Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Lies To Defend the "Truth"?

I was having one of my usual discussions on Twitter about the authenticity of NASA images of the Earth from space, with the person on the other end of the conversation giving the usual "they're all CGI" party line, posting memes, and calling me brainwashed for accepting anything from NASA.

During the conversation, I asked for proof that this image is faked:

Now, you might recognize this photograph, though you may not have seen it quite like this before, and it may also not be the specific one you've seen, This is a raw scan from one of the rolls of 70mm film taken by the crew of Apollo 17 in 1972. This shot, or one of the ones taken just before or after this one, became the basis for the famous "Blue Marble" that any of us who was alive in 1972 saw published in Life magazine. Many of us, including me, saw enlargements of this up close and personal in museums.

It wasn't exactly this. This is scanned directly from the slide film, about 30 years after the fact. It's slightly color-shifted and badly-composed. When it was published, it had been cropped and color-corrected. In fact, in that sense, there are many versions of the shot, because each art director who prepared a copy for publication may have had a different idea of how the colors should be.

When I linked to this shot, of course I got the usual "where are the stars?" which I've already addressed. In fact, the direct quote was, "So I am to believe I am able to see stars with the naked eye on earth but millions spent by NASA they can not capture stars." As if, first, the millions were all spent on the camera, and, second, spending millions suddenly changes how photography works.

But the point of this post is not the authentication of this photo, though I may get back to that in the future. The point is that this person also posted this: "There is no proof of apollo missions, you base beliefs on images and blogs. Mine are from primary sensory [sic]." Then, about an hour later, posted this meme:

So much for "primary sensory." But let's set aside the double standard and concentrate on the meme. The implication is that NASA took a photo of an Egyptian desert, modified it, and tried to pass if off as a picture of Mars.

And in fact, someone did that. But it wasn't NASA.

Google (which many flat-Earthers and conspiracy theorists denounce as an evil part of the conspiracy, even as they continue to use it), has a great tool, the search-by-image function in image searches. So, I though I'd give it a try. I extracted the Earthbound image from the meme, thusly:

And Google was able to find it in the Wikimedia commons. Here is the original image:

You can find attribution information (which the meme-maker never supplies) here. It was taken from the side of the road in the Black Desert. Now go try to find the Mars version. You'll only find it paired with this picture, in the meme and like this:

Here, of course, it is clearly identified as a fake Mars picture. I have not been able to find any indication that NASA or any serious science website has ever tried to pass this picture off as being from Mars.

So, did the poster who sent me this lie? Well, certainly in the sense of claiming to only use "primary sensory." In fact, this poster's timeline is full of memes from other Twitter users. But it's also a lie because the poster is taking someone else's word, without any further thought or investigation, to call someone else a liar.

Now, this particular poster is not important in the flat-Earth scene. With only about 60 tweets and 14 followers as I write this, this Twitter user is not having much influence.

But the tactics are rampant among flat-Earth proponents. Which, for a group that relies for their entire case on calling a rather large number of people liars, is the height of hypocrisy.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

The Flat Earth "Awakening"

It would be a mistake to think that flat-Earthers, as a group, are just people who have happened upon some interesting facts that seem to counter the standard model of the Earth (and, by extension, the Universe), and are challenging it with evidence, working models, and cogent theories.

Because, in fact, most flat-Earthers view the shape of the Earth as some kind of deep secret that's been hidden from them, and they are convinced, the vast majority of the ones I have encountered, that when the world "wakes up" to the "truth" of the flat Earth, that something wonderful is going to happen.

What that something wonderful is depends on the flat-Earther. Some believe that the idea of the globe is being used to hide God from the people, because, the theory goes, the Bible (and the Qur'an) state that the Earth is flat, fixed, and unmovable, and by extension the center of the Universe.

Others think the cover-up of the flat Earth is a conspiracy by the world's governments to keep the populace under control and unaware of the truth. Just what truth that is varies. Some think that there are vast natural resources beyond the ice wall, the outer ring of the flat Earth disc, which the governments and big corporations are keeping to themselves to keep the rest of us poor and downtrodden.

There is also the notion that, if the government can convincingly lie to us about something so fundamental as the true shape of the world, then they can and do lie to us about virtually everything.

And there is a substantial amount of crossover in these views, with every secret society you can think of thrown in for good measure. The details and contradictions are too numerous to keep track of, much less compile into a readable blog entry. But that's not really the point.

The point is, when you have been convinced that you are on a spiritual quest to awaken the world, facts only get in the way. It becomes easy, in fact necessary, to dismiss any contrary evidence as being the product of brainwashing, the lack of research, or involvement in the vast conspiracy.

That's my point of departure in the flat-Earth discussion. If someone wants facts, I can find them. If they want to give me facts, I will listen. And challenge if the facts prove to be less than factual.

But I will withdraw when flat-Earthers go off on one of the many tangents of conspiracy or Biblical discussion, because that means they've made up their minds and are not inclined to listen to any opposing viewpoint. At that point, they are proselytizing, and I'm not interested in the sales job.

If I respond (and I do less and less), it's not to convince the flat-Earther, so much as to warn off anyone who might be on the verge of buying into the nonsense that they are leaving the world of facts and observations and venturing into the world of blind faith, which is what I'm usually accused of.

Look, believe in the flat-Earth if you insist, and the conspiracies lurking around the corner, and the spiritual awakening that will come when the "truth" is revealed.

But if that's where you're coming from, don't pretend that facts inform your belief. Because that's not just a misconception or your part; you're lying, if only to yourself.

Because when the facts are all lined up together and considered in the light of reason, the conclusion is inevitable: we live on a globe.

Monday, March 14, 2016

The Scum Of the Flat Earth

I never like to paint any group of people with the same broad brush. But let me say this right now: if you are someone who thinks there is something to this flat-Earth idea, then there are people you need to distance yourself from if you want anyone to take you seriously.

I could talk about people who just spend time running people down, or leaving troll reviews on my book without having read it, or who go out of their way to twist words to "win" a point instead of actually proving anything.

But I don't have to go into any detail about any of that. All I really need to do is reproduce one meme. One disgusting meme from one low-life flat-Earther. Here it is:

Anyone who resorts to this kind of attack is not fit to lick the tires on Stephen Hawking's wheelchair. This is a man who has done brilliant work for decades in spite of a debilitating disease that would have ended a lesser man's life.

Meanwhile, the flat-Earthers sit in front of computer screens and re-post pictures of the Chicago skyline and troll tweets from astronauts and, if they're really ambitious, participate in Google hangouts while making fun of people who have actually done more to make their sorry lives easier than they will ever know.

When you encounter these people, do yourself a favor and run the other way. If you are one of these people, do us all a favor and climb back under your rock.

As for the rest of you flat-Earthers, it's time to put up or shut up. Stop with the cute (or offensive) memes, stop with the same tired arguments that Rowbotham failed with 150 years ago, and stop calling every one else's evidence faked or an excuse unless you can come up with substantial proof that the Earth is what you say it is.

If you really want to convince anyone, do your damnedest to disprove you own hypothesis. And I don't mean by watching YouTube. Think gravity is fake? Then devise a controlled experiment that can be analyzed by anyone, with full data disclosure, that shows how density and buoyancy can substitute for gravity. Do your own version of the Cavendish experiment.

Want to show that water doesn't curve? Replicate Wallace's version of the Bedford Level experiment, with witnesses, photographs, and full documentation. If you want to make it easy on yourself, do it on a frozen lake. Some lumber for a couple of towers and markers, a tall ladder, and a telescope. That's all you need. Have at it.

Want to explain sunsets on a flat plane? Don't run coins across the surface of a table; build a scale model of your flat disc, and photograph your sun positions from the ground. Publish your results, your assumptions, and your methods so that anyone can repeat them.

And if you try to prove the flat-Earth model by disproving the globe-Earth model, you have to keep two things in mind: first, you can't actually prove one model by disproving another, and second, you have to get every detail of the model you're disproving right. No taking pictures of the moon and the sun in the sky at the same time, and claiming that the globe model says this is impossible. No canards about how day and night should be shifted around every six months, or how a lunar eclipse should happen with every full moon. Do your homework, or go home.

If you are doing legitimate work, then the world will look and listen. But if all you can do is make fun of those who disagree, to tear down the hard work of great people to make yourself feel big and important, then you don't deserve to call yourself a seeker of truth.

You'll be nothing but a bottom-feeder. Or just the scum at the bottom.

ADDENDUM: The trolls have not only been attacking my book (no surprise), but my other book and my stories as well, and even a book written by my son when he was in the third grade. Honestly, is this the kind of behavior exhibited by true seekers of truth?

Friday, March 4, 2016

Where's The Curve?

It's the number one song in the flat-Earth hit parade, repeated again and again like a broken record: "Where's the Curve?" It's the first proof in Eric DuBay's little ebook 200 Proofs Earth Is Not a Spinning Ball, where in addition to asserting that the horizon remains flat and level no matter how high you go, he writes off all NASA photos and videos as "fake CGI" (as opposed to real CGI, I suppose).

I'll address the accusation against NASA presently, but let's start with that curve. Does the horizon really stay flat and level no matter how high up you go? And, on a globe Earth, what, exactly, should we expect to see?

Let's start with understanding the difference between seeing something in a photograph and seeing something with our own eyes. There are lots of differences between the way your eyes work and the way a camera works, but the one most germane to Earth's curvature are field of view.

The total field of view that the human eye can take in is, on average, about 180 horizontal degrees. You only can focus on the center two degrees or so, and you are better at detecting edges and motion in the periphery and better at seeing color near the center.

A camera, on the other hand, has a field of view that depends on the size of the sensor in the camera and the focal length of the lens that focuses light on the sensor. A typical DSLR with a 18mm lens has a field of view of around 75 degrees. Add the fact that the sensor is flat, unlike your retina, and you are going to have a certain amount of distortion in a photograph, especially at short focal lengths, which is what you need to have a wide field of view.

Keep these things in mind whenever anyone shows you a photograph of the horizon and says "It looks flat to me." Also keep it in mind when someone shows you photo with a curved horizon. Without some data to go with that horizon, you have no way to judge.

But, come on, from 1000 feet up in the air, or 20.000 feet, or 50.000 feet, every photograph of the horizon should show a curve, right? Well, maybe. Or maybe not. It's not about how high you are; it's about how much of the horizon you are able to see.

Not that altitude has nothing to do with it, but when you consider how small even miles of altitude is compared with the circumference of the Earth, the main contribution of altitude is to increase the distance to the horizon, and increase the amount of horizon you can see.

Let's take one of the flat-Earthers' current favorite pictures. This was shot from a captured V2 rocket launched by the US military in 1946:

Okay, the horizon looks pretty flat. Or maybe it looks a little curved. Frankly it's kind of hard to tell. But the flat-Earthers say that, since it was taken from an altitude of 65 miles, it should have a very distinct curve.  Let's see if that's actually true. For that we need some facts, and we really only have a few.

We know 65 miles, and we know that the photos were taken with a 35mm motion picture camera, which means that the frame was 24mm across. But we don't know the focal length of the lens.

I've seen a version of this picture with overlays by flat-Earthers that claim that the width of the horizon is 720 miles, but in fact, as far as I know, there is no data to support this. The distance to the horizon is 720 miles, and I think that's where the confusion comes in.

In order for the horizon to be about that wide, the camera would have to have been equipped with a 28mm lens. That's not completely out of line, so let's go with that.

So, here I am, taking the flat-Earthers at their word, and admitting the the horizon doesn't look all that curved. Am I giving in? No, I'm just investigating. Let's take a look at how curved a 720-mile horizon would look.

What portion of the 25,000-mile circumference of the Earth is 720 miles? About 2.88 percent of the total. That's a circular section less of less than 11 degrees. So how curved should 11 degrees out of a circle look?

From a mathematical perspective, the difference between the center of the arc and the edges will be 2.75 percent of the width of the horizon. That's a small number. But can we visualize this? Well, I'm willing to give it a try.

Using an online graphing calculator, I created a circle and a 11-degree angle. I zoomed in until that section of the arc filled most of the screen, and then I cropped it down to just that portion. Here's what it looked like:

Admittedly, more curvy than the picture, but not that much, and as I said, I don't really know how much of the horizon the photo shows.

And then there's this: 

Now, that looks pretty curved. Same mission, same rocket, same camera, same lens. What's going on? I can't be sure, because I don't have all the data, and unlike many flat-Earthers, I'm not willing to say that I know for certain what's happening. But I have my suspicions.

For one thing, the first picture is far grainier than the second, even though they are taken from the same roll of 35mm film. That makes me think that the first one is rather severely cropped. But it could just be the way the print was made.

The practical upshot is that the Earth is a big place. Assuming a sphere, you have to get pretty far up to see the curvature with your wide-field eyes, and really, really far up to see it with a relatively narrow-field camera lens. You can use a very wide lens, of course, but then the distortion caused by projecting the image of a spherical lens onto a flat sensor will make the curves appear in all the wrong places.

These photos, in other words, prove nothing.

Ah, but what if we don't assume a sphere? Isn't that the problem, assuming from the outset that we live on a sphere? Yes, that is a problem. For the flat-Earthers.

Because all I ever hear from the flat-Earth crowd is "the horizon looks flat." What I don't see, and what I should see if this was even remotely a serious investigation, is a model for what these photos should look like if the world were, in fact, a giant disc. I see lots of map projections, and computer models of how the sun and moon are supposed to work, but I don't see a rendering of what a camera should see from, say, 65 miles up if the Earth were a disc.

It's not enough to say "I just see a flat horizon." If you want an idea that's outside the mainstream to be considered at all, you have to provide evidence. You have to make predictions about what we should see and experience if the world was flat, not just find apparent incongruities and declare victory.

Flat-Earthers often complain that, because they've only been at this a short while, they don't have the resources to do the deep research necessary to come up with an accurate model. Aside from the fact that the current flat-Earth "movement" has progressed little since Rowbotham in the 1860s, there are abundant resources available to anyone with access to a computer for creating models, making predictions, and comparing the predictions to actual observations. That's science. Real science.

But instead I see flat-Earthers posting pictures, or commenting on nearly every aerial photograph there is, that it "still looks flat."

And that's lame. Just lame.

ADDENDUM: An excellent paper on this subject by David K. Lynch of Thule Scientific has been brought to my attention. If you're serious about this, you should give it a read and a lot of thought. You can download a PDF here.

Another ADDENDUM: I realized that I had not addressed Eric DuBay's assertion that the curve is only shown in NASA CGI images. Of course, Earth had it's first full-length picture taken in 1968 by the crew of Apollo 8, before the advent of realistic computer-generated imagery. It was shot on 70mm film with a Hasselblad camera. DuBay is making, as he so often does, an assertion for which he has no evidence. He proclaims the imagery fake because he needs it to be, not because he has any evidence of fakery.

Remember that the title of DuBay's book starts with the words "200 Proofs." There really aren't 200, and they really aren't proof, and that shows you the low standard to which he holds himself. I hope you will keep that in mind.