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Looking for life on a flat earth
By Thom Holwerda on 2018-06-12 00:34:45

For days now, I've been pondering whether or not to post a link to this story, but after a talk with my closest friends about how much we despise anti-vaxxers - they just had their first baby - I feel like the story in question highlights a very uncomfortable truth we have to face.

If we can agree on anything anymore, it's that we live in a post-truth era. Facts are no longer correct or incorrect; everything is potentially true unless it's disagreeable, in which case it's fake. Recently, Lesley Stahl, of "60 Minutes", revealed that, in an interview after the 2016 election, Donald Trump told her that the reason he maligns the press is "to discredit you all and demean you all so that when you write negative stories about me no one will believe you". Or, as George Costanza put it, coming from the opposite direction, "It's not a lie if you believe it".

This is an article by Alan Burdick, who decided to investigate the "flat earth movement" by going to a flat earth conference and speaking with the attendees and speakers. It's a revealing piece that makes it clear flat earth crackpots are deeply intertwined with virtually every other crazy conspiracy theory, with the "flat earth theory" serving as an umbrella to all other conspiracy theories. Add in large doses of antisemitism, creationism, and Christian extremism, and you've got the general feel of the flat earth movement.

The uncomfortable truth we have to face is not that the earth is flat - don't worry - but that insanity like this used to remain confined, isolated, and harmless. Thanks to the internet, however, this insanity is free to spread and infect others, causing real harm to real people. Whether it's believing that the government is spreading dangerous chemicals through the air in form of "chem trails" or abusing, harming, and even murdering your and other people's children by not vaccinating them - it's the internet that allows this dangerous insanity to spread and cause real harm.

The internet is one of the greatest inventions of mankind, but it's also having dark, unsettling effects on our society that we need to address. I don't have any solutions, but we better start doing a better job of arming ourselves against the constant barrage of attacks on science, or we risk our society descending into chaos.

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relative truth
By razor on 2018-06-12 01:09:44
hasn't truth always been relative? we all thought earth was flat, then we all thought the universe revolved around earth, then came Newtonian physics, then health benefits of margarine... on and on... each of those theories had been disproved but for some reason we think our current knowledge base is ironclad and the "real" truth.

im not defending the flatearthers just pointing out our own blindspots...

the internet makes it easier for like minded people to find and support one another, regardless of the relative merits of their views. it is comforting to the ego to find agreement among "peers" and lock oneself in a echo chamber. the courage to doubt one's existing views and actively explore uncomfortable views is the truly rare quality in humans.
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You are totally right to post it
By Poseidon on 2018-06-12 01:43:44
Various things have gotten us to this point, one of them has been the secularization of religion (where it's not about invisible beings and such anymore and they want plausible theocracy), the notion that opinion is just as valid as peer reviewed science findings and that people really don't care about context and history because it's some kind of "lie" if they disagree with it.
You can sum that there's no curation (at least in USA) of what can be an official news source and you have the USA government using hate propaganda "news" as official sources... and well damn.

Dangerous times indeed.
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RE: relative truth
By kwan_e on 2018-06-12 01:44:02
> hasn't truth always been relative?

No. What ever we thought, the truth was always there. We were just wrong.

> we all thought earth was flat

No we didn't. For quite a long time actually.

> then we all thought the universe revolved around earth,

The truth wasn't relative. We were wrong.

> then came Newtonian physics,

Newtonian physics is still correct. It's just now there's a lot more to physics than Newton.


Basically, changing our minds does not mean truth is relative.
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Rant Time!
By grat on 2018-06-12 03:32:46
I argued this several months ago while discussing the Microsoft Telemetry dashboard... It's a more pervasive attitude than you would think.

For example, Google says "We're collecting all this data about you, and we're using it to target you with advertising" (and to build a complete profile of everything you do from day to day). If you download all of Google's information on you, you'll probably exceed whatever bandwidth quota you have for the month (I barely use google services aside from search, and my download was over 2 gig compressed).

Microsoft says "Yeah, we're collecting a bunch of telemetry about your Windows computer so we can improve the operating system, here's the documentation on what we can collect, and here's a tool to see what we're collecting, in real time".

Yet people think Google is less evil than Microsoft.

As a society, we have more access to more information than we've had at any other point in human history-- We can see, in real time, what laws are being considered. We can research information ourselves and not be dependent on priests, reporters, advertisers, or politicians to tell us what's going on, and what to believe-- so of course, we spend all our time listening to the exact people we shouldn't trust-- advertisers, biased reporters, evangelicals and political parties.
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RE: Rant Time!
By leech on 2018-06-12 04:16:02
The only reason Google isn't considered as evil (by me) is because of history. While I don't use Google (even for search, DuckDuckGo is what I've used for years) I try to avoid anything from them as well.

Sadly there is only so much one can do to avoid them. Apple is no better, so I try to avoid them as well.

Microsoft has a far worse history though, bad security, being a money grubbing jerk, releasing software that doesn't always do what it's supposed to, etc.

It amazes me that corporations trust their software anymore...
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What a weird coincidence...
By leech on 2018-06-12 04:21:25
I've been on a rant lately about Flat Earther's as well. Honestly, I can't help but wonder if it's a giant troll, because it's so ridiculous that people at this point in time could believe the world is flat.

Put a stick in the ground and you can tell by the angle the sun is creating a shadow and how it progresses throughout the day and you can prove that the earth is round. Or use a pendulum, or... there are MANY reproduceable experiments one can do with their own tools to prove that the earth is a globe...

Yet somehow it's a conspiracy to convince us that the earth is not flat... Why? what is the purpose behind that? Who benefits? Who will lose? There literally is no logical reason for any of it.

As someone else commented on this story, Truth (real truth, like scientifically proven truth) is NOT relative.
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RE[2]: relative truth
By areilly on 2018-06-12 04:23:05
No, Newtonian physics is still wrong, and we have something of a better idea about the size and nature of the error. Unfortunately, the relativistic effects that make Newtonian physics wrong at one scale are still incompatible with the quantum effects that make it wrong at other scales. Bartoz Milewski wrote a very interesting article about the nature of scientific knowledge recently, here: https://bartoszmilewski.com/2018/... Long, but worth a read, IMO.

One thing that I've found interesting in these recent years of opinion and bullshit https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/On_... or truthiness, or post-truth, is that it's clear that large sections of society have always held all sorts of outrageous beliefs, and for the most part it doesn't matter at all. Law, social issues, business and economics, the arts: science (especially of the falsifiable experimental sort) doesn't have very much to say about any of it.

Sure: you'd still like your magic mobile phone to be able to tell you where you are on the map, but even if you believed in satellites, you don't really need to know about the relativistic corrections required to make GPS work.
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RE[3]: relative truth
By kwan_e on 2018-06-12 05:03:06
> No, Newtonian physics is still wrong

Okay, you go tell that to the engineers that are building your buildings, bridges, pipes and planes.
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RE: What a weird coincidence...
By kwan_e on 2018-06-12 05:04:13
> I've been on a rant lately about Flat Earther's as well.

It's not a weird coincidence. :) In fact it would be weird if only one person ranted about Flat Earthers after all this time.
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RE[4]: relative truth
By areilly on 2018-06-12 05:28:26
> > No, Newtonian physics is still wrong

Okay, you go tell that to the engineers that are building your buildings, bridges, pipes and planes.

I'm pretty sure that they're all very well aware of those particular shortcomings.

Sure: there are many things that you can do by using the Newtonian approximation. That lack of need for precision doesn't make it "true" though.
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