Celebrate Science Day 2020 by proving the Earth is not flat.
- Flat-Earthers drive rational people nuts.
- A physicist offers three experiments to confirm it is those people who are crazy, not you.
- The experiments, however, do require a belief in mathematics.
Happy World Science Day! It's been a rough year for ol' science, which probably hasn't been under attack by so many people since the (last) Dark Ages. Conspiracy theorists at heart, anti-maskers, anti-vaxxers, and perhaps most unbelievably of all, flat-Earthers have been loudly calling into question the pretty-much unquestionable.
In any event, physicist Steven Wooding — the guy who brought us the contactable alien civilization calculator last spring — has offered up a lovely gift for science on its special day: the Flat vs. Round Earth Calculator. It consists of three experiments that can prove to anyone who believes in math that the Earth really is round. We can probably assume, of course, that there are now people arguing that 2+2=5. For these folks we'll point out simply that if the Earth really were flat, cats would have long ago pushed everything over its edge.
Be sure to scroll down the calculator page for Wooding's entertaining treatise on why the whole flat-Earth idea is so forehead-smackingly stupid.
Experiment 1: Catch a sunset twice
Credit: Johannes Plenio/Unsplash
At the top of the calculator is the "Select an experiment" drop-down menu. Let's start with the "sunset twice" experiment.
Wooding notes that you can prove the Earth is round by standing up quickly right after the Sun goes down and getting ahead of the shadow cast by the horizon so you can see the sun set a second time. If the planet were flat, once it went over the edge from your first viewing position it would be gone.
You may want to find out the time of sunset before testing out the calculator. There are many places online to find this information. Here's one.
To use the calculator, begin by selecting a city in your time zone. Wooding has pre-entered the sunset duration for you, though you can look up the precise value online for your location.
There are three ways to increase your height, selected from the "Ideas" menu: standing up from a lying down position, taking the sky-lift elevator at the Burj Khalifa Hotel in Dubai, or sending up a drone with a camera on it. Most of us will select the first option.
Next, you enter your starting height (the default for lying down is .6562 feet), how long it will take you to stand up, and then the final standing elevation, presumably of your eyes.
What the calculator finds for you is the percentage of the second sunset you'll see. Note that for the sky-lift and drone tests, you see a lot more of that second sunset given the greater height and your accelerated ascent speed.
Experiment 2: Disappearing object
Credit: Michael Olsen/Unsplash
Thanks to the curvature of the Earth, you can make an object on a distant lake shore seem to disappear with a change in viewing height.
You'll need binoculars for this one. And, um, a lake.
The calculator will tell you how much of the object will become unobservable after you fill in the three values.
(You may also need a boat to measure the distance.)
Experiment 3: Stick shadows
Credit: Logan Radinovich/Unsplash
For this one you'll need a cooperative friend who lives at least some distance away, or a teleporter. Also two sticks and a day with enough sunlight to cast shadows in both locations.
This experiment involves measuring shadows cast at two different locations and calculating the angle between them to arrive at the Earth's circumference.
This experiment is a little advanced mathematically, and Wooding offers a help link if you're confused.
The rise of anti-scientific thinking and conspiracy is a concerning trend.
- Fifty years later after one of the greatest achievements of mankind, there's a growing number of moon landing deniers. They are part of a larger trend of anti-scientific thinking.
- Climate change, anti-vaccination and other assorted conspiratorial mindsets are a detriment and show a tangible impediment to fostering real progress or societal change.
- All of these separate anti-scientific beliefs share a troubling root of intellectual dishonesty and ignorance.
We are living in an increasingly more complex world every day. This statement has seemed to become a modern maxim in our time. The many consequences that flow from this change are beginning to become evermore present and noticeable. Carl Sagan's prescient quote sums it up nicely:
"We live in a society exquisitely dependent on science and technology, in which hardly anyone knows anything about science and technology."
One such disconcerting trend is that this type of ignorance is being taken one step further. Rather than wanting to remedy this lack of insight or knowledge, it would seem that many people are doubling down and plunging headlong into even more idiotic beliefs.
Forget basic logic, deductive reasoning or stringing together comprehensive lines of thought. These are the four most prevalent and damaging anti-scientific beliefs held by people in the world. While reading, keep in mind this indispensable wisdom:
"We are all born ignorant, but one must work hard to remain stupid." – Benjamin Franklin
Moon landing conspiracyApollo 11 moon landing
Image by NASA
Landing on the moon was a triumphant paean to the greatness of our human spirit and ingenuity. Between 1969 and 1971 we landed on the moon six times. Each landing carried down two astronauts, while one waited for them in lunar orbit. We brought down moon rocks, left behind many lunar modules (that can be pinged with lasers from the earth's surface) and we learned a great deal about the moon from these pioneering missions.
In recent years, talk about the moon landing being a hoax have begun to circulate and pickup more ignorant adherents. The fact that most of these deniers are not scientists or astronauts — nor have have advanced knowledge of engineering, rocketry, physics and so forth — should be telling enough. Even without going into the nitty gritty of the science, there's enough places online to find simple arguments debunking the moon landing hoax.
Mathematician David Robert Grimes approached the idea of debunking the moon landing hoax and other associated conspiracies in a novel way through a mathematical model. The formula accounts for the amount of people involved in a supposed conspiracy and how long it would take to go on keeping the details hidden from the public.
He states: "Even if there was a concerted effort, the sheer number of people required for the sheer scale of hypothetical scientific deceptions would inextricably undermine these nascent conspiracies."
Grimes understands that even with such a compelling and logic based understanding of the phenomenon of conspiracy, those with these beliefs will likely never shake their convictions.
"The grim reality is that there appears to be a cohort so ideologically invested in a belief that for whom no reasoning will shift, their convictions impervious to the intrusions of reality. In these cases, it is highly unlikely that a simple mathematical demonstration of the untenability of their belief will change their viewpoint. However, for the less invested, such an intervention might indeed prove useful."
Apollo 17 astronaut Harrison Schmitt echoed this sentiment when he said:
"If people decide they're going to deny the facts of history and the facts of science and technology, there's not much you can do with them. For most of them, I just feel sorry that we failed in their education."
Flat earth theory
Transport yourself back to a backwoods epistemological viewpoint that was mostly considered ignorant just a few centuries ago — the earth is flat. No one in their right mind should hold this belief. Yet it still persists. In an interview with Big Think, Nasa astronomer Michelle Thaller expertly lays out a few ways to disprove the flat-Earth theory.
She states: "That's a hard thing for me to even start talking about because there are so many proofs that the Earth is round, it's difficult to know where to start. And it's not okay to think that the Earth is flat. This is not a viable argument."
One example she gives is of the Greek scientist named Eratosthenes, who figured out that the difference of the sun's angle hitting a town called Syene and the far-off city of Alexandria on the same day didn't strike down the same way. Eventually his experiments would lead him to accurately measure the circumference of the Earth some 2,000 years ago.
Although old Eratosthenes and countless others led us out of this swamp many years ago, the idea won't die. Educational researcher Harry Dyer finds this troubling as he recently visited a flat-Earth convention and reported his experiences to Quartz.
"The idea of trusting your gut or trusting your feelings came up a lot at the conference. I think it is indicative of [a form of] populism where people want to move away from statistics and create an environment that engages more in emotions," he said.
Vaccinations and autism linked myth
A recent report points to some 160 people in New York state being diagnosed with measles. This comes just a few years after a large outbreak of measles at Disney World in 2015. Anti-vaccinators and their coterie of misinformed supporters just might take the blame for this entirely preventable disease.
There has been absolutely no link between vaccines and autism. The idea stems from a discredited paper written by disgraced British doctor named Andrew Wakefield who intentionally published a fraudulent paper linking the two. What could be the continuation of this discredited belief? Hysteresis.The findings of a recent study suggess that vaccines and the previous public perception of them sometimes causes a phenomenon that's known as hysteresis, which creates a holdover negative perception of the process. Basically, because the public was originally exposed to this faulty information, their resolve against vaccination is strong even in the face of the overwhelming amount of evidence available. The full details of the study can be found from the Royal Society Publishing.
Climate change denial
Conspiracy theory and its associated cognitive dissonance, and other laundry list of cognitive defects, is most dangerous when applied to denying climate change. A study written in 2015 explored the consequences of being exposed to a popular conspiracy theory. They found that it can make you less socially-minded and less likely to accept already established scientific fact and laws.
In the experiment, subjects were sat down and instructed to watch a quick two-minute clip from a global-warming conspiracy movie. They were divided into three groups: conspiracy (who watched the clip), a group that watched a United Nations video talking about global warming and a neutral group.
The results showed that subjects exposed to the conspiracy video were significantly less likely to believe that there is a 97 percent consensus agreement between climate scientists about the phenomenon and far less likely to do anything about the problem. These varied anti-scientific ways of thinking can cause a lot of real world damage, from leaving children vulnerable to viruses to accelerating the effects of pollution.
Dr. Sander van der Linden calls this the conspiracy effect and warns people to be aware of it:
My advice: Misinformation spreads quickly and can do much more harm than you think. The next time someone tries to convince you of a popular conspiracy theory, beware of the conspiracy effect.
We're finally here! We've been counting down the 10 most popular videos of 2018. This is #1...
- Hey flat Earthers, it's time to put your theory to bed once and for all! "There are so many proofs that the Earth is round, it's difficult to know where to start. And it's not okay to think that the Earth is flat; this is not a viable argument," says NASA astronomer Michelle Thaller.
- Thaller explains three observable proofs that instantly debunk flat-Earth theory with irrefutable evidence of the Earth's round, curvaceous, gloriously spherical shape.
- The ancient Greeks figured out we were living on a sphere over 2,000 years ago, and there are things you can do to prove that the Earth is indeed round—just go to a body of water and look at ships or boats on the horizon with binoculars. Watch the video for the details!
- You can follow Michelle Thaller on Twitter at @mlthaller.
The contestants would try to reach the end of the world, as they understand it.
- According to Flat-Earthers, our planet is flat and space travel doesn't happen.
- People are calling for a reality show about Flat-Earthers.
- Flat-Earthers say a 150-foot ice wall surrounds the world.
Amidst all the fake news, misinformation sponsored by governments, and the explosion of conspiracy theories that bombard us daily, it's no surprise that there seems to be a growing number of Flat-Earthers. After all, once you start doubting reality and the solidity of the institutions around you, being unsure whether the Earth is flat or round seems almost warranted. This said, there is a strong demand (at least online) for a reality show about Flat-Earthers searching for the edge of the world.
Ah. And what else could better signify our times?
Your basic flat earth belief kit often stems from biblical references, such as one, apparently, that mentions a giant tree that's supposedly visible from all corners of the Earth — at its "farthest bounds." If the planet was spherical this would not be possible while a flat Earth allows for such a scenario. Other beliefs that go along with this include claiming that gravity isn't real and that a Game of Thrones-like wall of ice surrounds the rim of the disc-like Earth. This wall is Antarctica while the Arctic Circle is the disc's center. If you went over the wall, you would fall into outer space or end up on an infinite plane. But, as the Flat Earth Society site admits, "To our knowledge, no one has been very far past the ice wall and returned to tell of their journey."
Notably, according to the Flat-Earthers, the 150-foot-tall wall is guarded by NASA. The agency's real mission is to keep the truth away from regular citizens while being an embezzlement front and faking space travel.
Although these beliefs are certainly not supported by the ample evidence to the contrary, provided by people who have experienced the planet's curvature from above — or those who have been to Antarctica — the number of Flat-Earthers is likely to grow. According to a 2018 survey, about a third of millennials are willing to entertain doubts about the Earth being round. Not all of these believe in the planet being flat, but it's easy to envision their ranks expanding, as such memes tend to acquire new converts by their sheer scope and intellectual frivolity. One clear catalyst for the resurgence of this idea has certainly been the Internet.
An animation of the day/night cycle according to Flat Earth Theory over the course of 24 hours.
Credit: Flat Earth Society.
The net, in its infinite wisdom, keeps a strong meme alive. So it is in this case, as the desire to watch a reality show about Flat-Earthers searching for the edge of the world keeps popping up on popular Reddit threads time and time again, causing tends of thousands of upvotes and comments. Of course, the impetus behind this show stems, for many, from the hope Flat-Earthers will fail spectacularly.
One such thread proposes that it would be "funny" to "give them access to a helicopter, boats, transportation, and flights to try and find the end of the world." And then, suggests user "Pilotavery," the contestants or "Flerfers" should be made to tell the organizers where they plan to go. The poster thinks this would dampen their enthusiasm, adding "I wonder how long it will take before they give up?" On the other hand, the poster thinks it would be "funny to see how frustrated they get."
We should fund a reality TV show, funding/following flat earthers in the search for the end of the earth. from r/flatearth
Another idea is to have a voting component to the show, with "the most trustworthy" Flat-Earthers being sent to the International Space Station to see the truth for themselves.
While it's certainly amusing, there is clearly a danger of such a show being set up to make the contestants look ridiculous, especially if you believe that they will not find the edge of the world. The upside for Flat-Earthers could be an opportunity to share their beliefs to millions via television, all the while trying to prove their theory right. Maybe they can make everyone else looks silly by actually finding a wall of ice at the end of the world. Wouldn't you want to watch that to find out?
In any case, no such show exists at the moment. But, Hollywood, if you're reading this, the internet wants what the internet wants. Make it happen.
Why have some conspiracy theories been pushed back into the public? Because when you try to force them out of the mainstream, they'll find a wider audience on the fringes.
Liberal college students have taken to shouting down certain right-leaning speakers on campus that they don't agree with. Michael Shermer, the publisher of Skeptic Magazine, thinks that is the worst thing you can do. He posits that all you do when you prevent someone from speaking is make certain people want to hear them more. This has led to the rise of the conspiracy theorists and why fringe ideas—from something as silly as flat-earth believers to something as morally reprehensible as Nazism and Holocaust deniers—have been pushed back into the mainstream. Michael's new book is Heavens on Earth: The Scientific Search for the Afterlife, Immortality, and Utopia.