They Say These Things to Get Under Your Skin (So Evidence Is Beside the Point)

2017-11-27 – There’s been a lot of talk lately about flat-Earthers, but what I’m about to say applies to all sorts of contrarians:

They don’t believe what they say, so you can’t defeat them with evidence. They say the world is flat to get under your skin. When you start providing round-Earth evidence, they are happier than pigs in mud. Each piece of evidence proves . . . that they accomplished their purpose, which was to piss you off.

The latest anti-flat-Earth piece was a tweet from Neil deGrasse Tyson (btw Neil, the plural of “flat-Earther” does not have an apostrophe):

I like Neil deGrasse Tyson, but this tweet will not win over flat-Earthers. They don’t really believe the Earth is flat, so arguing over the shape of the Earth is irrelevant to them. What they DO believe is that you and people like you are insufferable elitists. If they can yank your chain, they will.

Now, I do realize, Neil, that your audience is composed of more than flat-Earthers. There are your fans, who will cheer at the cleverness of your tweet. (I am one of them. I think this is a cool picture.) But feeling smug about our cleverness contributes to the insufferableness of our elitism.

In addition to the pros and the cons, of course, are the bystanders. They probably accepted the standard thinking that the Earth is round, but never thought it was an issue. They now think it’s an issue! The flat-Earthers put the question into play, and you’ve confirmed it. The shape of the Earth is now an open question.

Contrarians have a lot of power. They create doubt, of course, whether you respond or not. So I’m not saying that Neil deGrasse Tyson should not respond. I’m just saying that we be mindful about how we respond because some kinds of responses validate the contrarians and win them “converts.”

I put “converts” in quotation marks because, while the original flat-Earthers might have just been having fun with their contrariness, once they start developing a following, some of the follower may be deluded into becoming true-believers. (Some of the original folk can even start to believe their own stuff, as well.)

One possible true-believer is Californian Mike Hughes who plans to launch himself in a rocket to prove the Earth is flat. Hughes’ rocket will apparently take him to the height of 1,800 feet. Hopefully, the rocket won’t blow Hughes up in the process or otherwise injure him or anyone else.

The peculiar thing about this experiment is that I could take an elevator to 1,450 feet if I went to the Willis Tower (formerly Sears Tower) skydeck. I’ve been there and there was little danger that the elevator would explode. And I’ve gone even higher. I’ve been in airplanes that flew as high as 40,000 feet. Here’s the main thing those experiences proved: the Earth is really, really big.

At 40,000 feet the evidence of shape is still fairly subtle, but it hints at the Earth being shaped like a ball.

The biggest clue is the fact that, as you go higher, more and more features become visible. If the Earth were flat, everything would be visible once you got out of the trees. Here in Chicago, as you go up, you can see more and more of Lake Michigan, which is blocked from view when you are standing on the ground due to the curvature of the Earth.

The other evidence for frequent flyers is jet lag (or time zones, in general). A flat Earth would have one time zone.

But enough of evidence! As I said, evidence isn’t the point for contrarians. Being contrary is the point.

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