100 Seconds to Midnight: What Moved the Doomsday Clock?

As we awaited the update to the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists’ Doomsday Clock for 2020, our News API revealed some interesting trends across news and media in the last few years.

The Doomsday Clock has been counting down since 1947. Described as “a metaphor for threats to humanity from unchecked scientific and technical advances”, the clock has monitored how close to a man-made global catastrophe we’ve been.

In the opinion of the Atomic Scientists, the world was safest from such destruction in 1991, when the clock showed 17 minutes to midnight. In 1953, the year Dwight D. Eisenhower and Nikita Khrushchev rose to power, the clock reached 2 minutes to midnight. This threat level remained the highest ever until it was matched in 2018 and 2019.

Eugene Rabinowitch, a co-founder of the Bulletin, stated:

The Bulletin’s Clock is not a gauge to register the ups and downs of the international power struggle; it is intended to reflect basic changes in the level of continuous danger in which mankind lives in the nuclear age

With that in mind, we delved into our News API to create our own Doomsday Clock analysis based on news and media activity around Nuclear Threats and Climate Change.

The Doomsday Clock

First up, let’s take a look at the clock’s progress over the last 70 years.

In the below chart, we can clearly see the two lowest points to date – 1953 to 1960 and 2018-2019. The highest point, 17 minutes to midnight, coincided with the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty and subsequent collapse of the USSR.

*Hover over the dots in any of the graphs to see the main event that caused the change around that time.

We dived into the last 2 years of news data in particular using our News API in order to gauge the volume of stories that had particular relevance to the Doomsday Clock. We did this by pulling stories that were categorized under Nuclear Weapons, Global Warming, and Biological/Chemical Weapons since 2017 using the time series endpoint.

We gathered our data by searching for news articles and events that matched the categories above, but the same could be done using a combination of both categories and entity-based searches. For Artificial Intelligence, we concentrated only on stories where the body text included the concept of Artificial Intelligence and limited it to negative sentiment stories – mainly because there was an overwhelming amount of noise covering articles on AI in general which were less relevant to our overall focus.

Below you can see each category as a percentage of overall story count. Clearly, stories relating to Global Warming and Environmental Issues have increased over recent years. This is to be expected following numerous high-profile climate disasters, such as the Amazon rainforest fires and the bushfires in Australia in 2019 as well as the topic being a major source of government policy and focus in the US, Europe and Asia.

Looking at the cumulative increase in stories over the last few years, we can see a continued increase.

Biological and Chemical Weapons are obviously less fashionable than they were a few years ago, the opposite of Environmental and Climate Change over the same period which increased overall share of stories by 62%.

What events drove the greatest media reaction in 2019?

Our News API also offers the ability to group articles by event or topic similarity in realtime across multiple languages. Real-time Clustering allows us to group news based on the events or topics they address.

As we have seen, stories relating to environmental issues and global warming have continually increased. Using our clustering capabilities we gathered every event related to Global Warming over the course of 2019. Hover over the dots to see the cluster title for context on what happened at each spike.

Click here to learn more about the Real-time Clustering feature of our News API.

Who is influencing Climate Change?

Sticking with Climate Change, we wanted to try and uncover (already knowing the usual suspects would emerge) who were the most mentioned entities in the context of Global Warming for 2019, and as you probably guessed they were rather predictable – the US, China, Paris and Donald Trump all featured highly.

However, there was one shining light who has managed to give us all hope that the next generation might be more successful in turning back the clock.

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