Monday, May 16, 2016

We've Been Doing This Wrong

I've known for a long time that I've been taking the wrong approach to flat-Earthers. It's just so damned easy to slip into the habit of trying to teach, to correct the scientific and observational mistakes, to give good information to the innocent who might be looking in on this whole silly business. It's tempting, in other words, the defend the globe model and all the legitimate science that goes with it.

But it's futile. Flat-Earthers just call "fake" and "liar" and taunt "you don't really believe..." followed by some long-verified scientific or historical fact that they seem incapable of understanding.

But here's one thing that flat-Earthers can't do. They cannot provide any real evidence that the Earth is flat. They can nibble away at poorly-understood (especially by them) phenomenon that might superficially make it look like the Earth and the Universe are not exactly as science describes them. But this is not that same as providing any kind of proof of their bold claim: that the Earth is, in fact, flat.

There are, of course, many ways for them to do this, and I've mentioned but a few on this blog. And even absent their field experiments, they could come up with a working computer model that explains all observed phenomena. They have failed to do so, and that's what we, as defenders of not only prevailing scientific knowledge, but of the scientific method itself, need to call them to task for.

I admit this is hard and I don't expect any of us to go cold turkey, but we have to stop wasting our time trying to teach basic science to those who have refused to learn it. Instead, we have to insist on proof of the basic claim: that the Earth is flat.

We need to refuse to be sidetracked into discussions about the moon landings, CGI, refraction, secret societies, Antarctica, whether or not satellites exist, gravity, and perspective. It's not enough for them to come up with possible explanations for observations that might, if twisted far enough, work on a flat plane; the flat-Earthers have to come up with hypotheses that make predictions, and experiments which can confirm or falsify those hypotheses.

If they even want to use the word "theory," then they need to come up with an actual theory, something with explanatory power that matches everything we see, all at once, and can be tested against the real world.

We can't just let them say that the work of the last several hundred, and few thousand, years is all a lie. We can't let them rewrite the laws of physics, or the rules of perspective, in their bizarre quest to redefine not only the shape of the Earth, but the nature of scientific inquiry.

We can't let them get by with claiming that by using the "Zetetic" method they are somehow employing some superior approach to understanding the natural world.

The hardest part, of course, is knowing when to shut up, and when to just say "that's not what we were talking about," or "that has nothing to do with proving that the Earth is flat." It's so easy to get pulled in the direction of a discussion about some topic which, though it may have merit on its own, is just a distraction from the main task of showing the flat-Earthers for what they are: purveyors of nonsense.

The best of the pseudoscientists know this. They know that the use of tactics and taunts are effective ways of distracting from the complete lack of factual information they are selling. If you let yourself get dragged onto their sidetrack, you'll soon find yourself derailed completely, and while the flat-Earth will not have won, since it is simply not true, you will have lost points in the eyes of those who are on the fence.

I don't know about you, but it's those people I think about when I argue with flat-Earthers. Otherwise, I would just let them say whatever garbage they want and leave it alone. It's already a huge temptation.

But I'm not ready to let it go. Not just yet.