Alarming news is coming out of France, where the true believers are heading to await the Mayan apocalypse that is due to occur in a little more than a month; the only safe spot in the world is being declared off-limits by the government. [Source]
In a move that is bound to cause consternation amongst that segment of humanity that has pancake batter where the rest of us have brains, local officials in the town of Bugarach, France have made the decision to seal off access to the nearby mountain, the Pic de Bugarach. Devotees of Mayan prophecy believe that on December 21, the top of the mountain will pop open, in the fashion of a jack-in-the-box, and an alien spaceship will rise out which will then save any people who happen to be in the area at the time. I hardly need to point out that there are some flaws in this scenario, the main one being that after intensive study, geologists have concluded that the rule "mountains are made of solid rock" is almost never broken. But true believers never let a little thing like science get in the way.
My feeling is that they also are unlikely to let official rules get in their way, and allow me to put any French officials who are reading this on notice: I have been studying woo-woos for some time now, and if there is a group that is less likely to completely ignore such a ban, I don't know what it is. Come December 20, I think you should prepare yourselves for an onslaught. These people fully expect the world to end, and there is no way in hell they are going to go back home and die when they could be climbing a mountain in France to wait for a spaceship just because you said "non."
It all brings up the question, though, of what all of them are going to do on December 22 when it becomes obvious that (1) the world didn't end, and (2) the mountain didn't pop open, and (3) the spaceship never showed. You'd think that this would induce them to say, "Wow, what goobers we've been," and to settle down and revise their worldviews into something more in line with common sense. But studies have shown that when nutjobs make prophecies, and those prophecies don't pan out, rather than causing the true believers to give up, it makes them believe even more strongly. Yes, you read that right; you spend the night huddled together, waiting for the Second Coming of Jesus, and midnight arrives and Jesus doesn't, and the next day, you still believe. It was just that (1) something was amiss with your prediction of the time, or (2) Jesus changed his mind and has now decided on a later date. It was not that your fundamental premise -- that Jesus was on his way -- was incorrect.
So what is the right approach, then? It's a tough question. Every once in a while, I'll have a woo-woo sign up for my Critical Thinking class. You'd think that given my solid reputation as a skeptic, they either wouldn't sign up for the course, or else would sign up and keep quiet about their beliefs, but I've found that these sorts inevitably want to argue, and they never give up. (The two most memorable examples were a girl who was an ardent believer in astrology, and a boy who belonged to the aliens-built-the-pyramids set.) They just can't take my scoffing lying down, and are determined to bring me to my senses. But given that this is also basically my approach toward them, I suppose it's only fair.
In any case, I hope that the police in Bugarach are ready for a riot, because that's what it's likely to come to. Myself, I wonder what the next Big Thing is going to be, once they realize that December 21 was a wash. Will they revise the date, in the fashion of Harold Camping? Or come up with a whole new prediction? Either way, it should be interesting, and I suggest you plan on monitoring woo-woo websites the week after the non-apocalypse. I can barely wait.