Doomsday Clock – KU Conversations 11

By: Courtney Aaron

Good Afternoon KU students and welcome to the 11th posting of KU Conversations! This weeks topic is the Doomsday Clock. Some of you may have heard about it recently due to the sudden movement of the clock on January 26th. Others through the multiple cultural references through out history, like some of these examples from the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists including multiple songs, imagery for Alan Moore’s The Watchmen and many others. The Doomsday Clock itself was actually created by the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists in 1949 when they put it on the cover of their new magazine format. The design for the clock was created by Martyl Langsdorf. In the original design the clock was set for seven minutes to midnight. The major contributor to the decision of what time to set the clock at was nuclear weapons. To get a better perspective of the ideas about nuclear destruction during this time period we have this video from Films on Demand that describes the concerns the American public had at the time.

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Photograph of the Atomic Cloud Rising Over Nagasaki, Japan. Photo provided by The U.S. National Archives.

As time passed and the Doomsday Clock was reset multiple times, the dangers that determined the movement of the clock increased and became more complex. Here is a list of the major factors of the movement of the Doomsday clock from the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists and why they matter the most. In addition to nuclear weapons, the other major dangers are climate changes, bio technologies, and emerging technologies. To get a better idea of the situation here is the Doomsday Dashboard, a series of interactive figures and articles also provided by the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists showing the changes in nuclear weapons, climate change, and bio security.

The existence of the dangers aren’t the only things that affect where the clock is set. Politics have an influence on the decision as well, something many people learned on January 26th. It was announced that the clock had been moved forward by a half minute from three minutes to midnight to two and a half minutes to midnight. The Bulletin announced That one of the major reasons they moved the clock was the election of President Trump. They were highly concerned over his views of strengthening and expanding the countries nuclear capabilities, also they were concerned over the administrations disregard for scientific expertise. Here is an article from Science magazine going into further details on the matter. In that article there is also a timeline showing all the different time changes that happened since the Doomsday Clock was created. Science magazine also has a few articles for some of those dates. They have an article for 2015 when the clocked moved from five to three minutes to midnight. The primary reasons for the movement then was climate change and nuclear weapons modernization. In terms of climate change they realized that focus on reducing global emissions needed to be an immediate concern since time is starting to run out concerning what can be fixed. In terms of nuclear weapons, there were too many of them out in the world and a lack in efforts trying to reduce the number of them. In 2012 the clock moved from 6 minute to 5 minutes to midnight. Again, the large number of nuclear weapons in the world were part of the influence to move the clock. The other influence was the lack of influence that scientific findings were having on policy creation through out the world.

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Another well-known image connected to the idea of the cold war, here is an arial view of the Berlin Wall. Photograph provided by the U.S. National Archives.

Like many images that are used to send a message, people wonder if the Doomsday Clock is helping or hurting the ability to alert people of the danger of worldly disaster. This article from Sage Journals goes into more detail about this matter. It discusses how symbols need to be grounded to an idea or concept to have any effect on people. The Doomsday Clock is one of the anchored images that go along with anti-nuclear world security, along with the mushroom cloud and Cold War era symbols. The article also covers the question of what determines if a move for securitization is successful or not? Also how is it measured? The article further discusses “macro securitization” and how the Doomsday Clock can be a securitization process.

What do you all think of the Doomsday Clock? Is it effective at raising people’s attentions to worldly issues? Leave your questions and thoughts in the comments section below here or on the Rohrbach Librarys’ Facebook page.

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