Irrational Vindictiveness

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No, dispatchers don’t really scan your social media profile, and even if they did, it would be illegal for them to refuse you aid because of your sentiments vis-à-vis having sexual relations with police officers.  This meme is pure fantasy, which raises the question: What twisted, dark, depraved mind fantasizes about a world in which a person can be abandoned to die for exercising his or her Constitutionally-protected freedom of speech on social media?

Apparently, The “Rational” Party does.  I looked up rational in the dictionary, and this meme isn’t it.  This meme is petty and vindictive, and those are its best qualities.

Imagine a scenario where you are angry, frustrated, maybe even fearful enough to write “F*ck the police” on your favorite social media outlet.  What could have driven you to do so?

Some people – the aforementioned “Rational” Party, perhaps – would say that only criminals fear the police, but that’s myopic and wrong.  If you’ve followed the news recently, you know that many people who have committed no crime nevertheless have a valid reason to fear the police.  I’m not only referring to black folks; Hispanics, poor people, and the mentally ill have also born the brunt of unjust police aggression. Any one of a number of disadvantaged minority groups could express their fear, distrust, and disdain for law enforcement officers, and I would understand their position.

There are also the supporters, by which I mean non-minorities who see what’s happening and find it disturbing.  A sympathetic soul – unlike a member of the misnamed “Rational” Party – might also post a derogatory meme about police officers, and by extension, the culture that allows them to be abusive toward minorities.  Our hapless victim might not be a member of a minority group at all; he may simply have had enough.  Who can blame him?  Who can look at the various ills that plague the justice system and not be disgusted to the point of profanity?

Let’s not lose sight of the most important point, though.  Whether the caller was justified in his social media rant or not, the police are not absolved of their responsibility to serve and protect.  That may be the most concerning problem with this meme.   Police officers swear an oath to uphold the law, and that oath does not include the words “unless the guy hates cops.”  Could you imagine if a doctor refused a life-saving procedure because he found out that his patient tweeted about how much he hates doctors?  Of course not!  That doctor would be justifiably booted out of the medical profession!  So what makes it such a funny fantasy to imagine a police officer or dispatcher doing the same thing?

As always when I write about police brutality against minorities, I feel compelled to reassure my readers that I know the problem isn’t endemic to all, or even most police officers.  But there’s a culture of protection for crooked cops that does stain all police officers.  That culture is maintained by people like the “Rational” Party, who, instead of acknowledging the problem and working to fix it, would rather blame those most affected by it.  Seriously.  F*ck the “Rational” Party.

The Gravity of the Situation

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Oh Aunty Acid, I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but…there is gravity on the Moon.  There’s gravity everywhere.

I’ve seen this misconception enough that I figure it warrants some discussion.  Take a trip back in time with me to the days of Sir Isaac Newton.  Newton is known for many things, including his Law of Universal Gravitation, which says that any two particles in the Universe will attract each other with a force that is proportional to the product of their masses, and inversely proportional to the square of the distance between them.

In plain English, imagine you have two particles (and particles can mean any two objects, large or small.  They don’t have to be protons or electrons, for example.)  Let one of the particles have a mass of A kilograms, while the other particle has a mass of B kilograms.  As long as the two particles stay the exact same distance apart, then the gravitational pull between them will be proportional to AB.  If you increase the mass of either particle, then you increase the gravitational pull between them by that same ratio.  For example, double the mass of Particle A only, and the gravitational pull between A and B will also double.  If you double both masses, then the gravitational pull between them will quadruple, since 2 x 2 = 4.

The second part of Newton’s L.U.G. tells us that the gravitational attraction between any two “particles” decreases as the particles get farther apart from each other.  You might expect that, but the force doesn’t drop off in a linear way.  Instead, the force decreases with the square of the distance.  So let’s say that you keep the masses of A and B the same, but double the separation between them.  The gravitational force will drop to (1/2)², or 1/4 of its original value.  If you triple the separation between the particles, the gravitational pull drops to (1/3)² = 1/9 of its original value.

As you can see, gravity drops off rapidly with increasing distance.  Perhaps this is what leads some people to conclude that the Moon has no gravity; after all, it is quite far away from Earth by human standards.

But the Moon does have its own mass – quite a lot of it, in fact – and it has its own gravitational pull on nearby objects, separate and distinct from the Earth’s gravitational tug.  In fact, if you fly your spaceship to a point about 66,000 kilometers away from the Moon, the Moon’s gravity will be the dominant force that guides your trajectory.  This is what happened with the Apollo missions (indeed, with any lunar mission, manned or unmanned, that has ever successfully reached its target).

On the surface of the Moon, you experience a gravitational pull that is about 1/6 of what you experience on Earth.  Again, that’s not because you’re so far away from Earth; it’s because the Moon’s mass – albeit large – is still significantly less than the Earth’s mass.  When you stand on the Moon, there is simply less mass beneath your feet pulling you downward.

Contrary to what some people believe, there is even gravity in outer space, between the Earth and Moon, and anywhere else in the Universe that you care to look for it.  Remember, the gravitational influence of a body drops dramatically as you get farther from the body, but it never actually drops to zero.  Plug in any number you want for x, and the expression (1/x)² will never, ever be equal to zero.  So even when a spacecraft is far from Earth, far from the Moon, far even from the Sun, there will be a gravitational influence guiding its path.

(But wait a minute, you might interject, if there’s gravity everywhere, how come the astronauts float around inside the space station?  Check and mate, mister science nerd!)

Strangely enough, astronauts float inside the space station not because they have escaped gravity, but because gravity affects the space station as well as the astronauts.  The entire kit and kaboodle is in a state of free fall, just like on the Drop Zone ride.  The astronauts are indeed falling…and the space station is falling around them.  And they avoid falling to Earth because the station is also moving sideways fast enough that it falls around Earth instead of down to Earth.  But that’s a topic for another day.

So let’s summarize this meme’s misconception: there is gravity on the Moon (and everywhere else) so your saggy parts will continue to sag, albeit less severely.  But instead of trying to figure out how to get to the Moon, Aunty Acid, why don’t you focus on loving yourself the way you are?

A Labelling Dilemma

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I haven’t updated this blog in a long while, and to be honest, I wasn’t sure I was ever going to update again.  For one, my real-life job left me with little energy or motivation to write.  Also, it seemed as if I were beating my head against a wall.  While I do receive a number of friendly comments from like-minded people, or at least from people who are willing to respectfully disagree, I also get a lot of nasty comments from people who are just itching to tell me how wrong I am.  Well, that’s okay.  I don’t expect to sway those people’s opinions, just as I hope they don’t expect to sway mine.  If it makes you feel better to tell me what a moron I am, speak your peace and then get ye gone.  I’ve no more patience for trolls.

I encountered this meme on the Facebook wall of a friend who is typically pretty left-leaning, like me; a person whom the right would derisively call an SJW or social justice warrior.  If the meme contained only the second sentence, there wouldn’t be much to complain about; after all, Flying Spaghetti Monster knows we could stand more teamwork and unity.  But the first sentence is full of culpability shuffling, and there’s a nasty word that adds an extra dose of irresponsibility.  Can you spot it?

Before we get to that word, I’d like to talk about the hazards associated with saying “Not all _____ are _____.”  Even if the statement is true, there’s an obvious but oft-unstated follow-up clause: “Although some are.”  And it’s in this clause that social infection festers.  “Not all cops are bad.”  That’s very true.  There are lots of good, decent cops who would never dream of killing an unarmed man.  “But some are.”  And it’s the responsibility of the good cops to break the blue code of silence and speak out against the minority of police officers who abuse their power.  The justice system bears the onus of breaking through the shield that protects police officers who unjustly kill people.

“Not all whites are racist.”  In general, I agree with this statement.  To be sure, I think everybody occasionally has thoughts that would qualify as racist – that’s ingrained in us by our tribal roots –  but a reasonable person recognizes those thoughts for what they are, and declines to give them voice.  And he certainly never acts on them.  He tries to understand where those thoughts come from.  He doesn’t tweet them as if they are Truth Revealed, then marvel at the social backlash.

“But some are.”  Some whites are racist, and it is no longer enough for the rest of us to be non-racist.  We should aspire to be anti-racist.  We should speak out against people who lack a racist filter.  We may never convince them that their thoughts, words, and actions are wrong, but at least we can show them that they will not be accepted in a civil society.

Now let’s address the elephant in the room.  “Not all African Americans are thugs.”

“But some are.”  Do you see the problem?  The word thug has become a racist code word; a stand-in for the N-word.  In fact, this meme may as well have simply used the N-word, because the effect is the same. People who use the word thug in this context don’t just mean “folks who break the law”.  They mean “black folks who break the law”.

Now if you’re one of those white people who are thoroughly marinated in privilege and oblivious to racism, you might wail: “Political correctness strikes again!  We can’t ever say that black people commit crimes!”  But that’s rubbish, and you know it.  It’s okay to acknowledge that people of every race break the law and hurt others, but how easy would it have been to select a word that isn’t racially charged?  “Not all African Americans are criminals.”  “Not all African Americans are rioters.”  “Not all African Americans are looters.”  Any of those would have been preferable, because none of those words pack the same racist connotations as the T-word.  And you could reasonably follow any of those statements with “But some are, and they should be held accountable for their crimes, just as a person of any ethnic background would be held accountable for the same crimes.  They should not be punished more harshly than a white person would be, nor should they have a reasonable fear of being killed before they even see a jury.”

I’m all for unity, but this meme doesn’t inspire it.  It almost makes it seem as if the good cops and non-racist whites must condescend to acknowledge the non-thug African Americans.  Unity isn’t unity when one group thinks they are doing another group a favor by including them at all.

Flat Earth Week, Day 7: Water We Going To Do About It?

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All things must come to an end, except for Earth, which does not have ends because it is not flat.  We have reached the final day of Flat Earth week.

And wouldn’t you know it?  I’ve just stumbled across a veritable gold mine of Stupid Bad Flat Earth memes in the form of the Facebook community Flat Earth Matters.  There are enough memes there for a dozen Flat Earth weeks, but alas, I would never write about anything else if I tried to tackle them all.  Perhaps I’ll revisit the topic another time.  Until then, we bid a fond adieu to the looniest of loony conspiracy theories, and what better meme to send us off than this stunning display of Flat Earth “physics”?

Now the obvious answer to this meme is “Yes it does, because gravity.”  But you have to remember that Flat Earthers often don’t believe in gravity.  More specifically, they don’t believe that Earth has gravity, although some of them allow the Sun, Moon, planets, and stars to have gravitational influence because they think that this patches holes in their rapidly sinking model.

I’ll explain how water is able to “stick to a ball spinning 1000 mph”, although I know it won’t convince the average Flat Earther.  That’s okay; this blog has never really been about convincing the other side.  I try to bring logic and evidence to the table while ranting about the stupidity of memes, and the reader may decide for himself or herself whether I have sufficiently made my case.

So let’s start by establishing that Earth does in fact have gravity.  Newton said that anything with mass has a gravitational influence on any other object with mass, and there’s no reason to believe that Earth is any different.  Henry Cavendish showed in 1798 that objects much less massive than Earth have their own gravitational sway, albeit minuscule.

Einstein overhauled Newton’s ideas by showing that gravitation is actually the result of massive bodies curving the fabric of spacetime.  In doing so, Einstein predicted that not only can gravity affect the motion of objects with mass, but it can bend the path of massless light as well.  The famous Eddington experiment of 1919 proved that Einstein was correct.

Although Newton’s and Einstein’s models of gravity vary in important ways, they agree in one important detail: the more massive an object is, the more gravitational influence it wields.  That’s why in the realistic model of the cosmos, the Moon orbits around Earth and Earth orbits around the Sun.

Now the average Flat Earther believes that the Sun and Moon are much smaller – and presumably less massive – than Earth is.  (Well, they’re correct about the Moon, but definitely not about the Sun.)  Let’s pretend that they’re right in both cases.  If the Sun is still massive enough to bend the light from distant stars in exact accordance with Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity (and it is), and if Earth’s mass is much greater than the Sun’s mass (which, according to Flat Earth models, it must be), then surely Earth’s mass is enough to exert a gravitational influence on the objects that rest upon it, right? In fact, Earth’s gravity ought to be enough to squash it into a ball.

Or are Flat Earthers prepared to admit that their model is inconsistent in that it treats Earth as a physically special object, separate from and immune to the laws that govern the heavenly bodies?  No, even the most fact-averse Flat Earther, if he is intellectually honest (he isn’t), must concede that Earth has mass; ergo, it also exerts a gravitational tug.

Earth has gravity, anyway you look at it.  And in the Globe Earth model (i.e. the correct model) Earth is indeed spinning at a seemingly high rate of speed.  However, your speed with respect to the center of Earth diminishes as you move away from the equator.

EarthSpeed

The difference in speed between diverse latitudes gives rise to the Coriolis effect, which causes the rotation of tropical storms and ocean currents (but has no effect on the direction your toilet flushes!)  The easily measurable rotation of wind and water currents is just one more piece of evidence that we live on a spinning, ball-shaped Earth.  But we were talking about gravity.

Using Newton’s Law of Universal Gravitation (which will do in a pinch, although it is not as complete or exact as General Relativity), we can calculate that gravity exerts a “force” of about 9.8 newtons (about 2.2 pounds-force) on every kilogram of mass near Earth’s surface.  Is that enough force to keep Earth’s water from flying off into space, especially near the equator where it is moving the fastest?  Let’s find out.

The force required to keep something moving in a circular path is called centripetal force.  The faster an object is moving, or the more mass it has, or the tighter the circle you want to keep it moving in, the more force is required.  For example, imagine swinging a bowling ball in a horizontal circle on the end of a chain.  (No, I don’t know where one might find a bowling ball attached to a chain…just go with me on this one.)  It would take more force to swing a 12-pound ball then it would to swing an 8-pound ball.  It would also take more force to keep a ball swinging in a circle  5 feet across, compared to a circle 10 feet across.

Using the centripetal force formula, we can show that at the equator, it only takes 0.034 newtons (0.0076 pounds-force) of force to keep a kilogram of water moving in a circle with the same radius as Earth.  But remember, Earth’s gravity provides about 9.8 newtons of force per kilogram of matter, which means that each kilogram of water experiences way more than enough force from gravity to prevent it from flying off into space, even at the equator where it is spinning the fastest.  Q.E.D.

Now you might reasonably ask: if Earth’s rotation is causing me to move at hundreds of miles per hour, why don’t I feel like I’m moving that fast?  The answer to that question is two-fold:

  1. Compared to the size of Earth, even 1000 mph is not a very high speed, and
  2. Everything around you, including the air, is moving with you at the same speed.

See, it’s all relative.  We live on a ball-shaped Earth that spins once a day, moving around the Sun at more than 67,000 miles per hour (30 kilometers per second).  The Sun itself is whizzing through space at hundreds of kilometers per second, depending on which reference frame you choose.  But to us tiny humans held fast to Earth by gravity, none of this is readily apparent.  It’s only when we take the time to study the universe that we see the truth.  Humans have been studying the Universe and our place in it for centuries; its only the Flat Earthers, Creationists, and other reality-denying ideologues who seek to turn back the clock of scientific progress.

Flat Earth Week, Day 6: A Fort of Ignorance

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Oh Lord.

I would say that this meme was created to troll the Flat Earth Society rather than support it, except that this meme comes directly from the Flat Earth Society’s online forum, where it was posted by John Davis, one of the site’s administrators.  If John Davis is a troll, he’s undercover, and he’s in deep.

Charles Hoy Fort is the author of The Book of the Damned, a dense tome that is right up Flat Earthers’ alley.  The first three sentences of Fort’s non-fiction work are:

A PROCESSION of the damned.

By the damned, I mean the excluded.

We shall have a procession of data that Science has excluded.

Fort’s book is all about the stuff that science supposedly ignores because it doesn’t fit into the mainstream.  Damned delves deep into the paranormal and pseudoscience, tackling such varied topics as UFOs, strangely glowing skies and the weird things that fall from them, mysterious locations, fairies, poltergeists, and vanishings.

The quote in question comes from Chapter 3 of Damned.  Although Fort’s writing style is quite difficult to decrypt, his major thrust in this chapter seems to be documenting numerous cases of strangely-colored detritus falling from the sky.  He also laments the fact that science refuses to recognize the extraterrestrial origins of this peculiar precipitation (or even that it exists).

Early in the chapter, and seemingly apropos of nothing, Fort makes two confusing detours, first into Darwinism, then into the shape of Earth.  I’ll not spend much time discussing Fort’s position vis-à-vis Darwinism, except to say that he mischaracterizes it as a tautology in danger of being abandoned by the scientists that once supported it.  (In reality, Darwinism was being strengthened in 1919, when Damned was published, by the developing field of genetics.)

In his second digression, Fort says:

Or that Columbus never proved that the earth is round.

Shadow of the earth on the moon?

No one has ever seen it in its entirety. The earth’s shadow is much larger than the moon. If the periphery of the shadow is curved — but the convex moon — a straight-edged object will cast a curved shadow upon a surface that is convex.

All the other so-called proofs may be taken up in the same way. It was impossible for Columbus to prove that the earth is round. It was not required: only that with a higher seeming of positiveness than that of his opponents, he should attempt. The thing to do, in 1492, was nevertheless to accept that beyond Europe, to the west, were other lands.

I offer for acceptance, as something concordant with the spirit of this first quarter of the 20th century, the expression that beyond this earth are — other lands — from which come things as, from America, float things to Europe.

It was not required for Columbus to prove that Earth is round because everybody in 1492 already knew that Earth is round.  Remember, Erastosthenes not only knew about the shape of Earth, but made a somewhat accurate measurement of its circumference seventeen centuries prior to Columbus’s voyage.  The story that Columbus alone believed in Earth’s rotundity was invented from whole cloth by Washington Irving for his 1828 book A History of the Life and Voyages of Christopher Columbus.  Irving was a writer of fiction who highly romanticized (and in many cases fabricated) the story of Columbus’s life in order to instill his American audience with nationalist pride.  Unfortunately, Irving’s myth-making talents worked too well: Many people swallowed the Irving story hook, line, and sinker, without a hint of skepticism.

Is Fort parroting the Irving-inspired Columbus myth?  To be honest, it’s hard to tell.  Reading Fort’s prose is similar to learning calculus from somebody with a severe concussion.  For that matter, I’m not even sure what Fort thinks about the shape of Earth.  He does offer a half-hearted explanation for the seemingly curved shadow of Earth as an optical illusion caused by the concave surface of the Moon, but maybe Fort is just playing devil’s advocate.  It’s possible that Fort does not really believe Earth is flat, but enjoys pointing out how it could be flat, if you really wanted to prove that.

For what it’s worth, though, the Moon is not concave.  If you need convincing, simply ask any of the surviving Apollo astronauts that landed on its surface and orbited around it.  Of course, if you don’t believe Earth is round, you’re not likely to accept the word of Apollo astronauts.  Is there a way to prove the Moon’s convexity for yourself?

Yes, but it’s difficult.  You need a camera and a lot of patience.  The trick involves taking photographs of the Moon over the course of a month, during which you’ll witness the phenomenon called lunar libration.

See, the Moon’s orbit around Earth is not perfectly circular; it is slightly eccentric.  In other words, as the Moon orbits around Earth, it gets closer to and then further away from our planet.  According to Kepler’s laws of orbital motion (which you probably also dismiss as false if you’re a Flat Earther), an object in an elliptical orbit moves faster when it is closer to its primary, and slower when it is further away.  So as the Moon moves around Earth over the course of a month, it speeds up and slows down.

The Moon is tidally locked with Earth, which means it rotates once on its axis in the same amount of time that it orbits around Earth.  A consequence of tidal locking is that the Moon always keeps the same hemisphere facing Earth.  Well…nearly the same hemisphere.  As the Moon speeds up in its orbit, it moves a little bit faster than its rotation can keep up, and when it does, we see just a little extra sliver of the Moon’s trailing hemisphere.  When the Moon slows down, we see a little extra sliver of its leading hemisphere.  Due to libration, we can actually see about 59 percent of the Moon’s surface over the course of a month, rather than the 50 percent you would expect if libration did not occur.

You can also witness a small amount of libration over the course of a day.  As Earth rotates you beneath the Moon, you see the Moon from slightly different perspectives.  Compare a highly-detailed picture of the Moon taken shortly after moonrise with a picture taken just before moonset, and you might be able to spot the tiny difference.

Even if the Moon were concave, we would be able to distinguish the difference between a round shadow and a curved shadow.  There are many, many concave surfaces on Earth, and artists have spent generations studying the subtle interplay of light and shadow upon various geometries.  If the Moon were concave, we’d have known long ago.  If Earth were flat, we’d have figured it out by now.  Neither premise is true.

Flat Earth Week, Day 5: Ridicule Is The New Evidence

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I’m pretty sure I’ve already mentioned this, but I would like to direct your attention to John Baez’s Crackpot Index, which is, in Baez’s own words, “a simple method for rating potentially revolutionary contributions to physics.”  I have no idea whether Baez had Flat Earthers in mind when he first devised the index in 1992, but we must agree that the flatness of Earth – if it were true – would certainly be revolutionary (but then again, perhaps revolutionary is the exact wrong word to describe Flat Earthers’ model of our planet.)

Anyway, Baez’s Crackpot Index assigns all claims a -5 starting value, then adds points for each attribute of the claim that smacks of crankiness.  The point values range from 1 point (for statements that are widely agreed to be false) to 50 points (for claiming that you have a revolutionary theory but providing no testable predictions).  If a “theory” ends up with a positive score after the points are tallied, then it might be called a crackpot theory.  The more positive the score, the more cracked the pot.

I will leave it as an exercise for the reader to calculate the Crackpot Index for Flat Earthism, but there are three scoring plays on the Index that resonate particularly strongly with this meme.  To wit:

20 points for defending yourself by bringing up (real or imagined) ridicule accorded to your past theories

Any idea, good or bad, that contradicts conventional wisdom will be attacked.  That is one of science’s safeguards.  It is the proponent’s duty – and no one else’s – to defend the idea.  If he comes armed with evidence and sound logic, then eventually his idea will worm its way into the mainstream and become widely accepted.  On the other hand, if he whines about how nobody will take him seriously because he’s challenging the orthodoxy, then his complaint will become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Some Flat Earthers make the mistake of thinking that because all new ideas are attacked, and because some new ideas later become accepted truth, then any idea which is attacked must therefore be true (and especially their idea).  That’s like saying that because all babies have trouble shooting 3-pointers, and because some babies grow up to be NBA stars, then all babies will one day grow up to be NBA stars.  When you put it that way, it sounds ridiculous (and it is!) but that’s how crackpots imagine science working.

You cannot whine your way to scientific acceptance, just as you cannot whine your way into the NBA.  You’ve got to put in the work.

40 points for comparing those who argue against your ideas to Nazis, stormtroopers, or brownshirts.

I don’t know which regime the armed men in this meme belong to, but they seem quite upset with the fellow in the middle, the ersatz Flat Earther.  This seems to be a favorite paranoid fantasy of Flat Earthers and crackpots in general:  Not only does the scientific establishment ridicule their ideas and refuse to take them seriously, but the orthodox scientists are actively gunning for them.  Of course, the scientific community does no such thing.  They would be quite happy to ignore Flat Earthers, except that some Flat Earthers have an insatiable need for attention.

40 points for claiming that the “scientific establishment” is engaged in a “conspiracy” to prevent your work from gaining its well-deserved fame, or suchlike.

That’s a big check for Flat Earthers.

Now let’s be clear about one thing: Baez was probably only halfway serious when he created the Crackpot Index, but the Index is rooted in reality.  Baez included these plays in the Index because this is how real crackpots behave.  They present an idea that is thoroughly outlandish, without evidential support, then wallow in paranoid self-pity when the scientific establishment predictably refuses to take them seriously.  That’s exactly the opposite of how a real scientist behaves.  A real scientist would know that all of her claims require evidence.  She would understand that the more controversial her claims are, the more evidence they require.  She would not dream of asking the scientific community to accept her ideas sans evidence.  She would work tirelessly to procure that evidence, then evaluate and re-evaluate the evidence before presenting it for judgement.  And if the community found that her logic was flawed or her evidence was lacking, she would either change her hypothesis accordingly, or redouble her efforts to gather additional evidence.  At no point would she claim that members of the scientific community are hidebound reactionaries (+20 points) who serve only to defend the orthodoxy (+20 points).

Flat Earthers might want to be treated with the same respect as career scientists, but they refuse to play by the same rules as career scientists.  Like it or not, the rules exist to protect a process that is still the best method ever devised for learning about the natural world.  When Flat Earthers are ready to come to the table with real evidence for their claims, the scientists will be ready to listen to them.  However, as long as they are armed only with cynicism and a general distrust of scientific authority, they would do well to knock it off with the persecution complex.

Flat Earth Week, Day 4: George Bernard Shaw Knows This Meme Is Stupid

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Oh snap!  Irish playwright and critic George Bernard Shaw really stuck it to the Globe Earthers, didn’t he?  Actually, no.

This is indeed a quote by Shaw, taken from the introduction to his 1924 play Saint Joan, about the French heroine Joan of Arc.  It is also an egregious example of cherry-picking.  If the meme’s author had included just one more sentence from Shaw’s introduction, the meme would have ended like this:

I must not, by the way, be taken as implying that the earth is flat, or that all or any of our amazing credulities are delusions or impostures.

Ouch.  Context matters, doesn’t it?  The Flat Earth Society has inadvertently damaged its own argument by its incautious selection of supporting quotes.  Perhaps they should stick to quoting B.o.B. lyrics (Warning: NSFW language) where they will no doubt find more staunch support.

George Bernard Shaw was not a Flat Earther.  He also did not believe that any of the amazing revelations of modern science were false.  He was making a point that the evidence for many of science’s pronouncements lies beyond the scope of the average human senses.  Science routinely bombards us with things that run contrary to our everyday experiences, yet nevertheless asks that we believe them because…science!

In one sense, I agree with Shaw.  As science marches into new territory, and as the discoveries of science become more fantastical and contrary to common sense, it simultaneously becomes more difficult for a layperson to follow the analytical pathways that led to these discoveries.  We accept that atoms are real, but how many people can say why we believe that?  We believe that the Sun is about 150,000,000 kilometers away, but who among us has directly measured it?  And how many people can explain with clarity and succinctness how any of this knowledge was generated in the first place?

Despite the past and present efforts of science popularizers like Carl Sagan, Neil deGrasse Tyson, and Brian Cox, to name just a few, there remains a frustrating but unavoidable veil of opacity around much of the scientific process, at least from the public’s perspective.  I can almost understand how this frustration leads people to cynicism, and how cynicism grows into a willingness to accept ideas that are wrong, but which appeal to the senses…ideas like Flat Earthism.

On the other hand, the shape of Earth is not something you need a particle accelerator or a gene sequencer to observe.  A couple of times each year, Earth obligingly casts its shadow on the face of the Moon – a shadow that is always round.  We know that this shadow comes from Earth because lunar eclipses never happen except when the Sun, Earth, and Moon are all in a straight line.  If the round shadow that darkens the Moon’s face during an eclipse is not cast by Earth, then what causes it?

As I mentioned yesterday, anybody with binoculars and a beach may watch ships coming and going over the horizon.  When a ship sails past the horizon, it always disappears bottom first.  The top part of the ship is always the last part to disappear.  Ships approaching the coast always appear in the opposite order: top first, then the hull becomes visible as the ship gets closer.

Knowing the shape of Earth does not require specialized technology, which is why people discovered that Earth was a sphere a long, long, long time before they discovered, say, gravitational waves.  When you listen to a Flat Earther’s arguments, you are not hearing the dismantling of thousands of years of Globe Earth dogma; you are hearing a person attempting to disguise his frustration with the fact that nature stubbornly refuses to conform to the information his short-sighted senses are providing for him.