And there were others, some of which made the distinction that this was not a NASA study, but rather a NASA-funded study, which hedges a bit but still suggests vague NASA approval: "NASA-funded report says society is trending toward big collapse" read the headline in the Houston Chronicle on Mar. 18. (And as we will see, even "NASA-funded" isn't quite right.)
But as the coverage continued, it began to morph into something quite different. "NASA Clarifies Its Role in Civilization-Collapse Study," wrote Mike Wall at Space.com on Mar. 20, and his lede made clear that NASA wasn't merely clarifying, it was running away: "NASA is distancing itself from a new study…," it began.
Even the Houston Chronicle came back to repair the damage from its story a couple of days earlier: "NASA claims no role in paper about possible societal collapse," wrote Carol Christian on Mar. 21.
In his Collide-a-Scape blog at Discover magazine, Keith Kloor traces the story to a blog post at The Guardian by Nafeez Ahmed on Mar. 14, which has since been shared nearly 125,000 times on Facebook and retweeted more than 8,000 times, according to The Guardian's stats.
Ahmed's post is a temperate summary of a yet-to-be published paper that includes comparisons to "the fall of the Roman Empire, and the equally (if not more) advanced Han, Mauryan, and Gupta Empires, as well as so many advanced Mesopotamian Empires," and so forth.
We've heard this story before, many times. Why did this iteration blanket the globe the way it did?
That's the question Kloor addresses in the first of two posts. (There he quotes a NASA statement that makes clear that "NASA funded" was an oversimplification.) The second post looks at the study itself.
I urge you to read Kloor's posts soon–before civilization collapses.