The Doomsday Clock is a symbol which represents the likelihood of a man-made global catastrophe. Maintained since 1947 by the members of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists’ Science and Security Board, the clock represents an analogy for the threat of global nuclear war. Since 2007, it has also reflected climate change and new developments in the life sciences and technology that could inflict irrevocable harm to humanity.
The clock represents the hypothetical global catastrophe as “midnight” and The Bulletin’s opinion on how close the world is to a global catastrophe as a number of “minutes” to midnight. Its original setting in 1947 was seven minutes to midnight. It has been set backward and forward 23 times since then, the smallest-ever number of minutes to midnight being two (in 1953 and 2018) and the largest seventeen (in 1991). As of January 2018, the clock is set at two minutes to midnight, due to “the looming threats of nuclear war and climate change.”
The Doomsday Clock’s origin can be traced to the international group of researchers called the Chicago Atomic Scientists, who had participated in the Manhattan Project. After the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, they began publishing a mimeographed newsletter and then the magazine, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, which, since its inception, has depicted the clock on every cover. The clock was first represented in 1947, when The Bulletin co-founder Hyman Goldsmith asked artist Martyl Langsdorf (wife of Manhattan Project research associate and Szilárd petition signatory Alexander Langsdorf, Jr.) to design a cover for the magazine’s June 1947 issue. As Eugene Rabinowitch, another co-founder of The Bulletin, explained later,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…
Langsdorf chose a clock to reflect the urgency of the problem: like a countdown, the clock suggests that destruction will naturally occur unless someone takes action to stop it.In January 2007, designer Michael Bierut, who was on The Bulletin’s Governing Board, redesigned the clock to give it a more modern feel. In 2009, The Bulletin ceased its print edition and became one of the first print publications in the U.S. to become entirely digital; the clock is now found as part of the logo on The Bulletin’s website. Information about the Doomsday Clock Symposium, a timeline of the clock’s settings, and multimedia shows about the clock’s history and culture can also be found on The Bulletin’s website.
The 5th Doomsday Clock Symposium was held on November 14, 2013, in Washington, D.C.; it was a day-long event that was open to the public and featured panelists discussing various issues on the topic “Communicating Catastrophe”. There was also an evening event at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in conjunction with the Hirshhorn’s current exhibit, “Damage Control: Art and Destruction Since 1950”. The panel discussions, held at the American Association for the Advancement of Science, were streamed live from The Bulletin’s website and can still be viewed there. Reflecting international events dangerous to humankind, the clock has been adjusted 22 times since its inception in 1947, when it was set to “seven minutes to midnight”.