Sceptics Deny the Earth is Flat. Therefore the World is Warming

The Conversation’s Environment editor Willy de Freitas, after insulting cliscep contributors Paul Matthews and John Ridgway,  as well as barrister Robin Guenier and emeritus professor of philosophy Hugh McLachlan, has decided to thumb his nose at us by publishing an article so stupid that even we wouldn’t stoop to criticise it.

Sorry Willy. I’ll stoop at anything.

The authors of Flat Earthers vs climate change sceptics: why conspiracy theorists keep contradicting each other”  Gareth Dorrian and Ian Whittaker are respectively Post Doctoral Research Associate and Lecturer in astrophysics at Nottingham Trent University. The evidence that they possess the reasoning abilities of retarded five-year-olds is in the title of their article. Yes, no, really. What these astrophysicians are saying is that flat earthers and climate sceptics are both wrong – because they contradict each other.

They make this astounding point in their very first paragraph, and repeat it in paras 2, 3, and 4:

Flat Earthism and the idea that human activity is not responsible for climate change are two of the most prevalent conspiracy theories today. [1] Both have been increasing in popularity since the late 20th century. Currently, 16% of the US population say they doubt the scientifically established shape of the Earth, [2] while 40% think that human-induced climate change is a hoax. [3] But proponents of one of these theories are not necessarily proponents of the other, even though both are often motivated by a common mistrust of authority. In fact, they regularly contradict one another.

[1] No they’re not.

[2] No they don’t. According to the link, just 2% think that the earth is flat, a percentage which corresponds to the lower range of estimates of respondents who regularly give stupid answers to surveys just to annoy the interviewers. The whole point of the article cited by Dorrian and Whittaker is to correct the kind of false information that they are propagating. Do they not understand the articles they link to, or don’t they care? They have apotential monthly audience of 8 million university types. Don’t they care what their readers think of them? As Conversation editor Willy de Freitas once memorably said: no-one reads the conversation at the Conversation.

[3] The link here is to Uscinski, Douglas and Lewandowsky.  Professor Uscinski bases his claim that climate scepticism is a conspiracy theory on a single misquote from a paper by Lewandowsky by a blog commenter calling himself Donald Duck. Professor Douglas believes that some people who think that Lady Di was murdered by MI5 also think that Lady Di is still alive, basing her belief on a survey in which nobody who thought that Lady Di was murdered by MI5 also thought that Lady Di is still alive. Professor Lewandowsky is a psychologist and expert witness to the House of Commons Committee on Wiping out Bad Thoughts.

Flat Earthers, for example, tend to disbelieve organisations such as NASA on the shape of Antarctica – or indeed, that there is a southern hemisphere at all. Yet the president of the Flat Earth Society, Daniel Shenton, is quite convinced – presumably at least in part thanks to information from NASA – that climate change is happening and espouses a fairly conventional view on the subject.

Get that? Some flat earthers are not climate deniers…

Former White House communications director, Anthony Scaramucci (dismissed by president Trump after ten days in office), meanwhile, believes that the Earth is in fact round, but does not believe in anthropogenic climate change, as he made clear in an interview with CNN.

..while some climate change sceptics are not flat earthers.

Such selective reasoning [4] is common among conspiracy theorists who often lack consistency with one other. Despite this, the media, celebrities and even politicians regularly make broad comparisons between [5] climate change scepticism, Flat Earthism and other conspiracy theories.

[4] The link is to an article

which is about selective reading: (a form of cherry picking and very similar to the selective attention fallacy.”)

[reading, reasoning, schmeasoning. Who cares? It’s only an article at the Conversation, after all, financed by the Royal Society and the Universities of Cambridge and Oxford among others. Who‘s going to notice if we get a word wrong? Words, words, words, like the bloke said.]

[5] The link is to a speech by Barack Obama, in which:

Mr Obama said there were multiple solutions to the “very hard problem” of climate change but said he would not waste time debating those who denied it was happening at all. “We don’t have time for a meeting of the Flat Earth Society,” he said. “Sticking your head in the sand might make you feel safer but it’s not going to protect you from the coming storm.”

Reconstructing the above paragraph, infilling the logical gaps with material from their links, what Dorrian and Whitaker seem to be saying is:

Despite the fact that selective reasoning [or selective reading, depending on whether you believe the authors or their source] is common among conspiracy theorists, who often lack consistency with one other, the media, celebrities and politicians regularly compare climate change scepticism, flat earthism and other conspiracy theories. For example, President Obama, who said: ‘We don’t have time for a meeting of the Flat Earth Society.'”

Despite the fact that the authors can’t tell the difference between reading and reasoning, they also don’t seem to understand the meaning of the word “despite.” Are Dorrian and Whittaker mentally retarded, as I suggested above, or just typical astrophysicists on a roll? Perhaps they don’t care that what they say is meaningless bollocks?

Fabricated data?

In the field of global climate change, scientific bodies often are accused, even by those in power, of fabricating data. But such criticism is often deeply flawed. [6] Take those sceptics, for example, who believe that climate change is occurring, but because of natural – rather than man-made – causes. If one argues that data has been fabricated to show warming where there is none, one cannot then also imply that warming is occurring after all, but naturally. [7] Either there is warming or there is not. Similarly, Flat Earthers who state that images showing Earth’s curvature are due to the shape of a camera lens, themselves believe in a disc which by definition has a curved edge. [8]

[6] “Fabricating data’” links to this item from the BBC, an edited version of a discussion between TV presenter Brian Cox and Australian politician Malcolm Roberts:

BC: This is now a clear global problem. The absolute, absolute consensus is that human action is leading to an increase in average temperatures. Absolute consensus. It, it, I can’t, I know you may try to argue with that but you can’t. So, so but therefore, the key point is, can we respond to it? Do we have the political institutions and the political will and the organisation globally to respond to this challenge? That worries me immensely. I don’t think we do at the moment.

MR: I am absolutely stunned that someone who is inspired by Richard Feynman, a fantastic scientist who believes in empirical evidence, is quoting consensus.

BC: Can I just say? I brought the graph (laughter, orgasmic shrieks).

MR: First of all the data has been corrupted, and we know that the 1930s…

BC: Corrupted? What do you mean corrupted?

MR: Been manipulated by NASA. (shrieks, groans) As far as I’m concerned politics should be based on empirical evidence. All policy should be based on empirical evidence. I’ve heard consensus which is not science. I’ve heard appeals to authority which is not science. I’ve heard various allusions..

BC: You’ve seen the graph. (throwing the paper across the table) Here’s the evidence. (shrieks, applause.)

[7] Oh yes you can. Of course you can argue that data has been fabricated to show warming where there is none and also that warming is occurring after all, but naturally. It’s like, this is a vegetable stew, right? This is a carrot, in the stew. And this is a turnip. No, I am not saying that a turnip is a carrot. Sweet Aristotle, where are you when we need you?

Perhaps the most important question in the whole multi-trillion dollar global warming debate is: Are these people really incapable of the simplest logical analysis, or are they just pretending?

[8] The same argument applies here in defence of flat earthers. Are Dorrian and Whittaker really stupider than the flat earthers they pretend to decry? There is nothing wrong with the reasoning of flat earthers here. Are Dorrian and Whittaker really so stupid as to believe that flat earthism is disproved by demonstrating that a lens is round?

Indeed, one of the few commonalities which exist between all major conspiracy theories is that somehow scientists and governments are involved in a grand conspiracy for reasons unknown.

Who says that the reasons are unknown? (Their link is to a fandom site for Austin Powers.)

There’s more.

And what about aliens?

If governments and scientists are so untrustworthy and steeped in corruption, then why would one believe them on any issue? Where does the line of trust actually fall? Why would a person who mistrusts governments and scientists on the shape of the Earth, not hold the same politicians and scientific organisations similarly bogus on the issue of climate change? Or alien abductions, chem trails, or anything else?

Right. Why not indeed? Or bogus issues like victims of a deadly Russian nerve gas miraculously recovering, or victims of deadly Syrian gas attacks who can”t be found by journalists? Why shouldn’t we believe they’re lying, when the evidence shows that they are?

But the problem isn’t likely to go away any time soon. The US has the highest number of believers in both flat-Earthism and anthropogenic climate change scepticism, and the UK is not far behind. The US also has a high number (more than 50%) of senior political figures who deny man-made climate change, not to mention a democratically elected leader vocally believing the same. There are also numerous well-known celebrities who question the established shape of our planet.

Here is a list of the “numerous well-known celebrities who question the established shape of our planet,” according to astrophysicists Dorrian and Whittaker:

Kyrie Irving, Shaquille O’Neal, Sammy Watkins, Draymond Green, B.o.B, Tila Tequila, Freddie Flintoff, Sherri Shepard.

Who? From their linked source:

When Whoopi Goldberg asked [Sherri Shepard] if she thought the Earth was flat, Shepard responded, “I don’t know. I never thought about it, Whoopi. Is the world flat? I never thought about it. I tell you what I thought about, how I’m going to feed my child.” She later clarified that she doesn’t think the Earth is flat.

Our astrophysicists sum up:

While of course scientists can play the blame game, it could be that the scientific method itself is a major limiting factor in communicating results with the public. Science is not just a body of knowledge, but a method of critical thinking. Scientists, by necessity, have to communicate their findings in a certain rigid way focusing on probabilities, certainty values and confidence intervals. These can appear dry or baffling to the public. But by providing more easily understandable narratives we can make scientific discussions with the public more productive.

The link here is about vaccines. Nothing to do with climate or the shape of the earth.

In today’s complex world of social media narratives, the engagement of scientists with the public is more crucial than ever. Thankfully, current funding for public engagement training and activities is accessible to scientists with a passion for communication and conversation, enabling them to communicate facts rather than “fake news”.`

And “funding” links to a site that tells you how you too can suck at the great teat in the lower troposphere.
I like this one:

Royal Society, Partnership Grants
Partnership Grants of up to £3000 are available to schools to enable students, aged 5 – 18, to carry out science, technology, engineering or mathematics (STEM) projects.

£3000 for five year olds. Are our authors among the lucky recipients, I wonder? Astrophysics sounds pretty stemmy.

Are all astrophysicists idiots or was Terry Pratchett right about Discworld? My binary seaweed tells me it’s got to be one or the other. But would you award either of these morons a wizardship at the Unseen University?

Or, to pose the question in more civilised tones, are Dorrian and Whittaker as stupid as they seem to be, or is there method in their madness? Did someone in the astrophysics community whisper to them: “Look, let’s face it. Our salaries depend on the whim on our political masters whose understanding of science is such that they can’t tell the difference between someone poisoned by a deadly nerve gas and someone who’s eaten a dodgy pizza. At any moment your funding may be cut by someone who decides that the electoral benefit of being the first PM to shake hands with the Mekon and his attendant Treens doesn’t justify your salary. Better establish your credentials in some more politically fertile field. I’d go for climatico-sceptic flat-eartherist denialism if I were you.”

16 thoughts on “Sceptics Deny the Earth is Flat. Therefore the World is Warming

  1. Thanks Geoff. The logic of that article is so absurd. This sentence for example:

    “It is also clear that many climate change sceptics believe in the (approximately) spherical Earth, even if only subconsciously, …”

    I have put a link back to here from there. I wonder if it will last.


  2. Geoff,

    Just to say that I never did receive the benefits of a Willy lashing. I think I arrived on the scene too late and he had already moved on. I did get well and truly ignored though. Does that count?

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Careful John. If Paul’s link stays up at the Conversation, word may get round among the astrophysical community that some of us are partial to a Willy lashing, and then there’ll be another article about us.


  4. This seems to be pretty typical reasoning for a paper promoting the climate consensus.


  5. It seems clear, by the “rationale” of this article that some of those who write for The Conversation may not be academic frauds.


  6. Climate models are contradicting each other: high co2 sensitivity with high aerosol cooling contradicts low co2 sensitivity with low aerosol cooling; so therefore they must all be wrong, right?


  7. Could this whole article be a dare? (“Can we get a nonsense past Willi?) Did they then proceed to load their attempt with enough stupidity to make acceptance impossible, but Willi displayed his true moderating skills?


  8. Hunter
    “It seems clear, by the “rationale” of this article that some of those who write for The Conversation [MAY] not be academic frauds”.
    I am reminded of gratuitous advice delivered with a peer review of one of my research papers: “every time you write “may”, bite your tongue”


  9. If I may add my very small contribution to the mountain of ridicule this article has so deservedly attracted:

    Towards the end, the authors write: “Scientists, by necessity, have to communicate their findings in a certain rigid way focusing on probabilities, certainty values and confidence intervals.”

    There is no such thing in statistics as a “certainty value”. Certainty corresponds to p=1 or p=0. Everything else is uncertainty. Assuming the authors had meant to say “p-value”, I invited them to clarify. But, in what is beginning to look to me like a pattern of behaviour on The Conversation, they have thus far demurred.

    Were they dumbing down, or are they just dumb? They don’t seem too bothered about the distinction.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. In support of my 5.22am speculation may I point out that neither author has posted in their own discussion (truly a nonversation) as of this time, despite extreme provocation. This leaves defenders of the article well and truly upon their own stylolites.


  11. Climate models show ‘high co2 sensitivity with high aerosol cooling.’
    Climate models show ‘low co2 sensitivity with low aerosol cooling.’
    Therefore, climate models are up the creek.

    H/t Aristotle.


  12. Alan,
    An alternative explanation is Willy and pals are doing the best they can.
    A sort of Peter Principal for social manias and consensus evangelization [could] be in operation that demonstrstes an inverse relationship between fervor and rational thinking.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Hunter. Non response in a debate you have started can hardly be described as “fervour”, yet we all agree that the article is hardly rational thinking.
    How also to explain the non intervention of dearest Willi? It’s almost as if cliscep has made a successful takeover bid for parts of the Conversation and transformed it into a hotbed of “denialism”.


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