I listened to this interesting podcast by Big Picture Science, produced by the SETI Institute. The hosts interviewed a scientist who attended a “scientific” conference organized by a flat earth community. There were speakers who presented their “scientific findings” to support their belief. They believe that everything coming out of NASA or the scientific community is false, so they feel the need to conduct their own experiments. This was really eye-opening for me, because I have never interacted with anyone from this crowd, so I thought that earth being a globe is a universally acknowledged truth. And it really got me thinking, how can we fix this?
Before thinking of solutions, I want to say that even for such a scientifically backed claim, there exist many disbelievers, let along things that have no definite right or wrong, such as politics or morality. I think people should be more open-minded to listen to different views, and try to understand a situation from different perspectives.
The scientist from the podcast mentioned that when he talked to the flat earth believers at the conference, he found that they are not willing to be open-minded. After he had listened to their “scientific findings”, they are not willing to listen to his theory. As a result, he sadly concluded that there is nothing that scientists can do or prove to change the minds of flat earth believer, because they are not susceptible to outside ideas at all.
Digging deeper into why they won’t listen to real scientists, he found that these people feels like scientists dictates all scientific findings, and the public just have to listen to them unconditionally. They feel rebellious against this setup and they would rather do their own experiments. But none of them have degrees in science or have any formal training in research, so it is almost inevitable that they will arrive at wrong conclusions.
In my opinion, the root cause of all this is education, higher education in particular. first of all educated people tend to be more open-minded. They are taught that there could exist different approaches to the same problem, therefore they are more likely to listen to alternative points of view. Also, I believe it is necessary that everyone gets an education on the basics of scientific research. Since flat earth believers hate how scientists have authority over science topics, then maybe if we educate them to be scientists in the first place, they will see the rigor of scientific research, thus trust the scientists.
There are people in my life that believe college education should not be for everyone. From a pragmatic perspective, sure, most skills of common jobs can be picked up in months, and a lot of people work in sectors different from their college majors. Why waste time and money on things that will not make you a better employee?
However, I believe that a college education is necessary to improve the society as a whole. The core curriculum forces science majors to gain a basic understanding of history, philosophy and art, and forces humanities majors to learn the basics of scientific research and math skills. This process is essential for people to see things from other’s perspective, and become more well-round, in order to fit into the society and be able to solve complex problems as adults.
If by providing college education to all, therefore making the scientific methods available to all, there will be significantly fewer flat earth believers, fewer ghost hunters, and fewer pseudo-scientists in general, I would say that it is a successful and necessary system.
2 thoughts on “Thoughts Inspired by Flat-Earthers”
I wish what you say were true about today’s higher education having a transformative power to improve individuals and society as a whole! Unfortunately, few universities today offer a rigorous core curriculum (one which would immerse humanities majors in the STEM fields and vice versa), and open-mindedness is not the norm on too many campuses. See the website of the Heterodox Academy (https://heterodoxacademy.org), a group founded by Jonathan Haidt (author of The Righteous Mind) to reverse close-mindedness and promote viewpoint diversity in higher education. In this video from 2011, Charles Murray and Peter Thiel question the belief that everyone should go to college:
I was speaking from my personal experience, my time at university taught me knowledge and critical thinking skills, so that I did not fall for the flat earth theory for example. However, I do realize that not everyone had the same experience at the university as me, and I was careless to assume that.