Monday, September 4, 2017

Rewrite, Rewrite, Rewrite!

As I have mentioned, I have been rewriting The Earth Is Not Flat! And rewriting and rewriting. I'm on the second version of the fourth draft (or is it the second draft of the fourth version—it's all getting a little hazy). It's a slog for a variety of reasons, and I have several times considered giving up and letting the book stand pretty much as is.

But I can't. Unfortunately, I have had way too much exposure since the first edition of the book, and discovered more, not about the flat-Earth of course since that doesn't exist, but about the people who sell it, to leave it where it stood more than two years ago. I have also had a chance to think more about how flat-Earth belief fits into the larger scheme of not only pseudoscience, but social media and social interaction in the 21st Century in general, and I think I need to write that.

I also feel that, along with those gaps in my knowledge, I made two major mistakes in the first book. The first was that I was too easy on the flat-Earthers. They wouldn't agree, of course, since they don't take kindly to criticism (like someone else in high office whose name escapes me, or would if I were lucky). But I do think that flat-Earth believers deserve far more ridicule and a good dressing down for their tactics and attitude than they got in that book.

The second problem, pointed out to me by non-flat-Earthers, was that I didn't, apparently, do enough to counter the flat-Earth arguments. I don't know how far I'm willing to go with that—really, all you have to do is offer a few proofs that the idea is impossible—but I will at least attempt to take it a bit further than I did before.

But I won't be happy about it. There are things I'd love to move along to, but this won't leave me alone until some things are said, put out there, and then left behind in favor of the songs and stories that I'm far more anxious to tell.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

A Camera On the Moon

Jeran Campbell, who has a channel on YouTube and a website called "jeranism," has just released a video which asks a question that seems to be stuck in the minds of flat-Earthers: why doesn't NASA just land a video camera on the moon and provide a live feed of the Earth spinning? I'm not going to link to the video, and I didn't even watch the whole thing (and have no plans to) because I have ceased to take Jeran seriously.

However, the question is brought up often enough that I feel it is worth spending a little time to talk about why this is such an incredibly silly idea.

Let me start by repeating something that anyone even thinking about this should already have figured out: real-time video of the Earth has already been done. Not by NASA or any space agency, but by a private provider of satellite television service, Dish Network. Dish Network put a camera on one of its EchoStar satellites that fed 24-hour NTSC video of the Earth until the camera stopped functioning in 2012. The video was displayed on a channel called Dish Earth.

Does real-time footage from this camera still exist? Not that I've found. Why? Because it's really, really boring. as anyone who actually gave this any thought would expect. I've seen time-lapse footage, which is far more interesting. But, of course, advocates of the flat Earth just call it fake.

And that is the second point. Jeran even anticipates the accusation that flat-Earthers will just declare footage from a moon camera fake, and claims that there is a difference between photographs and live video footage. But, seriously, we saw two hours of live video from Apollo 11, and Jeran calls that fake, so why should a real-time camera from the moon be treated any differently?

More importantly, though, what would the purpose of such a mission be? To prove that the Earth is a sphere? To prove that men did really land on the moon? Do Jeran and his flat-Earth pals really think that the scientists at NASA are wringing their hands trying to figure out how to prove these most basic facts? This shows how far Jeran has sunk in search of things to make videos about.

Imaging the Earth is a worthwhile endeavor. That's why NASA and NOAA sent DSCOVR to orbit the sun to monitor the Earth. These images are not merely pretty pictures; they are taken in 10 different spectral bands and will be used to (as the EPIC website says) "measure ozone, aerosols, cloud reflectivity, cloud height, vegetation properties, and UV radiation estimates at Earth's surface."

EPIC is only one instrument among five aboard the craft. The fact that the pictures are also cool is just a bonus.

As are the stunning images from Japan's Himawari-8 geostationary satellite, also designed for climate research, along with Russia's Elektro-L-1. But what about a camera on the moon, sending high-definition video back to Earth, from the moon's constantly Earth-facing side? Wouldn't that have great scientific value?

Well, let's think about that. DSCOVR is orbiting the sun in the same orbital period as Earth, in roughly the same ellipsoid shape. Therefore, its aim and distance relative to the Earth are fixed, and we can see the Earth turn, albeit only as often as DISCOVR sends back images, about 10 single-band images per hour.

Hiwari-8 and Elektro-L-1 are geostationary satellites, which means that they will always aim at the same spot on Earth. More missions like these are planned by different space agencies, to provide, in time, full coverage of the planet.

Now let's consider a camera on the moon. The moon's orbit and rotation are locked together tidally with the Earth, and so, yes, the moon faces the Earth at all times. But, the moon does not stay in a fixed location, either with respect to a single point on Earth or with the location of the planet as a whole. The moon is traveling in the same direction as the Earth rotates, and so, over the course of a lunar month, it will drift around the planet as the Earth turns underneath it.

In addition, the moon's orbit is substantially elliptical, and so over the course of the month, the angular size of the Earth would vary by about 14%. Not very useful.

And remember, Jeran isn't talking about images; he's talking about real-time video. Himawari-8 can easily transmit a series of images (enough to produce one color composite, along with the other bands) every ten minutes because the equipment to receive the signal is always in its line of sight. The same was true of Dish Earth.

DSCOVR stores images and transmits them when it is able, over nearly a million miles of space.

But a camera on the moon, transmitting constant real-time video, would require a vast array of receivers to keep up. It's just not worth the time, trouble, and expense to maintain this infrastructure that serves no great scientific purpose.

But the Jerans of the world think that NASA needs to spend vast sums of money to prove what any thinking person can prove for him- or herself. That the Earth is a sphere, that people really did land on the moon, and that the notion of a flat-Earth is just so much hot air.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Murphy Responds. And So Do I

More than a year after I published a blog post about his "open letter" to astrophysicist Neil DeGrasse Tyson, Dave Murphy finally got around to discovering it, and made a series of comments. You can see them in full and in context after the blog post, but I decided that, rather than bury my response in the comments section, a new post was warranted, with excerpts from his comments. Starting with:
I am Dave Murphy and I made the video in question, how cowardly of you to make this post without making me aware of it, it's not as if I have made it difficult for anyone to contact me. I certainly hints at the weakness of your position if you resort to sneering at me behind my back. 
So, since Allegedly Dave decided to start right out by calling me a coward for not making him aware of my post (which I never do for anyone) although it has been read nearly 10,000 times as of this writing...well, the gloves are off.

The simple fact is that I am sick to death of these wannabe-rebels who think that they have some arcane knowledge that they are revealing to the rest of humanity to save them from the elite scientists, those people who, in real life, make the world better, safer, and more convenient for all of us as part of their daily work.

So before I begin my refutation of your responses, Mr. Murphy, I'd like to ask you: what have you truly done to make the world a better place today? Pushing urine therapy and the silly notion of a flat Earth do not qualify.

Murphy regales with his qualifications, which consist mostly of software engineering experiences and claimed self-study in the sciences. I won't bore you with that part. But let's skip forward to what he has to say about science:
[Y]ou will note that I said that "All science exists as a theory, that stands until a better theory comes along that more closely follows observation" and as such all views and challenges should be considered for if they are dismissed out of hand, then the scientific method is not being observed. The precedence for my assertion here is Gravity itself, the Newtonian view of gravity stood as established LAW for 200 years until Einstein challenged and overturned it.
 Here Murphy makes the assertion made by all purveyors of nonsense: that all ideas should be considered, else what is being practiced is dogma, not science. Poppycock. Einstein did not, as modern flat-Earthers do, say that gravity doesn't exist, that density and buoyancy can explain everything that gravity is used for. No, Einstein said that Newtonian gravity was pretty close, but that he had a theory that accounted for the discrepancies between observation and theory that had cropped up during those 200 years.

It is also absurd for Murphy to use the history of gravitational theory as his example of the progress of science, since he must, to sustain his flat-Earth notion, discount gravity entirely, a position that puts him squarely at odds with hundreds of years of careful observation by people dedicated to trying to figure out how the world works, and not fit it to a preconceived notion.

He goes on:
Contrary to your statement that flat earthers do not ask real questions about the world, and make predictions that can be tested, we actually do this all the time. For example, we ask:
"How is it that we do not see any evidence of curvature when we stand on the beach and look at the wide expanse of the sea and yet we supposedly see boats go over the horizon as they sail away?" 
So we make the prediction that when we see a boat disappear over the horizon, we should be able to bring it back into view if the earth were flat.
And indeed when we test this and look through binoculars the boat comes back into view, and then when it appears to go over the curve through binoculars we can fire up our trusty Nikon Coolpix P900 camera, zoom in on it and bring it back once again. 
He even invokes the magic Nikon P900, the camera of flat-Earthers everywhere. I don't know whether to congratulate Nikon on the increased sales (I like Nikon; I own a D3300 DSLR, as I mentioned in my last post), or to feel sorry for them for being associated with this nonsense.

Have you ever noticed that in all the videos that flat-Earthers take of "bringing back" boats from the horizon that the boat is not moving away from the observer, but across the field of view? So not going over the horizon at all. Also, the camera always zooms right to the boat, without having to search the horizon for it. That means that the operator of the camera could see the boat before using the zoom. So very definitely not over the horizon.

More patient observers have repeated this experiment, holding the shot longer on ships that actually are moving away from them, and found that the ships do indeed disappear bottom first. Leaving flat-Earthers to invent more bullshit explanations of how that happens when they had just finished claiming that it doesn't happen.

So Murphy then gets around to trying to rebut my answers to his disingenuous questions. I'll only give reminders of the questions; his video "letter" is linked in the original post.

So the first question is, essentially, if the Earth bulges in the middle, why is there land at the equator? His contention is that water is easier to move, so it should be higher than the land at all times. I answered that the process is a gradual one, affecting all parts of the system. He didn't get it:
Mr. Tyson has stated repeatedly that the amount of oblateness away from perfectly spherical is higher than Everest, and yet you seem to be saying that earth's supposed one revolution a day can affect dense rock over 4 billion years but does nothing to water...[e]ven Mr Tyson used the analogy of pizza dough, if it was wet pizza dough that was being spun are you saying that the water would stay on the pizza as it alone bulges?
That's Doctor Tyson to you, asshole. Your disrespect is not evidence of anything but your personality flaws. As to his pizza dough analogy, it was an analogy.  It was meant to illustrate a point, not be a perfect metaphor for the Earth.

Now, let me ask you: how is water not like rock, soil, and the other components of the surface of the Earth? Oh, yeah it's a fluid! That means that, having been pushed out by the slow centrifugal force, it is not going to stay there. But the land masses can't just quickly fall back into the center. Newton figured this out over 300 years ago, by the way.

His next question is: Can we see the curve or not? I answered, but he ignored me to parrot yet another flat-Earth trope about the curve in one direction being steeper than the other, according to the standard model. Here's how he puts it:
[W]e also have cameras that approximate our field of view and do not suffer from the limitations of rods and cones, and when you draw a line on the horizon of the pictures they take they are always perfectly flat. So you are trying to say that the earth curves quite sharply in one direction and not another, because if you lose the height of a boat in 3 miles, if it goes another mile then you would lose the height of the boat squared, another mile and that resulting height is squared again and so on.
Before I go into the comparison between a side-to-side view of the horizon and something going over it, let me address his claim about cameras. Cameras don't actually approximate our field of view. There is a certain length of lens that is considered "normal," which we perceive as approximating our field of view, but in fact, human vision is far more complex, and while it is limited in some ways, parts of our vision system are remarkably acute.

 Now let's talk about seeing the curve, using his example of "losing the boat in 3 miles." I assume he's using three miles because on the globe, that's the approximate distance to the horizon for someone six feet tall standing right at the water's edge. In reality, the horizon is a little close because your eyes are not right at the top of your head. But let's go with three miles.

His first error is saying that you lose the boat at three miles. That's when the boat's waterline matches the visual horizon. It's only as it goes further out that you begin to lose sight of it.

Then things get weird. He says that when you lose the boat, you lose the boat's height squared in the next mile. And that just makes no sense whatsoever. Here's what would actually happen. At mile three, the waterline of the boat sits on the horizon. At mile four it sits eight inches below the horizon (or, more accurately, below the line of sight between your eyes and the horizon). At mile five, it sits 32 inches below the horizon, then 72 at mile six. If the boat is 15 feet above the water line, it will be visible until it is 7.75 miles away. So no, we don't lose the boat at three miles.

Now, let's try to estimate the degree to which you should be able to see the curve of the horizon. Let's go with a camera for two reasons: first, Murphy did, and second, anyone claiming to see the curve can always be called a liar; a photograph is at least better evidence, even if it, too, can (and often is) dismissed as fake or distorted.

So could you see the curve, undistorted, standing on the short of the ocean with a camera? Let's use one of those "normal" lenses, with a field of view of 45 degrees. On my camera, that would be my 28mm lens. So, with the camera six feet above the water, how much horizon would you actually see? A little trig shows that it would be only about 2.23 miles. Let's say three to give Dave the benefit of the doubt (I'm trying to help you, Dave, but it's not easy).

The bulge in the middle of a three-miles-wide view on a 25,000-mile-circumference planet is (wait for it)...18 inches. At three miles distance, that's an angular size of 0.005 degrees. About 19.5 arcseconds. That's smaller than a single pixel in the field of view. And that's assuming that you are looking at the circle face-on which, of course, you very definitely are not.

The problem, Dave, is that you spout crap about what we should and should not see, but you never really run the numbers. Are you sure about your CV? Because at this level of mathematical ineptness, in the days when I hired software engineers, I never would have hired you.

So, still without any satisfactory rebuttal from Dave, we move on to question three, "Why haven't we seen curved water." My answer was simple: we have. Here's Dave's response:
No we have never observed curved water, you are mistaking the action of perspective and ocean waves as some kind of hump of water, if your eyeline is 5 feet from the ground and 6 miles out to sea there are 6 foot waves, even though those waves have been forshortened to a hard horizon by perspective and so are invisible to you, they are still higher than your eyeline and so will obscure the bottom of the buildings 12 miles away... simple perspective. Regarding Lake Baikal one need not use ladders, targets and scopes, but just look at the perfectly flat reflection that the lake makes of the sky, any curvature whatsoever would produce a distorted image but one always sees a perfect reflection.
This just keeps getting better. First, we are to believe that any object higher than our sight line (which are foreshortened to a hard horizon, however that's supposed to work) will obscure objects beyond it, even if they are higher than the object in front of us. I doubt that Dave would be willing to experiment with that, but a YouTuber called Shnaz Shin schooled another YouTuber named Anthony Riley on that very point. I'll leave it to Dave to go find it.

Then, hilariously, Dave mentions Lake Baikal, where I would be very much astonished to hear of six-foot waves, especially with Dave speaking of perfect reflections in the water. What is more astonishing still is that Dave, ostensibly schooled in science, would choose the sight of the "perfectly flat reflection" over simple measurements. That's just incomprehensibly irresponsible. But then, this is a man who promotes a flat Earth.

So that brings us to question four, where Dave repeats the old saw about the pressurized atmosphere of Earth meeting the "perfect" vacuum of space, which he supposes should not be possible. I accused him of conflating the idea of vacuum, the lack of, well, anything, with the idea of a vacuum cleaner. He took umbrage, but his answer hardly satisfies:
Try not to put words in my mouth sir, vacuum does not pull but a region of high pressure will always move to a region of low or zero pressure, and I note that you did not address my thought experiment, if you evacuate a container to a fraction of the perfect vacuum of space, turn it upside down and puncture the bottom, why doesn't the much stronger gravity at the surface prevent the air from rushing into the much less perfect vacuum?
Note that Dave's thought experiment is just the opposite of the situation with the Earth as a whole. In his experiment, the vessel for the partial vacuum is surrounded by air under pressure (created by gravity); the pressurized air is pushing in from all directions against the vessel and the hole created by puncturing the vessel gives it a chance to equalize the local pressure. Gravity is not going to prevent the air from rushing into the lower-pressure area; it's going to facilitate it.
Regarding the rising column of air, how can a column of air heated by the sun meet less dense air above it? Does the sun only heat air molecules at the surface? or would the air at the top of the atmosphere be the first to be heated and rise and disturb the boundary condition?
Here Dave is making the assumption that whatever is closest to the sun will heat up first. There are so many factors that determine how heat energy gets distributed throughout our dynamic atmosphere (which is as dynamic as it is mostly because the Earth is turning, a sphere, and tilted with respect to our plane of orbit) that cherry-picking any one example is just dishonest. And lazy.

Now we come to one of the flat-Earther's favorite topics: crepuscular rays. Dave thinks that these rays, which only appear in the morning or evening (which is what the word "crepuscular" refers to) point to a close sun. I'll ignore the awful geometry of that assumption for the moment to concentrate on Dave's biggest mistake: he says in the video that the "official" explanation for the diverging rays is that the are refracted by the Earth's atmosphere. Which is wrong. And yet he never corrects himself in this rebuttal:
Crepuscular rays were debunked by the images that I showed on the video...[p]erspective works when viewing objects along ones field of view, like a line of telegraph poles receding away from you, but not across your view, the skyscrapers of the [M]anhattan skyline aren't affected by perspective when you view them from across the river in New Jersey.
Well, that's not actually true about the buildings in Manhattan; the fact that they appear so close together when you see them from far away is entirely due to perspective. So is the fact that crepuscular rays appear to diverge, and Dave has done nothing to rebut that other than claim it isn't true. But if his explanation is true, that the rays are actually diverging from a close sun, then just what is the distance to the sun?

Dave's next question assumes that he is right about the last one: how does a convex lens make light diverge. He is assuming that anyone said that any of these effects are caused by refraction through the "lens" of the Earth's atmosphere, which no one did. But with this question is a picture of an airplane, with its shadow cast on a cloud below. He claims that the shadow is bigger than the plane, but it's not; it's just closer than the plane. But now he comes up with this:
[T]he airplane's shadow is not only magnified but it is also warped as a result of the diverging light rays (or do you think they mount the jet engines pointing outward at a 15 degree angle?)
Do you think that a cloud is flat like a piece of paper? Of course the shadow is distorted! Are you this thick, or are you just being incredibly dishonest?

Dave's next question is about artificial horizons. Flat-Earthers seem to think that these are merely gyroscopes, but they are not. I answered this question in the original post, and here is his response:
Actually most commercial jets have the good old mechanical Artificial horizon as a backup in case their electronics go down... I mentioned that gyros have the property of rigidity in space, but I didn't mention the other perculiar property, precession, that is when a force is applied to the gyroscope to correct its orientation the result of the force appears 90 degrees away from it, thus making it impossible to correct some imaginary "mechanical gravity compensator".
Impossible to "correct some imaginary 'mechanical gravity compensator'"? I don't know about you, but I am less inclined to believe someone like Dave on this matter, and more inclined to believe the people who actually design the avionics that keep airline flight the safest mode of transportation there is.

Dave's next question involves the Coriolis Effect. First he starts with:
Gosh you are so knowledgeable about so many things, why is that?
 It's because I know how to do research with reliable sources, unlike you.
Please show me the calculation for determining the effect of coriolis on bullets or artillery shells from a particular latitude and longditude, shooting toward a particular latitude and longditude.And while you are at it, please show me a pilot who will state that they make constant course corrections because of the coriolis effect or have ever had to take it into account for any reason... I'll wait...
 The calculation you're looking for is here. And why would I show you a pilot that does that when I already said in my previous response that there are many other forces at play, and that the pilot just works at staying on course without regard to which force he or she is compensating for.

Coming into the home stretch. The next question comes down to "on ISS footage, why don't things closer to the ISS move fast, as they do on this footage I'm showing of a landing airplane." My answer was that they do, but that the effect is minimized since the ISS is not close to the ground. This is his rebuttal:
The ISS is supposedly 250 miles from the surface, however the field of view spans thousands of miles, if the photographs taken from the ISS are anything to go by, more than enough to observe a parallax effect that is nowhere in evidence on that blue and white thing pretending to be the earth.
A look at the footage he supplied shows that an easily-identifiable cloud feature moved eight pixels from one frame to the next when at the top of the globe, and 57 pixels from one frame to the next near the bottom. Case closed, Dave, you're just wrong.

Dave's next question is "How can microgravity be selective?" He claims that ISS footage shows a water drop, and a ketchup bottle sitting on the table unaffected by gravity. My answer: it was not a drop of water, and the ketchup bottle had Velcro on the bottom. His response:
From my days producing animations, I know how difficult it is to realistically simulate something dropping to the floor. It was undoubtedly a drip which accelerated toward the ground as it would do on earth.
I looked more closely at the footage. I think what I see is a transmission artifact, to be honest. There is no source for the little blip of white, nor does it seem to land on anything. And it's hard to believe that Dave can derive its acceleration (which, wait, if he accepts gravitational acceleration, then he has to accept at least the effect of gravity, which means that a flat Earth is impossible) from the few frames during which the aberration is visible.
The ketchup bottle had nothing on its bottom, there was only a light reflection that moved as the bottle tumbled in the air, and when struck, it did not move as if it were velcro'd to the table.
No, there was a patch of Velcro, which moved out of the line of sight as the bottle tumbled in the air. I invite any thinking person to look at the footage to see what happened when the bottle got bumped. It wobbled, with the base still in place. It didn't scoot, it didn't tip. It wobbled, it was anchored, and this whole line of inquiry is preposterous.

The next question (next to the last, I promise!) asks why there are craters on the moon, specifically, why are there craters on the side that faces the Earth? In other words, wouldn't the Earth get in the way? His diagram was, of course, way out of scale, making it look like the Earth was an impenetrable barrier to the incoming meteors. He admits that, but still continues with the same assertions:
It's true what you say about the scale, it was for illustrative purposes only, however, the earth has apparently 6 times the gravity, so any large body aiming to hit the one side of the moon that we see will always have its path affected by the earth's gravity... so why don't we see any elliptical craters?In order to produce the circular craters that we see, the incoming body must strike the moon perpendicular to its tangent, which would be impossible in the presence of a large gravitating body like the Earth.
He's asserting that circular craters could only be created by incoming bodies perpendicular to the surface, for which he has no proof. But more than that, he destroys his own question when he mentions the Earth's gravity affecting the incoming meteors. Because that gravitational tug could quite easily pull a body toward the moon that would not otherwise have hit it. Oops.

The last question is a lovely finale to a really mind-numbing ride: why are there no permanent hills, valleys, and mountains in the ocean? He didn't like my answer, thinking that I missed his point. But his efforts to correct me are kind of hilarious:
Why did you avoid the point of my question? Of course water finds its own LEVEL, but it nonetheless deforms under a constant force, swirl water around and it will dip in the middle as long as the force is applied, place a stack of powerful neodynium magnets underwater close to the surface and the water will deform as long as the force is applied. The Mariana Trench is 7 miles deep, that is 7 miles closer to the centre of the earth thus the force of gravity should be much stronger at that point, a CONSTANT force that should deform the water significantly and if that is the case then water around your globe should be deformed into peaks and troughs proportionably according to the seabed's distance from the centre of the earth.
But of course, the water is not a uniformly deep layer of water. The Mariana Trench is seven miles deep, but it also has seven miles of water sitting on top of it, denser at the bottom than near the top. If the water above the trench were lower than the surrounding water, then the other water (being a fluid and not, say, a sheet of plastic) would flow in to fill the gap.

As far as gravity being much stronger at sea level minus seven miles than at sea level, I suggest that might be another situation in which running the numbers might be helpful. Hint: F=G(m1*m2/r^2) is your friend.

Dave Murphy closes with this:
It is apparent from your elementary attempt to answer these simple questions with erroneous suppositions and desperate contrivances that perhaps it does take an astrophysicist to answer them, and not some anonymous bod on the internet who thinks he is one.
He really thinks this cuts deep, and that is perhaps the most astounding aspect of this whole flat-Earth affair. These people really think they are smarter than the rest of us. They really think they have something here the rest of us don't have. They really think, in short, that they have what it takes to change the world. Instead of what they really have, which is just a lot of nonsense to peddle.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Shooting the Moon

Last night I went out and took a picture of the full moon. I do not have a telescope with a camera adaptor, nor do I have an extremely long lens. But with nothing but the 55-200mm zoom that came with my Nixon D3300 DSLR, I was able to come up with a pretty good estimate for the angular size of the moon.

The shot is not very sharp, because although the sensor is 24 megapixels, I used autofocus (I was pressed for time) and shot handheld. Here is the original (scaled for the blog):

Obviously, not very close, but good enough to get a pretty good reading on the pixel width, which turned out to be 435 pixels. Here's the image cropped:

Now, according to this calculator, using the lens at 200mm, the angle of view is six degrees, forty-three minutes, thirty seconds, and each pixel represents 4.043 seconds. So 435 pixels times 4.043 seconds is about 1759 seconds, or about 29 and a half minutes of arc.

According to another online calculator at, the moon's angular size was 29 minutes, 49 seconds, so my estimate from this simple picture was only about 1/180th of a degree off.

What is the purpose of this exercise? Foremost, it is to show that these measurements given by astronomers are not "received wisdom" that we just accept without challenge. Everyone has access to at least some way to verify that they are true. And this is true of most measurements involving Earth, the moon, and the sun.

A secondary purpose is to get anyone tempted by the flat-Earth idea to do a little mathematical thinking. It can be shown mathematically that an object with an angular size of about 29.75 minutes is about 115 times its width away from the observer. You can even test this experimentally by taking a picture of, say, a basketball from 30 yards away.

Now, if a bunch of people all over the world do the exercise to measure the angular size of the moon at the same time, and they all get similar results, this presents a big problem for the flat-Earth notion. Because if I take the above picture at 9:30 in New England, and someone else takes a picture in, say, England at 2:30 in the morning, and we both get the same result, then the moon must be very far away.

Otherwise, one of us would be seeing a much smaller moon. It's just the mathematics of the situation. Again, this is something that can be modeled to scale to verify the theory.

If the moon is very far away, then it must be quite large, certainly more than the 32 miles or whatever that flat-Earthers claim. And if it's big and far away from a flat plane, then how can it possibly be ten degrees above horizontal, as it was when I photographed it last night?

Flat-Earthers will be tempted to invoke some kind of refraction, similar to Rob Skiba's version of atmospheric lensing. But before you go down that road, you should spend a little more time with lenses. Because if a lens magnifies something, it doesn't do it selectively. A lens isn't going to make the moon look bigger as it gets further away without also making seem higher off the ground at the same time.

The next temptation might be to say: "Well, the moon isn't a real object; it's a self-illuminating projection of some sort." I can tell you several reasons why that can't be true, but there's no need. Because even a self-illuminating projection can't defy the simple truth of angular size.

In short, there is no way that any model of a flat Earth can match what we see in reality. It just doesn't add up (or divide or multiply, for that matter).

If you are going to go around people to "trust their senses," then you should be prepared to follow through with some kind of proposition that actually matches what our senses tell us.

Or better yet, trust your senses. They will tell you that the Earth is, indeed, a globe.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Comments I Don't Publish

I note on one of the sidebars that I moderate comments. I don't feel the need to moderate comments on any of my other blogs, but where flat-Earthers are concerned, it's the only reasonable course. A perfect example of why are these two comments, which I haven't published but reproduce here for educational purposes.

This first was offered in response (sort of) to Pictures Of Earth From Space:

Wow, aren't you the smarty pants?! Debunk this then Mr science guy, water is always flat level or,seeking level...along with all the flat countries & abyssal sea floor, you cannot have all that flat & still make the perfect ball shown to us by nasa, nor can itake the pear shape sold by actor priest Tyson, who works for nasa & interestingly, cannot show us a pic of anything but the perfect ball. Good luck! Also, your focal pendulum is proven false to detect motion of earth by Sagnac & airey, who both destroyed relativity (& movement of earth) quite handily by irrefutably showing both aether existing & failing to show movement...sooo yea Mr big brain know it all, you're a liar & I need to further educate you?
Do I really need to respond? Is it necessary to publish personal abuse mixed in with the standard flat-Earth litany of bad arguments, quote-mines, and misrepresentations? Not to mention the atrocious grammar and spelling, and the profound ignorance of even the most basic facts? I don't think it adds anything to the conversation.

Here's another, same day, same person, on the post Lies To Defend the "Truth"?

Holy incompetent you are! You're trying so hard too....defeat water surface & abyssal floors...both are flat. Google flattest states, then countries. Somehow you can wrap all that flat around a ball & it still stays FLAT? Nice trick. Good luck...Oh you wanna say gravity, do you? Gravity has zero effect in gasses & fluids soooo yea, liar you are. Deceiver. Religious zealot. You have FAITH since you cannot prove any single bit of the heliocentric theory. You are also super conceited to believe YOU know it all, YOU have all the answers. Where's your Nobel for doing what cannot be done? Where is your name in sciencephalitis for your contribution in moving THEORY to FACT? You are a blundering parrot, repeating what you cannot prove. Psh you make me sick you charlatan, you fraud, you liar!
I get the feeling that this person is maybe too young to have a Google account without his parent's permission, or if not, too immature to be trusted with one as an adult. And yet this level of discourse is pretty common in the flat-Earth sphere (pun intended). And, indeed, in the realm of much of what passes for argument in the very public Internet space recently.

It gives me pause.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Seeing Oahu From Kauai: A Meme Decontructed

During one of my exchanges on Twitter, I was sent another meme:

Now, just getting another meme about what you should or should not be able to see of one place from another is not, usually, enough to justify the time to write a blog entry. But there was just something so brazenly misleading about this one that I felt the need.

So instead of starting at the top, let's start in the center, with the the claim:

Sun Behind Island Confirms
No Illusion
No Mirage
No Refraction
The Earth Is Flat Case Closed

What? How does the sun being behind the island confirm anything about refraction? In fact, it seems to me that what the sun behind the sun really confirms is that the Earth is not flat! Nothing about the position of the sun supports a flat Earth. So let's move on to the basic math, as we've done so many times.

Let's start with figuring out if it is plausible that this is a genuine image. Flat-Earthers are always calling any photo that doesn't support their nonsense fake, so we should at least give this a quick skeptical look.

The photo purports to be from Kauai Airport, which doesn't exist, but that's just semantics, because the airport that does exist on the Island of Kauai is Lihue, on the southeast coast of the island. Okay, we'll go with that.

Now Oahu is southeast of Kauai, bearing about 112 degrees. Could the sun be behind the island? Yes, it could, although not on a flat Earth (had to get that in), and the picture would have to have been taken in late November or early January. But this is plausible, so we'll stipulate here that this is, most likely, an actual picture of Oahu, taken from Lihue Airport.

So now let's go to the top and look at the claim. First we'll start with the line: "Spherical Trigonometry of Sphere...." Can we stop there for a moment? Can we just savor that?

Okay, done, except to say that what follows has nothing to do with spherical trigonometry. Not every calculation involved in measuring on a sphere involves spherical trigonometry. If you don't believe me, then go find out what spherical trigonometry is an get back to me.

So, here's the next part: "24,901 of Circumference at 90 Miles Is 5,402 Drop of Curvature." Including the circumference is probably meant to convince a viewer of this meme that the maker of this meme has done some hard math. As is the exact figure 5,402. I don't know where the maker of the meme actually gets this figure; it's close to, but not exactly, 8 inches per miles squared, about which I've already written.

But of course, how much drop there is actually tells us nothing about how much of a distant object you should see over a given span of ocean, unless you're standing in the ocean with your eyes at the level of the water. Sounds uncomfortable, although less so in the Pacific surrounding the Hawaiian Islands, where the water is usually quite warm.

But since it's plain that this photo was not taken in the water, it's time to move on to base facts. It seems to me that this photo was taken out of an airplane window as the plane was taxiing on a runway close to the shore. As I mentioned in my other blog post, calculating what you can see in the distance requires knowing how high above the water you are. You can't tell exactly from a photo, but Lihue Airport is 153 feet above mean sea level. I'm going to add ten feet for the distance from the tarmac to the window.

Let's keep that in mind while we go through the rest of the numbers. The meme shows something from Google that says that the elevation of Oahu is 4003 feet. I'm not sure what the elevation refers to, but the highest point on Oahu is Ka'ala, which tops out at 4,026 feet. Not a big difference, and not really an important one, as we'll see.

The next figure is slight more important. The meme measures from Lihue to an arbitrary point on the north tip of Oahu to get its 90 mile figure. But the distance from Lihue to the peak of Ka'ala is only about 83 miles, as show by my screen capture below.

So, we plug the figures into this calculator, and find that from Lihue, we should indeed be able to see the top 1000 feet of the tallest features of Oahu. Looks about right, even without taking refraction into account.

Could there be refraction? Well, despite the wording of this meme, there can always be refraction over water. What kind of mirage this might produce depends on the temperatures of the air and the water. In Hawaii, these effects are probably quite small, because the difference between the air and water temperature is negligible.

But it's not the sun behind the island that proves that. It's just good old optical physics. Which flat-Earthers would know if they did any actual research.

Oh, and the Earth is a sphere. Case closed.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Sometimes You Just Have To Look

Last night I was coming home from my regular job, and staring back at me in the southeast, was the moon. It was nearly, but not quite, full, slightly waning. It was around 10:30 at night, And I thought: "How can anyone who looks at the moon, I mean, really looks at it, believe for a moment that we live on a flat plane?"

Flat-Earthers have lots of different explanations for how the sun and moon work on a flat Earth. But in the light of the real, and quite beautiful, observations from the ground, they don't stand up.

While I was looking at the moon, the part of the Earth that was pointing at the sun was about 142 degrees away from me, which would mean it was solar noon in northeastern Russia. And if you look at, say, Gleason's Map, it's not too big a stretch to think that, perhaps, the sun could be lighting the moon at that angle. Well, nearly that angle.

But what if I was standing in, say, Ecuador? In real life, people in Ecuador see the same phase of the moon at the same time as I do, as the rest of the world does. But in the flat-Earth world, the moon would be lit from the side from that view. It would be a half-moon.

At this, some flat-Earthers will claim that the moon is a disc, or self-illuminating, or both. But that's another case of not trusting what you see. For if the moon were a disc, It would appear round only when it was directly overhead, and ovoid at any other time. And were it self-illuminating, the features would always look the same, without crater shadows, which show up only when the sun is shining obliquely on the moon.

Neither of these excuses match anything we observe in real life, even without the aid of a telescope.

Flat-Earthers will then say that they don't know the real model, because they don't have the vast resources to research it, but they've had at least 160 years, since Rowbotham, to work it out. And they don't really have to have a lot of money.

Just eyes, And brains. And a willingness to think through what you see without prejudice.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Why Nobody Should Take the Flat Earth Seriously, Part II

I got a comment on this blog entry that I just have to share. I will be reproducing the entire comment here, with commentary, but if you want to see the original in context, head on over to the original post. It's as if this person was trying to make my point for me.

Hang on, this is a long one, but it's a pretty interesting ride.
The flat earth system is correct, and I'm sorry but you all have been indoctrinated. And it's sad that everyone is hostile to even the idea that it COULD be flat. It's what you learned in school, it's what the majority believes and it's what the government tells us, so it MUST be correct... Most of you simply have too much pride and too much comfort and happiness in your life to even go and do the research. Why would you take time away from tv? A lot of you wouldn't believe it even if you KNEW it was true because you think it would alienate you from people, even knowing it was the truth.
The whole conceit behind the "you've been indoctrinated" speech is that the writer, in his or her infinite wisdom, has been awakened from the sleep the rest of us have suffered, wherein everything we are told is wrong.

The other conceit in this paragraph is in thinking that those of us who try to head off this nonsense have never even considered the question "could the Earth actually be flat?" More to the point, though, is that most flat-Earthers have never really considered the question "what would it look like if the Earth were flat?"

This one question would lead them to explore the absolute absurdities that arise when trying to reconcile real-world observations with living on a flat plane. Instead, they look at pretty much anything they don't understand, or that seems fantastical to them, and immediately hold it up as evidence that the Earth is flat.

And, as if to illustrate that very point:
I'm sorry but the GoFast rocket is evidence. No one has yet to debunk that video. It hits something at 73 miles and stops. It would make sense that the dome is about that high, with the plane being hundreds of times wider, as the bible refers to the world as a 'disk' and also 'immovable'.
I shall probably have to do an entire blog entry on the subject of the GoFast rocket. Here I will only say how sorry I feel for the team that launched GoFast, because their amazing achievement has been abused by flat-Earthers in more than one way. But very quickly, let me address the one claim about the rocket made in this comment.

First, the GoFast did not "hit" anything. Had it hit something, it would have disintegrated. Flat-Earthers think it hit something because, after its burn, it deployed a de-spinning mechanism, which makes a clunking noise, and the spinning which is very obvious stopped.

What is not obvious is that the upward momentum of the rocket continued. Why that is not obvious is because of something perpetually misunderstood by flat-Earthers: perspective. When the ground is 73 miles away from you, you are not going to see much difference from second to second as you gain altitude.

As far as no one having debunked this video? Everyone with any physics knowledge, or who has played with model rockets and dreamed of someday doing something as amazing as the GoFast, has debunked this video. Next.
You people talk about physics and gravity like you understand what they are. They're just theories in your head. 
I understand what physics is: it's the science of the physical Universe. That was easy. As to gravity, I'm not sure I really understand what it is. But I know what it does. Not is great detail because I'm not a physicist, but I certainly understand it much better than the writer of this comment. To wit:
Can anyone explain to me how the earth is spinning many thousands of miles per hour, while at the same time it is orbiting around the sun? At the same time our entire solar system is moving in another direction at an incredibly high speed? Yet we don't feel anything and water stays perfectly still. If the earth were spinning it would have a centrifugal effect and all the water would gather at the equator.
Yes, rather a lot of people can explain this. They are called physicists. The difference between a physicist and you is that they studied the natural world, and you didn't.
Can anyone explain curvature, and how we can zoom in and below the supposed curve with high mag telescopes? More solid proof. Read about the tests done with people holding up flags, going over the horizon, and they should not be visible based on supposed curvature, but they are.
I don't even have to be a physicist to explain this. It's bad math and bad experimental procedure. Come back to me when you can get a photo of Mt. Whitney taken from Mauna Kea. Oh dear, that's probably another blog post altogether. I should be writing these down.
Most of you just can't conceive of the fact that we are being lied to. That our government and our media LIES to us. And they brainwash people into thinking there are no conspiracies. Some of you people may as well have been born yesterday. You don't know anything about history, you don't know what's been going on in this world. You are asleep, and you don't want to believe anything that would make you uncomfortable, even if it was true.
I can conceive of being lied to. For one thing, I'm quite sure I'm being lied to by Eric Dubay, Mark Sargent, Rob Skiba, Jeran Campbell, and several dozen other pushers of the flat Earth. Not just because I don't trust them, but because they can't verify anything they say, and I can personally verify that a lot of it is untrue.

I can also conceive of being lied to by my government, or at least by the people who run it, and a lot of powerful people in the world that I do not trust any further than I can throw their Rolls Royces. But I don't need any of them to tell me what the shape of the Earth is. I (and you) can do real experiments, with real controls and real math, and find out for yourself.

As to the scientists in the world? I'm sure there are some liars among them, but in general scientists have done so much to make our lives better, in ways large and small, and there are so many people who can verify or falsify their conclusions, that I would certainly rather trust them them some raving lunatic with a YouTube channel and an agenda.
As for people saying you can go to Antarctica, maybe they will let you go a little ways in but after that the military is going to grab you.

Just another unsupported claim. As should surprise no one, flat-Earthers make a lot of those.
Of course there are no flights over the south pole. Why? And why are flights paths in the southern hemisphere all screwed up in general? Look into it, the course of these flights don't add up. None of it adds up.
Some commercial flights have flown over the South Pole, mostly as tourist attractions, though more regular flights may be coming soon. It's important to note that the populated areas of the Southern Hemisphere are not as far south as the populated areas of the Northern Hemisphere are north. It's just an accident of the geography, but it means that south transpolar flights are longer than north transpolar flights.

Add to that the fact that Antarctica, being a frozen land mass surrounded by ocean, has a harsher climate the the Arctic, which is an ocean surrounded by land masses. Look up ETOPS regulations and you will, if you are being honest, understand why commercial flights don't go there.

Now, to be fair, a lot of the flight paths in the Southern Hemisphere don't make sense at first look, if you only consider the fastest way to get from point A to point B. But if you are flying fuel-hungry jets, your first consideration is getting the plane full of people who are paying for the fuel.

That doesn't mean that there are no direct flights in the Southern Hemisphere. They just don't run as often because of demand. The fact that they exist at all, and due consideration of the flight times on these runs, puts the common disc-world version of the flat Earth to rest.

Which is why all flat-Earthers who support that model have to claim that all of those flights don't actually exists, making liars of anyone who has actually (and sometimes regularly) taken them.

And, of course, there are supply and other research-support flights that cross the continent on a regular basis. Those people must all be liars, too.

And now we move on to the final tirade:
Is it harder to believe the earth is flat, or that the entire universe exploded from nothing, matter and lifeforms just created themselves in this perfect harmony? And we are on a tiny little ball flying through space which stretches out to infinity? WAKE UP. Get out of your manufactured culture and maybe start reading the bible. Just read history and try and understand the world is thousands of years old. People have been around for a LONG TIME. You think nothing has been going on in the last thousand years, and we just arrived here and everything is what it seems, nothin goin on? There ARE conspiracies. We ARE being lied to. But people aren't going to see that unless they actually start doing the research, and like I said people are just too comfortable. Maybe when you all start to starve to death like in the soviet union, you're going to see maybe our rulers have their own agenda.
Lots of word salad here, and the effort to unpack it all is just not worth it, because there isn't anything in the way of evidence in it. But I will say that I encourage people to do their own research, out in the world, by observing and measuring things, even if you have no interest in the flat Earth. It's just good exercise for the brain.

And when you want to learn about science, talk to some real working scientists. They are cool people (I have to say that, because I have scientists in my family) and they got to work every day, as most of us do, trying to make the world a better place to live in.

And that might be yet another blog post.

Yes, there are people in power with an agenda (pretty much all of them, but they don't all have the same agenda). But there are also people in the flat-Earth world (and the bizarre world of some other conspiracies) who also have an agenda. So, to believe some maniac on YouTube that tells you everything is a lie is probably an even bigger mistake than doubting everything you were taught in school.

Especially when the very tools the maniac on YouTube uses to spread his agenda were made possible by working scientists, theoretical physicists at Bell Labs, who were just trying to make the world a little better, and ended up changing it forever.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

The Horizon Always Rises To Eye-Level

It's one of those flat-Earth standards that nearly every proponent of this nutty idea will throw at you at some point: "The horizon always rises to eye level no matter how high you go; on a ball the horizon would fall away and you'd have to look down."

Well, here's the problem. The horizon would also fall away on a flat Earth, just not as fast, and the difference is very, very small because the Earth is very, very big. The horizon is never at eye level unless eye level is right on the ground.

The real conceit behind the claim, though, is that trusting the evidence of your eyes had more validity than measuring it with instruments. And that's just nonsense. Humans are not precision instruments. That's why, as soon as we started making things, we started inventing better ways to measure things.

I was at an antique and consignment store today, and I ran across a micrometer. All I was thinking at the time I saw it was that it was a pretty amazing instrument. Properly-used these mechanical devices can measure the size of a small object to a precision of .005 millimeters.

Then, later in the day, a flat-Earther tweeted the same old saw about the horizon and I thought: "What hubris, to think that anyone can tell whether he is looking perfectly straight ahead or a couple of degrees downward."

There is a simple test you can perform to see how good you are at determining your eye level. Stand about 15 feet away from a wall that has a good-sized picture on it with details you can focus on. Decide which detail is at your eye level. Now, have someone measure your eye level, and then measure the distance from the floor to the detail. Or, if you don't have someone handy to measure, just walk right up to it and see how far you were off.

My 16-year-old son tried this, and he was off by more than 1.25 degrees. And this is easier than knowing where the horizon lies in relationship to your eye level, because in the case of the horizon there aren't a lot of other visual cues.

Here, a simple measuring tape has bested your eye-witness evidence. And, of course, a more precise instrument like a theodolite could determine if the horizon, from different viewing heights, really is at eye level. And in test after test, it has been shown that it does not. In an airplane, the difference is big enough that a simple theodolite app for a phone can indicate the gap between the level and the horizon.

And yet this myth persists, by people who just accept it as true without performing any intelligently-designed tests, with no effort at all to falsify their own claims.

But then, that kind of thinking is why we have flat-Earth belief in the first place.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017


A year ago, I published a little book called The Earth Is Not Flat. At the time I just thought it would be interesting to introduce people to the fact that there are, it seems, people who actually have convinced themselves that the Earth is flat, and take to YouTube and Twitter and Facebook to expound that view, much as Samuel Birley Rowbotham did in the 19th Century, though I suspect not nearly so eloquently.

I thought that by now the furor would have died down, since the idea is so obviously ridiculous, the evidence so easily debunked. But since the publication of the book, its companion blog, this one, has received nearly 50,000 views, at an ever-accelerating pace. Twitter accounts are popping up all over the place, with new YouTube channels as well. I can't say how many of them are legitimate, but it hardly matters, since the flat-Earth notion is at least popular enough that it attracts people who repost the content of others in order to monetize it, and that's too popular for me.

I am re-writing the book, not to include new arguments that the flat-Earthers have presented, because hardly anything I've seen in the last year is really new. No, what I'm trying to do is put flat Earth in the larger context of the ease with which people can use the Internet and tools readily available on their computing devices to spread nonsense among the gullible.

And, against my better judgement, and by popular demand, I am including much more in the way of counter-arguments to the flat-Earthers. I didn't think it was necessary. In fact, I think that one short chapter on sun and moon observations should be enough to show anyone that a flat Earth is completely impossible (and I will include such a chapter).

But, alas, my readers want more. They want more detailed arguments in answer to the flat Earth. So I'm following the sun and moon observations with a dressing down of Eric Dubay for, as much as many among the flat-Earth pundits rail against him, most of them end up using his arguments (and, in turn, Dubay steals most of his arguments from Rowbotham and Campbell).

If I feel, after going through Dubay's "proofs," that there is material I haven't covered, then I'll tackle that.

And then I'm done. No more revisions of the book, and probably a re-tasking of my Twitter account to broader issues that I think are a lot more important. Besides, I'm tired. Arguing against something so obviously wrong, with people so obviously uninterested in deep research or investigation, takes its toll.

I have better things to do with the remainder of this life to waste it on anyone who believes that the Earth is flat.

Disassembling Dubay

As I've mentioned before, I am writing a new edition of The Earth Is Not Flat, which I plan to have ready for release sometime this spring. It won't be just expanded, but mostly rewritten, for since I published the book, I have had far more exposure to the world of flat-Earthers, and I've come to see the phenomenon in the broader context of how nonsense and pseudoscience spread via the Internet.

But one of the valid criticisms of the first edition of the book was that it didn't spend enough time addressing the arguments of flat-Earth proponents. At the time, I hardly felt it necessary, since that's not what I thought the book was about. But it seems to be something my readers want, and so, somewhat reluctantly, for it's the sort of thing that can get swiftly out of hand, the second part of the book will be devoted to showing that the Earth is not, in fact, flat.

Even more reluctantly, I will be addressing the short book by Eric Dubay that I am so often referred to, 200 Proofs the Earth Is Not a Spinning Ball. But I don't want to make a refutation by the numbers, not because that would be difficult, but because it would be exhausting for my readers.

For Dubay's litany of "proofs" is incoherently organized, and extremely redundant. To get the count to 200, Dubay played some annoying games, and I don't want to just continue the trend.

So, to organize my thoughts about responding to these claims, I literally took the book apart. I printed a copy, cut out each "proof" individually, and sorted the clips into envelopes so that I could address each kind of argument with its kin, and, with luck, bring some flow to the process.

I'd already read the 200 "proofs," of course, which hurt my head terribly, but sorting them this way was kind of revealing. In the mangled ordering of the original book, it is hard to realize just how many of the "proofs" don't have anything to do the the shape of the Earth or its motion.

Proof 191, for example, just claims that all the scientists who gave us the globe and heliocentrism were Freemasons. Several other "proofs" are nothing but unsupported descriptions of how the flat-Earth model is supposed to work. Still others are ravings (often quoted from others) about how absurd the heliocentric model is, in other words, arguments from incredulity.

And then there are a number (I haven't counted them yet) of examples of "this object is this distance from this place, and so you shouldn't be able to see this object." Each of those is counted as a separate proof, and none of them has any supporting documentation for verification, or indeed any data that would allow the reader to make a proper calculation.

And the list goes on.  I hoping that the result of all this sorting and the painful revisiting of this horrid, often-cited work is a thorough tearing down of not only the work itself, but the thinking that goes into it, something that others can refer to whenever flat-Earthers claim to have 200 proofs that the Earth is not a spinning ball.

Because, as we all well know by now, there are not 200, and not one of them proves anything.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

First-Hand Knowledge

When you tell flat-Earthers that the Earth is not, in fact, flat, one common—and insipid—comeback is: "How do you know, have you ever been to space?" The conceit behind this question is that you cannot know anything unless you know it first-hand. This ridiculous statement has at least two problems. The first is that it's simply not true. The second is that it represents the height of hypocrisy coming from people who believe the Earth is flat, for although they will claim to "know" this on the evidence of their own eyes, nothing could be further from the truth.

How much do you know first hand? What do you do, on a daily basis, to personally verify the information that you put to practical use? Do you go around sticking your finger in live light sockets to verify that electricity might shock you? Do you put liquids other than gasoline in your tank to see if they are better for running your car? Do you personally verify every thing a candidate has ever said before you vote for him or her?

Of course not. And as the technology we use gets more complex and connected, we know less and less about it first-hand. But we have good reason to believe that at least most of what we are told is true, especially if we know that there are enough people out there with access to the truth who could, at any time, verify or falsify the information.

In science, even among professional scientists, it is wholly impractical to know everything first-hand. Every experiment would have to be repeated every time. True, any new result does need to be verified, several times, until it is established that the results are valid (or that they are not, which happens quite often). But once results are established, then they can be built upon to advance knowledge about the world, and the Universe.

But flat-Earthers don't even do this much. They will sing the praises of first-hand knowledge on the one hand, and then on the other hand post endless memes from others with no attempt to verify any of the information, if it can be called that, that the memes contain. They will tell you that they know that the Earth is surrounded by an ice wall.

"How do you know? Have you been there?"

"Of course not, they won't let you anywhere near it."

"How do you know that?"

"Have you read the Antarctic Treaty?"

"Yes, have you?"

"UN Troops guards the ice wall. They will shoot you."

And on it goes. The most infuriating thing about this is that, unlike many things we have to trust other people to be honest with us about—whether a certain medicine is right for what ails us, or if that noise in our engine is anything to worry about, for example—whether or not the Earth is flat is something anyone with a tiny bit of math skill, or the ability to use online calculators, can indeed verify first hand, without traveling to Antarctica to see if troops are waiting to apprehend you or traveling into space.

But so far, none of the flat-Earthers have taken me up on the challenge.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Railroads and the Flat Earth

One of Eric Dubay's "200 Proofs"—well actually four because Dubay played some misleading games with his numbers—is that railway lines are constructed without the Earth's curvature being taken into account. This is obviously devastating proof that the Earth does not curve away. Right?

Let's do a little thought experiment. You can try this in real life if you have the space. Imagine you have an N-gauge model railroad. The tracks are 9mm apart, and the scale is either 148:1 or 160:1. Let's take the latter figure to save some space.

We're going to lay a straight track for one scale mile. As I said, we need a big space, because this track is going to be 33 feet long. Now, let's pretend that this space is not a perfectly flat floor but a scale model of a mile of curved Earth, and flat, that is, the same elevation above mean sea level throughout. How much lower would the track be at the end of the run than the beginning?

Well, the eight-inch-per-mile squared formula, which I wrote about a bit ago, is a fine rule of thumb for short distances, so we'll go with that. Eight divided by 160 is, conveniently (another reason I chose 160:1) .05 inches, or 1/20th of an inch.

Now, be honest with yourself. Is 1/20th of an inch over 33 feet going to make enough difference to your train to compensate for, even if it was actually downhill (which it's not in full scale—more in a moment)? If fact, even if the track dropped 1/20 of an inch for every foot, or rose 1/20th of an inch for every foot, the train would have no issue with it.

And I'd love to have your carpenter if your floor is level to within 1/20th of an inch over 33 feet. I know my level can't detect that.

Ah, says the flat-Earther, but it accumulates. Over miles and miles and miles, the curve is steeper and steeper. Well, no it's not. At any given point on the track, this mythical absolutely flat track (I really think that people who make this argument have never taken a trip on a train, especially along the west coast of the US), the curve ahead would be exactly the same. It's not as if the train traverses the entire track all at once.

And then (I told you I would get to this), at full scale none of this matters. Because "flat" is meaningless for train construction. If you want the bed to be flat as far as the train is concerned, you need to stay level, that is, perpendicular to plumb, to the center of gravity. To the center of the Earth.

Of course, flat-Earthers say that gravity just doesn't exist. But that is another topic.

Monday, January 16, 2017

What Is Happening To Us?

I don't usually post so often on this blog, but sometime circumstances make me want to speak out. Yesterday it was the rather sudden appearance of another annoying flat-Earth (and just about every other sort of ) conspiracist. Tomorrow I will publish an entry on the old saw from flat-Earthers about railroad tracks not taking curvature into account, a more normal kind of entry for me.

Today, astronaut and moonwalker Eugene Cernan died at the age of 82. He was the last man to walk on the moon, at least for now. There are not many of his kind left, and I was very sad to hear that he is gone.

But that's not why I'm writing tonight. I'm writing because soon after the announcement of his death, the flat-Earth and moon hoax crazies started right in. They said he'd been bumped off because he knew the truth. They said that his great achievement was all a lie. I will not dignify these charges with a response. These cretins dishonor the memory of a man who boots they could never hope to fill.

How did we come to this? How did we come to the point where people who would call others liars and frauds, with no evidence whatsoever, feel that they should have an equal voice to those who work hard at helping us understand our place in the Universe, sometimes, as in the case of Commander Cernan, at the risk of their own lives?

Is it because we've brought up our children to "respect" the opinions of others, without investigating to find out if those opinions are deserving of respect? Is it because, in the age of the Internet, anyone can publish nearly anything, with little financial or personal cost? Not even, it seems, any cost to their reputations?

Whatever got us here, it feels to me like a giant step backwards. It's bad enough that there are people in the world who espouse a belief that the Earth is flat, but must we tolerate such incredible hubris and bad manners from these people? Must we shrug off their unfounded accusations, even to the point of calling current astronauts "traitors to humanity," as just a matter of opinion?

Or should we demand, en masse, that anyone who makes such wild claims, and such heinous accusations, back them up with real, verifiable facts.

I, for one, think we owe it to the memory of Commander Cernan, and the other heroes we have lost, many in the line of duty in what I consider to be a very high purpose, to demand more of humanity.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

The Flat Earth "Guild"

There is a new website that calls itself the "Flat Earth Guild." It's stated purpose is "collecting information that allows our users a more comprehensive knowledge of the Universe and its influence on us."

Despite the use of the word "guild," the site seems to be maintained and promoted by a single individual, who talks of openly considering comments while unabashedly promoting the flat Earth, moon hoax theory, all manner of popular conspiracies (without a hint of skepticism) and the Bible.

The site is minimally researched. The "in-depth analysis" on the moon landings promised by one of its blog entries (which are nothing more than headlines) is actually a couple of hundred words of argument from incredulity followed by a couple of hundred word on lies, which, obviously, the author assumes is relevant to the topic of NASA.

It includes such glaring errors as the statement: "Only a few years earlier the Mercury astronauts had perished whilst still on the launchpad." There was no such incident during the Mercury program; the launch pad tragedy killed the astronauts of Apollo 1. There had already been 18 successful manned American missions before that, so the error is not trivial. It also has not been corrected though I have pointed it out to the author via the site's Twitter account.

As time goes on, it becomes more and more obvious that the site and the account are frauds, pretending toward education and enlightenment but in fact deteriorating into insults and sarcasm and a completely insular attitude toward any real science.

Over time it is hard for someone with this attitude to keep up the pretense, putting out tweets like: "Do dart players aim 3 feet to the right....or do we live on a flat stationary earth?" soon after a tweet which said: "People wrap themselves in their beliefs. In such a way that you can't set them free. Not even the truth will set them free."

Are these people just playing with us? Or are they really so thick that they don't see what fools they are making of themselves? All this high-and-mighty talk about setting yourself free intermingled with insults and bad research and questions that you don't really want the answers to is not the sign of a healthy mind. And I am seeing more and more of exactly this sort of behavior on Twitter.

Not just among the flat-Earthers; since the recent political turmoil here in the US, the rhetoric has gotten, not just nasty, but downright stupid. People who think themselves enlightened will utter the most banal—or just obviously nonsensical—garbage and expect to be taken seriously.

I'm not sure what to make of it. Whatever we are headed toward, I think we need to start working at heading it off. I don't think what's at the end of that tunnel is anything we want to meet up with.

ADDENDUM: This Flat Earth "Guild" person spent an hour today berating me on Twitter, out of the blue, with more than twenty tweets claiming, among other things, that I'm a "bully." If you want to check my Twitter feed, you are welcome to draw your own conclusion. But what was odd, funny really, is that he was obsessed with asking me about this study from the University of Utah, which concludes that Kansas is, in fact, flatter than a pancake.

Flat-Earthers seem to think this study vindicates them. But I love this study, published in the Annals of Improbable Research (AIRS). It's just the kind of bizarre subject matter that makes AIRS so much fun, and so thought-provoking. It's the kind of thing we love about The Mythbusters. And the study itself is written in a quintessential AIRS style (the tone of which is, I'm sure, completely lost on Mr. Flat Earth Guild).

I am also flabbergasted that flat-Earth people cite it. It shows that pancakes are not really all that flat. The highest point of the 180mm pancake was around 10mm higher than the edge. Flat-Earthers talk about eight inches per mile being a lot of curve, but a mile-wide pancake (analogous to this sample) would have a center nearly 300 feet higher than the edge. Do you see the problem here?

Kansas, on the other hand, is very flat. But it's not level. It's higher on the west end than the east. So how is this in any way evidence for a flat Earth?

Mr. Flat Earth "Guild" has asked me to take this blog post down, because I called him a fraud. Instead, with his recent actions, he earned an addendum. If he is reading this, I hope that he will give that cause and effect some thought. I have nothing to apologize for.

ANOTHER ADDENDUM: The Flat Earth "Guild" Guy blocked, and probably reported me, on Twitter. This after a long string of tweets in which he repeatedly claimed that gravity isn't real, without (of course) providing any factual basis for that claim.

The audacity and hubris of these people never fails to amaze me. To think that, without the slightest effort to understand the world around us save for though the lens of a holy book and the need to be smarter than everyone else without actually putting in the work, they believe that they know more than all the world's working scientists.

Good riddance, fraud.