Science spin of the worst kind: National Geographic's 'When The Earth Stops Spinning'

Yet another reason why I no longer subscribe to National Geographic

Turned on my TV today, and this popped up, so of course I had to write about it. This is stupidity on steroids, packaged as psuedo-scientific claptrap entertainment for the gullible. Of course they had to work in the obligatory New York City flooding scene. But what’s worse is Nat Geo’s wholesale failure to even consider basic science before making this garbage.


From their website:

When The Earth Stops Spinning

If the Earth was to suddenly stop our seas and the atmosphere would change so drastically that it would no longer be able to support human life. Looking to a future where one side of the planet is dark and cold for six months at a time, and the other is bathed in deadly solar radiation, this episode explores how long human and animal life might survive in a cruel new, stationary world.

There’s the usual climate porn in this video, roasting temperatures, people fighting for resources, global sea level rise, etc…but what makes this NatGeo docu-wailer extra stupid is the simple math that tells us when the Earth will actually stop spinning. They apparently couldn’t be bothered to do that, since it blows the premise of the whole show right out of the water.

OK here’s the basic science and math relevant to the issue.

The Earth’s rotation around its own axis has been observed (thanks to atomic clocks) to be continuously slowing down. The main reason for this slowing is believed to be due to tidal friction. This is primarily caused by the moon’s gravitational actions on the oceans of the world.


Image from University of Montana Geoscience Dept.

According to modern calculation of ΔT, Earth’s rotation slows down at 1.7 milliseconds every 100 years. At this rate it will take ~ 1.9 trillion years to stop spinning.

The Earth will still be spinning in ~ 5 billion years when the Sun will turn into a red giant star and obliterate it. Prior to that, due to solar brightening, ~ 500 million to 2 billion years into the future, the Earth is likely to be uninhabitable anyway.

Evolution of the Sun’s luminosity, radius and effective temperature compared to the present day Sun. From the paper Ribas (2010)

Now compare that to “…this episode explores how long human and animal life might survive in a cruel new, stationary world”

Let me just say whoever produced this garbage science drama for National Geographic could use a good whack upside the head with a solar science book.  You can let them know if you feel as I do:

To contact us from the United States, please email or go to

You can watch the whole ridiculously bad thing here:


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Ahhhhh – It’s worse than we thought !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Robert of Ottawa

But Anthony, you must, surely, realize that the Earth is spinning out of control and something should be done about it.

carol smith

the local second hand bookshop always has a heap of back-copies of National Geographic for sale and these appear to have a regular turnover. You can find the new issues in newsagent shops each month, such as WH Smith, who also sell them at airports and train stations. They are coffee table science and not the kind of thing you would check out if you really wanted to know about something. Do nice maps and you can download some nice images as wallpaper for your computer. The printed version of Wiki I suppose. I’m not surprised – when you read equally moronic stuff in the pages of New Scientist you can hardly be surprised that a more likely contender for the comic label should do such things.

David Banks

Probably will stop spinning sooner due to CO2.


Actually, if the world suddenly stopped spinning, I think we’d have much more trouble with various vehicles, buildings, ice sheets, oceans, and people that were going 1,000 MPH (at the equator). It’s not the car suddenly stopping when you hit the tree that causes problems, it’s you (and your internal organs) NOT suddenly stopping.
Perhaps they weren’t talking about a sudden stop?


Did you miss the episode about when the Moon is suddenly gone?

Email sent to National Geographic:
“Science fraud and spin of the worst kind:
National Geographic’s “When The Earth Stops Spinning”.
As seen on December 2, 2012 at WUWT by Anthony Watts
This is yet another reason why I no longer subscribe to National Geographic. Wake up to yourselves!”


Stop the world! I want to get off!
They’re late to the party. The 1966 musical covered this – no science in it either ;o)


Maybe all the panicing ones can start every day by facing east and running hard, thereby pushing the Earth and adding to the spin. Yeah that sounds like a sciency way to do it…


Uh, doesn’t the Nat Geo show’s description say that it is assuming the Earth suddenly stops, rather than trying to imply the event will ever happen? It seems to be more of a fun thought experiment.


Oh my god, is the sky falling? And my gas powered drink mixer caused this? Damn the evil oil industry and those stationary earth deniers. The models all show it is getting worse and it is going to happen even sooner than they predicted the day before yesterday…


Yeah but science fiction is so much more fun than that boring real science.
Oh, by the way, Richdo LLC can sell anyone who’s interested some “Spin Credits”. Please respond with desired quantity.

Nobody’s read H.G Wells, uh?


If there’s even the slightest chance that the earth will stop spinning shouldn’t we take appropriate precautions and raise taxes to prevent it? Shouldn’t we? Or if there’s even the slightest chance we can convince people it might stop spinning so we can raise taxes, shouldn’t we? We can’t be too careful, you know.


29 Nov: WSJ: Gautam Naik: Polar Ice Sheets Melt Faster
Shrinkage in Greenland, Antarctica Has Sent Ocean Levels Higher, Study Says
Higher temperatures over the past two decades have caused the polar ice sheets to melt at an accelerating rate, contributing to an almost half-inch rise in global sea levels, according to the most comprehensive study done so far…
The new study, published Thursday in the journal Science, estimates that the melting of the ice sheets as a whole has raised global sea levels by 11.1 millimeters (0.43 inch) since 1992. That represents one-fifth of the total sea-level increase recorded in that period.
3 Dec: Sydney Morning Herald: Stark evidence of polar ice melt
Using satellite data, scientists reveal ‘definitive’ study that claims sea levels are rising, writes Naomi Seck
The new study, released November 30, in the US journal Science, combines data from 10 different satellites since 1992, carefully matching up time periods and geographical locations to make a more accurate and wider-ranging assessment…
A separate study on November 28 reported that sea levels are rising 60 per cent faster than the United Nations’s climate panel forecast in its recent assessment…


Hey, remember the Earth stopped spinning in historical times already when Venus went by. Velikovsky said so. /sarc

Chuck L

Well, CO2 is heavier than air so in addition to making the Earth hotter so it will be like Venus, it is the weight that of the extra CO2 that is causing the Earth’s rotation to slow down! 😛

Long before then, the earth’s rotation will become synchronous with the lunar month, and only the solar tidal effects will remain. I recall reading long ago that after this point the moon will begin to move in toward the earth and eventually break up, forming rings.


Well, CO2 is heavier than air so in addition to making the Earth hotter so it will be like Venus, it is the weight that of the extra CO2 that is causing the Earth’s rotation to slow down! 😛
No, No, No,, most of the CO2 comes from releasing carbon from the solid form underground. We are actually LOWERING the density of the surface+ atmosphere hence speeding the rotation up, counteracting the natural tendancy to slow down. This will gain us approximately 5% extra time.(guestimate)
Releasing CO2 from its underground storage has MANY MANY benefits !!!

psion (@psion)

Once again, you pretend you know what you’re talking about. Are you a geospinologist with recent scientific publications, Mr. Watts regarding what makes the world go ’round? No? Then what business do you have questioning the science behind such an enlightening presentation? The time for debate is over. Unless we act now, unilaterally, the Earth will stop spinning and your children and your children’s children will never know days and nights again!
Did I do that right? Should I have called people deniers, too?

Hey, I thought that conservation of angular momentum had a consensus that it was settled science.

John Ratcliffe

So…………….Monty Python as more science content than National Geographic:


Robert of Ottawa

As someone learning Portuguese, I thank upu Anthony for publishing the Portuguese subtitles 🙂
Shite is the same in any language.

john robertson

Let me guess, readership is fallen, subscriptions at all time low. Oh no..s.
Is this a media attacking us or a media under attack?
So long National Geographic, now reincarnated as Notionally Gullible
Last one I bought was some years ago and it left me thinking; “I want my money back.”.


I’m starting up a business to sell spinning credits. Remit all checks to me soon, or else!!

John Ratcliffe

Mind you, Isn’t it the politicians that control spin? Or is it the lobbyists? Or the press officers? Or the senior bureaucrats? Or the tea trolley/post room girls?

Philip Peake

I think you missed the point, this isn’t an article saying that the earth is about to stop spinning, but its exploring what would be the result. We will have to assume the laws of inertia are suspended so that the crust doesn’t split and fold up allowing magma to run over a large part of the earth, that the atmosphere stops dead too avoiding those 1,000 miles per hour winds at the equator.
I recall reading a sci-fi book not so long ago about the colonization of such a world, where it was tidally locked to its sun. The inhabitable portion was in the twilight region.
Its an interesting thought experiment to determine if a human-compatible atmosphere could transport enough energy to the dark side to avoid the entire freezing out of all the available water (and nitrogen, oxygen etc.). Of course, CO2 would freeze out first, making breathing a little problematic, but mostly being a real issue for any plant life. I suppose you would need CO2 credits for activities which releades gaseous CO2 into the atmosphere.
The other problem involved in heat transfer from hot to [cold] side, is transporting enough of the energy to avoid boiling off the atmosphere on the hot side.
Personally, I suspect that taking an earth-like planet and tidally locking it to the sun would result in it becoming uninhabitable within a very few years. Small colonies might be able to exist if there were big enough deposits of frozen gases and water to mine on the cold side, but that would be about it.

Robert of Ottawa

Depends upon reference frame. When one says “Earth stops spinning” do they mean:
a) that the Earth no longer spins in inertial space? i.e. as it moves around the Sun in its orbit, an Earth day becomes a year? or
b) the Earth becomes gravitationally locked to the Sun, such as, though it is still spinning in inertial space, it always has the same side towards the Sun, as the Moon does towards the Earth today.


I smell a government grant !


If everyone on Earth starts running from east to west, really fast, we could make up for the decrease in rotation. We would be “saving the planet”.
(It must be April 1 somewhere in the Universe….)


Prof Steffen said that this period of climate change caused by humans, known as the ‘anthropocene era’, could ultimately cause the whole system of ice ages followed by warm periods, that has allowed life on Earth to flourish, to be over.
Possibly the most ‘un-scientific’ statement. Ever.

D Böehm

That reminds me of World Jump Day.

Luther Wu

There I was, needin’ some scary movies and bored with zombies on Netflix…
Nat Geo to the rescue!

Doug Huffman

What do you think powered the Death Star’s planet annihilation weapon but the planet’s angular momentum? I don’t know which is worse, NG for not knowing better or SA for writing trash anyway.

Bill Illis

How hot would it get on the side facing the Sun?
1,000 Watt/m2 coming in forever. It would just get hotter and hotter and hotter until some equilibrium level is reached. Technically, I think it would exceed Venus’ temperatures within a year.

Maybe we could paint the west side of the mountains silver to reflect light and the est side black for absorption to counter the slowing.


Yeah agree. I turned on National Geographic in Asia and got a stream of shows on ghosts and UFOS. The marketing of these shows states “Its not a question of whether ghosts/UFOs are real, but what we can do about it” kind of stuff. No skepticism, no fact checking. Scenes of little goblin aliens as if they are real. I didnt even bother to watch the shows, which may have some kind of fact checking in there, because the way it is marketed itself was wrong. The marketing style alone is only a step or two outside of fully selling out to mysticism and superstition. Im quite sure Carl Sagan would be disgusted (see his book “the demon haunted world”-about the dangers of superstitious mysticism and unregulated piffle).
Nat Geo used to be about science, but obviously the management has decided that its better to make more money focusing on marketing and entertainment-but by doing this one has to betray the science. Appeal to the masses of uneducated, don’t worry about the science. Its a disgrace.
On their website, it states “caring for the planet and every living thing in it, since 1886”. Actually this is not its mission at all. Its about learning about the planet, not caring for ‘every living thing’. Do we care about the malaria virus? Or deadly strains of bacteria? Do we stop eating meat because we care about the cows? No, but we treat the cows humanely. They have imposed a psuedo-religious mentality on the site similar to the marketing of the media style of “scientists report UFO” kind of marketing, but dont worry about the facts.
Maybe someone can set up a Nat Geo breakaway group, with its charter to remain true to science and not sell out to marketing and entertainment.

SC-SlyWolf says (December 2, 2012 at 1:54 pm):
“Did you miss the episode about when the Moon is suddenly gone?”
Episode? That was an entire series: Space:1999. Speaking of bad science (fiction).


doha spin is everywhere in the MSM, no matter how insane:
3 Dec: ABC: Sarah Clarke: Temps set to soar as emissions grow: report
The latest snapshot from climate scientists has found the planet is on track for a 4 to 6 degree Celsius temperature rise by the turn of the century…
The Global Carbon Project, published in the journal Nature Climate Change, has calculated that emissions rose by 3 per cent last year, and 2.6 per cent this year, despite the weak global economy.
Pep Canadell from the CSIRO was one of the lead authors of the report, and says the growth in emissions is shocking…
The authors say while it was technically still possible to limit warming to below 2 degrees Celsius, emissions growth would have to rapidly come to a halt and then fall quickly…
It would require a rapid shift to greener energy and even net negative emissions in the future, where more CO2 is taken out of the air than added.

John West

It’s all the windmills that stop the Earth from spinning on 03/31/2037.

Heh, I’m sorry, but these climate scare claims are wimpy. In my own area of research I’ve had to deal with babies licking floors for almost 3 trillion years and college students being poisoned from sitting on contaminated campus benches for roughly 3 SEXTILLION years.
AGW Climate science by comparison is rock solid science wrapped in parsecs of nanotubing!
The trick is to do exactly what Anthony did here: hit them at their most ridiculous lies. If they want to claim global warming is slowing the planet, fine. Just point out that non-anthropogenic solar warming will have burned the earth to a crisp 200 times over before it happens. You have to make the ridiculous numbers clearly LOOK ridiculous to the layman — even though they’re being spouted by “all the cognizant authorities in the world.” Without that push from people like the folks here, people just accept what they keep hearing repeated on the TV.
The trick also lies in getting that information out to the people whose main source of input is the televised (and, as Anthony points out, translated over to mainstream popular print as well — the three-trillion-year floor-licking-baby claim is based on serious research published with a straight face by the New York Times) misinformation that they’re hit with every day. You need to find a way to counter the ads showing the cute little girl playing on the railroad tracks with the train accelerating towards her at warp speeds.
Combine those tricks and you’ll have a shot at fighting on something at least approaching an equal footing. The more technical arguments about percentages of ice melt and ocean rises of 2 cm instead of 15 cm and CO2 levels of .3% or 1.6% may be important if/when you get a voice at scientific conferences or in published letters/responses to climate journals, but I strongly believe that, to have an impact, you need to get the message out to the people who are getting clobbered by the sensationalism of the other side every day. And to do that, you have to hit with sensationalism, but more HONEST sensationalism of your own. And since you don’t have an equal microphone to start off with you need to get the microphone shoved in your faces through the promise of providing a colorful fight: and that’s where calling their most extreme lies to the floor over and over again comes in!


NG making an ar$e of themselves and their readers yet again?
Oh FFS!!

P.S. This discussion of National Geographic sensationalism has reminded me of a discussion I overheard my parents having back when I was about 13 years old. I had collected a good number of National Geographics at that point from secondhand stores because of all the amazing pictures of insects they had. My parents however were quietly discussing whether I should be allowed to bring magazines into the house that had all these pictures of African Tribeswomen with bare breasts! Heh, I was a bit slow, even for a 13 year old Catholic school boy: I don’t think I’d even NOTICED the breasts by that point: bugs were SOOOOO much more fun!

Robert of Ottawa

“Doha Spin” … Gangnam Dance

Ian W

omnologos says:
December 2, 2012 at 2:10 pm
Nobody’s read H.G Wells, uh?

Exactly my thoughts….
H.G.Wells – The man who could work miracles (1936)

Progressive scientists – they cannot serve two masters, it seems. Either they will hate the one, and love the other, or they will despise the one and be loyal to the other.


I only ever looked at NatGeo for the pictures. i watched this ‘documentary’ a few months back as i was feeling a little sad and needed cheering up.

Go Home

I wished they would do a show on how cruel the world would be to live in if there all of a sudden was no CO2 in the atmosphere and oceans.


“Special Offer” National Geographic® – One Year Subscription for Only £15.
Order Now from the Official Site!
Kids Magazine?
Google it.
yes it’s true.

I have told my wife to stop paying the nat geo bill for some time now, this is one of the reasons!