This thought struck me after I read an article with a similar idea on the BBC news website: Let's say an asteroid is heading towards earth, and it means certain doom. We can't blow it up, we can't move it, we can't just duck and hope for the best.

Ignorance is bliss. Why suffer the inevitable panic and social chaos that will ensue after announcement of an asteroid's approach?

Lee Clarke, a sociology professor at Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey says "The single most important reason there were not more casualties at the World Trade Center collapse was because there was no panic," he argued. "It does happen - there are soccer stampedes and the like - but it is very rare."

I personally believe that had the authorities started announcing "the towers are going down, get the hell out," many many more people would have died than actually did. People, in the case of an emergency, don't just form an orderly queue for the stairwell. They are not rational. We get a negative externality. People think, "If I formed a queue and got in, the social gain would be higher. But people would then break the rules and just run. Everyone would run. Hey, why don't I run as well." Thus, everyone does run and people die.

In the same way, I suppose scientists could predict an asteroid collision within a week? A month? A year? Whatever the timescale, if it is determined that it is inevitable, then telling the public at large is a recipe for disaster. And furthermore, why do you feel that you have the right to know? This is the problem: if everyone does know, you lose out because society will break down. If everyone doesn't know, then, well, you're fine.

in the node 'Ignorance is Bliss' someone comments "Learn to handle the truth," and I agree, but not in this case. Why should we handle the truth? To learn from our mistakes, of course. But if we are all doomed, then there is nothing to be gained from gritting our teeth and bearing it.

What would you rather have: an year of anarchy and social panic, and then boom!
Or an year of your life where everything was fine, and then boom!