The Atlantic Monthly Fails Science 101, #FlatEarth ers Rejoice ← Wheat-Dogg’s World
The Atlantic’s Lizzie Wade may be a talented writer with an Ivy league education, but her Jan. 27 essay about rapper B.o.B.’s Flat Earth nonsense is just jaw-droppingly wrong. It left me, a science educator with three decades experience, generally pissed off enough to write a response.
Wade basically says fringe theories are just like real scientific theories, because they’re just sooo creative and stuff. And people like B.o.B. are just like real scientists, because they’re, like, trying to find answers to things that others never adequately explained to them. It’s just totally like science!
B.o.B. doesn’t believe the world is round, because it doesn’t look that way to him. So he tries to find a way to prove to himself and others he is right. He finds examples supposedly proving the Earth is flat.
But he is not “doing science,” despite what Wade argues. He’s arguing from the single viewpoint of one observer who has already decided the world is flat, and now tries to find evidence to support his claim. Appealing to authority — the experts she mentions — is not science, either. If anything, scientific breakthroughs have come by rejecting accepted wisdom. See which, Galileo.
Now, if Wade had limited herself to a grudging admiration of B.o.B.’s doomed attempts to prove the Earth is flat, her essay would be almost acceptable, but she takes her admiration for the rapper’s naivete several steps further.
Most of the current crop of outsider physicists are out to prove Einstein and/or quantum mechanics wrong; arguing that the Earth is flat is a fringe position in a fringe movement. But B.o.B’s Twitter crusade illuminates the best qualities of outsider physics: its skepticism, its curiosity, and its fierce desire to make sense of a confusing world in a rigorous way. These same values lie at the heart of mainstream science, too. They are what make science special. They are what make science science.
But theoretical physics isn’t just science. It’s also a creative pursuit, one that exists in parallel to and sometimes even ahead of experimental evidence. …
Aaaggh! There is a distrubance in the Force, as if generations of science educators are screaming in unison.
Then, there’s Wade’s dismissal of the complaints against this false equivalence, to the effect it’s “not her job” to promote science or encourage people to become scientists. Well, maybe, but she could at least try to distinguish fact from fiction, reality from fantasy, and explain to her readers why one is not the same as the other.
In other words, she dropped the ball — or the disc, as the case may be.