Friday, April 29, 2016

Why Nobody Should Take the Flat Earth Seriously

At least some of you flat-Earthers seem to want to be taken seriously, as if you have some great truth to offer, some insight that the rest of the world is missing, some revelation that is going to save us from, well, whatever it’s going to save us from. But there are several reasons why none of you should be taken seriously.

You’re Wrong

I’ve just got to put that out there first. You’re just plain wrong. The Earth is approximately a sphere, about 7900 miles in diameter, orbiting the sun at a mean distance of roughly 93 million miles. That’s not indoctrination; it’s fact, proven and verified by the process of science over the past couple of millennia. Not only do we have overwhelming evidence that the Earth is a globe, but we’ve used that knowledge in the creation of all sorts of incredibly useful technologies. Yes, satellite communications, weather monitoring, and global positioning systems, but also such ancient wonders as international navigation and the practice of making war at sea. Humankind put the idea of a flat Earth behind them at least several hundred years ago, and in most of the world, thousands of years before that. Get over it.

You’re Dishonest

Instead of trying to come up with any serious evidence, you quote-mine, attribute all science to some vast conspiracy involving the Masons or the Jesuits or the Illuminati, and accuse everyone involved in science of belonging to those groups. You try to claim that famous thinkers from the past would support your ridiculous notion, and you cite experiments that actually show the very opposite of what you claim they show. You post photos that you claim are official NASA photos, when in fact they are just random pictures found in Wikimedia Commons.

You lay claim to knowledge you simply do not have, sometimes to the point of claiming to have worked as a professional in a field you obviously know nothing about.

You dismiss all contrary evidence as fake. You put words in people’s mouths, say you’ve answered questions you haven’t actually answered (while changing the subject to avoid answering), and use tactics in the place of reasonable discourse. And then, to top it all off, you call anyone who disagrees with you a liar, a troll, a shill, and/or a sheep. Why should anyone believe anything you say?

You’re Ignorant

This is assuming that what you’re saying is actually what you believe, which, I am increasingly convinced, is a stretch. In most cases, the argument for a flat Earth boils down to: “I have no idea what I’m looking at, therefore the Earth is flat." And here, for the benefit of those who run across the flat-Earthers and think there is anything in what they have to say, is the meat of the matter.

Some of these people who are posting tweets and videos and memes may actually believe that what they are posting has some real significance, but in general those who do are not the people who created the ideas in the first place. In most cases, those ideas were created by dishonest people trying either to earn a little cash (which is relatively rare, because there isn’t that much to be made from the flat Earth) or to gain some notoriety to inflate their egos or leverage into some kind of advantage at a later date. And I will take that all the way back, over 150 years, to none other than Samuel Birley Rowbotham, itinerant lecturer and snake-oil salesman who eked out a living selling patent medicines and the flat Earth to unwitting suckers.

You see the sun and the moon at the same time, and you think they should not be sharing the sky, or that they should point at each other as if they were the same distance from Earth. You think the moon should be full whenever the sun is out, because you think the Earth’s shadow causes the phases of the moon. You think that there should be a lunar eclipse every time the moon is full because you can’t be bothered to research the orbits of the Earth and the moon.

You watch a YouTube video and think that photographs of Earth taken from space are CGI, or taken out of a round window in a spacecraft that had no round windows. You think a map projection used by several global organizations for its ability to show all the world’s nations on a single flat page is proof that the Earth is actually flat. You blindly invoke perspective to explain sunsets on a flat Earth without finding out what perspective is, and why it works, and that there truly is mathematics behind it.

You claim that video shot aboard the International Space Station is made using green-screens, zero-G airplane flights and even (I kid you not) vertical wind tunnels. And yet you have no knowledge of how that would be accomplished on the scale of output transmitted from ISS each day.

You claim that satellites don’t exist, and that dish tv systems use ground antennae, without exploring just a little to see how ludicrous that notion is. Like creationists, you cite scientific laws like the Second Law of Thermodynamics, without even the slightest understanding of thermodynamics, and you misuse the word “theory,” ignorant of its scientific meaning to the point where you apply it to the flat-Earth hypothesis with no sense of irony.

You eat up every word that Eric DuBay and Brian Mullins say, without studying further to discern whether or not they have any idea what they are talking about. You claim that rockets can’t work in a vacuum, that gravity is a myth, that Antarctica is an ice ring guarded by UN troops, that water is always flat, that Southern Hemisphere flight routes do not exist, that the midnight sun in Antartica, circumpolar navigation, and space flights are all faked. You don’t say any of these things because you have proof. You saw them on YouTube, or in a tweet, or on a website, and you just parrot them, again and again, because, perhaps, it makes you feel smart.

But you’re even ignorant of your own flat Earth model. You point out that sometimes it appears that the moon seems to be in front of the clouds, without considering that the clouds are at most 10 miles up (which you know if you’ve ever flown) and that the flat-Earth moon is supposed to be 3000 miles up. The same can be said of using crepuscular rays as proof of a close sun. And then there’s the GoFast amateur rocket launch, which many flat-Earthers claim “hit the dome.” The GoFast rose to an altitude of 73 miles, and the dome is supposed to be higher than the sun and the moon. Which fanciful story are you going to tell?

You’ll claim that the sun is at an altitude of 3000 miles and post memes purporting to prove this as fact, without bothering to check to see if the information in the meme is even factual, nor to think out how measuring the distance to the sun would work from different locations on Earth. You claim that the moon shines by its own light, without even trying to figure out how moon phases and the shadows of craters would work on such a moon.

In short, you have no facts, no theory, no evidence to back up the silly notion that the Earth is flat—yes, I do mean silly, for it is an idea that has earned no respect. And yet, you continue to put it forth, not even as a hypothesis, but as fact, and more than that, as “truth."

You’re Jerks

Not every one of you, but far more than any of you will admit. You keep telling me that flat-Earthers are nice people looking for answers. But nice people don’t call heroic explorers liars. Nice people don’t call brilliant scientists stupid. Nice people don’t mount personal attacks on someone for publicly disagreeing with them. Nice people don’t troll the accounts of astronauts telling them that all their pictures are fake, and that they never left the Earth. Nice people don’t block users on Twitter, only to talk about them behind their backs, using terms like “Globetard,” “Fuckwit,” “Godless Trash,” and “Atheist Garbage.” Nice people don’t make veiled threats against people who disagree with them, and against their families.

Yes, this is all true. I’ve read all of this from regular contributors to the flat-Earth noise on the Internet.

Want To Prove Me Wrong?

You can’t, and I know it, but if you want to give it a shot, start with this: give up the stupid memes, the uncontrolled “experiments” with thermometers in the shade from the “cold moonlight,” the model rocket engines in vacuum chambers, the zoom shots of ships on the horizon with no data, the computer models that aren’t rendered from the ground so that they can be matched with ground-based observations, and the panning shots of the horizon.

Learn some textbook science. You don’t have to believe it, but if you really want to debunk it, then learn it backwards and forwards. If you’re going to overturn 2600 years of scientific investigation, you have to know it better than anyone. Isn’t it worth that to reveal “the truth”?

Then, do what real scientists would do. Put together a solid hypothesis, make predictions, and then go try to disprove your hypothesis. Flat-Earthers keep telling me that they have tried to debunk the flat-Earth, but they’re lying. All they’ve done is capitalize on their own (and their audience’s) misunderstanding of the science involved. Go measure the curvature as Wallace did in 1871. Take a trip to Antarctica from Australia, take a supply plane to the other side, and fly to Chile. Drive the breadth of Australia and check your mileage against your model. Hell, make it easy on yourself and learn to aim a satellite dish, then install one in London, and another in Quito. Explain the difference. Calculate the distance to the sun assuming a flat plane, from five pairs of locations at different latitudes and explain the discrepancy. Get out there in the field and prove something.


And while you’re laying the groundwork for this startling revelation, keep your mouth shut. Until you have something of substance to present, hold your tongue. Otherwise there is no, nil, nada, not a ghost of a reason for anyone, anywhere on this quite spherical Earth, to take you seriously. 

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Pictures Of Earth From Space

Flat-Earthers claim, confidently, that there are no real pictures of the Earth from space. Which is, of course, poppycock, a claim made with no evidence, and stemming from gross ignorance of photography, scale, digital imaging, and the history of both manned and unmanned space travel.

There is no sense arguing this point with a dyed-in-the-wool flat-Earther; any image you show them is CGI or a painting, any explanation is an excuse or an outright lie.

But to those who are at least willing to listen, let's point out some of the more outrageous examples of what passes for proof of NASA fakery.

All Images Of Earth Are Composites

The first fallacy here is that composite is the same as fake. In fact, every digital color photo is a composite, and that's the sort of compositing used to create color images from Himawari-8 and DISCOVR, among others.

Some famous images of the Earth are composites of strips of satellite data digitally pasted together to form a single image. The Earth image dubbed "Blue Marble II" is such an image, and certain portions had to be cloned to fill in gaps in the data.

This has many flat-Earthers and space-hoaxers crying foul, as if the manipulation of available image data to create one single image, at a time in history when no camera could produce a single, full-hemisphere color photo of the Earth, negates every other photo of the Earth, and (in some conspiracy circles), everything else any space agency has ever said or done.

Much has been made of the fact that the artist who created this image was using "data" instead of "photographs." Really? Everyone who processes or manipulates digital photos refers to the image information as data. That's what digital photography does: it converts light into data. It doesn't mean the data are made up. Pick up your phone, snap a picture, you now have picture data. Open Instagram, crop, add a filter, and you've just manipulated the data. Does that mean that whatever you took the picture of does not actually exist? Nonsense.

And, of course, there were pictures of the entire Earth shot on film, starting in 1968, then brought back, processed in a lab, and printed. That practice stopped in 1972. Why? Because we stopped sending humans that far into space, and probes and satellites don't send film back to the lab, that's why.

The flat-Earthers, naturally, will claim that these famous photographs are paintings. Paintings, no less. I invite you to look at the Apollo archives on Flickr. Thousands of photographs, scanned directly from the original reversal 70mm films at 1800 dpi.

There, in a roll of film from Apollo 17, you will find not one but several shots of the planet Earth. These were not, as Bart Sibral so stupidly suggests, shot out of a round window in low-Earth orbit, for the Command Module had no round windows.

They are not all great shots. In fact, absent cropping by an art director, they are all pretty lousy. But one of them got picked to be the original "Blue Marble."

And that was just one mission. Apollo 8 took Earth's first full-length portrait. It's in the archives, too, somewhere. There are so many that it's actually hard to discern which one was published.

And yet, for the flat-Earth and space-hoax claims to be true, every single one of these has to be fake. And not CGI in this case, unless you want to posit that CGI and film scanning had reached this level in 1968.

And, "well, you don't know what kind of technology NASA had" doesn't constitute proof.

So let's look at some of the other "evidence" that flat-Earthers like to offer.

Relative Size Of the Moon and Earth

Just last year, the NOAA satellite DSCOVR, as one of it's very earliest transmissions, captured images of the moon transiting the Earth.


Space-hoaxers and flat-Earthers immediately labeled it as a fake for various reasons—the moon is not bright enough, no shadow on the Earth, not enough cloud movement, the moon is moving faster than the Earth's rotation—which I'll address presently. But the one that keep returning in memes, is the relative size of the moon and Earth in the DSCOVR shot compared with this:


This is earthrise as captured on film by the crew of Apollo 8. The argument goes that the relative size of the moon and Earth should not change from shot to shot. Actually, the argument is usually more along the lines of "did the moon shrink between 1968 and 2015?"

What seems to have shrunk is understanding of the basic principles of perspective and the effect of lens choice on photography. First, a couple of quick stats: the 1968 image was taken with a 70 mm film camera with a 250 mm lens, from moon orbit, so the distance to the Earth is somewhere in the neighborhood of 240,000 miles (I could get closer with some research, but in this case the exact distance isn't important).

The 2015 image was shot with a 1-inch sensor array. The focal length of the lens is in the neighborhood of 2800 mm, and the distance to the Earth was around 1,000,000 miles, and the distance to the moon about 750,000 miles. The effects of this should be obvious, but if you don't get it at this point, bear with me.

Consider this image:


We know that the golf ball is smaller than the baseball, but because the golf ball is closer to the camera than the baseball is, the baseball appears smaller. And now, without moving either ball:


The golf ball is still closer to the camera than the baseball, but now the camera is much further away from both, and we've zoomed in. The golf ball is now clearly smaller than the baseball, although the apparent size difference is still smaller than the actual size difference, because the golf ball is closer to the camera.

This is exactly the effect we see in the two shots of the Earth, one from very close to the moon, and one from very far away. You can duplicate this yourself; it's just simple perspective at work. There really is no mystery.

What of the other objections? The moon is not bright enough? Well the moon is not, actually, bright. It only reflects about 11% of the light that falls on it. It just looks bright compared with the night sky when we see it from Earth. No shadow? There is a shadow on the Earth from the moon. It's behind the moon because the sun is behind the camera. That's where DSCOVR is, between the sun and the Earth. Cloud motion? You're not really seeing individual clouds, just major storm systems. They don't move that much, relative to the size of the entire face of the planet, in the six hours of this transit. And as for the moon moving faster than the Earth's rotation? Well, it just does.

The surface of the Earth passes by the camera at over 1100 miles per hour at the equator. And it takes 27 days for the moon to circle the Earth. But, and I think this is the point that's lost on flat-Earthers, it has to travel about 1.5 million miles in those 27 days, which means it's moving more than 2300 miles per hour. Add the fact that the moon is 25% closer to the camera in this shot than the Earth, and that means that the moon will pass through the frame at least twice as fast as any feature on the Earth's surface.

Of course, none of this will convince any obsessive anti-NASA fanatic, but it shows that their objection are based on nothing other than ignorance.

Why Not Just Turn the Hubble Telescope Around And Take a Picture Of the Earth?

Boy, it just sounds so easy. But here's another experiment you can do yourself to see if this makes any sense. First, a couple of numbers. The Earth is about 7900 miles in diameter. The Hubble is orbiting the Earth at an altitude of 347 miles. That is to say, the Hubble is orbiting at about .044 Earth diameters.

Now, take a basketball, which has a diameter of about 9.5 inches. Hold a camera at .044 basketball diameters away from it's surface. That's less than half an inch. Now take a picture of the entire basketball. That's what flat-Earthers are asking NASA to do, and furthermore,they are asking them to do it with an instrument designed to collect light from deep space.

The Changing Globe Meme

Here is a popular meme among the "space doesn't exist" crowd:


The meme makes a big deal out of the fact that the pictures look different. But they were acquired using different methods and, again, as these come from media outlets, color-corrected by different art directors. That explains the colors. Let's address the other questions posed in the meme:

How big is America? Same size as it always it. If you perceive it as a different size from one image to the next, you have to consider that this is a two-dimensional image of a three-dimensional object, and is, of necessity, distorted. The nature of the distortion depends on the angle with respect to the Earth, and the distance from the camera to the Earth. You don't have to take my word for it; get a globe and a camera with a zoom lens, and take pictures of the globe from various angles and distances.

What color are the oceans, and the land? Again, it depends on the art director who did the color correction before the image was published. This isn't just true of images of the Earth; it's true of any image prepared for publication in national media. The reason you don't see as much variation in, for example, the skin tones in pictures of people, is that we all have seen people and have a much clearer idea of what skin tones look like. The colors of the Earth from space are more subject to interpretation, since only a relative handful of people have ever actually been there.

Why is there never any real video of the Earth spinning, only still? Because that's a lot of data to send from a satellite, the only object that could broadcast such a video, which would then need to be processed and stored, and there's no reason for that. It would be worse than watching paint dry. Any feature moving across the face of the Earth would take twelve hours to get from one side to the other.

The Himawari-8 transmits an image every ten minutes. Furthermore, the satellite is not up there to take pretty picture to satisfy some fanatic who might have gotten the idea that the Earth is flat; its 16-channel multi-spectral camera is there to do real scientific research. Satellites aren't in space for fun; they're there to do a job.

The other questions aren't worth addressing any further. Here you have people making fantastical claims about the nature of the Earth, and the best they have to offer is some ignorant memes.

And the ever-present tactic of calling all contrary evidence the product of some great conspiracy.

ADDENDUM: It has been pointed out to me that early Apollo CM capsules had a 10-1/2-inch round window on the hatch. I stand corrected; Apollo 14 and later craft had a rounded square window on the hatch. So, does this mean that Bart Sibrel could have been right? Well, let's think about that.

First of all, if you're sitting in the seats in the CM, where is the hatch? Imagine that you are in a very small car with a sunroof. The hatch window is where the sunroof is. So, you have this camera. What kind of camera? Well, the footage used in A Funny Thing Happened On the Way To the Moon was shot with a 16mm film camera. One of the lenses available to the crew was a 5mm wide-angle lens. So, this sounds like it could be plausible. If you crouched down as much as you could and held the camera straight at the hatch, you could manage to get the whole circle in, with just a couple of inches to spare on each side.

But there are a few problems that show up when you actually look at the footage. One is that there's a lot more than a couple inches around that circle. To get that shot, you'd have to turn yourself around, lie with your back on the seat, with no place to put your legs to keep them out of the shot. Good luck with that.

Then there is the fact that the circle is wandering around in the shot, because it was being done handheld. Had that actually been a portion of the Earth shot through a circle, the image inside the circle would have shifted around. Try shooting a distance object through round opening and you'll see what I mean.

Speaking of shifting around, a craft in low-Earth orbit is moving around 17,000 miles an hour, just like the ISS. So why isn't the image of the Earth moving past the window? I think the answer is obvious.

Also obvious is that the image of the Earth, well, isn't round. It's not a fully-lit hemisphere, which is precisely the illusion you'd get if you shot through a round window. Add all of this up, and it doesn't pass the laugh test.

And one more thing: this has nothing to do with a flat Earth. There is no low-Earth orbit on a flat Earth. Even Sibrel thinks that flat-Earthers are crazy.