Wednesday, December 23, 2009


Perhaps you've seen this stupid cartoon being passed around by climate change deniers:

It's very amusing, and not because it's a profound comment on the nature of certainty in the scientific process, but because it's science and historical perspective thereof is so far off that it makes the cartoonist look foolish.

First, the "Flat earth" theory of the world was almost exclusively a result of Biblical interpretation, not science. The ancient Greeks provided the world with ample evidence of the spherical Earth. It wasn't until the middle ages that "flat Earth" notions started to pop up. When they did, they entered the cultural consciousness not by science, but through theology.

The geocentric universe theory is far more complicated, but it's acceptance has it's roots in the epistemology of Aristotle. The notions grounding it are far more what we would consider "scientific" today, but did not develop using the epistemological breakthroughs advanced by Copernicus and Galileo. The philosophical differences between the ancient Greeks and the Renaissance astronomers couldn't be more different, and the details why explain almost perfectly the differences between climate change deniers and those that accept the science. (Unfortunately, this would take forever to explain.)

"Heavier bodies fall faster than light ones." Here Ramirez is just wrong. Speed is a function of distance and time and a bowling ball will cover the same distance "faster," as Rameriz says, than a feather when dropped from the same height. The breakthrough that Galileo made was the law of uniform acceleration, not speed. Why is that important? It's the first step taken to arriving at a theory of gravity.

"The atom is the smallest particle in the universe." Again, this demonstrates a complete ignorance of the history of the atom. In 1897 J.J. Thompson discovered the electron, an atomic element, but still posited a "plum pudding" atomic model. The model that is currently taught to school children didn't develop until 1911.

The last two panels are obviously the cartoon's punchline. I know it's just a comic aside, but if very jest must carry an element of truth in it to be funny, then this cartoon fails on just about every level. Laughing at the this comic demonstrates a total ignorance of the history of science would be like reading a book the explained how the Germans won World War I and blindly accepting it.

Of course, given how good climate change deniers are at ignoring science, one shouldn't be at all surprised that they have an equally poor ability to examine history.

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