Tuesday, February 2, 2016

The Debate Over The Rapper Who Thinks The World Is Flat Is Actually Interesting

No, the Earth is not flat despite what B.o.B says.
There's a popular rapper named B.o.B. who announced last week via social media that the world is flat. As in flat as a pancake.

I thought we resolved this question -  you know, is the Earth flat or round? -  centuries ago. I thought everybody agreed that it's round.

Well, not everybody agrees, I guess.  Apparently, B.o.B. thinks there's a vast conspiracy falsely tellling us the world is round. Okey, dokey, then.

Normally, I would have ignored this as just some ignorant musician spouting off on social media about nonsense.  So I was going to put B.o.B's rants in my delete folder.

Who the hell is B.o.B. anyway?

But this whole rapper says the world is flat thing has been bugging me anyway.

I suppose such a flat earth rant is no surprise in this age of anti-intellectualism.  I get it that you can't trust everything the experts tell you, but there's so many tin hat conspiracies out there being peddled by, to put it gently, wackos.

It's also irresponsible to ignore these weird statements without at least making an attempt at setting the record straight.

Or as Salon put it, "When millions of people are receiving assertive messages from a celebrity they admire, it's kinda hard to just pretend it's not happening because the rest of us don't want it to."

The reactions to B.o.B's startling announcement have been the most interesting aspect of all this. And B.o.B.

B.o.B. might be a decent rapper, but his
grasp of basic physics leaves much to be desired.
 B.o.B's "proof" that the Earth is flat is that if the Earth were round, the curvature would obscure the skyscrapers of distant cities from your viewpoint, that the horizon looks flat, not curved from an airplane, and it's hard to get permission to visit the North and South Pole, so what are governments hiding?

So, do the rest of us who have a basic understanding of science and physics and astronomy ignore the rantings, or do we risk people believing this junk?

Famous astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson jumped right, futilely trying to set the record straight for B.o.B.

deGrasse Tyson then went beyond science to say this, which I agree totally needed to be said:

"......but the whole thing is a symptom of a larger problem. There's a growing anti-intellectual strain that is growing in this country. In maybe the beginning of the end of our informed democracy. 

In a free society, you can and should think whatever you want. If you want to think the Earth is flat, go right ahead. But if you think the Earth is flat and you have influence over others, as would successful rappers or even presidential candidates, then being wrong becomes being harmful to the health the wealth and the securityk of our citizenry."

B.o.B. responsded to deGrasse Tyson by releasing a rap song dissing the astrophysicist.

THEN, deGrasse Tyson's nephew, chimed in. The nephew, who just goes by the name Tyson, also a rapper who put out a track dissing B.o.B. for dissing his uncle.

Are we going to have a street battle over astrophysics? That would be an improvement over wars over drug selling turf.

Offering another perspective, the rather intellectual magazine The Atlantic defended B.o.B, kind of.

Don't worry. It appears everyone at that rather intellectual magazine and web site agrees the Earth is round.    
Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson is
still struggling to convince conspiracy theorists
that the Earth is in fact round. 

But one Atlantic writer, Lizzie Wade, gives him a pass for at least questioning the (not flat) world around him. I guess that's better than just accepting whatever the Internet tells you is true as fact.

Says the Atlantic:

"This isn't a man who never learned science, or who has some fundamentalist objection to examining empirical evidence about the world. This is a man who has looked at the world around him and decided that mainstream science isn't doing a good job at explaining what he sees.

So he's collecting evidence, seeking out literature by well-versed "experts" and working out a better theory on his own. This is the hallmark of people I've come to think of as outsider physicists."

True, Wade writes, many of us also consider people like B.o.B. loons, kooks and crackpots.

However, physics has gone beyond helping us make sense of our own physical world. It's not about Newton's apple falling from the tree anymore.

There's these exotic theories of what goes on in space, things that us dumb laymen have a real hard time understanding.

If you think you're so smart, explain string theory to me, for example.

As the Atlantic points out, some of us just trust the scientists to figure things out for us, and some of us don't.

So we come up with our own theories to explain the universe. That's human nature.

I wish there would be some sort of balance.

As Wade writes in the Atlantic,  if it's not about a political or religious agenda, if you're not screwing up the world by insisting public schools teach creationism, and not discuss evolution, or blocking scientific and political efforts to fight climate change, or spreading disease by discouraging vaccinations, then B.o.B.'s flat earth stuff is pretty harmless.

Unless, coming back to deGrass Tyson's point, it prevents knowledge and safety and understanding from moving forward.

One last point. I've always wondered, if these conspiracy theories are true, why hasn't anyone blown the whistle on the "cover up.?" I mean, you'd think some Ed Snowden-like character would come forward and give us proof that the scientists and governments have been lying to us. That the Earth is flat, the moon landing never happened, or aliens are about to take over New Mexico or something.

But that hasn't happened.

Now I have research to back me up.

Grist has a story on a researcher named David Grimes of Oxford University, who calculated, roughly, how long it would take for someone to spill the beans on a conspiracy, depending upon how many people were involved.

The gist of it is, it would only be a few years before a whistleblower offered conclusive proof that the Earth is flat, or the moon landing was a hoax, or that there's a cure for cancer, but vested interests are keeping it from the public.

Grimes based his research on how long it took for actual conspiracies to be exposed such as the NSA scandal Snowden exposed, or the Tuskegee syphilis scandal.

But now I'm expecting someone to tell me that Grimes is part of the conspiracy that's lying to the public and saying the Earth is round.


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