Days and Nights of Flat Earthism (The Assault on Truth)

Days and Nights of Flat Earthism (The Assault on Truth) August 1, 2017

Flat Earth Day and Night

The image above came my way via Facebook. So too did the NPR piece titled “The Ongoing Battle Between Science Teachers and Fake News.” In it, Susan Yoon “suggests teachers give students the tools to think like a scientist. Teach them to gather evidence, check sources, deduce, hypothesize and synthesize results. Hopefully, then, they will come to the truth on their own.”

I had been meaning for some time to blog about the current climate (pun intended) that we live in, one in which there is a constant assault on expertise, reliable information, and critical thinking. The New York Times article “Why Nobody Cares the President is Lying” looked at the political side of this. The article has many memorable quotes and highlights, such as “All administrations lie, but what we are seeing here is an attack on credibility itself.” But the best in my opinion is this tweet from Garry Kasparov:

Ivanka Trump also illustrated the problem when she attempted to quote Albert Einstein, precisely in support of changing facts to fit our preconceptions – and presumably didn’t realize that she herself was circulating a fake quote, a fabricated pseudofact. Or perhaps she did, and this was precisely the point.

Breitbart acknowledged its aim to destroy the mainstream media. There will be a conference about fake news. See also this piece on Breitbart’s misinformation campaigns.

3quarksdaily had a piece about using Google to fact check, and the future of misinformation in relation to technology. Here is a sample:

“The problem here is that once the incorrect information surfaces in the forefront of search results it snowballs from there and becomes authoritative in the eyes of the populace. Finding the genealogy of knowledge thus becomes an important part of asking the right questions about knowledge.”

There is disturbing evidence suggesting that fake news outlets have a bigger impact online than fact-checking sites do. David Brin brought together the “demise of expertise” and the fact that artificial intelligence might reach a point where we cannot understand its thought processes, and so it might take a leap of faith to trust their results.

Michael Zimmerman wrote:

“Scientific expertise isn’t everything – but it most assuredly is something, something very important. Scientific expertise alone shouldn’t determine public policy, but it absolutely should inform public policy.

When we dismiss the experts and their accumulated knowledge, we do so at great risk to the public. And while it might feel very good to some in the short term, we’ll be living with the consequences for generations to come.

Now’s the time to make it clear that this movement from science to ideology is unacceptable to those of us who care about the world in which we live and for those of us who understand that while we can create our own opinions we can’t manufacture our own scientific reality.”

Keisha Blaine and Ibram Kendi asked how we can avoid ending up in a post-scholar America. Ironically, those interested in finding out their answer are offered a teaser saying that scholars need to emerge from behind their libraries…but the rest of what they say (like a great deal of what scholars write) is then hidden behind a paywall.

Steve Wiggins helpfully highlighted a New York Times article about the role of religious fundamentalism in bringing us to this post-truth era. Fundamentalism uses the rhetoric of there being absolute truth, and yet it engages in denialist tactics to deny the conclusions of mainstream science and history. The Washington Post had articles about Trump debasing both expertise and the presidency itself. In the latter, Jennifer Rubin writes, “The Trump administration is a clown show — but it’s the evangelicals who supplied the tent, the red noses and the floppy shoes.”

Soon fake news will include videos made to appear as though an individual is saying things they never did.

Sheila Kennedy offered several pieces related to this theme: one about “how the big lie works” and two about the fact that “reality doesn’t care whether you believe it.”

There was also an article about “information in the age of indignation” which said, “Indignation motivates learning when it is combined with intellectual courage (a willingness to face ugly situations squarely, without rationalizing them away or exaggerating their severity) and with epistemic humility (a clarity about the limits of one’s perspective and a consistent recognition that one can always learn more).”

Prospect magazine pointed out that post-truth politics is nothing new. But New Scientist highlighted evidence that Facebook ads promulgating misinformation can indeed influence an election in ways that are not simply like what happened historically through word of mouth.

Finally, David Hayward offered a cartoon about the importance of continuing to ask questions, as questions have the power to rescue us. But they can only do that if we ask them fairly across the board, since denialists ask probing questions about mainstream knowledge and experts, but do not question their own assumptions and preferred sources of information with any sort of rigor.

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  • Gary

    Come on, please! All the other references, I have no problem with.

    But a tweet from a person not in politics back in 2013, and reporters spend their time digging it up like a dead mummy to slam Ivanka Trump, like she is stupid?

    “Just one problem: When it comes to Einstein’s comments on facts, Trump got her facts wrong. 
    A representative of the Einstein estate sent out a correction Monday:”

    That is, Monday, in 2017! You would think there are more important things for reporters to dig up.

    Hillary and Bill being “dead broke”, as quoted in 2014 is probably as relevant as Ivanka Trump’s quote in 2013.

    Generally speaking, I would say this is why independent voters hate the media. Do us a favor, and lay-off Ivanka. Spend your time attacking Donald Trump. He has no problem in fighting back.

  • Do peer-reviewed papers challenging the official explanations of the three building collapses on 9/11 count as evidence against the official explanations? Or do we just dismiss them as anomalous information that should be ignored?

    By the way, I think the Facebook images are a pretty neat refutation of flat-eartherism.

    • The fact that anomalous views pass peer review doesn’t mean that the public or even scholars necessarily need to engage with them, much less embrace them. One could consider plasma cosmology, for instance – it is good that some have explored it, but it does not therefore seem as though anyone ought to ditch the consensus view simply because alternatives have been proposed and discussed.

      • The consensus of these papers seems to be that the official view, when examined critically, does not hold up. For example, J. Leroy Hulsey, professor of civil engineering at the University of Alaska at Fairbanks, is just finishing his two-plus year study of the collapse of WTC7. He has stated that if the people at NIST who had conducted the official study had been in his class, he would have flunked them. And when asked what the chances were that WTC7 was brought down by fires, he replied, “Zero.” So we’re not talking about speculative science. We are talking about well accepted principles of structural engineering.

        • We are talking about what a very tiny number of people in this field have to say, which the vast majority in the field to not seem to find persuasive. One can find that in any field, although not consistently in connection with these sorts of comspiracy theories.

          • The question is, did the “vast majority in the field” study either the official explanations or the papers challenging those explanations? I suggest that either they have not, or if they have, they consider it prudent not to say anything. Hulsey, for example, was approached three times before he agreed to do the study. Once he examined the evidence, it was clear to him that the official study was deeply flawed. I think a good indication of what is going on is to look at the positions of the people authoring the counter-papers. They already have tenure, and are close to retirement age. In other words, they are safe. They don’t have to worry about losing their academic positions. And a good thing, too. Steven Jones and Niels Harrit were both forced to retire. It will be interesting to see what happens to Hulsey. My point is, few want to take the risk of being labeled a conspiracy theorist. I think that is the more likely reason there haven’t been more studies of the collapses of the three WTC buildings.

        • Gary

          Unfortunately, their approach,
          “WTC 7 Evaluation is a study at the University of Alaska Fairbanks using finite element modeling to evaluate the possible causes of World Trade Center Building 7’s collapse”

          Using the same drawings that WTC 7 was originally built with…”

          Has a fatal flaw. Usually, construction is not always done according to original drawings. And materials used, are not always actually according to “specifications”. Builders cut corners, use inferior materials, in order to cut costs and increase profits.

          Also, the presence of strange compounds cannot be used to accurately attribute the destruction to “thermite”, or anything else. The number of organic compounds present, and the non-uniform burning/temperatures, result in a myriad of possible chemical reactions. The Navy got rid of PVC jacketed cables a long time ago, to eliminate the toxic gases associated with burning. And they found that aluminum ship hulls are great – because they are light – but they burn like a house-on-fire. So, you can imagine what a mix-mash of materials were present in a commercial building.

          The PhD in University of Alaska Fairbanks is assuming a computer analysis based on a construction drawing, as an idealistic build, will result in real-world results. Not realistic.

          Plus – I noticed that after two years, he hasn’t produced any results. Or at least published any yet. We had people do analysis like this all the time. And used it as a best guess, at the start of construction, not at the end of construction. And always used it as a “perfect” scenario. And never considered it as a real-world design of perfection.

          The auto industry uses finite element analysis all the time, and they still do real world tests on their final product. And they still do auto recalls all the time. Too bad you can’t do a real world test on WTC 7!

          • Gary

            The difference between computer analysis in design, and test of the design. I guarantee you that the ship had many computer designs. However, it was also tested after the build, with many sensors on board to analyze the results. I suspect that the Professor would say that no testing is necessary, since the computer model is perfect.


          • Gary, NIST relied upon computer models for their analysis. Hulsey used the same data and pointed out all the flaws in NIST’s study. His results are due out this month. He had already come to the conclusion that fires did not bring down WTC7 a while ago. I think he has extended the study to determine exactly what needed to happen to cause the collapse. We should hear something relatively soon.

          • Gary

            But, “NIST relied upon computer models for their analysis”, doesn’t mean that Hulsey (it’s funny – my spell checker wants to change Hulsey to Hilary – yikes – another conspiracy!) analysis is any better or worse. My point, is that computer analysis has its limitations.

            I would be interested in hearing his results. But I doubt that his computer analysis will tell him anything. Update your website if he actually produces some results. I don’t want to register on his website just to see what he has. Looks more like an attempt to get funding for his computer time.

            Kind of like measuring particles in the air and stress analysis in the Hiroshima bomb drop. He doesn’t have a big enough computer to take in all possible sources of particles, and all possible forces from combustibles present in a huge building. Let alone – if there was any substandard materials used in the building.

          • Gary

            Actually, that brings up an interesting question. If you find out, pass the info on. The Defense Nuclear Agency uses a supercomputer to analyze nuclear detonations. I wonder what kind of computer Hulsey uses to support his computer program. If it is a laptop Mac, I would start to really question results. Not that it is a standard computer. But in computer analysis, size matters. Does he have the same computer and program as NIST? If so, how come different results? Somehow, I can’t image Fairbanks has the same computer resources as NIST, although I don’t know for sure.