Flat Earth Week, Day 2: Flat Out Wrong

FlatEarth1

It’s interesting – and a bit infuriating – how many conspiracy theories paste the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) as one of their biggest, baddest bogeymen, especially considering that (A) NASA is one of the most transparent government agencies in existence, with a huge public outreach mission, and (B) NASA is not the only gatekeeper to information concerning the cosmos.  In other words, even if NASA knew that Earth was flat but wanted to keep it a secret, they wouldn’t be able to.  There are simply too many other people who are in a position to blow the whistle.

An article published in the Independent last month underscores the difficulty of keeping big secrets over long periods of time.  According to the article, Dr David Grimes at the University of Oxford developed a formula showing that the more people know about a sophisticated conspiracy, the more quickly it will be exposed.  Although the article focused mainly on Moon Landing deniers, Dr Grimes’s conclusions are presumably still valid when it comes to Flat Earth conspiracy theories.

Think about this: there are literally thousands – if not millions – of photographs of Earth taken from outer space.  In fact, there have been satellites launched with the express purpose of taking pictures of Earth.  NASA is just one organization responsible for launching and monitoring these spacecraft.  The European Space Agency (ESA) and Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) have also launched a fair number of satellites capable of taking pictures of Earth.  Here are a few of the beautiful shots of our homeworld as seen by their spaceborne eyes.

ESA’s Rosetta captured this true-color image of Earth during its November 2007 swing-by on the way to its cometary rendezvous.

JAXA’s lunar orbiter KAGUYA watched Earth “rising” behind the Moon’s horizon.  About 40 seconds have elapsed from the first frame to the last frame.

Notice anything about these images?  For starters, neither image was captured by NASA.  Also, the shape of Earth in both images is decidedly round.

Of course, dedicated Flat Earthers will not be deterred by such evidence; after all, these images could easily have been faked.  That’s the problem with Flat Earthers – nay, with conspiracy theorists of any stripe.  There is no evidence so compelling as to shake them from their convictions, which renders their convictions meaningless.

But even if we had never placed a camera in outer space and turned it back toward Earth, this meme would still be bunk.  There are many ways to know that Earth is round, even without photographic evidence.  For example, Earth always casts a round shadow on the Moon during a lunar eclipse.  Furthermore, ships sailing over the horizon disappear bottom first.  Here’s video evidence for those that have never witnessed this phenomenon firsthand:

There are several cuts in the video because the sailboat is moving quite slowly and it would take more than an hour to show the entire process.  However, if you’ve got a lot of time to spare, the uncut version can be found here.

Still not convinced?  If you’re a Flat Earther, then of course you’re not.  You have your own brand of “logic” that doesn’t mesh well with the logic used by everybody else.  Here’s one more piece of evidence – although I could go on – that refutes the notion of a Flat Earth.  If you take a trip from the extreme northern latitudes to the extreme southern latitudes, you will see an entirely different set of stars and constellations in the night sky.  The Globe Earth model explains this phenomenon perfectly.  If people are stuck to the surface of a globe, then people in opposite hemispheres each have their own set of stars that are never visible to people living in the opposite hemisphere, owing to the fact that they would be perpetually below the horizon.  For example, the North Star, Polaris, is never visible to anybody south of the equator, just as the bright star Canopus is never visible to people north of 37º north latitude.

Of course Flat Earthers have an “answer” for this as well; in fact, they go so far as to claim the shifting constellations as a point in their column.  (This is a frustrating tactic commonly employed by Creationists as well.)  According to the Flat Earth Wiki, the apparent shift in constellations as one travels southward from the North Pole (or, in the Flat Earth model, outward from the center) is caused by nothing more than perspective.  You see, in the Flat Earth model, the stars are not light years away.  Instead, they are merely thousands of miles above our heads.  The pole star is directly overhead when one stands in the center of the disc Earth, and as one moves outward, it shifts downward toward the vanishing point.  When you have moved sufficiently far from the central point of the disc, Polaris sinks and vanishes into the haze of the horizon.  Meanwhile, stars that are further outward “rise” and become more prominent as you position yourself beneath them.  Isn’t that neat?

One major problem: there is also a south celestial pole.  Although there is no star currently positioned prominently near the south celestial pole, there still exists a point in the southern skies around which all southern stars seem to revolve on a nightly basis.  This wouldn’t happen on a Flat Earth.  On a Flat Earth, the farther south you went (meaning, the closer you got to the Antarctic ice wall), the further removed you would be from the center of the sky’s rotation.  As you brushed against the shores of Antarctica, all the stars would seem to zip by overhead, moving much faster than their more northern counterparts, since they are much further from the center of rotation.  This is exactly the opposite of what we observe.  In the far southern hemisphere, the stars high above seem to trace smaller and smaller circles as they get closer to the south celestial pole.  Only at the equator do the overhead stars seem to have the fastest nightly velocities with respect to the ground.  Try as they might, Flat Earthers cannot fit the facts of the night sky into their model…because their model is wrong.

There is one question that remains to be answered, and it is perhaps the most vexing: assuming that Earth really is flat and the space agencies of the world know it, why the cover-up?  What do the world’s governments stand to gain by pretending?  With other loony conspiracy theories (the 9/11 “truth” movement or the Moon landing hoax conspiracy, e.g.), the theorists have at least presented somewhat compelling reasons for the conspiracy (even though they’re still wrong).  But it’s very hard to imagine what the shadowy New World Order would gain by having everybody believe in a round Earth.

No doubt the religiously-motivated Flat Earthers believe that the “Globe Earth myth” is a lie invented by Satan to draw people away from God’s saving truth.  We saw a bit of that sentiment yesterday.  Others may simply believe that the whole-world government (Flat Earthers are typically big into that kind of idea) intends to keep people as docile as possible by keeping them as ignorant as possible.  If they can cultivate an entire species of people who overwhelmingly believe a lie, what other horrible things can they convince us to believe?

In many cases, the why of the Flat Earth conspiracy theory seems to simply be ignored.  Some Flat Earthers contend that because Earth looks flat from their perspective, it must be flat, and that any statement to the contrary is a lie.  How sad it must be to live in a world limited only to one perspective.

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Flat Earth Week, Day 1: Flat Out Stupid

I realize I’m probably giving it far more attention than it deserves, but I have decided to dedicate an entire Stupid Bad™ week to the mother of all conspiracy theories: Flat Earthism.  Strap in, kids!

FlatEarth2

I know what you’re thinking, and you’re right: This is low-hanging fruit.

Still, it bears discussing, because the Flat Earth belief system (I refuse to call it a theory) has recently enjoyed a sudden resurgence of attention thanks to the Twitter ramblings of Atlanta-based rapper B.o.B. and former celebrity (or so I’ve been told) Tila Tequila (Warning: NSFW language).  Now you might think it unworthy of your time to pay much attention to the ill-informed tirades of a couple of limelight seekers, but here’s the thing: Flat Earthism is not just embraced by those desperately clinging to relevance.  You’ve heard of the Flat Earth Society, often invoked as a proxy for someone who holds really, really ludicrous beliefs?  Well, they’re real, and by all accounts, they’re serious.

Before we go any further, let’s say something that ought not need to be said: Earth is not flat.  Earth is a sphere, or an oblate spheroid if you’re pedantic.  There are so many lines of evidence converging on this singular conclusion that to deny the roundness of Earth smacks of outright contrarianism and willful ignorance.

There are several different forms of Flat Earthism, and it’s beyond my means or desire to compare them all.  Suffice it to say that the defining characteristic of all Flat Earth belief systems is that our planet is not a planet at all, but a more-or-less flat disk, with minor variations in flatness where we experience hills, valleys, and suchlike.

Dedicated Flat Earthers have answers (not good answers, but answers nonetheless) for every objection that might be raised by a Globe Earther – by which I mean somebody reasonable and correct.  The most prevalent version of Flat Earthism holds that Earth is a circular disc, with the North Pole in the center and Antarctica around the rim.  Acoording to this model, Antarctica is an ice wall that holds all of Earth’s water in place.

But wait, you might reasonably ask: Wouldn’t gravity cause an object as big as Flat Earth to automatically crush into a sphere?  Gravity doesn’t exist, they say, or at least, it doesn’t exist on Earth (although gravitation apparently does exist among the Moon, planets, and stars, which raises even more questions).  What we perceive as gravity is actually the result of Earth accelerating through space at about 9.8 m/s².  That in itself is not as crazy as it sounds: Einstein showed that an accelerating reference frame is totally indistinguishable from a stationary reference frame in which there is a constant gravitational pull.  Flat Earthers, however, have yet to explain what force could possibly cause an object as large as Earth to accelerate perpetually.  Even in a Flat Earth model, mass and inertia are still real things that must be overcome in order to make something accelerate.

Furthermore, why does gravity vary with altitude, if Earth is simply a disc accelerating through space?  Apparently the weak gravitation of the Moon, Sun, and stars partially negates the effect of the acceleration-induced pseudo-gravity we experience while standing on Earth’s surface.  Yeah, I don’t know how that’s supposed to work either.  But it makes perfect sense to a Flat Earther.

So what kind of person is the typical Flat Earther?  Based on this meme, you might think that modern Flat Earthers are also Biblical literalists.  That’s rarely the case, though: in fact, Daniel Shenton, President of the most recent incarnation of the Flat Earth Society, accepts the reality of evolution and human-caused climate change – ideas that are typically anathema to religious fundies.  One Flat Earther even claims that evolution proves that Earth is flat, if you can imagine such a thing.

Creationist groups jubilantly point this out to their detractors: “See?  Flat Earthers believe in evolution and global warming as well!  If Flat Earthers are so wrong about the shape of Earth, then maybe they’re wrong about the other stuff too!”  Creationists are also quick to claim that Flat Earthism was not prevalent during the Church’s glory days in the Middle Ages, and that only a small but vocal minority of Church officials rejected the idea of a globe Earth.

In any case, this meme’s author apparently did not get the message about Creationists eschewing Flat Earthism.  In his literal interpretation of scripture, Earth is unmoving, which means he must reject other Flat Earthers’ ideas vis-à-vis constant acceleration.  This guy is marching to the beat of his own ignorant drum, and I say good for him.  Don’t let anybody else tell you how to be nuts, anonymous meme maker!

Since this guy’s diatribe is likely to ignite a firestorm of controversy among the Bible Believers, let’s tackle this question next: What is the Bible’s official position regarding the shape of Earth and its motion through the cosmos?

ChristianAnswers.net claims that Bible writers did not literally believe in a flat Earth, and that any scripture which seems to point to the idea of a flat Earth is simply the “language of appearance” (a curious position for a Biblical literalist to take).  As evidence, they point to a few key scriptures in which Bible writers seem to indicate that they understood at least a little bit about Earth’s shape and its place in the Universe:

Isaiah 40:22 (KJV): It is he that sitteth upon the circle of the earth, and the inhabitants thereof are as grasshoppers; that stretcheth out the heavens as a curtain, and spreadeth them out as a tent to dwell in:

According to Bible-believing Globe Earthers: the Hebrew translation of the word circle can also mean sphere (although that might be wrong, according to the Institute for Biblical & Scientific Studies), which means that, at best, there’s a 50/50 chance that this passage speaks of a spherical Earth.  And hey, a 50/50 chance is all a Biblical apologist needs to press on!

Job 26:7 (KJV): He stretcheth out the north over the empty place, and hangeth the earth upon nothing.

See?  It says so right there!  Earth is just floating in space, not resting on the backs of turtles or what have you.

But there’s also this:

Matthew 4:8 (KJV): Again, the devil taketh him up into an exceeding high mountain, and sheweth him all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them;

The “him” referred to in this passage is Jesus Christ.  Are we to assume that Matthew is using the “language of appearance” when he claims that there is a mountain tall enough to see all the kingdoms of Earth?  If Earth is a globe (and it is), then there is no way you can view all of its kingdoms, even from the tallest mountain.  The highest point on Earth is the top of Mount Everest, which, at 8,848 meters above sea level, gives you a view of about 340 kilometers (211 miles) in any direction that isn’t obscured by another mountain.  The largest authoritative jurisdictions in the time of Jesus were the Roman Empire ringing the Mediterranean Sea, the Parthian Empire centered on modern-day Iran, and the Han Dynasty in China.  These three empires, along with other autonomous regions, formed a continuous chain of dominance from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean, nearly 12,000 kilometers (7400 miles) long.  If Mount Everest were dropped smack in the middle of the Roman Empire during the first century C.E., not only would you not be able to see all the kingdoms of the world, but you wouldn’t even be able to see all of the Empire.  Unless you believe Earth is flat.

So…either Matthew was speaking metaphorically or making a gross exaggeration, or he truly believed that Earth was flat and that all of its kingdoms were visible from a sufficiently tall mountain.  All of these possibilities are embarrassing for Biblical literalists and Creationists trying to distance themselves from Flat Earthism.

And so is this meme.

The bottom line is this: it doesn’t matter whether a Flat Earther is a Creationist or one who accepts the well-supported theory of evolution by natural selection; in either case he is wrong about Earth’s shape.  No matter what his motivations or arguments are, he is wrong, and demonstrably so.  People have known for thousands of years that Earth is round; it’s one of the oldest established truths in all of modern science.  To claim otherwise in 2016 is to be willfully ignorant and proud of it.


In observation of Poe’s law, which says that parodies of extremist views are easily mistakable for sincere expression of said views, I realize that this meme might be a parody.  In fact, I sort of hope that is the case, for the author’s sake.  Parody or not, however, it is still representative of very wrong ideas that some people seem to genuinely believe.

False Flag Fables

FalseFlag

Whoa, that’s a whole lot of conspiracy idiocy rolled into one meme!

For those of you who aren’t up on your conspiracy lingo, a “false flag” is a horrific event allegedly staged by a government but made to appear as if it is executed by somebody else, usually an enemy of that same government.  If you find yourself involved in a conversation with a conspiracy theorist, you might hear him claim that 9/11 or the Sandy Hook massacre were false flags.  Hardcore conspiracy theorists can assert that any disaster, even hurricanes and earthquakes, are false flags staged by nefarious government organizations.  To the truly committed anti-government conspiracy theorist, there is no event so disastrous, no loss of life so horrendous, that he cannot trivialize it by attempting to distract the mourning public with his cry-for-attention batshit theories.

Have I given the impression that I don’t much care for conspiracy theorists?

Oh, let’s be clear.  I’m not saying that false flag operations never happen.  Governments are made of people, and people are notoriously crappy to each other.  The American government has certainly been involved in more than its fair share of shady doings.  For example, according to declassified documents, the United States considered launching an elaborate false flag operation in the 1960s to justify a military attack on Cuba.  The plan would have involved:

  • faking an attack on the United States naval base at Guantanamo,
  • sinking an American military ship in Cuban waters, and
  • blowing up unmanned military and civilian aircraft in or near Cuban airspace, then blaming the destruction of the planes on Cuban MiG fighter jets.

The desired outcome of these false flag operations was to foment anti-Cuban sentiment among the American public, thereby cementing our desire to wage war against the island nation.  Pretty shady, right?

So far be it from me to say that false flags are always loony conspiracy theories.  But at the same time, I try to embrace a position of healthy skepticism whenever somebody cries false flag.  And that’s the problem (well, one of the problems) with career conspiracy theorists.  Their dedication to labeling every tragedy as a false flag not only detracts from their credibility, but it also lessens their audience’s ability to critically evaluate the evidence surrounding a tragedy and make informed opinions.  It becomes an instinct among the conspiracy-minded…a reflex, if you will.

And what about this meme, this steaming pile of bovine excrement?  To me, if the author really has advance knowledge of an impending false flag attack, then he has a responsibility to divulge the location and time of said attack, so that his readers might protect themselves.  The author’s inability or unwillingness to provide those critical details indicates that either:

  1. The author has no such knowledge, and this meme is merely a pre-emptive tactic to claim that the next national tragedy is a false flag and say “I told you so”, or
  2. The author is more interested in sowing fear and paranoia than in saving American lives, in which case, to hell with him.

Quick Memes, Part 2

Last August I wrote a post called “Quick Memes“, in which I discussed a few memes that didn’t merit an entire post.  It was a smashing success moderate success thing I did, so I’ve decided to do it again!  Here is another round of memes that are irritating, but not irritating enough to spend at least 500 words ranting about.

Pepper Bumps

This Internet myth has been debunked numerous times; nevertheless, I see this meme being passed around incautiously.  I figured I would add my voice to the dissenting mix.  All peppers – including the bell variety – belong to the Nightshade family, Solanaceae, a family that includes tomatoes, potatoes, and eggplants.  One characteristic of all nightshades is that they produce perfect flowers.  A perfect flower has both female parts (pistils) and male parts (stamens); in other words, it is hermaphroditic.  Consequently, the fruits that arise from those flowers are neither male nor female.

Some plants do have distinct male and female flowers – sometimes on the same plant, sometimes on different plants.  It is possible for some plants to produce gendered fruits, but peppers do not.  The number of lobes on a pepper, its taste, and its seed content are due to environmental and genetic factors, but not to gender.

Verbal and Physical Abuse

A couple of things: there’s a distinct difference between cursing and verbal abuse.  If you drop an F-bomb after stubbing your toe, I doubt very many people would consider it abusive.  Also, you can be verbally abusive to somebody without ever uttering a single swear word.

The best advice is not to be abusive at all – verbally or physically.  If you’re not beating somebody up, good for you.  It still doesn’t excuse your verbal abuse.

Conspiracy Theorist

Do you believe that they’e discovered a simple, cheap cure for cancer and/or AIDS, but Big Pharma is suppressing it so they can continue to make billions by pushing pills?  Do you think the Moon landings were faked on a sound stage so the United States could beat the Soviet Union in the space race?  Do you think that President John F. Kennedy was actually assassinated by the CIA, the FBI, Vice President Johnson, or anybody other than Lee Harvey Oswald?  Do you think the government is spraying poisonous chemicals as chemtrails for the purpose of population control?  Do you think that vaccines cause autism?  If you answered yes to any of these questions, then you are probably a conspiracy theorist.  In that case, the rest of this section is going to make you angry.  Sorry.

The problem with conspiracy theorists is that their starting position – their baseline for evaluating the world – is cynical distrust of authority.  From there, they evaluate everything they see with a severe confirmation bias.  The only evidence they accept is that which can be contorted into supporting their viewpoint; they reject as “bullshit” anything that disproves their ideas.  They fancy themselves experts because they have read the slanted testimony of other conspiracy theorists, but what happens when somebody – perhaps a real expert – weighs in with contradictory evidence?  Conspiracy theorists view these experts as being bought and paid for by the Forces of Darkness.

The mindset of many conspiracy theorists disallows contradictory viewpoints, which is a shame.  I’ve had a few discussions with conspiracy theorists, and I know that asking a conspiracy theorist to consider alternate viewpoints is like asking a river to flow up a steep incline.  Evidence is entirely useless; conspiracy theorists seem to be enamored with the idea that all evidence can be faked; yet they fail to apply that logic to the “evidence” that seemingly supports their own conclusions.

Don’t get me wrong…I’m not some naive Pollyanna who thinks that the world is hunky-dory and everything the government says is true.  I like to think that before I put an authority figure or organization on blast for hideous crimes against humanity, I have honestly evaluated the evidence in my corner.

If you believe that conspiracy theories are pretty convincing, ask yourself why.  Then ask yourself if the evidence could be wrong.  Ask yourself if there’s any way your theories could be disproved.  If there isn’t, then your ideas do not fit the scientific definition of the word theory.  If you cannot be reasoned out of an idea…did you really use reason to get into it?

Also…I’m pretty sure the “chains” on the person’s wrists in this image are made of paper loops.

Lover or Lesbian

Here’s another nugget of wisdom from Justin “Master Chim” Garcia, that visionary who taught us how to avoid police brutality (while neglecting to admonish the police not to use brutality).  This time around, Master Chim deploys his world-famous sensitivity to determine whether you are a real man or a lesbian.  According to Master Chim, the Casanova of our age, real men shouldn’t do all that romantic girly stuff that women seem to like, such as spending time with them, or being helpful around the house, or, you know, thinking about them.  A real man, Master Chim might say, is neglectful to his female companion.  He goes out with his buddies when he wants to, regardless of her plans or wishes, and he never lifts a finger to help around the house.  Shared responsibility is for wusses, he might continue.  If you go all out to make your woman feel special, then you might as well be a woman yourself, right?

Now I’m not saying you have to do all the things on this list; that’s between you and your lady friend (and besides, flowers can get expensive!)  I’m just saying that if you do these things, you shouldn’t be cowed by men like Master Chim.  Justin “Master Chim” Garcia is not the authority on manliness that he purports to be.  Each man (and woman) must decide what is appropriate for him (or her) to do.  The last thing this world needs is more men trying to emulate Master Chim’s example.

ISIS Green Screen

I…really don’t know what to do with this.  What exactly is the meme saying – that ISIS doesn’t exist?  That ISIS has never executed prisoners on a beach?  That ISIS doesn’t execute prisoners at all?  If the meme’s author believes that ISIS fakes its executions in front of a green screen, why use this image as “evidence”?  There are no active executions being depicted, and the image doesn’t strike me as one that is clearly fake.

So yeah, there’s something vaguely conspiracy-theoristy about this meme, but it doesn’t do a good job of indicating what it’s real message is.  In failing to make its point clear, the meme fails at the only function a meme has: to express an opinion or idea in a pithy, easily digestible manner.  If I have to guess what claim the meme is making, then not only is the meme Stupid and Bad…but Pointless as well.

WhatIsAGoodWoman

Who the hell thinks that a good woman doesn’t get angry?  Does anybody make that claim about men?  Seriously, this meme reeks of Stupidity.  Here’s another meme expressing the worn-out idea that a woman must be emotionally tough at all times, and she shouldn’t let anything upset her.  Seriously, I don’t know anybody, good or otherwise, who doesn’t get angry from time to time.

Dress vs Building

This meme gets one thing right: people should be very concerned about the alleged off-the-books “black sites” used by the Chicago Police Department to interrogate suspects without due process or public record.  Very concerned.

But that doesn’t mean people shouldn’t talk about anything else.  As one of my Facebook friends pointed out, memes like this assume that people cannot walk and chew gum at the same time.  That stupid dress may have caught the public’s attention, seemingly drowning out any other discussions, but it will fade from memory soon enough.  In the meantime, if you want to draw attention to a troubling news story, there are ways to do it without painting your friends as out-of-touch shallow idiots.