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.


  1. I don't know... flat earthers are like potato chips... you can't just have one!

  2. This might short-circuit their tiny brains.

    The Earth is indeed flat (I've seen TX). And it's wrapped around a sphere. lol

  3. I disagree -- the rationale for posting counter arguments with the correct scientific & mathematical facts are for people who see the Flat Earth inane memes but who MIGHT be swayed if not given some reason to doubt at the moment where they are legitimately open to information.

    You will virtually NEVER convince someone they are wrong directly -- especially not a Dunning–Kruger poster boy.

    Sadly, I also see a fair amount of bad information posted as counter arguments! I've done it myself (mistakes happen).

    One thing I think would help is building a SOLID set of counter-memes with correct scientific data presented in a very clear & concise way. Maybe imprinted with a QR code & URL which link to more detailed information.

    I've been putting together a few on my own but I don't seem to have the thousands of hours these guys seem to have.

    Meanwhile - some handy links:
    Good background on refraction:
    Scientific details on refraction (NIST):
    Ciddor calculator (wavelength, temp, pressure, humidity, CO2):
    Edlén calculator (wavelength, temp, pressure, humidity):

    Mick West's AWESOME Obscured by Horizon calculator in Geogebra:
    My image on the correct calculation:
    And (NOT MINE, but excellent) visual explanation of WHY 8" x d² is wrong

    Memeish image clearly showing curvature (which they write off as "perspective"):

    Some Unicode helpers: ₀ ₁ ₂ μ √ × ° δ ²

    1. I agree with you to a point. But by continually countering the barrage of ever-changing memes and "gotcha" questions, we miss the point, that the burden of proof is on the flat-Earth believer, and we must keep guiding the conversation back to that. Prove the flat-Earth or go home. Do real experiments and stop getting off on tangents about the temperature in space (one sent my way just recently) or the religious or fraternal associations of various scientists.

      We've got to call out the flat-Earthers for their tactic of continually moving the target and failing to answer simple questions about what they claim is a simple and profound "truth."

      Yes, we have to counter bad information with good information. But we can't keep letting the flat-Earth fanatics put us on the spot, running around doing research on ideas which, while they might be in need of correction, have nothing to do with the shape of the Earth.

      There are simple, physical experiments, well within the means of any ordinary person, which show the Earth to be spherical. If flat-Earthers are not willing to do those simple experiments, it's time for us to tell them: "Put up, or shut up."

      And frankly, I'd be just as happy if they chose the second option.

    2. Of course, I should have been more careful, I only disagree with that one very narrow point (that it ultimately is worth putting good information where you find bad information) -- completely agree that part of that messaging needs to be "you haven't demonstrated your Flat Earth claim".

      You can see my comments here where I try to do that (of course this guy breaks out in hives when anything rational is presented):

      #3 I used Google Earth elevation profile and found the maximum elevation between those two points is about ~30km out at 320 meters high -- that means that, on a flat earth, you should be able to see WELL OVER that peak from ~877 meters (your 2880 feet elevation) and see pretty much ALL of the tower (everything over about 235m - or 770 feet elevation). So you should be able to see all but about 22 feet of that building on a Flat Earth even if you ignored refraction.

      So, in terms of science, you forgot to check your observation against your own model - you disproved your own model here by showing that you can only see the top of the building.

      His answer is, of course, "BUT PERSPECTIVE!" -- which seems to be the magic word they invoke whenever they cannot account for observation but REJECT whenever it is the actual explanation (such as with Crepuscular rays).

      Hopefully that will ring hollow with all but the already self-deluded readers.


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