February 19, 2008

Flat Earth? Teach the controversy!

I've been seeing ads for Flat Earth vegetable chips recently. I doubt that they're actually a snack food espousing the Flat Earth Hypothesis and I am having trouble figuring out how they settled on this name. It does give me an opening however to mention that of all the crackpots out there, Flat Earthers (they even have a Society, BTW -- check out the wiki article for a good laugh) are among the most pathetic science deniers in the spectrum of science denial. Even if it is inexcusable, you can still understand why people disbelieve evolution. It is an amalgamation of several fairly complex processes that happen over millions of years and can't be easily observed in macroscopic creatures over short time-scales. And they are told that "believing" in it makes them irreligious, so the blinders go on anyway. Some people don't buy relativity either, being another hard-to-demonstrate-to-people-who-don't-like-physics type theory which is also really contrary to our everyday experience. And again, though these people are ignorant, you can sort of understand why they exist. But there are few essential facts about the world easier to explain to people than the Earth not being flat. You can just look at it. You have to be so paranoid to think there is an elaborate conspiracy to doctor photos showing Earth's sphericity that you are hardly worth trying to reason with in the first place. And contrary to popular belief, people have known the planet was round for thousands of years, as opposed to evolution and relativity which are 150 and 100 years old, respectively. I don't have any more profound stuff to say about this, railing against a hilariously quacky theory doesn't really serve any purpose. The wiki page is pretty good on its own, the explanations for phenomena like eclipses and tides are so much more convoluted and unlikely than the notion that the planet is a ball.

The Flat Earth Society also maintains that the Earth is accelerating upward at a rate of 9.8 m/s², thereby simulating gravity. This upward momentum is caused by the "Universal Accelerator", a vague term used by the Society to describe a force that originated at the Big Bang and caused the Earth to speed upwards. Gravity cannot exist on a flat Earth since the disc shape would eventually collapse on itself. However in a few Flat Earth models, other planetary bodies such as the moon and the sun are alleged to have gravitational pulls, causing the gravitational force on an object to decrease as it increases in altitude. This also allows spacecraft to "orbit".
Anyhow, for bargain basement pseudoscience, you can't go bagainier than these people. What else is there? The existence of the moon?