I watched hundreds of flat-Earth videos to learn how conspiracy theories spread — and what it could mean for fighting disinformation

rod

Oct 22, 2019
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The space.com report says, "A common flat Earther refrain that taps into religious beliefs is that God can inhabit the heavens above us physically only in a flat plane, not a sphere. As one flat Earther put it: "They invented the Big Bang to deny that God created everything, and they invented evolution to convince you that He cares more about monkeys than about you … they invented the round Earth because God cannot be above you if He is also below you, and they invented an infinite universe, to make you believe that God is far away from you."

My experience, the Flat Earth Society seems to stay the course more with secular science arguments like the size and distance to the Moon and Sun. Example on the Moon, "The Moon is a revolving sphere. It has a diameter of 32 miles and is located approximately 3000 miles above the surface of the earth.", Moon - The Flat Earth Wiki (tfes.org)

Others in the FE movement show a convex shape Moon, Flat Earth truth #3 videos and there are a number where the Moon is essentially flat on one side and curved like a convex shape on the other. The most common theme I found concerning God and FE teaching is that the book of Enoch contains the true witness for the shape of the universe and Earth. Even if you use a 2D flat earth model, you still have the strata all over like Grand Canyon to deal with and arguments from the fossil record used to support evolution, so a flat earth model does not make this disappear.

I have watched FE videos too where during total lunar eclipses, stars are said to shine through a translucent Moon, so NASA Apollo missions never landed on the Moon. My stargazing log shows a number of total lunar eclipses I witnessed using my 90-mm refractor telescope and 10-inch Newtonian. No stars shine through the Moon and during the August 2017, total solar eclipse, the Sun did not shine through either :)
 
I once worked with a "Creationist" who firmly believed that the Earth is less than 10,000 years old. So, I looked at that as a potential opportunity to see what kinds of arguments they would use to refute the radionuclide dating techniques that science relies on to calculate the ages of fossils and geologic strata. My interest was in seeing what could be actual scientific uncertainties in the dating processes that may not be getting full consideration by scientists.

But, that was a bust.

Everything my coworker could provide me to read was simply references to some other article written by somebody else who was said to have showed something, but did not explain how or with what information. Tracking through references, I never found any actual scientifically useful information. What I did find was a group of authors who made up circular chains of references without ever producing an actual, stand-alone, logical argument.

Fortunately, we were not employed to do anything that involved radionuclide dating or anything similar, and this guy was otherwise competent to do logical engineering work in the areas of our employment. That always seemed like an intellectual mismatch to me. And I never trusted this guy to do critical thinking to resolve any problem where things did not go as expected. But, I really can't say that I saw any proof that he could not think critically, if so inclined.
 
IMO, a lot of improvement in rational thought can be accomplished when people learn both the meaning and importance of the terms "objective" and "subjective".

Many years ago, when I first began posting in science forums, I struggled with how to process the plethora of information that abounded in the forums. Most of other's posts were more opinion that they appeared at first glance, and not as factual as I had inferred.

Objective evidence that clearly counters FE views should be enough if a serious person wants to get to a rational result. But, subjective viewpoints can sway people's emotions enough to diminish the true value found in objective evidence.

The reason this happens, IMO, is that people tend to believe what they want to believe. A FE group may like being in the "neo-tribe"; rebels with a James Dean spirit, perhaps.

Religion (and philosophy) are subjective-base by nature. Religions will struggle the more often they have arguments that allow objective-based scrutiny (ie science). Religions, of course, also benefit from this when more and more claims are discovered to be accurate with such scrutiny.

I felt strong enough about this dichotomy that I presented a set of rules to address the nuances between them. This was done in hopes others would improve upon them. [Suggestions are welcome.]

Given how dry this topic is, I gave them a little color.... The Green Rules: :)

1) The measurable objective elements of any subjective claim are always open to scientific scrutiny.

2) Science has influence upon subjective claims in proportion to the weight science can bear upon the objective elements within them. This weight is a product of the veracity that science has in that respective field and the amount of exposure the objective elements have within the respective subjective claim.

3) Subjective claims have no direct influence on science, but it can have influence on scientists.


[Added: Note that "theory" or "hypothesis" could be substituted for "subjective claim". The last rule here is more about invariance. A Mercator projection only makes Greenland appear larger, but Greenland's size is what it is.]
 
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rod

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IMO, a lot of improvement in rational thought can be accomplished when people learn both the meaning and importance of the terms "objective" and "subjective".

Many years ago, when I first began posting in science forums, I struggled with how to process the plethora of information that abounded in the forums. Most of other's posts were more opinion that they appeared at first glance, and not as factual as I had inferred.

Objective evidence that clearly counters FE views should be enough if a serious person wants to get to a rational result. But, subjective viewpoints can sway people's emotions enough to diminish the true value found in objective evidence.

The reason this happens, IMO, is that people tend to believe what they want to believe. A FE group may like being in the "neo-tribe"; rebels with a James Dean spirit, perhaps.

Religion (and philosophy) are subjective-base by nature. Religions will struggle the more often they have arguments that allow objective-based scrutiny (ie science). Religions, of course, also benefit from this when more and more claims are discovered to be accurate with such scrutiny.

I felt strong enough about this dichotomy that I presented a set of rules to address the nuances between them. This was done in hopes others would improve upon them. [Suggestions are welcome.]

Given how dry this topic is, I gave them a little color.... The Green Rules: :)

1) The measurable objective elements of any subjective claim are always open to scientific scrutiny.

2) Science has influence upon subjective claims in proportion to the weight science can bear upon the objective elements within them. This weight is a product of the veracity that science has in that respective field and the amount of exposure the objective elements have within the respective subjective claim.

3) Subjective claims have no direct influence on science, but it can have influence on scientists.


[Added: Note that "theory" or "hypothesis" could be substituted for "subjective claim". The last rule here is more about invariance. A Mercator projection only makes Greenland appear larger, but Greenland's size is what it is.]
Helio, interesting approach but a big problem I see in FE discussions, defining *objective* evidence vs. *subjective* evidence. In my home database using MS ACESS, I setup a DB tracking FE claims and evidence I reviewed - because I directly interacted with some of those who hold fast to FE teachings. Apollo 8 historic image of the Earth from the Moon is a good example. Another, "Wednesday, March 27, 2019: Rays of sunshine beam over Earth as NASA astronaut Anne McClain takes her first spacewalk outside of the International Space Station." My observation, you can clearly see the very *not flat Earth* below :)

"30-Mar-19 updated. “Israeli Moon Lander Snaps Epic Space Selfie with a Full Earth” “Israel's first lunar lander has notched another important milestone — its first in-space selfie. The newly released photo shows the robotic lander, known as Beresheet, looking back at Earth from a distance of 23,363.5 miles (37,600 kilometers)." My observation, again another very round Earth image in full view here.

"01-April-19 update. “Israel’s Beresheet lunar lander captured this image of Earth on March 31, 2019, from a distance of about 9,940 miles (16,000 kilometers). The Arabian peninsula and southeastern Africa are visible…Beresheet made its last close approach to Earth yesterday (March 31), zooming within 1,056 miles (1,700 kilometers) of our planet, they added. The lander snapped a gorgeous photo to commemorate this passage, capturing Earth from a distance of about 9,940 miles (16,000 km). The image shows the Arabian peninsula and southeastern Africa; thick clouds cover Israel, Beresheet team members said in today's update.” Ref - https://www.space.com/israel-moon-lander-maneuver-for-lunar-arrival.html

When it comes to FE objective vs. subjective definitions, simple images like what I listed here are not likely to be accepted as objective and true as well as many satellite images. The Flat Earth Society and others in the FE movement use their own geometric measurements to declare the shape, size, and distance of the Moon from the flat Earth - very different than what we are used too in the modern, heliocentric solar system.
 
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Helio, interesting approach but a big problem I see in FE discussions, defining *objective* evidence vs. *subjective* evidence. In my home database using MS ACESS, I setup a DB tracking FE claims and evidence I reviewed - because I directly interacted with some of those who hold fast to FE teachings. Apollo 8 historic image of the Earth from the Moon is a good example. Another, "Wednesday, March 27, 2019: Rays of sunshine beam over Earth as NASA astronaut Anne McClain takes her first spacewalk outside of the International Space Station." My observation, you can clearly see the very *not flat Earth* below :)

"30-Mar-19 updated. “Israeli Moon Lander Snaps Epic Space Selfie with a Full Earth” “Israel's first lunar lander has notched another important milestone — its first in-space selfie. The newly released photo shows the robotic lander, known as Beresheet, looking back at Earth from a distance of 23,363.5 miles (37,600 kilometers)." My observation, again another very round Earth image in full view here.

"01-April-19 update. “Israel’s Beresheet lunar lander captured this image of Earth on March 31, 2019, from a distance of about 9,940 miles (16,000 kilometers). The Arabian peninsula and southeastern Africa are visible…Beresheet made its last close approach to Earth yesterday (March 31), zooming within 1,056 miles (1,700 kilometers) of our planet, they added. The lander snapped a gorgeous photo to commemorate this passage, capturing Earth from a distance of about 9,940 miles (16,000 km). The image shows the Arabian peninsula and southeastern Africa; thick clouds cover Israel, Beresheet team members said in today's update.” Ref - https://www.space.com/israel-moon-lander-maneuver-for-lunar-arrival.html

When it comes to FE objective vs. subjective definitions, simple images like what I listed here are not likely to be accepted as objective and true as well as many satellite images. The Flat Earth Society and others in the FE movement use their own geometric measurements to declare the shape, size, and distance of the Moon from the flat Earth - very different than what we are used too in the modern, heliocentric solar system.
Yeah the more and more extreme a fringe group is in terms of their beliefs relative to evidence then the more types of "objective" evidence they have self rationalized away to reject.

It doesn't matter to them that ancient astronomers were able to use the timing and comparative angles of celestial events to correctly determine not only that the Earth was round but the Hellenics had even well constrained the circumference of the Earth.

Remember that the Flat Earth conspiracy is largely fed by rejecting observational evidence because some people want to feel part of those in the "know" against the mainstream. There is something neurological involved in terms of a conspiratorial mindset which drives certain people to seek out and or develop conspiracies. According to research one major distinction is that this personality type doesn't regularly use the more complete logical systems for interpreting observations instead they are disproportionately likely to stick with their original heuristic determination regardless of evidence to the contrary. There was an article in Scientific American about a year ago or so which was quite fascinating. The most extreme of these basically believe what they want to believe regardless of the evidence presented towards them. This is of course not a black and white separation rather it is more of a spectrum with these people being extreme outliers that rarely if ever engage in the use of deep thinking but it likely gives some insight into the underlying mechanisms at play which is probably a trade off between cognitive energy costs for using the slower and more costly but more accurate thought processes and the faster and cheaper more heuristic pathways.

In essence from an evolutionary perspective both sides have advantages after all the faster you come to a conclusion the more quickly you can act which can be a matter of life or death if the question is whether there is a predator lurking in the bushes. On the other extreme deeper cognitive processes can help spot and correct errors as well as lead to new inventions and discoveries which can improve survival.

It is this evolutionary context coupled with human self identity structures and the internet granting people the ability to find like minded individuals which have produced the Flat Earth conspiracy and others like it. To me this problem mostly has to do with how far we have deviated from the hunter gather lifestyle our biology has evolved to survive in.
 
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To me this problem mostly has to do with how far we have deviated from the hunter gather lifestyle our biology has evolved to survive in.
I think that nails it. Now that life-or-death decisions are few and far between for most people in civilized societies, many can survive with lack of critical thinking and fantasies that would be lethal in more brutal situations. And, they can find each other on the Internet and create their own communication silos, so that they are a "group" instead of isolated loonies, getting positive re-enforcement instead of universal derision.
 
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My experience, the Flat Earth Society seems to stay the course more with secular science arguments like the size and distance to the Moon and Sun. Example on the Moon, "The Moon is a revolving sphere. It has a diameter of 32 miles and is located approximately 3000 miles above the surface of the earth.", Moon - The Flat Earth Wiki (tfes.org)
Yes, which, of course, is an objective claim. Thus, it is falls within the purview of science, and this one is not much of a fall or leap. This is rule #1. Scientific scrutiny easily applies to size and distance measurements.

People respect science, so if one group's ideology justifies any means to an end, then the more "sciency" they sound, the more their arguments appear far stronger, as long as scrutiny gets dismissed one way or another. But if every member of their group actually understood the value of the SM, or even the Green Rules, then they could look past all the hand-waving even if those hands hold HP calculators.

Nevertheless, any group can make their own rules, and sometimes new rules are needed to solve mysteries. Introducing new rules isn't all bad. Some rules, however, only guide us towards a cliff. Science is quick to see which rules work and which don't. An exciting announcement of a discovery, or mystery, should be more about the discovery, and less of the grandiloquent announcers. "Before honor comes humility."

Others in the FE movement show a convex shape Moon, Flat Earth truth #3 videos and there are a number where the Moon is essentially flat on one side and curved like a convex shape on the other. The most common theme I found concerning God and FE teaching is that the book of Enoch contains the true witness for the shape of the universe and Earth. Even if you use a 2D flat earth model, you still have the strata all over like Grand Canyon to deal with and arguments from the fossil record used to support evolution, so a flat earth model does not make this disappear.
Curvature isn't easy to see from the ground, but it does explain why the mast of sailboats are often the first things observed. I've seen, at times, curvature of the sea (horizon) and cloud structure that strongly suggests curvature. As Yogi Berra would say, "You can observe a lot by just watching." But one must at least give it a try. You can lead a horse to water, but....
 
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The most extreme of these basically believe what they want to believe regardless of the evidence presented towards them.
Indeed, though we all can, at times, be found guilty of this. I prefer to state it more as a tendency since it is easy to lean in the direction one desires to go. The vistas from the precipice of cliffs can be lovely. ;)
 

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