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.