Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Anniversary

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.