Saturday, July 8, 2017

Spread of Flat Earther Nonsense Shows We Are In A Period Of Intellectual Regression

Members of Flat Earth Fort Collins ...
Flat Earth buffs meet for a 'seminar' in Fort Collins. They believe they've aced reality and know more than the 'academic elites'. They are totally bonkers wrong.

Let's concede that the pace of modern scientific advance has been breathtaking. Some have noted that more new knowledge has been generated since 1997 than in the previous 400 years- up to and including 1997-  which is probably an understatement. Scientific journals and papers have proliferated at such a rate that most specialists barely have the time (or energy) to keep up with their own niche area, far less the entire discipline.

One estimate is that  1.8 million articles  are published each year, in about 28,000 journals. This elicits the question: who actually reads those papers?  According to one 2007 study, half of academic papers are read only by their authors and journal editors. This is nothing short of astounding but makes sense if one gets inside what research scientists actually do, which is to narrow their focus almost exclusively to their specific specialty areas  In addition, specialty areas themselves can be reduced to sub specialties, for example solar physics has a sub-discipline of solar flare magneto-hydrodynamics, another of solar flare predictions. Perhaps the former comprises 5 percent of solar physics and the latter 2 percent. Take the overlap between them and you may only find 50 solar physicists.

If the situation is practically untenable for regular scientists to keep pace with scientific knowledge, imagine what it must be like for most laymen, who may not even have been exposed to a high school biology or physics course.  At some point the burden of trying to keep pace with new knowledge - even produced in popular literature- may be too much for them, so they just give up. They either opt to blank out, or - as often the case- deny a given tenet or scientific principle or even an entire theory (e.g. general relativity).

This notion isn't new or remarkable. As far back as 1970, author Alvin Toffler - in his book, 'Future Shock' - observed (p. 326) that "one response to high speed change is outright denial".  Adding: "The Denier's strategy is to block out unwelcome reality".    Like the "disaster victim whose face registers total disbelief , the Denier too cannot accept the evidence of his senses. Thus he concludes things really are the same and all evidences of change are merely superficial."

This memetic basis, I believe, applies as much to the climate change or evolution denier as it now does to the new breed: the regressive flat Earther who denies the Earth's sphericity.  While the climate change denier rejects the cumulative evidence of the past several decades showing CO2 buildup connected to a rapidly warming Earth, the flat Earther rejects the evidence of the past two thousand years.  The first astronomical credit for deducing a spherical Earth is generally awarded to Eratosthenes (276 - 194 B.C.) who used basic trigonometry (based on the shadow length at Alexandria) to estimate the Earth's circumference within 5 to 15 % of its actual value.

According to a Denver Post front page story yesterday, the flat Earth bunch is making a return here in Colorado with regular meetings in Fort Collins. According to the Post:

"Every Tuesday at 6 p.m., three dozen Coloradans from every corner of the state assemble in the windowless back room of a small Fort Collins coffee shop. They have met 16 times since March, most nights talking through the ins and outs of their shared faith until the owners kick them out at closing.

They have no leaders, no formal hierarchy and no enforced ideology, save a common quest for answers to questions about the stars. Their membership has slowly swelled in the past three years, though persecution and widespread public derision keep them mostly underground. Many use pseudonyms, or only give first names.

“They just do not want to talk about it for fear of reprisals or ridicule from co-workers,” says John Vnuk, the group’s founder who lives in Fort Collins."

Well, of course, they shouldn't fear "reprisals" - because there is no place in a civilized society for any physical attacks on such people who hold archaic beliefs.  However, they can't expect to be immune from harsh criticism, provided it is scientifically based and not so much in the ad hominem regime.

What is more difficult to believe is this codswallop (ibid.):

"He is at the epicenter of a budding movement, one that’s coming for your books, movies, God and mind. They’re thousands strong — perhaps one in every 500 — and have proponents at the highest levels of science, sports, journalism and arts.

They call themselves Flat Earthers. Because they believe Earth — the blue, majestic, spinning orb of life — is as flat as a table."

If true, this would represent a monumental intellectual reversal on a par perhaps, with returning medicine to the age of using leeches to "bleed bad humors" out of sick people.  Say, as opposed to delivering antibiotics or using other interventions.    But it would play into Toffler's observation of a significant population no longer able to keep up with modern science.

Indeed, it is doubtful any of these flat Earthers have even heard of the specialized science of geodesy - i.e. as defined from Wikipedia:

"Geodesy, also called geodetics, is the scientific discipline that deals with the measurement and representation of the Earth, its gravitational field and geodynamic phenomena (polar motion, Earth tides, and crustal motion) in three-dimensional time-varying space."

In other words, this highly technical science is devoted to the precise measurement of the Earth's shape using specialized satellites and advanced techniques. Most of these have been published in a superb monograph featuring a chapter on geodesy by the late Heinrich K. Eichhorn who used to be the chairman of the Dept. Of Astronomy at the University of South Florida.

review image

Eichhorn's chapter is a masterpiece and shows in detail what must be done to arrive at the "geoid". Will the flat Earthers read it? I doubt it because they likely lack the math background to grasp its most basic principles, such as satellite orbits. Do they even believe that satellites exist? One wonders.

Vnuk goes on to chirp:

"Some will accept it, some won’t. But love it or hate it, you can’t ignore Flat Earth.”

Uh, yes we can! Other than as a historical curiosity that eventually humans got savvy enough - in their methods and knowledge- to out grow. It is tragic that this now represents a regression to more primitive times, but again it fits in with Alvin Toffler's take on those who can't accept rapid scientific change. They are "future shocked".

Vnuk claims the Fort Collins group "touts itself as the first community of Flat Earthers in the United States. Sister groups have since spawned in Boston, New York, Houston, Philadelphia, Phoenix and Chicago."

Which leads me to think many of those joining just want to be controversial and contrarian. They probably couldn't explain any "scientific" basis for rejecting sphericity if they had to.

One thing these folks must admit is the Moon is plainly visible in the sky and it IS spherical, e.g.
Related image
And no, they can't argue the image is still "flat like a pancake" because the phenomenon of astronomical nutation allows us to see over the top of the Moon's pole in a spherical context.

In addition, they probably can't even grasp that if indeed the Earth was flat as they claim, and in a mutual orbit with a spherical Moon, the orbit would soon become unstable. Indeed, we would not observe the regularity of Earth tides which in large measure arise on account of the differential gravitation effect of the Moon on the spherical Earth - with greater attraction at the near point than the far one, e.g.

No photo description available.
Here, the Moon exerts a pull of force F1 on the near point (call it A on the Earth). By the same token, point B on the opposite side from A would be pulled nearer to the Moon than the water above it, thereby inducing a high tide at point B as well. In other words, two separate pulls resulting in two high tides at locations A  and B. This model also allows the prediction (average) for the time between two tides at 12 hrs. 25 mins.    Close inspection of (b)  would show tide raising forces were greatest at the intermediate pointsThat is, between the Moon’s nadir and zenith positions.

Incredibly, the flat Earthers even have "donation boxes" staked out to try to collect money for bill boards, e.g.
A collection box for billboard donations at a Tuesday meet-up.

Talk about a total waste!    But to further try to give ballast to this nonsense the Post quotes a guy named Bob Knodel, who supposedly was an "engineer" for 35 years. What kind they don't say. Maybe a sanitary engineer? According to Knodel:

"There’s so much evidence once you set aside your preprogrammed learning and begin to look at things objectively with a critical eye says you learn soon that what we’re taught is mainly propaganda.”

Seriously? A satellite geodetic survey is propaganda? How about flying great circle routes,   say to get  from New York City to Hong Kong. e. g.
or has Knodel never done that?

Why take that particular route? Well, because for a spherical geometry it is the shortest route between two points - so it saves fuel and time!  If he had the time (and math background) I'd even show him how to calculate the distance between two locations on Earth - say Barbados to Bristol, England, using spherical trigonometry, e.g.

cos(dist.)= sin (lat1) sin (lat2) + cos (lat1) cos (lat2) cos (long1 - long2)

In this case, Barbados latitude is 13 deg N., Bristol's is 51 deg 26' N. Bristol's longitude is   2 deg 35' W. Barbados' longitude is 59 deg 30'  W.

This is all one needs to use the spherical triangle formula to arrive at the distance (taking into account the circumference value of 24,901 mi.).

Knodel "runs the popular YouTube channel Globebusters," which has nearly 2 million views across more than 135 videos.   So it appears he is at least knowledgeable about spreading mind viruses- especially among those whose brains have already been colonized by fake news.

Knodel goes on:

I’ve researched conspiracies for a long time. I’ve looked very critically at NASA. Why is it that the astronauts have conflicting stories about the sky? Is it bright with stars, or a deep velvet black?”

Well, maestro, because different astronauts (and even the same)  making orbits at different times will experience variable illumination and also (timed to the period of satellite orbits) "daylight" and "night" - e.g. once they pass the day-night terminator. Hence, in the latter condition they will see the sky as "velvet black" and indeed populated with stars, and at other times with brighter background, e.g. in 'daylight' conditions of the orbit. There are no 'conflicting stories' unless one reads conflicting stories into the accounts and is unable to parse correctly what is being said.

The most amusing part of the Post account:

How are we Flat Earthers supposed to explain to our friends the solar eclipse in August?” asked one attendee. The room fell silent. “We’ll have to do more research and get back to you on that.”

Ah yes, "do more research and get back on that".   Meanwhile, the solar eclipse is easily explained by appeal to shadow geometry applied to the assorted spherical bodies involved: Sun, Earth and Moon, e.g.
Image result for solar eclipse diagram

Indeed, the path of the shadow cone (umbra-penumbra) itself depends directly on the Earth being a spherical - not flat- body.

Anyway, after the flat Earthers return to the drawing table I can hardly wait to see what their 'research' coughs up.   It's bound to be awesome. Heck, maybe they can even put it on a billboard. (If it will fit!)


Bill Hicks said...

I don't think the flat earther phenomena is as much about rejecting science as it is about the tendency in this now fully mature Internet age to seek out people with whom you totally agree and only converse with them. Before the Internet, it would have been impossible for flat eaters, or say, Sandy Hook shooting deniers, to find like minded individuals who could reinforce their incredibly ignorant beliefs.

On a larger scale, it is this atomization of opinion that is killing our politics. Very few people, be they liberal or conservative, ever entertain opinions that differ from their own. Go on any politics website and scan the comments, and you can almost predict what 90% of them will be before even reading them. Trump supporters will be there screaming "fake news!" while die hard Clintonites will be screaming about "Russian meddling," etc. For any story about a mass shooting, NRA talking points will be regurgitated verbatim.

Thus has the wondrous Internet, which was supposed to bring us all together through increased common knowledge, actually driven us further apart.

Copernicus said...

The difference is that Russian meddling in the 2016 election is a cold, hard FACT - as all the intel agencies have agreed on. It remains, however, to find out if the meddling (e.g. hacking, weaponized fake news) altered the outcome in any significant way. And now to further substantiate this we have the news Donald Jr. met with a foreign official to try to find out ways to undermine Clinton. As former CIA official Michael Morrell said this a.m. (CBS), when asked about the significance from a national security perspective:

"I think it is highly inappropriate for an American campaign to meet with a foreign official, whether connected to a government or not. This is because it allows a foreign national to potentially influence the outcome of an election. So the meeting should never have happened."

In this regard, it is never a good idea - no matter how much you think you know about the internet- to adopt the narrative of false equivalence if it doesn't apply. And it certainly doesn't here.