I’m a skep­tic, and I love the flat-earth move­ment

The Denver Post - - PERSPECTIVE - By Craig A. Foster

The Den­ver Post re­cently fea­tured an ar­ti­cle about Coloradans who be­lieve that the Earth is flat. As if that wasn’t sur­pris­ing enough, some mem­bers of this com­mu­nity also be­lieve they are the un­fair re­cip­i­ents of flatearth prej­u­dice, which I will now term “ter­rashapism.”

I don’t be­lieve the Earth is flat. I have good rea­sons not to. I am a psy­chol­ogy pro­fes­sor who stud­ies pseu­do­science. I lec­ture about the fal­li­bil­ity of hu­man in­tu­ition and the cor­re­spond­ing need for em­piri­cism. I am a mem­ber of the Na­tional Cen­ter for Sci­ence Ed­u­ca­tion. I am also a mem­ber of the Com­mit­tee for Skep­ti­cal In­quiry and a lo­cal group called Colorado Skep­tics. Skep­tics gen­er­ally doubt claims that lack le­git­i­mate ev­i­dence, but sup­port claims that do.

Ac­cord­ingly, one might think that I would have noth­ing pos­i­tive to say about the flat Earthers who meet just over my hori­zon. Not so. I love the flatearth move­ment. As far as I’m concerned, flat Earthers are wel­come to de­flate the global Earth faster than New Eng­land Pa­tri­ots foot­balls. To me, the flat-earth move­ment isn’t a threat to sci­en­tific sen­si­bil­ity. That threat is al­ready alive and well. In­stead, the flatearth move­ment ex­poses the con­tra­dic­tions that many peo­ple cre­ate when they dis­par­age flat Earthers, but tol­er­ate or ac­tively sup­port other forms of pseu­do­science.

Con­tra­dic­tion No. 1: Con­spir­acy the­o­ries. Global Earthers might ask “But what about pho­to­graphs of Earth taken from space?” Flat Earthers can dis­miss this ev­i­dence as part of a NASA con­spir­acy. That might seem like delu­sional para­noia, but it isn’t much dif­fer­ent than con­spir­acy the­o­ries em­ployed in other pseu­do­sci­en­tific do­mains. Wide­spread ev­i­dence sup­port­ing vac­ci­na­tion has been some­how gen­er­ated by Big Pharma. Wide­spread ev­i­dence sup­port­ing man-made global warm­ing is the re­sult of a po­lit­i­cally left­ist con­spir­acy, pos­si­bly with Green­peace.

Con­tra­dic­tion No. 2: Sci­ence de­nial. Flat Earthers are hardly alone in re­ject­ing or ig­nor­ing sci­en­tific ev­i­dence. Granted, the case against the flat Earth is par­tic­u­larly strong. It still seems hyp­o­crit­i­cal to con­sider peo­ple “stupid or “crazy” for be­liev­ing in a flat Earth while si­mul­ta­ne­ously sup­port­ing heal­ing crys­tals, the medic­i­nal ben­e­fits of es­sen­tial oils, cre­ation­ism, anti-vac­ci­na­tion, cli­mate change de­nial, and so forth.

Con­tra­dic­tion No. 3: Sci­ence ed­u­ca­tion and fair­ness. Many vot­ers want to force sci­ence ed­u­ca­tion to in­clude pop­u­lar pseu­do­sci­en­tific the­o­ries like cre­ation­ism and cli­mate-change de­nial. Sup­port­ers of ma­nip­u­lat­ing sci­ence ed­u­ca­tion in this way of­ten ar­gue that pro­vid­ing both points of view is only fair. By this logic, how­ever, one could ar­gue that flat Earthers sim­i­larly have a right to be heard over the heart­less prej­u­dice ex­hib­ited by con­ven­tional sci­en­tists who just aren’t open to al­ter­na­tive ways of think­ing. No need to worry about false equiv­a­lence. The chil­dren will surely fig­ure out the truth for them­selves.

I have made sim­i­lar ar­gu­ments pre­vi­ously. Re­it­er­at­ing the re­la­tion­ship be­tween the flat-earth move­ment and other forms of pseu­do­science is still worth­while. U.S. res­i­dents con­tinue to harm them­selves and peo­ple around the globe through their hap­haz­ard pro­mo­tion of the pseu­do­sci­en­tific. Flat-earth the­ory con­tin­ues to pro­vide a learn­ing op­por­tu­nity that could help the United States stem the rising tide of its pseu­do­sci­en­tific ways.

Be­sides, when I last wrote about the flat-earth move­ment it was in re­sponse to an in­di­vid­ual (Kyrie Irv­ing). This time I am writ­ing in re­sponse to a small group. Maybe in a year I will write in re­sponse to a siz­able flat-earth con­ven­tion in Den­ver. Fine by me. I am not re­ally wor­ried about the flat Earth. I am wor­ried about an old Earth be­com­ing a hot­house Earth. We can main­tain a healthy Earth by rec­og­niz­ing that flat Earthers are not alone in pro­mot­ing sci­en­tif­i­cally un­ten­able ideas. Sus­cep­ti­bil­ity to pseu­do­science is hu­man char­ac­ter­is­tic. To­gether, we can tem­per the prob­lems cre­ated by this sus­cep­ti­bil­ity by sup­port­ing a gen­uine sci­ence ed­u­ca­tion and em­brac­ing ef­fec­tive forms of sci­en­tific rea­son­ing.

Craig A. Foster is a pro­fes­sor of psy­chol­ogy at the U.S. Air Force Acad­emy.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.