from the world's big
3 scientists school flat Earthers on the evidence
Can this end flat-Earth theory once and for all?
BILL NYE: Is the earth flat or round? It's round, okay. Now, let's see. How do we go about proving that?
MICHELLE THALLER: 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.
NEIL DEGRASSE TYSON: B.o.B., the rapper, I have a video letter to him the transcript of which is in "Letters From An Astrophysicist." That rose to that level of attention because he started saying 'I'm using laws of math and physics to show Earth is flat.' Those are fighting words. You're going to say using math and physics? That is an alarm to the Geekoverse that we must rise up and counteract these forces from the dark side that are out there.
THALLER: There are proofs all around you. It is not difficult to know that the earth is round. So let's start from the simple to the slightly more complicated. One of the things you can see yourself with a pair of binoculars is if you actually go out to a lake and there are boats on that lake the farther away a boat is, the more the bottom of the boat will disappear and you'll basically just see the mast of the boat. And as a boat goes farther and farther away, the last thing you will see is the very top of the mast of that boat, and that's because the boat is actually going over the horizon that's curved. And that means that as it goes farther and farther away you see less and less of the bottom of it and more of the top of that. You can see that with binoculars by an ocean, by a lake. It's really easy. That wouldn't happen if the earth were flat. You would simply see the boat getting smaller and smaller and smaller as it went farther away, but you'd be able to see the whole thing with the same proportions.
NYE: Go to the seashore. Go to a seashore and figure out if you live on the East Coast figure out why you can't see Spain from the East Coast of North America. Just go to the middle of the Mississippi River and look south. Why can't you see Louisiana. Why can't you see New Orleans. What's the problem there? Or the climb a tower or go to the top of a hill or a mountain and you'll see a little farther, but you will not see to the other side of the earth, places we know to exist. For example, I've been to London. I can tell you other people have. I've been to Vancouver, British Columbia and you cannot see Vancouver, British Columbia from Boise, Idaho let alone from New York City or Toronto or what have you.
THALLER: Then there's some other proofs that are a little more obscure but they're actually really lovely and one is to observe What happens during a lunar eclipse. Now a lunar eclipse happens when the earth casts a shadow on the moon. The moon actually goes dark. In fact if you've seen one you could actually see the earth's shadow go across the moon. And when the moon is entirely in the earth's shadow the moon looks like of dark and even kind of red colored. It's really, really beautiful. What's happening in that case is that the sun is on one side of the earth. The earth is in the middle and it's casting a shadow. The earth is casting a shadow on the moon. And as the shadow moves across the moon you'll notice that the shadow is curved, it's round. So something like the Sun that's bigger than the earth and is able to cast a shadow of the earth on the moon can actually show you the shape of the earth. Aha, you might say, but could the earth be a disk? Could it be flat but it's actually still shaped like a disc, not like a sphere. There was a Greek scientist called Aristarchus and what he noticed was that you can get a lunar eclipse at many different angles where the sun is. Sometimes the shadow goes straight across the moon. Sometimes it just kind of glances the moon just a little bit is in shadow just on the top or on the bottom. From every different vantage point, every different angle that the sun is casting a shadow you always get a perfectly curved shadow. The only shape that can cast a shadow that's curved from any direction you put the light is a sphere. So people have known that the earth is spherical for thousands of years.
NYE: Look at pictures from space where you see the earth as a sphere. Those pictures are not faked and I'll tell you just if nothing else here's why you can tell they're not faked. Just to create the paperwork that NASA had created, NASA in this one case. Just the paperwork to send anything out in space. To send people into orbit or to send them to the moon, that amount of paperwork would make faking it prohibitively expensive. No one could afford to generate that much documentation. Then the other thing if you want to get into this, if your friends are really serious, have them get on a boat or a ship and go out at sea and you'll notice you can't see infinitely far. Furthermore if you get into it enough pick up a book about navigation or go online and learn about navigation. A very, very important thing you have to take into account when you try to navigate the ocean from a ship or a boat is how high you are off the sea surface. The higher you are off the sea surface, the farther you can see, the farther away the horizon is.
THALLER: I actually said this to somebody and I couldn't believe they'd never thought of it, but with binoculars you can see planets. You can see Saturn and Jupiter. You can see Mars with a telescope. The sun, the moon, everything else you see in the solar system is a sphere. So we're the one thing that is different? And that actually made somebody who was more interested in actually hearing information, that got them to think like you're right. Everything else we take a picture of is a sphere.
NYE: And you guys, come on. Everybody watches newscasts. You all use mobile phones. You all see airplanes fly around. You all go to see Ed Sheeran in concert one day in London, another day in Melbourne, Australia. This all depends on our fundamental understanding of the size of the earth and its shape with extraordinary precision. And if you want to get into it the earth isn't quite a sphere. It's a little wuhh. Its spin is a little wuhh, stretched it, made it slightly oblate as the saying goes.
THALLER: And it's not okay to think that the earth is flat. This is not a viable argument. I have friends who have been on the international space station. They have orbited the earth once every 90 minutes. I have had personal experience with people that have been up in space and can see with their own eyes that the earth is round. And, of course, we've taken all these amazing pictures from space. They're so beautiful all those pictures of the earth. So I don't really know what's going on right now with this earth is flat thing.
TYSON: In a debate what is the construct? It's typically two people and there's an audience and you debate some opposite sides of some issue and then there's a winner of the debate. And everyone walks away reflecting on the winner. So who wins a debate? It's often the person who's charismatic, who may be charming that's related to charisma of course. Who had a good way with words, good vocabulary. And you can have someone who doesn't have any of that who is speaking objective truths who could lose a debate. So then what is the point of the debate if one of these points of view is objectively true? I will not enter a debate where I have the objectively true side of an argument and the other person does not. That is something that should not be debated, does not belong in front of an audience getting debated. You want to debate something? Debate political policy of what to do in the face of climate change. Do you have carbon tax? Do you have solar panels? Do you subsidize them? Debate that. Don't debate something that is or is not objectively true in this world.
NYE: This is all susceptible to analysis, but spend some time learning about navigation, tell your friends to spend some time learning about navigation. Ahh. Navigation has changed the world by the way. What are you wearing? You're wearing stuff that came from another part of the world on a ship. It didn't get here by magic. It got here through science.
TYSON: I think it's important to combat people who are claiming that they are using math, science, evidence and physics behind their cause when, in fact, they either aren't or they're using it badly. That needs to be called out. Otherwise, if you just have a belief system I don't really care. We live in a country that protects free speech which usually also means free thought. You want to think Earth is flat, go right ahead. But if you start influencing other people who have power over other people and you have no foundation in objective reality it can be dangerous. If you influence people or you yourself become someone who has influence over legislation, laws, rules by which we all abide in society, that's an unhealthy situation for civilization to be in. If your personal belief system which does not have correspondence in objective reality starts becoming predominant in the thoughts and hearts and minds of civilization.
THALLER: It's not okay to say that the earth is flat. This is some sort of strange denial. I don't know where it comes from and it's something where I keep getting this question. We really need to put this question to bed because we've known the earth is a sphere for a long time.
- Despite centuries of evidence proving otherwise, there are an alarming number of people around the world who genuinely believe that the earth is flat. Bill Nye The Science Guy, NASA astronomer Michelle Thaller, and Neil deGrasse Tyson strongly disagree.
- From simple experiments like standing at a seashore or looking through a telescope at other planets, to reading about navigation or viewing photos of Earth taken from space, the scientists share several ways that flat Earthers can see the truth for themselves.
- Tyson explains why this trend doesn't qualify as a scientific debate and why it is actually dangerous for people to believe and, even worse, pass on these objectively false ideas.
- Reality show about Flat Earthers - Big Think ›
- Chris Hadfield: The astronaut's guide to flat Earth theory - Big Think ›
- Understanding the (Really Ridiculous) Core Tenets of the Flat Earth ... ›
- Why flat-Earth theory and anti-vax conspiracies exist - Big Think ›
Join Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter and best-selling author Charles Duhigg as he interviews Victoria Montgomery Brown, co-founder and CEO of Big Think, live at 1pm EDT tomorrow.
A study looks at the performance benefits delivered by asthma drugs when they're taken by athletes who don't have asthma.
- One on hand, the most common health condition among Olympic athletes is asthma. On the other, asthmatic athletes regularly outperform their non-asthmatic counterparts.
- A new study assesses the performance-enhancement effects of asthma medication for non-asthmatics.
- The analysis looks at the effects of both allowed and banned asthma medications.
WADA uncertainty<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzUzNzU0OS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYxMDc4NjUwN30.fFTvRR0yJDLtFhaYiixh5Fa7NK1t1T4CzUM0Yh6KYiA/img.jpg?width=980" id="01b1b" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="2fd91a47d91e4d5083449b258a2fd63f" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="urine sample for drug test" />
Image source: joel bubble ben/Shutterstock<p>When inhaled β-agonists first came out just before the 1972 Olympics, they were immediately banned altogether by the WADA as possible doping substances. Over the years, the WADA has reexamined their use and refined the organization's stance, evidence of the thorniness of finding an equitable position regarding their use. As of January 2020, only three β-agonists are allowed — salbutamol, formoterol, and salmeterol —and only in inhaled form. Oral consumption appears to have a greater effect on performance.</p>
The study<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzUzNzU0Ny9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY1MTIzMDQyMX0.Gk4v-7PCA7NohvJjw12L15p7SumPCY0tLdsSlMrLlGs/img.jpg?width=980" id="d3141" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="ebe7b30a315aeffcb4fe739095cf0767" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="runner at starting position on track" />
Image source: MinDof/Shutterstock<p>Of primary interest to the authors of the study is confirming and measuring the performance improvement to be gained from β-agonists when they're ingested by athletes who don't have asthma.</p><p>The researchers performed a meta-analysis of 34 existing studies documenting 44 randomized trials reporting on 472 participants. The pool of individuals included was broad, encompassing both untrained and elite athletes. In addition, lab tests, as opposed to actual competitions, tracked performance. The authors of the study therefore recommend taking its conclusions with just a grain of salt.</p><p>The effects of both WADA-banned and approved β-agonists were assessed.</p>
Approved β-agonists and non-asthmatic athletes<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzUzNzU1MC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYxMzkxODk0M30.3RssFwk_tWkHRkEl_tIee02rdq2tLuAePifnngqcIr8/img.jpg?width=980" id="39a99" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="b1fe4a580c6d4f8a0fd021d7d6570e2a" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="vaulter clearing pole" />
Image source: Andrey Yurlov/Shutterstock<p>What the meta-analysis showed is that the currently approved β-agonists didn't significantly improve athletic performance among those without asthma — what very slight benefit they <em>may</em> produce is just enough to prompt the study's authors to write that "it is still uncertain whether approved doses improve anaerobic performance." They note that the tiny effect did increase slightly over multiple weeks of β-agonist intake.</p>
Banned β-agonist and non-asthmatic athletes<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzUzNzU1Mi9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYzNjI3ODU5Mn0.vyoxSE5EYjPGc2ZEbBN8d5F79nSEIiC6TUzTt0ycVqc/img.jpg?width=980" id="de095" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="02fdd42dfda8e3665a7b547bb88007ef" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="swimmer mid stroke" />
Image source: Nejron Photo/Shutterstock<p>The study found that for athletes without asthma, however, the use of currently banned β-agonists did indeed result in enhanced performance. The authors write, "Our meta-analysis shows that β2-agonists improve anaerobic performance by 5%, an improvement that would change the outcome of most athletic competitions."</p><p>That 5 percent is an average: 70-meter sprint performance was improved by 3 percent, while strength performance, MVC (maximal voluntary contraction), was improved by 6 percent.</p><p>The analysis also revealed that different results were produced by different methods of ingestion. The percentages cited above were seen when a β-agonist was ingested orally. The effect was less pronounced when the banned substances were inhaled.</p><p>Given the difference between the results for allowed and banned β-agonists, the study's conclusions suggest that the WADA has it about right, at least in terms of selection of allowable β-agonists, as well as the allowable dosage method.</p>
Takeaway<p>The study, say its authors, "should be of interest to WADA and anyone who is interested in equal opportunities in competitive sports." Its results clearly support vigilance, with the report concluding: "The use of β2-agonists in athletes should be regulated and limited to those with an asthma diagnosis documented with objective tests."</p>
Certain water beetles can escape from frogs after being consumed.
- A Japanese scientist shows that some beetles can wiggle out of frog's butts after being eaten whole.
- The research suggests the beetle can get out in as little as 7 minutes.
- Most of the beetles swallowed in the experiment survived with no complications after being excreted.
Richard Feynman once asked a silly question. Two MIT students just answered it.
Here's a fun experiment to try. Go to your pantry and see if you have a box of spaghetti. If you do, take out a noodle. Grab both ends of it and bend it until it breaks in half. How many pieces did it break into? If you got two large pieces and at least one small piece you're not alone.
But science loves a good challenge<p>The mystery remained unsolved until 2005, when French scientists <a href="http://www.lmm.jussieu.fr/~audoly/" target="_blank">Basile Audoly</a> and <a href="http://www.lmm.jussieu.fr/~neukirch/" target="_blank">Sebastien Neukirch </a>won an <a href="https://www.improbable.com/ig/" target="_blank">Ig Nobel Prize</a>, an award given to scientists for real work which is of a less serious nature than the discoveries that win Nobel prizes, for finally determining why this happens. <a href="http://www.lmm.jussieu.fr/spaghetti/audoly_neukirch_fragmentation.pdf" target="_blank">Their paper describing the effect is wonderfully funny to read</a>, as it takes such a banal issue so seriously. </p><p>They demonstrated that when a rod is bent past a certain point, such as when spaghetti is snapped in half by bending it at the ends, a "snapback effect" is created. This causes energy to reverberate from the initial break to other parts of the rod, often leading to a second break elsewhere.</p><p>While this settled the issue of <em>why </em>spaghetti noodles break into three or more pieces, it didn't establish if they always had to break this way. The question of if the snapback could be regulated remained unsettled.</p>
Physicists, being themselves, immediately wanted to try and break pasta into two pieces using this info<p><a href="https://roheiss.wordpress.com/fun/" target="_blank">Ronald Heisser</a> and <a href="https://math.mit.edu/directory/profile.php?pid=1787" target="_blank">Vishal Patil</a>, two graduate students currently at Cornell and MIT respectively, read about Feynman's night of noodle snapping in class and were inspired to try and find what could be done to make sure the pasta always broke in two.</p><p><a href="http://news.mit.edu/2018/mit-mathematicians-solve-age-old-spaghetti-mystery-0813" target="_blank">By placing the noodles in a special machine</a> built for the task and recording the bending with a high-powered camera, the young scientists were able to observe in extreme detail exactly what each change in their snapping method did to the pasta. After breaking more than 500 noodles, they found the solution.</p>
The apparatus the MIT researchers built specifically for the task of snapping hundreds of spaghetti sticks.
(Courtesy of the researchers)
What possible application could this have?<p>The snapback effect is not limited to uncooked pasta noodles and can be applied to rods of all sorts. The discovery of how to cleanly break them in two could be applied to future engineering projects.</p><p>Likewise, knowing how things fragment and fail is always handy to know when you're trying to build things. Carbon Nanotubes, <a href="https://bigthink.com/ideafeed/carbon-nanotube-space-elevator" target="_self">super strong cylinders often hailed as the building material of the future</a>, are also rods which can be better understood thanks to this odd experiment.</p><p>Sometimes big discoveries can be inspired by silly questions. If it hadn't been for Richard Feynman bending noodles seventy years ago, we wouldn't know what we know now about how energy is dispersed through rods and how to control their fracturing. While not all silly questions will lead to such a significant discovery, they can all help us learn.</p>
Several experts have weighed in on our sometimes morbid curiosity and fascination with true crime.
- True crime podcasts can get as many as 500,000 downloads per month. In the Top 100 Podcasts of 2020 list for Apple, several true crime podcasts ranked within the Top 20.
- Our fascination with true crime isn't just limited to podcasts, with Netflix documentaries like "Confessions of a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes" scoring high popularity with viewers.
- Several experts weigh in on our fascination with these stories with theories including fear-based adrenaline rushes and the inherent need to understand the human mind.
Why are we fascinated with true crime stories?<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzUzODA1MC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY1MzkwOTAzOX0.7WqeWaf-odtEJV5XB2jdEG1uPU5d6Uaujw6iy6MKMbw/img.jpg?width=1245&coordinates=0%2C0%2C0%2C0&height=700" id="d99fc" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="e14d547e4d386925bad470882a823333" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="woman standing in front of crime scene notes" />
Several experts and psychologists weigh in on why we could be so fascinated by violence, destruction and true crime stories...
Photo by Motortion Films on Shutterstock<p>Several experts have weighed in on this topic over the years, as the spike in popularity of true crime media has continued at an astonishing rate.</p><p><strong>Psychopaths are charismatic.</strong> </p><p>One of the <a href="https://www.scienceofpeople.com/psychopath/#:~:text=Psychopathy%20researchers%20found%20that%20psychopaths,defer%20gratification%20and%20control%20behavior" target="_blank">defining qualities of a psychopath</a> is that they have "superficial charm and glibness", which could explain part of our fascination with podcasts, TV shows, and movies that cover the lives of famous serial killers like Ted Bundy.</p><p><strong>Our psychology demands we pay attention to things that could harm us.</strong></p><p>Psychology can play a large role in why we like what we like, and our fascination with true crime stories is no exception. When it comes to potential threats or things that could be threatening to humanity, perhaps we've been conditioned to pay those things extra attention. </p><p>According to Dr. John Mayer, a clinical psychologist at <a href="http://www.doctorondemand.com/" target="_blank">Doctor on Demand</a> who spoke about the process <a href="https://www.nbcnews.com/better/health/science-behind-why-we-can-t-look-away-disasters-ncna804966" target="_blank">in an interview with NBC News</a>, seeing destruction, disaster, or tragedy actually triggers survival instincts in us. </p><p>"A disaster enters into our awareness - this can be from a live source such as driving by a traffic accident or from watching a news report about a hurricane, a plane crash or any disaster," Mayer said. "This data from our perceptual system then stimulates the amygdala (the part of the brain responsible for emotions, survival tactics and memory). The amygdala then sends signals to the regions of the frontal cortex that are involved in analyzing and interpreting data. Next, the brain evaluates whether this data (awareness of the disaster) is a threat to you, thus judgment gets involved. As a result, the 'fight or flight' response is evoked." </p><p><strong>Could it just be morbid curiosity? </strong></p><p>Dr. Katherine Ramsland, Ph.D., a professor at De Sales University, explained <a href="https://www.bustle.com/p/why-are-people-so-obsessed-with-true-crime-experts-reveal-the-evolutionary-reasons-why-18138062" target="_blank">in an interview with Bustle</a>:</p><p>"Part of our love of true crime is based on something very natural: curiosity. People reading or watching a true crime story are engaged on several levels. They are curious about who would do this, they want to know the psychology of the bad guy, girl, or team. They want to know something about the abhorrent mind. They also love the puzzle - figuring out how it was done." </p><p><strong>Perhaps it's a way of facing our fears and planning our own reactions without risking immediate harm. </strong></p><p>In an interview with NBC News, psychiatrist Dr. David Henderson suggested that we may be fascinated with violence, destruction, or crime as a way of assessing how we would handle ourselves if put into that situation:</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;"><em>"Witnessing violence and destruction, whether it is in a novel, a movie, on TV or a real life scene playing out in front of us in real time, gives us the opportunity to confront our fears of death, pain, despair, degradation and annihilation while still feeling some level of safety. This sensation is sometimes experienced when we stand at the edge of the Grand Canyon or look through the glass at a ferocious lion at the zoo. We watch because we are allowed to ask ourselves ultimate questions with an intensity of emotion that is uncoupled from the true reality of the disaster: 'If I was in that situation, what would I do? How would I respond? Would I be the hero or the villain? Could I endure the pain? Would I have the strength to recover?' We play out the different scenarios in our head because it helps us to reconcile that which is uncontrollable with our need to remain in control."</em></p><p><strong>Psychologically, negative events activate our brains more than positive events. </strong></p><p><a href="http://psycnet.apa.org/doiLanding?doi=10.1037%2F0033-2909.134.3.383" target="_blank">A 2008 study</a> published by the American Psychological Association found that humans react to and learn more from negative experiences than we do positive ones. The term "negative bias" is the tendency to automatically give more attention (and meaning) to negative events and information more than positive events or information. </p><p><strong>A forced perspective may trigger empathy and act as a coping mechanism. </strong></p><p>Viewing destruction (or listening to/watching true crime stories) could be beneficial. According to Dr. Mayer, "the healthy mechanism of watching disasters is that it is a coping mechanism. We can become incubated emotionally by watching disasters and this helps us cope with hardships in our lives…" <a href="https://www.nbcnews.com/better/health/science-behind-why-we-can-t-look-away-disasters-ncna804966" target="_blank">Dr. Stephen Rosenburg points out</a>, however, that this empathetic response can also have a negative impact. "Being human and having empathy can make us feel worried or depressed."</p><p>Dr. Rosenberg goes on to explain that this can also impact the negativity bias. "We tend to think negatively to protect ourselves from the reality. If it turns out better, we're relieved. If it turns out worse, we're prepared." </p><p><strong>Perhaps the adrenaline of fear that comes from listening to or watching true crime can become addicting. </strong></p><p>Similarly to how people get a "runners high" from exercise or feel depressed when they have missed a scheduled run, the adrenaline that pumps during our consumption of true crime stories <a href="https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/science-choice/201508/can-you-be-addicted-adrenaline" target="_blank">can become addictive</a>. According to sociology and criminology professor Scott Bonn, <a href="https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/wicked-deeds/201605/the-delightful-guilty-pleasure-watching-true-crime-tv" target="_blank">in an interview with Psychology Today</a>: "The public is drawn to these stories because they trigger the most basic and powerful emotion in us all: fear."</p>