of the theoretical work
regarding the electrical nature of the cosmos, which today is being
proven correct on an ongoing basis by space probes returning data
from outer space.
Many of his predictions, such as:
x-rays to the Sunward side of comet
that comet nuclei would be found to have no ice or water
frozen on their surfaces,
and that comets interact electrically with
the Sun to affect Earth weather,
have now been confirmed by direct
measurements in 1986, 1996, 2001, and 2002 respectively. Many other
more abstract concepts have also been verified.
There exists a rare combination of factors that makes Mr. McCanney a
unique person who stands alone in the development of the scientific
theories summarized in his book. Some have tried to borrow and copy
this work, but when observers consider the factors involved, they
too will agree that the extensive rewriting of standard scientific
structures had to be accomplished by someone with a rare set of
characteristics and circumstances.
He was always at the top of his classes in mathematics and physics,
and was always creating his own formulas and proofs. His education
was soundly based in classical and modern physics. He was able to
recognize that when the basic new aspects of the functioning of the
solar system were understood and then verified in space probe data,
he had the ability to extend this information and take it to all its
logical conclusions. This all occurred while working in and around
the top-rated scientists of the day at Cornell University, who were
still at least two decades behind what Mr. McCanney was discovering
Another unique condition was that
Cornell University offered a rare location
since it was not only a Library of
Congress (if it was in print it was there),
but also it was a repository of data for
NASA. Armed with his existing
theoretical work and this incredible
source of information, and with the
timing that coincided with the daily
arrival of new data from the Voyager and
other spacecraft from the far reaches of
the solar system, he was in a totally
unique position to do what he has done.
An essential requirement of
anyone who attempts to alter the fundamental propositions of a
subject as complex as astronomy and astrophysics is an in-depth
knowledge of the history of that and all related sciences. Mr. McCanney has studied the history of science extensively and
understands where the theories came from that currently make up the
structures of science.
There are few people who have the tenacity to pursue and uphold
their beliefs for as long as he has had to do in facing the odds
pitted against him over the past decades, and to emerge intact with
as full a commitment as when he started down this path long ago.
These numerous and individually rare characteristics make the record
clear that the important contributions made here combine both
personal traits and a situation of “being in the right place at the
right time” as the spacecraft data poured into Cornell University as
Mr. McCanney’s theoretical ideas were solidifying.
In 1981 the interdisciplinary journal KRONOS agreed to publish what
has since become known in inner circles as the “3-Part Comet Paper”.
His work today includes many new significant insights into the
connection between the Sun, comets, Earth weather, the Sun-Earth
connection and Earth changes.
Mr. McCanney has also remained
active and well-known within the space
science/astronomy community and
within professional societies, and
although standard astronomers still resist accepting his theoretical
work, he is generally well respected amongst his peers in these
communities when attending professional conferences. He is what some
have called “the last of the independent scientists” who were able
to work “on the inside” and still remain active to talk about it “on
In the mid-1990s Mr. McCanney’s work was recognized by
a group of high-level Russian scientists who had measured but did not
understand electrodynamic effects around Earth and in the solar
system. They translated all of his papers to date into Russian.
These are being taught at the university level as the leading edge
of research in this field.
It is only due to the ongoing and
intentional efforts of NASA that his work has received such little
attention in the western scientific community and press.
Go Back to Our Busy Solar System
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