According to Wikipedia, the Doomsday Clock is a symbol that represents the likelihood of a manmade global catastrophe.

The clock was conceived by University of Chicago scientists who had helped develop the first atomic weapons. They began the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists in 1945 and two years later created the Doomsday Clock, which has become the best known measure of humanity's risk of mankind's total annihilation, the apocalypse (midnight). Should an meteor large enough to destroy the earth be destined to land here, it would be, according to the bulletin's science and security board, doomsday.

Until 2007, it only tracked the danger of nuclear weapons; since then it has incorporated the effects of climate change.

Today the clock is set by 19 members of the Bulletin's Science and Security Board, including national security experts, physicists, climate scientists, a public health expert and a cybersecurity expert; and the Board of Sponsors, including 15 Nobel Prize laureates. Each year the bulletin decides whether to move the clock or leave it as is.

The clock was set at 7 minutes until midnight in 1947. In 1949, when Russia tested its first atomic bomb, the clock was moved 4 minutes closer, or 3 minutes until midnight. The high mark was 17 to midnight, set in 1991 after the U.S. and Russia signed the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty. Just recently it reached the lowest mark to date, 2 to midnight.

The reasons are rising tensions between the U.S. and Russia once again, and similar problems with China and North Korea. Other related issues include the continuing arms race between India and Pakistan, Iran's quest for nuclear arms and the persistent threat of climate change.

The clock had been 2 to midnight once before, in 1953, when the U.S. and Soviets tested thermonuclear weapons, within six months of each other. That year, Eugene Rabinowitch, a former Manhattan Project scientist who cofounded the Bulletin, wrote, "The achievement of a thermonuclear explosion by the Soviet Union, following on the heels of the development of similar devices in America, means that the time, dreaded by scientists since 1945, when each major nation will hold the power of destroying, at will, the urban civilization of any other nation, is close at hand.

According to the bulletin, 2018 is the year where the failure of world leaders to address the largest threats to humanity is lamentable — but that failure can be reversed. This year marked two minutes to midnight, but the Doomsday Clock has ticked away from midnight in the past, and during the next year, the world can again move it further from apocalypse.

The warning the Science and Security Board sends is clear, the danger obvious and imminent. The opportunity to reduce the danger is equally clear. The world has seen the threat posed by the misuse of information technology and witnessed the vulnerability of democracies to disinformation.

But there is a flip side to the abuse of social media. Leaders react when citizens insist they do so, and citizens around the world can use the power of the internet to improve the long-term prospects of their children and grandchildren. They can insist on facts, and discount nonsense. They can demand action to reduce the existential threat of nuclear war and unchecked climate change. They can seize the opportunity to make a safer and saner world.

The year before, the board warned that the probability of global catastrophe was very high, and actions needed to reduce the risks of disaster must be taken very soon. It is 2½ minutes until midnight, the clock is ticking and global danger looms. Wise public officials should act immediately, guiding humanity away from the brink. If they do not, wise citizens must step forward and lead the way.

In 2015, the board announced that unchecked climate change, global nuclear weapons modernizations, and outsized nuclear weapons arsenals pose extraordinary and undeniable threats to the continued existence of humanity, and world leaders have failed to act with the speed or on the scale required to protect citizens from potential catastrophe. These failures of political leadership endanger every person on earth (3 minutes to midnight).

It does not appear that much progress has been made in the past five or six years. In 2012, it was 5 minutes to midnight.

The clock does not lack for critics or criticism. Some say that warning people of danger causes a political paralysis. Others question the judgment of the expert panel. Overall, however, the clock is a potent symbol of the scientific concern for humanity's possible annihilation and allows political leaders to make decisions actually based on facts and to manage the dangers — not a bad idea.

Max Sherman is a medical writer and pharmacist retired from the medical device industry. He has taught college courses on regulatory and compliance issues at Ivy Tech, Grace College and Butler University. Sherman has an unquenchable thirst for knowledge on all levels. Eclectic Science, the title of his column, will touch on famed doctors and scientists, human senses, aging, various diseases, and little-known facts about many species, including their contributions to scientific research. He can be reached by email at