Flat Earth: What Makes REAL Science? – Wisecrack Edition


This video is brought to you by Wix. What’s up my fellow Illuminati Spherist
shills, Jared here. If you don’t spend your late nights exploring
the deep crevices of the internet, you may have missed the growing number of people committed
to proving that the Earth is flat. Flat Earthers have increasingly been the subject
of scorn and ridicule as their numbers grow on YouTube and social media. And while rehashing debates that were concluded
centuries ago is fun, I’m not exactly here to prove the Earth is round. Instead, I want to talk about how Flat-Eartherism
speaks to another crisis: Namely, how do we know that we know shit? We’re currently live in a crisis of knowing shit:
our trust in the people who are supposed to know things has rapidly eroded. Do scientists know things? Do physicians know things? Do government agencies? What about the hit Facebook page – Moms United
Against Vaccines/GMOs/Harry Potter? Do THEY know things? And while we may laugh at the routine slam-dunking
of people we don’t agree with, it’s missing the point a bit, because our society is undergoing
a problem that is caused by, and affects, all of us. So let’s get real nerdy about the philosophy
of science in this Wisecrack Edition on Flat Earthers. But before Jared gets into that, a quick word
from me, Mark Schroeder, AKA Garyx Wormuloid – here to talk about this video’s sponsor
Wix. Now as some of you know, I’m not just an
alien, I’m also an actor. And a great way for me to get my work seen
is with a killer website, so that’s why I decided to make a free, awesome-looking site with
Wix! And it was so simple! All I had to do was tell Wix I was making
a website for myself, tell them the kind of website I wanted, and whether or not I’d
ever made a website before – spoiler alert: I hadn’t. But it was so simple and so easy. Before I knew it, the site builder was asking
me my style, my design preferences, I was dragging and dropping photos and videos right
into my website, it was so simple to do. And right now you can get started for free
yourself. All you gotta do is go to wix/com/wisecrack
or click the link in the description below. Okay Jared, back to you. For anyone who isn’t caught up on Flat Earth,
this discussion is motivated by the recent Netflix documentary: “Behind the Curve,”
but don’t worry, you don’t really need to have watched it. Flat Earth theories are a little bit scattered
in their beliefs – is it a dome or an infinite plane, how far away is the sun, what causes
an eclipse, etc. but they’re unified in the idea that the Earth-as-sphere is deliberate
misinformation propagated by some shadow-y agents, including but not limited to: Nasa,
the governments of the world, and probably after this video, Wisecrack. One prominent model featured in Behind the
Curve is that the Earth is a flat plane, enclosed in a dome called a “firmament,” “Seventy percent of them believe that this is covered by some sort of dome” A concept that dates back at least to the
Biblical story of Genesis. The sun travels in circles above the earth,
not millions of miles away, as understood by scientists, but thousands. And It’s not really a huge ball of fire
radiating light in all directions, but along with the moon, is more like a flashlight illuminating
part of the globe. So how does one get to the point where they
reject the round earth? Well, you ask questions like: Why don’t
planes go to, or pass, Antarctica? Why haven’t oil companies set up shop on
Antarctica? Why are there only composite images of the
Earth, and not whole images? Now your first thought might be: “These
people are complete idiots, why are you wasting your time on this?”. But, Behind the Curve complicates this understanding. We see smart, critical humans who say things
like this, “I became a Flat Earther cause I tried to
debunk Flat Earth” or this, “I mean I think that the scientific method
is the best way to get to the truth” or a guy who is smart and talented enough
to make a badass motorcycle out of wood – which, hey, I couldn’t do if I tried. Flat Earth and other debates about otherwise
accepted scientific fact bring out a much larger problem: Our understanding of science
is terrible. And I’m not complaining that people don’t
remember the laws of thermodynamics or that I still don’t understand how magnets work. “Water, fire, air and dirt, f**king magnets,
how do they work?” I’m talking about the philosophy of science. So what is the philosophy of science? It’s philosophy – obviously – that asks
questions like “how do we distinguish science from non-science?” – and with that – how
should we weigh evidence when testing a hypothesis? What kind of evidence is acceptable? Basically, how do we know if we know shit? You might remember learning the scientific
method, and that’s part of it, but it barely scratches the surface. There are a lot of philosophies of science,
and I’m not here to tell you what the “right” model is. It’s important to understand that all of
these frameworks have strengths and weaknesses. And to us, it’s our general ignorance of
how science works that allows for the abuse of scientific language we see in things like
Flat Earth. So to get a better understanding of how Flat
Earthers can use the language of science and evidence to persuade people, let’s go back
in time. In the early 1900s, there was a scientific
doctrine posed by a group known as logical positivists called verificationism. This model essentially posits that science
is something that can be verified. If it can’t be verified – it ain’t science. So philosophical statements like “The meaning
of life is “be excellent to each other.” – not science, because, you know, how would
you verify that? Let’s start with a very simple example. If I were to say this swan is white, you could
say, hey, it looks white to me. I could pass it around and you could also
verify it is white. So- awesome, we’re using our senses in a
way that can be replicated by others – so it’s been verified, and as such, “this
swan is white” could be considered a meaningful scientific statement. In this model, if you want to verify that
the Earth is round, or flat, one way would be to go up in space and look at it. “How do you know it’s a globe, well it’s
because you saw this. It’s not like you’ve been up there in
your Jetsons car, nobody’s got a spaceship” And in this way, Flat Earthers seem to at
least allude to this basic idea of verification. But how do you verify a statement like “All
swans are white,” which Europeans considered to be the case before the 1600s. Let’s say you and others have encountered
thousands of swans, and every single one was white. Is this evidence enough? Well, not quite for the verificationist. And this was a huge problem for them. When it came to universal statements like
all swans are white, all Hipsters drink PBR, all mass exerts gravitational pull – you can
never truly verify that. What if there’s a theoretical hipster out
there who shuns PBR in favor of Heineken? “Heineken?” “F*ck that sh*t.” “Pabst Blue Ribbon!” Or, a black swan. Which – by the way – was discovered by Europeans
in Australia in the 1690s. Now, Flat Earthers may latch onto this logic
and say, well – we haven’t VERIFIED the earth is round with our eyes. But if we try to apply this as a doctrine
for science, that all individuals have to see things with our eyes, it’d be pretty
limiting. “If there’s uh, if there’s an event
like uh – I’ll just use Boston Bombing again – I’m not going to believe any of those
events are real unless myself, I get my leg blown off” But, as far as our “all swans are white
problem,” this was a pretty big crisis for verificationism, until a philosopher named
Karl Popper proposed a now-famous solution. Rather than focusing on verification, scientists
should rather focus on falsification. For Popper, good science is coming up with
a hypothesis, and then trying REALLY hard to prove it wrong. If you can’t, you can be confident in your
hypothesis – say that all swans are white – but that doesn’t mean it won’t get proven
wrong when say, we discover a black swan or two in ensuing decades. If a statement could not, theoretically be
falsified, it ain’t science. So “The meaning of life is to be excellent
to each other”, is still not science. So if I thought the Earth was flat, I might
design several experiments which could prove it wasn’t flat. And if my hypothesis that “the earth isn’t
flat” is correct then it’s probably time to abandon Flat Earth. Importantly, proving that the Earth is not
flat does not prove it is round, nor does proving the Earth is not round prove it is
flat. What if it’s say, a doughnut balanced on
a giant turtle? We’re going to talk a lot about Popper here,
but I should probably mention there are other approaches too. For instance, the probabilistic approach of
someone like Thomas Bayes, who would do some math to give you a probability for something
to be true. So a statement like “I am 90% confident
that eating 5 tide pods will kill you.” And you might be wondering – are Flat Earthers
good falsificationists? “We test everything” You might say hey – they’re giving contrary
evidence – there’s an experiment in the 1800s , flight patterns, and our eyes. “Right out there, that’s Seattle. You shouldn’t be able to see it, there should
be hundreds of feet of curvature between us and them. You should barely be able to see the tops
of those buildings” But there’s a few problems, but let’s
focus on two. 1. Their evidence is usually bad and 2. A big part of falsification is trying to prove
your own theory wrong, not proving someone else wrong to prove yourself right. So for the first one, let’s look at a darling experiment for Flat Earthers, the Bedford Level Experiment. Samuel Rowbotham wanted to see if a boat would
actually dip below the horizon as it would on a globe. And it didn’t. So, round earth disproved? Not really. Experiment design in science is really hard,
one of the hardest things can be controlling what are called confounding variables – ie:
external stuff that is going to screw up your results. And for the Bedford Level Experiment, that
confounding variable was atmospheric refraction – the bending of light caused by different
air densities. So, you design a new experiment to control
for that variable, and you can test that – which Alfred Russel Wallace – a famous scientist
– did. And that experiment, which uses objects that
are higher up to control for refraction, provided evidence that the Earth was round. It’s also, more or less, the experiment
this guy does in the documentary. Which brings us to the second point, and an
actually interesting question for science and falsificationism. Scientists raising contrary evidence is important
in the scientific community. But Flat Earthers don’t just want to falsify
the round Earth, they want to prove a Flat Earth. And that statement – that the earth is flat,
as Popper would argue, also needs to be tested. “We have constantly to criticize our own
fields, our own interpretations” But… can it? Let’s look at how this plays out with this
guy and his laser gyroscope, and this guy with his flashlights. In the case of the gyroscope, a drifting gyroscope
would suggest that the Earth is not flat – which turns out to be the case. “We found that we were picking up a drift. A 15° per hour drift” And, with the flashlight experiment, a light
source that did not align with his holes correctly would also suggest that the Earth is not flat,
which also happened. “Interesting. Interesting there” So time to drop your previous hypothesis and
come up with a new one to falsify. Right? Well, not quite. The problem with most woo-woo, whether that’s
anti-vaxxers, Flat Earthers, creationists, and so on, is that if you ask them, “What
evidence would you require to renounce this theory,” the answer is: it probably doesn’t
exist. “I won’t change my mind on anything! Regardless of the facts that are set out before
me” As Behind the Curve highlights, even evidence
to the contrary isn’t quite enough. Instead of moving on, Laser gyroscope guy
is convinced that heavenly energies are messing with his data, and the flashlight guy had…
some kind of reason to ignore the results of his experiment. “Proposing a theory that can be falsified”
doesn’t seem to be the name of the game for woo-woo. This point is made so ironically clear when
Patricia Steere, a Flat Earther, realizes that claims that she works for the CIA can never
be sufficiently disproven to satisfy her critics. “The thing about all of these things, is
I can’t prove any of it…wrong” Believe it or not, this kind of mental gymnastics
that we see with our Flat Earth experimenters is a basic problem in a ton of science – not
just Flat Earthers. Because one compelling criticism of falsificationism
is that tests and hypotheses don’t exist in vacuums, they exist in larger systematized
theories. If we consider science to be simply the process
of trying to falsify various claims, we can see the limits of this model with Newton’s
physics, who I think we could all agree is an OG scientist. Newton came up with his laws of motion, his
theory of gravity – he also invented calculus. And they all worked together. Armed with Newton’s theories, scientists
made predictions about how the solar system worked, figuring out celestial orbits with
a combination of observation and math. Building on his theories, scientists made
new claims, and tested those claims. And then those claims would become the bases
for other tests. “Yeah Science!” Now, where’s the problem? Well, Newton’s model predicted Mercury’s
orbit would do one thing, and then it did… not that. So does this falsify Newton’s model, and
if so, should we all just drop it and move on? “Course, he also thought he could turn
metal into gold and died eating mercury – making him yet another stupid – -bitch!” Well, in contrasts to falsificationism, physicist
Thomas Kuhn understands science as working in paradigms. So, for Newton’s physics, keep on poking
holes in it, but don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater until your inquiries point
to some bigger badder paradigm that comes around and can do everything Newton’s model
can do – but better – in this case, that bigger badder paradigm was Einstein’s relativity. And, so for Newton, instead of Mercury proving
him wrong, scientists just tweaked the model for as long as they could. Newton’s law could accurately predict so
much – not just the movement of most celestial bodies, but basic locomotion, engineering,
and so much more. So certainly it wouldn’t be good to throw
it all away? To address this issue, some people just said,
hey, there’s another planet that would make Mercury’s orbit weird, and Newton is still
right! System tweaked. And in a perverse way, this is kind of how
Flat Earthers operate. While you might say “The gyroscope drifted,
Flat Earthers owned” in reality, they just tweak the model, in this case, by positing
the existence of heavenly energies. But does that make Flat Earthers real scientists? Unfortunately, no. Because these “tweaks” should also get
subjected to experiments. So, if you’re going to say heavenly energies
are a confounding variable for your gyroscope experiment, you better find evidence of heavenly
energies. And if you can’t find any, maybe you should
ask, is my model wrong? Maybe I should test a new hypothesis: that
the Earth is round. According to Thomas Kuhn – this is how science
works. You have scientists working off a bunch of
unquestioned assumptions – that gravity works like this, motion works like this – and then
contrary evidence starts piling up. The system isn’t overturned until someone
comes along and suggests a new foundation to work off of, and then scientists kind of
duke it out over who is right. Einstein’s model, for instance, could account
for Mercury’s weird orbit, and a bunch of other stuff, while being able to make all
the good predictions that Newton’s model already did. Kuhn calls this a paradigm shift. Progress in science is built on people arguing
over the truth before a new paradigm becomes the consensus – not necessarily Capital T
truths. Ok – so are Flat Earther’s the Einsteins
in this story, pointing to contrary evidence for a full paradigm shift? “We’re not just winning, we’re crushing
them” Well not quite. “I don’t know how people believe that” You can think of Einstein coming along and
saying, “My model can do everything that yours can do – but better!” – because it
did. Can the Flat Earth model help build long bridges,
a functioning global positioning system, navigate airplanes, launch missiles across the continents,
transmit TV to your house via satellite, or do literally any of the hundreds if not thousands
of things that are predicated on a round Earth? Nope. And yet, they still persist, which brings
us to something a little outside the realm of science and into a pressing problem for
the modern world: JAQing off. YouTube overlords, please don’t demonetize
this, because we’re talking about Just Asking Questions – ing off. It is an epidemic in almost every modern political
or internet debate. It goes like this: “Is Wendy using your lunch money to buy
Heroine? Probably not. But how can we know? I don’t want my lunch money going to drugs! Who’s taking these drugs? What would be the point? I’m asking questions!” In the case of Mark Sargent’s massively
popular “Flat Earth clues,” it’s one big circle JAQ. While it may take 5-seconds to raise the question,
“Why aren’t oil companies drilling in Antarctica,” it could take you a good 5
minutes to learn that in 1959, scientists convinced a bunch of countries that they shouldn’t
bring all their bullsh*t to the most remote and wild place on Earth. A few minutes later, you might learn these
scientists argued that Antarctica should be open to discovery for people all over the
world. In five more minutes, you might also learn
that, in 1991, to clarify things, they signed another treaty explicitly stating that, to
preserve Antarctica’s environment, there can be no commercial activity for 50 years. Also, as it turns out, extracting stuff from
the most remote place on earth is extremely expensive, and kind of dangerous. The original question – why don’t companies
drill in Antarctica, is like arguing a national park doesn’t exist because – obviously,
oil companies would be all up on that if it did. And look, that took me all that time to answer
one single question. Another great example is flight patterns,
where a Flat Earther might ask questions like “WHY DIDN’T THEY GO HERE,” in which
case you would have to explain how projecting a sphere onto a flat image distorts images,
which was a cool thing we learned when we all discovered that Greenland is not as big
as Africa . So why didn’t they go this other way? Because it would take longer, or there’s
not enough demand for a direct flight. Flat Earthers may say they’re “winning
the debate” against round earthers, but this is more a statement on how profoundly
bad public debates can be. If, in science, the burden of proof rests
on you to prove your hypothesis, JAQing off functions by dumping the burden of proof on
you with about 8 million questions. And by the time I’ve answered your question
about “why aren’t there flights over the South Pole,” you’re ready to raise 5 more
“simple questions.” How do we reconcile this with the fact that,
like this guy, science is built on asking questions? One of the primary problems is that questions
aren’t meant to exclusively start a debate. It’s not I win and you lose. Rather, questions seek to start conversations
that build consensus, like saying “Hey, Mercury is doing some weird shit over here,”
let’s all figure this out. Instead, the questions posed by Flat Earthers
are meant to “prove” the Earth is flat by drawing doubt on the round Earth. These kinds of arguments can be appealing
because, on the surface, leaving questions unanswered looks like you’re wrong, or hiding something. So instead of dumping on Flat Earthers, it’s
important for us to understand how science is done, how scientific consensus is made,
and even be critical of when science is done badly. For instance, there’s a ton of psychology
studies out there that can’t be replicated. And that is bad science, but it’s probably
not a conspiracy. Alright, there is one more thing worth answering. Why? Why are Flat Earthers a thing? There are a lot of ways to account for Flat
Earthers and other conspiracy theories. Some psychologists have suggested that conspiracy theories appeal to people who either feel powerless or insignificant in society . And
yeah, we get that. In a world where literally everything is outside of your control, cracking the “real” answer to who shot JFK is appealing. It can make it feel like the world is rational
and predictable. And that seems to be the basic appeal of Flat Earth. That we’re not a tiny blue marble drifting
in the cosmos, but a special little terrarium that’s the center of the universe. But unfortunately for this lady, science isn’t about putting together random facts like pieces of a puzzle. Flat Earthers speak to a larger crisis of
trust going on in our society. And rather than relegating it to some corner of the internet with Chuck E Cheese truthers, we should understand it as a larger crisis
of the erosion of faith in expertise of all kinds. And this isn’t harmless as we can see with
this guy. “They want people dumb, blind, deaf to the
truth, so they can inject you with their vaccines and their public schooling” It’s not just that we need more scientists
to understand genetics and evolution to cure disease, but that this line of conspiratorial
thinking can make almost anything possible, from claiming a woman named Patricia works for the CIA because of the last 3 letters of her name, to sending death threats to people who you think are crisis actors. And that’s not even to talk about the almost
extinct diseases that are making a comeback and killing people. Thanks, internet. It’s not that we should have blind faith
in the talking heads of science, but understand the conventions and practices that got them to their conclusion. Was their experiment designed well? What level of confidence do they ascribe to
their predictions? Does contrary evidence debunk a model, or
is it inevitable when studying things as complicated as, say, quantum physics or climate. So – what do you think? Do we need better education on how science works, or am I collecting my check from NASA? Well, It’s actually Wix. You can build your own website for free by
clicking the link in the description, and as always, thanks for watching guys, peace. Peace.

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