Take the “Flat Earth Challenge.” Scientists’ best approach to debunking hypothesis of Flat Earthers is to utilize the tools and methodology of the scientific method itself in a good faith attempt to prove the WORLD IS FLAT.
Of all people, scientists should be not merely sympathetic but also empathetic to those without voices, without a seat at the table who toil and struggle outside the mainstream with views that are not only unpopular, but taboo…verboten…and those who subscribe to them are subjected to scorn, ridicule and cruelty. The weight of moral blame in this scenario falls not so much on the “wide eyed conspiracy theorists” (who with a handful of exceptions are certainly making neither friends or profit from subscribing to their beliefs), but on the scientists who, with eduction, training and professional discipline bear the burden to be the grownups in this dialogue and with notable exceptions fail miserably to carry that burden.
Instead of dismissing, mocking, deriding and insulting those who propose alternative models in their good faith efforts to explain the universe around them and their place in it, the burden falls upon scientists not to prove the Earth is round … but to make a good faith effort, rooted in and guided by the best and most scrupulously scientific methods that can be brought to bear, that it is indeed FLAT!
What the egg heads at Cal Tech should be doing is imagining that they were just dropped on this rock…forget everything they think they know…observe and assess their surroundings…and arrive at the most logical hypothesis of a person just dropped on a rock…that their environment is FLAT. Test THAT hypothesis. THAT…would be true science. It would also be interesting and fascinating. It would call forth truly creative, truly imaginative, and truly scientific inquiry that will produce truly scientific results. I would further venture that, if done in good faith and with a genuinely open, respectful minds…it would be FUN.
The scientific method is simply another way of saying “critical thinking”. More specifically, it goes something like this:
“I’m standing on a rock. I’m not falling over. This surface must be level. HYPOTHESIS: I think my environment is flat.”
Then…devise experiments to TEST that hypothesis. Gather data. From that data, draw conclusions. Then…REPEAT. Etc. The resulting conclusions must adhere to the DATA…which either support the hypothesis, undermine it, or have no bearing. It would be truly fascinating, it would also be invigorating to both communities, and such a good faith effort would unite them on the common ground of genuine scientific inquiry and exploration.
“Masterful storytelling by somebody intent on and content with allowing story to be the star”
I just watched the documentary film “Behind The Curve.” Cudos to the filmmaker, Daniel J. Clark … who did a superb job of pointing the camera and getting out of the way. It is masterful storytelling by somebody intent on and content with allowing the story to be the star. He also achieves a level of subtlety that is downright sublime.
Spoiler alert…the Flat Earther “engineers” embark on two (really three) actual scientific experiments in an effort to collect evidence to support their hypothesis. First, there is the very expensive “gyroscope” test…which…kinda goes the proverbial “other way.” Next…the “laser” test…which devolves into a hand-held FLASHlight test… and produces results characterized by one of the actual participants as “hmmm…that’s interesting.” I laugh out loud thinking about it even now…not with derision…it’s just brilliant and hilarious and an utterly pure moment that totally speaks for itself.
Not surprisingly…the non-scientists are not super awesome at…ya know…actually DOING…SCIENCE. What I would love to see are scientists…performing the kinds of experiments that they would design in a good faith effort to prove the hypothesis that the world is FLAT. DO IT. Don’t be jerks about it. Be scientists…and be mindful of a couple things:
To begin with, it was YOU guys who once were excluded from the hallways, corridors, lecture halls and tables where “serious” discussions took place over the very matters and concerns to which you now dedicate your lives. More over, you now wrongly assume that as scientists, operating in the field of science, your work, your views and your discipline are immune from the same kinds of influences, dogma, politics, agendas and motives that affected your “religious” predecessors.
Now, back to the movie:
The filmmaker does a very good job of staying out of the fray…not picking sides…and letting each person representing each of the various constituencies plead their case and speak with their own true voice. Of the broad assortment of personalities presented, only three individuals emerge as grade “A jerks. For starters, Neil de Grasse Tyson is not only a first class buffoon, he’s a bully and I would surmise to real scientists a gigantic embarrassment.
Next in line comes the guy who claims to have started the whole flat earth movement but was too good to be interviewed and upon passing up the opportunity goes on to trash those who emerged as prominent voices in his (elected) absence. The part I do applaud about that guy is his bizarre choice to have a hot girl appear in the background of the podcasts that were reproduced in the film. It is as baffling as it is absurd and awesome. But the biggest jerk of ALL is the “science writer” Tim Urban.
Now…as a writer…I can assure you of one thing. Of all the parties involved in virtually any enterprise, the least qualified, least talented, least authoritative and above all least necessary person…is the WRITER.
Here’s a guy who’s not a scientist…presenting himself as a neutral, disinterested party to a debate when in fact he is a salesman for science. Not merely his professional livelihood but his identity, his social status depends upon the sanctity of Big “S” Science, which he amazingly and with childlike naïveté asserts is pure and without motive.
Yes. Exactly. Totally.
Because, science is funded by both Santa Claus AND the Easter Bunny.
He’s not just oblivious to his own hypocrisy and the massive indictments that are forcefully brought against “Big Science,” he is willfully blind to and in full denial of them. He is the ultimate dogmatist who has skin, bone, blood vessel and all the rest in this game while pretending that science is immune to the same kinds of forces that shape, guide, force and manipulate other areas of inquiry that are not merely subject to but utterly beholden to the larger forces around us that shape all of society. (I also find it rather odd that he keeps bringing up the “Disney movie” paradigm and asks where Flat Earthers see themselves in it. I find it odd because of all the evil movie studios he could choose from, he selects MORDOR itself). He’s a hypocrite and a bully…and in this movie…very unlikable.
Back on topic:
ATTENTION EGG HEADS OF CAL TECH: TAKE THE “FLAT EARTH CHALLENGE!”
Marshall your agile minds, your impressive skill sets and considerable resources to the task of proving THE EARTH IS FLAT. How would you do it? Design and perform THOSE experiments. Document THAT. Celebrate the CHALLENGE and embark on some TRUE SCIENTIFIC INQUIRY.
Put aside what you think you know. “Wake up” on a rock…you have no idea how you arrived at…and piece together your surroundings based on observation, data, inquiry, and experimentation. I think the process will prove as fascinating as any conclusions. By stooping to the level of the charlatans and subjecting the flat earthers to scorn and derision, you do a disservice and discredit to the principles and the entire field of science (not to mention ALL disciplines of higher learning) by resorting to such low brow tactics. Don’t teach…and don’t lecture. DO. Don’t be the students or the teachers. Be the doers. Embark on this challenge in the spirit of HONEST INQUIRY. I guaranty…along the way there will be enjoyment, learning, frustration, surprise, and in the end…immense and unexpected satisfaction.
And, for the rest of you, I wholeheartedly suggest watching ‘Behind the Curve’ on the device of your choice.
Steven Korbin is a lawyer working in Los Angeles, California. He holds a Master of Arts in American History, Columbia University, and is a graduate of Loyola Law School. His use of all caps should be considered an extension of Mr. Korbin’s passion during the creative process.