Asteroid 2012 DA14 definitely won't hit Earth. So why are people freaking out?
The other half of the problem is that many people do not know how to judge the validity of the pseudo-scientific information they read. "There are millions of people out there who have not been trained in the scientific method, and don't understand that evidence is critical for supporting any new idea — especially any dramatic departure from the current state," he said.
In psychology, this is known as the Dunning-Kruger effect. People who lack knowledge in a given area, such as science, are unable to accurately assess their own abilities in that area, and so they aren't aware that they are coming to blatantly false conclusions. David Dunning, a psychologist at Cornell University who first characterized the phenomenon, recently explained, "Many people don't have training in science, and so they may very well misunderstand the science. But because they don't have the knowledge to evaluate it, they don't realize how off their evaluations might be." [Incompetent People Too Ignorant to Know It]
There is no obvious remedy for the one-two punch of widespread misinformation and a scarcity of mental tools for evaluating it, but Yeomans said scientists need to do a better job engaging with the public. He and his group regularly address people's fears regarding near-Earth asteroids by making statements and issuing news releases. "The hope is that people will understand that we are the more trusted sources of information," he said.