How to end the flat earth argument

Apparently people still think that the earth is flat despite an overwhelming amount of evidence to the contrary. This stuff is all over social media, and it infuriates me to no end because we’ve known that the earth was a sphere for thousands of years, and if ancient man could figure that shit out then I would expect that someone who has access to satellite photography would also be able to figure it out. But alas, people are ignorant as fuck and thus we have the flat earth theory. Everyone’s favorite astrophysicist, Neil deGrasse Tyson, recently had to respond to an NBA star commenting that the earth is flat.

I had an exchange with someone on Instagram earlier today. Someone I follow posted something showing how the earth was curved, not flat. Well, cue the “woke” enlightened folk. So I asked how a flat planet could form in the presence of gravity. Well, apparently gravity is also a conspiracy. Here’s the response I got:

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See, guys, there’s no such thing as gravity because density! Duh. And no, I’m not blurring anyone’s name out on here because if you’re stupid enough to think the earth is flat and gravity isn’t real you deserve to be called out. And yes, I also realize that you all have my Instagram handle now.

But here’s why I asked about gravity.

I wanted to think of a proof or a thought experiment I could give a flat earther to get them to realize that they’re wrong. And I think I came up with one. And it all hinges on gravity. In order for a flat planet to form, gravity either 1) needs to not exist, or 2) not behave according to our current models. My response to good ol’ Jonathan there was this:

“There’s a very easy way to prove whether or not gravity is real. Pick an object, any old object will do. Next, find a place you can drop it from–a second story window, a tree, a rooftop–it doesn’t matter. Now, if you know the mass of the object and the height from which you’re dropping it from, then it’s a matter of simple math. Calculate the time it would take the object to reach the ground 1) by using the standard model of gravity and the equation time = √(2d/g) and 2) by substituting the value of g for literally anything else–like the formula for density. Then drop the object and compare the times to those given by your two equations.”

That’s really something any middle school student should be able to do. The response I got?

…total crickets. Nobody had a response. None of the flat earth geniuses, to nobody’s surprise, derived a new form of math to describe acceleration and motion that didn’t use gravity.

Because you can believe that the government lies to us about the shape of the earth and the ISS and moon landing are faked by NASA, but there’s one thing that doesn’t lie–GODDAMN MATH.

But just the fact that this needs to be explained to people is incredibly disheartening. It speaks to a broken education system. It speaks to a culture steeped in paranoia. It speaks to a political system wherein people are encouraged to openly deny evidence. People are so quick to latch onto conspiracy, but they can’t see that the way to to truly keep someone ignorant is to make them question observable, measurable, testable, repeatable evidence. THAT’S how you keep someone in ignorance. And the fact that this is happening speaks volumes about our social and political state.

So if you ever run into a flat earther, give them this proof and see what happens. My guess it that cognitive dissonance will be so great that their head will explode.

Time travelers and moon bases

Well, it’s time to debunk some more bullshit, folks.

I’ve seen a lot of stuff floating around online that revolves around two premises: 1) we have photographic proof of time travelers! and 2) there are secret alien bases on the moon.

Like all good conspiracy theories, they appear to have some validity visually. There’s always a hook, right? Some tantalizing morsel just within reach of reason. In this case, it’s strange things in photographs that seem anachronistic and weird shapes on the moon. To avoid confusion, let’s address these topics one at a time.

Time Travel

We captured a time traveler on film! Aha! Surely some of you have seen such claims on the internet recently. Stuff like this:maxresdefault (1).jpg

This guy is apparently a time traveler because he’s dressed in “modern” garb that doesn’t fit the period: a graphic t-shirt, cool sunglasses, and some kind of device in his hands. He’s basically a time traveling hipster. And then there’s this lady:

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This is from a bit of film taken during the premier of a Charlie Chaplin movie. In the video, the woman walks across the screen, and it appears like she’s talking on a cell phone. And for something a little more recent, there’s this:

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Look! That guy has a smart phone and he’s taking video with it…but it’s 1995! Obviously he’s a time traveler. Duh.

Except that all of these pictures have perfectly simple explanations. As far as the hipster goes, sun glasses have been around a lot longer than most young people think, and his clothing actually is typical of the era–he simply sewed a patch onto the front of his shirt. And how about the cell phone lady? Well, it’s probably not a cell phone, but rather an old timey hearing piece. One of these thingies:

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Can you hear me now?

And what about the smart phone at the Mike Tyson event some 20 years ago, before your Nokia had that snake game on it and Minesweeper was the most advanced computer game known to man? It’s actually just a really early model digital camera. Turns out that Eastman Kodak built the first electronic camera all the way back in 1975. By the time the 80’s had rolled around, Sony invented a camera that stored pictures on floppy disks. The “real” first digital camera went on sale in 1990. Here’s a pretty interesting timeline of the development of the technology. You’ll notice that a lot of those cameras look super weird and futuristic, even though they’re 20-30 years old.

So no, nobody is time traveling. Sorry to burst any bubbles out there, but it just ain’t happening. Or if it is, it hasn’t been caught on film. And if you think about it, the whole “caught on film” thing is where this entire theory starts to come apart.

Let’s grant for a moment that in the future someone does invent time travel, and that eventually it’s marketed for tourism. Well, surely there would be rules, right? Like, you’d have to go back wearing clothing appropriate to whatever period you’re going to. So you don’t end up wearing a Banana Republic ensemble in the middle of the Battle of Gettysburg, sticking out like a sore thumb and drawing unneeded attention to yourself. So, there goes the time traveling hipster: it would be really stupid and dangerous to let people go back to the distant past in future clothing for obvious reasons.

One would also think that there would be a rule against bringing technology from the future into the past, precisely so that that shit wouldn’t be caught on camera. Or, more practically, what if you died during your trip, and the people of the past found all of your crap from the future? Can you imagine if the old woman from the Chaplin premier was a time traveler and keeled over from a heart attack right outside the theater? The police and coroner of the time would find her magic future cell phone and then everything would go to shit. So no, you probably wouldn’t be allowed to take technology back with you.

It’s fun to imagine time travel, sure. But all of these pictures and videos prove nothing other than the fact that people are totally gullible.

Alien Moonbases

Again, at first glance, this idea sounds remotely plausible. After all, if aliens were going to secretly monitor us, the best place to do that would probably be the moon. But when you look at the evidence and really dig into the theory, it all really starts to unravel, just like the time travelers. The ultimate claim is that there is leftover technology from aliens up on the moon, and NASA and the government know this and are altering or covering up the evidence to keep us in the dark. There’s a whole “documentary” about this on Netflix called Aliens on the Moon. It’s two hours, so I’ll summarize by telling you that it’s just a bunch of grainy pictures that have been retouched to highlight the parts that NASA supposedly altered. Like this crap:

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I mean, really, guys. Those are totally secret alien moon base things. And obviously NASA is hiding them and covering them up. That’s why we stopped going to the moon: the aliens kicked us off (I’m not kidding, that’s what these people think).

Alright, let’s start with the obvious. Those pictures are so grainy and blurry and enlarged that it’s impossible to tell what the hell you’re looking at. So to claim that you can tell that a smudge on an old piece of film is really an alien piece of technology on the moon is quite the claim. Most of those pictures look benign or like they’re photoshopped. And speaking of Photoshop, let’s talk about those allegations against NASA.

Let’s grant for a moment that NASA did indeed discover that there either are or were aliens on the moon. And let’s also grant that there is photographic evidence of this. The next obvious question is why the fuck NASA would release those images in the first place, even if they are doctored. It’s stupid on NASA’s part to release any of those images, even the doctored ones, if they want to keep it secret. Why wouldn’t NASA just point the cameras at some totally boring part of the moon devoid of alien technology and then release those, keeping the smoking gun photos a secret or destroying them? It makes no sense to go through a convoluted plot of doctoring evidence you want to suppress in order to release it for public scrutiny, when there’s no reason to do that in the first place.

Ultimately this conspiracy, just like the time travelers, is a load of crap. And you can smell it a mile away. I’ll never understand for the life of me why some people cling to this stuff as literal truth. What the hell is going on in the minds of people who jump into these obviously stupid conspiracies and hold on for dear life?

Anyone can be a scientist

After a somewhat lengthy absence from blogging (I just didn’t have anything to say–sue me :P), I thought I would return by talking about a subject that is near and dear to me: science.

I love science. That’s not exactly a secret on this blog. Science is a way to learn about the world and universe around us, about ourselves, about where we came from and how we got here–all kinds of wonderful things. And one of the greatest things about science is its uniformity. Anyone, anywhere can “do” science.

But increasingly it seems to me that in the modern world we don’t treat science that way. We don’t treat it as something that anyone can do. All human beings are naturally curious, and hard-wired to ask questions and seek answers. But the system has shifted now to one of academics, which in my opinion doesn’t benefit anyone and may even be detrimental to science.

What exactly am I talking about? I’m glad you asked. The way modern science has been set up is that you aren’t really a scientist unless you have a PhD, and only those with a PhD do “real” research and experimentation.

Certainly, those with a PhD have a better chance of securing funding. But does pigeonholing science into this ivory tower sort of thing ignore that basic tenant of science–it’s uniformity? I would argue that it does.

These thoughts were born after reading some recent news stories. There’s the high school student who created a new test for pancreatic cancer. And then there’s the undergraduate student who proved a 60 year old theory about the earth’s magnetosphere. You know who else didn’t have a degree? Michael Faraday. James Clerk Maxwell wrote his first scientific paper at age 14, and although he received a formal education, by all accounts did a good chunk of his study and research at home. If you go back further in history, many of the greatest discoveries were made by people with little formal training, but keen minds. Astronomer William Herschel didn’t have a degree, and he discovered Uranus and that sunlight contained infrared radiation. Ben Franklin didn’t have any degrees. A more current example, Robert Evans is a minister in Australia with a degree in history and a passion for astronomy who has visually discovered 42 supernovae (which is a record).

And that’s what I think bugs me the most about the current system. Yes, people like the ones I mentioned above are probably exceptional minds. But it doesn’t take an exceptional mind to be a good scientist. I realize that may sound counter-intuitive, but you don’t need to be a genius to understand what science is, how it works, and how to apply it. You simply need to be curious and know how to apply logic and the scientific method to your endeavors.

I think that a lot of people have questions or ideas that, if pursued scientifically, could yield interesting and fruitful results. One of the greatest weapons of discovery and innovation is diversity–a wealth of different competing ideas is more likely to lead to the truth than a select few people pursing much narrower avenues. And by forcing people to travel down a lengthy and often expensive academic path in order to practice science, I can’t help but feel that we’re losing that diversity, and we’re turning a lot of people who would make contributions to science away from the field.

And I’m sure that the high school student and the undergraduate student in the previous examples are going to be strongly encouraged to pursue advanced degrees. But is that really necessary? Sure, they’ll receive some great mentoring, but do the extra letters after their name somehow make the things they’ve already discovered more real? No, of course not. Would it somehow make them more brilliant? Doubtful. They’re naturally curious and inventive. So beyond the mentoring, I have to wonder what forcing these people further into an academic system really accomplishes, especially in light of all that they’ve accomplished already.

I guess this is my rallying call to the masses. Don’t think that just because you didn’t get an advanced degree that science is beyond you, and that you can’t contribute to it. Don’t think that you need 10+ years of advanced postgraduate education and formal training and a fancy lab at Harvard to do a scientific experiment. Get a library card and start reading. Take classes at your local community college. Buy a telescope and set it up in your backyard. Create a little lab in your garage. Be a pioneer, like so many who have come before you.

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Give your species a little more credit

A long time ago, I wrote a piece about how my brother loves that show Ancient Aliens, on “The History Channel.” I use quotations because over the last few years, the channel seems more concerned with Bigfoot, pawn shops, and aliens than it does with actual history. But, suffice it to say, I don’t really care for Ancient Aliens and other similar shows. It’s not because I don’t believe that aliens exist, or even that I don’t believe aliens may have visited the earth. No, it’s because the arguments and “evidence” used on the show are absolutely ridiculous.

My brother and I were watching one such show the other day. I don’t remember what it was called, but it was hosted by the doofus with the spiked hair and goofy name from Ancient Aliens. You may recognize him from all of the memes out there that celebrate his bias toward aliens.

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That guy.

Anyway, he was on some sort of expedition exploring the ruins of Puma Punku in South America. This place is home to some amazing architecture and construction…which obviously means that aliens did it. Duh. And that seems to be the fallback argument for all of these shows: “These structures are too advanced for ancient man to have built.” Here are some examples what was “too advanced for ancient man.”

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Here, the show provides some pretty stupid arguments about why ancient man couldn’t have built these:

1) The angles are too perfect.

2) The stones are too huge and there aren’t any trees around to move them via log rolling.

3) The natives didn’t even have a written language back then! How could they have built these?!

Let’s address these points, shall we?

As to the tree dilemma, the answer is fairly simple: just go get some goddamn trees. It doesn’t take much. You just have to, you know, walk down the hill and cut some down and then drag ’em back up. You know where else there wasn’t an abundance of trees? Egypt. You know, where the pyramids were built. They just imported them. Finding trees isn’t hard.

They didn’t have a written language? Oh, heavens! I guess it would impossible to draw out instructions. You know, like a blueprint. Seems pretty simple to me. In fact, we still do that. If anyone has ever assembled Ikea furniture, you know that all of their instructions are diagrams.

And that leads us to the first point. The stones are “too well crafted.” The bullshittiest argument of them all. You hear this a lot in these kinds of shows. Something is too advanced for ancient man to have done. They didn’t have the knowledge or the tools or whatever.

To listen to these shows, you’d think that 1,000 years ago people walked around blowing spit bubbles and smearing their own feces on cave walls, totally inept and devoid of any logic or critical thinking. Obviously, that’s not true. And anyone with a modicum of intelligence and the most basic of education would know that.

People 1,000 years ago were no different than you or I, biologically speaking. Same thing if we go back 10,000 years. No difference. They had the exact same brain capacity that we do now. They were capable of the same complex thinking and problem solving that we’re capable of today. There’s zero reason why they wouldn’t have been able to understand or innovate when it came to math, architecture, construction, astronomy, or anything else. They were functionally no different than any human being alive today.

In fact they had some advantages that you and I don’t have. For one thing, time. Back when Puma Punku was built, people didn’t sit around all day watching cat videos and playing video games. They actually spent time outside, in nature, doing things, understanding how it worked.

A prime example of this is the recent discovery that the Egyptians built the pyramids simply by using wet sand to drag the large stone blocks. See, it didn’t take aliens to build the pyramids, just good old fashioned human ingenuity. How do we know that this how the Egyptians did it? Because there are freaking hieroglyphics depicting it. See, pictures can be just as powerful for instructing as a written alphabet.

Another advantage they had back then: zero light pollution. They knew a lot about astronomy because they could see a lot more of the night sky with the naked eye, not because aliens gave them star maps or whatever bullshit these dumbasses on Ancient Aliens believe.

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I guess ultimately what I’m trying to say is that ancient human beings had the same sense of curiosity, industry, and ability to reason that we do today. There’s no reason to suspect they were simpletons because they didn’t have modern hydraulics or the internet or telescopic observatories. In order for these ancient astronaut theories to work, the human beings living in the pre-modern world would have to have been complete morons. Unfortunately for spiky haired guy and others like him (I’m looking at you, Von Daniken), there’s zero evidence to support that, and all the evidence to support the idea that ancient humans were basically the MacGyvers of their day.

Why Mars One should be Lunar One

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There’s been a lot of talk lately about Mars One, the non-profit company that aims to establish a permanent human presence on Mars by 2024. They recently announced that they have narrowed down the thousands of people who applied for the one-way trip and a chance to make history down to 100 “lucky” people. I say “lucky” because there’s a host of challenges that will make survival for these people very difficult, if not improbable. But we’ll get to that later.

Look, I get the temptation to jump to Mars. Human beings have been fascinated by Mars for quite awhile. But ultimately, going to Mars just isn’t practical right now. It’s not that I think trying to establish a permanent colony somewhere else in the solar system doesn’t have its merits. On the contrary, I think it does. I do think, however, that there is a much better place to start and it’s right in our cosmic backyard, so to speak: the moon.

Lunar colonies have been talked about for quite some time, both in popular fiction and real life (anyone remember the 2012 presidential election cycle when Newt Gingrich promised to but a colony on the moon?). And the technology exists. We could put people on the moon just like we put them on the ISS. So why is the moon a better choice than Mars?

1) It’s cheaper.

The trip to Mars will take roughly six months. That length of time complicates things in space. It means you have to pack 6 months of food, your oxygen source must last for six months, you need six months of fuel–all of that will cost a substantial amount of money, in upfront costs, engineering (more supplies = bigger spacecraft = more raw materials needed) and in terms of launching it (ounces matter when you’re calculating fuel consumption to escape earth’s gravity).

In contrast, it takes a mere three days to get to the moon. So, just from the financial perspective, you’d need about 1/60th the fuel, the food, etc for the trip there. That’s a lot of money saved.

2) It’s also safer.

Again, six months is a very long time. Compared to three days, it’s an eternity wherein something could break down or be damaged. And then you’re up the creek without a water recycler or an oxygen scrubber.

Let’s talk about time again. Let’s say that Mars One succeeded in putting a group of humans on the red planet. But then let’s say something happens, something unforeseen. Part of the food crop is lost. The living modules for the crew are compromised by a rock slide or weather. Some vital component breaks down. You get the drift. Well you’re six months out, buddy. That’s a long time to wait for help. Maybe you won’t be able to survive long enough to hold out for help.

Now contrast that with what might happen on a lunar colony. Something breaks down or is damaged beyond repair, and rather than being a death sentence it’s an inconvenience because help is only three days away. You could easily ration food or even go without it for three days. A MacGyvered solution might hold up for three days, whereas expecting a chewing gum and paperclip fix to hold up for six months is expecting nothing short of a miracle.

The bottom line is that a colony on the moon would have a vital lifeline to earth that would be missing from the Mars colony.

3) There’s an economic reason to go to the moon.

The moon is more than a lump of rock. There’s helium-3 up there, which would be used as fuel for a fusion reactor or engine. There are tons of rare-earth elements up there with loads of industrial applications. There are raw materials on the moon that we could use down here on the earth, and that would provide a tantalizing ROI for a lunar colony. Which is important, because any such endeavor would need funding. And if people can make money from the moon, they’ll probably be much more likely to give large sums of money to the cause.

4) It’s only the beginning.

The moon is a worthier ambition for another reason: it’s a great launching pad. With 1/6 the gravity of earth, it would be much easier and cheaper to build and launch a spacecraft from the moon. And we already know there are fuel sources up there for whatever craft we build and launch up there. The moon would be an excellent gateway to the rest of the solar system.


Look, ultimately I think that people will go to Mars–eventually. Our curiosity will get the best of us if no better economic or scientific impetus comes along. The problem is technology, but only in a specific sense. The technology to live on the planet is readily available, I believe. It could be done with our current level of understanding and engineering. Of course having time to refine and improve that engineering and understanding wouldn’t hurt.

No, the problem with trying to colonize Mars is speed.

The technology doesn’t exist to make travel to and from Mars feasible or practical, and as long as any colony would effectively be isolated and cut off from earth or a lunar colony, I think that’s a recipe for disaster. It means that every problem and challenge, even seemingly minor or trivial ones, suddenly become critical and life threatening. And I think that those circumstances jeopardize the feasibility and ethics of any operation there.

Things to come in 2015

Rather than look behind at the year we’ve just left, I’m going to talk a little bit about what you guys can expect from me and from this blog in the coming year. The big theme? I’m expanding.

Specifically, I’m going to start podcasting! While I still have a lot of things to say with this blog, I feel like certain subjects lend themselves to discussion and broadcasting more. So I’ve been working on two podcasts that will be up and running shortly. One is for fun, and one is more serious. So without further ado, I’m pleased to bring you in 2015…

Orcs & Dorks. This is basically a podcast of a Dungeons and Dragons campaign that my friends and I are running. You can listen to our adventures/shenanigans weekly as we let our imaginations loose and hone our role playing skills. As a companion to this podcast, we’ll also have a monthly podcast called Crits and Wits, which will explore our ideas, themes, and thoughts about the game we’re running. We already have about 10 hours of material recorded, so get ready.

For The Love of Science. I’m very excited out this one. This is the science podcast that I’m running with a few friends and colleagues. It’ll be a platform to promote and explore the scientific method, logic and reason, as well as discuss the latest scientific discoveries and their potential applications and philosophical implications. We plan to have a Facebook and Twitter presence for this one so people can interact with the show. And maybe we’ll even snag a few professionals and experts to appear on the podcast!

As we progress down the podcast road, I will keep all my WordPress friends and followers updated. Expect twitter handles and links in the near future!