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Old 02-27-2019, 08:30 AM
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Netflix: "Behind the Curve" (doc about flat Earthers)


Since it's a movie I'm putting this is CS, but I suppose it could go in GD.

I found it very interesting. While it was certainly critical of the ridiculous belief in a flat Earth, it was actually somewhat sympathetic towards the members as flawed (who amongst us isn't) and often lonely people looking for someplace to belong.

It's an examination of the psychology of conspiracists more than a critique of their beliefs.

There are people whose whole identity is wrapped up in this belief.

Some have built their livelyhood around it (and yes I am skeptical of the sincerity of some of those).

They have conventions which are attended by people from all over the world. Parents bring their children. They're determined to get respect and equal time for their beliefs.

It strikes me that in some ways they represent extreme skepticism and extreme gullibility at the same time. It's like the two ends of the spectrum wrap around and meet.

They've spent tens of thousands of dollars conducting experiments involving gyroscopes and lasers in an attempt to falsify the ideas that the Earth moves and that the surface is curved. When the results show that the Earth does move and the surface is curved, they desperately look for the experimental errors that they're certain they must be making.

I get the impression that the movement is growing, and that's obviously disturbing.
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Old 02-27-2019, 08:37 AM
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To me, this is one of the most dramatic observable impacts of the internet, the ability to find cohorts and amplify specious beliefs through group confirmation. But I guess that's kinda the backbone of why it exists?

[old man voice]Back in my day, if you had a crackpot notion you had to drive into the city and find a cheaply published newsletter about it![/old man voice]
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Old 02-27-2019, 08:42 AM
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Did the documentary estimate how many people belong to the "Flat Earther" movement?
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Old 02-27-2019, 09:00 AM
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Did the documentary estimate how many people belong to the "Flat Earther" movement?
I think I recall members claiming large numbers (millions?) but I don't recall the doc reaching any conclusions.

It may be impossible to say. There are conventions, and chapters, and meetup groups, but I don't think there are any official membership lists.
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Old 02-27-2019, 09:13 AM
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It baffles me that as a species, our knowledge marches forward and human kind is now smarter than ever in the way the world works, yet there are still groups like flat-earthers or anti-vaxxers desperate to march backwards.
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Old 02-27-2019, 12:48 PM
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I just watched this, but I was very puzzled by exactly some of the things you (davidm) mentioned / observed.

"It's an examination of the psychology of conspiracists more than a critique of their beliefs." - This is true, and though that made it very "hard 2 watch" with a capitol 2 (especially him and that lady, good lord! I had to look away and watch through my fingers...) it surprised me as well.

I, like you by the sounds of it, both thought this was going to be a little more substantive in terms of documenting and/or evaluating/refuting the compelling "evidence" that these people are so convinced by. They pay little more than lip service to it and it ends up being a fluff piece about these 2 serially lonely people and their blog lives.

I enjoyed the message from the nasa/jpl guy at the bar, that as "learned"/"educated"/"ambassadors-of-science" it is our responsibility to reach across the divide and be friendly, engage, discuss, convince, explore, and debate with people like the flat earther's. It reminded me a lot of the speech from Traffic (movie based on british television show, about the drug war(s)), roughly paraphrased as "a war on drugs is a war on our own children, a war on our own communities, and against our own families. A war in which the enemy is also the victim, and all of us are their abusers." Also that guy (I believe a psychologist) who also strongly urged people to not engage in social/societal pariah-ism, that it is as unthinkable and anti-intellectual now as it was when the church used it for more than a millennia. He said something like "They have been backed into the corner" and it will take some significant effort to get them out again and make them useful to society and no longer "lost". They were pushed there by lack of interest and lack of empathy, he said it was exactly the same as the teacher blaming the student for failing, and I believe he could not be more right.

The central thesis of "Behind the curve" evident from the title alone, is that these people are dumb which makes the above sentiments the outliers; disingenuous and inconsistent with the larger message of the film.

Which brings me to the reason I am here, at the venerable straightdope (news you can't abuse) to ask a simple question that is MESSING WITH MY MIND!

"Behind the curve" appears to be all social/psychological but, perhaps just for face-saving, can't help but take a few potshots at those "behind the curve" while saying literally a couple of nice things about them. It does this by attempting to have the self-proclaimed flat-earth experimenters DISPROVE THEMSELVES?!?!?!

1. This is insane, discredited people (that are "Behind the curve" and lack/eschew education) can't prove things anymore... even if they subsequently prove something that agrees with your point. There were caltech people, real scientists, but they all talked about psychology and how "sad" it all is. I feel like I'm taking crazy pills. However, I know how hard it is to make an entertaining documentary and so forgive the makers for their insane error.
2. The "proof" from the experimenters, that appears to disprove that the earth is stationary, shown in the documentary is mind blowing, cuckoo-bananas, has anyone-in-here-even-seen-a-physics-textbook level crazy. Again, people who make films by and large know NOTHING of science (even the optics required for their cameras ) so I forgive them, but I have to post here now as a result...

They show a laser gyroscope that they purchased, supposedly $20,000, used in planes and satellites and spacecraft and then explain their "incredible findings" that would be "very bad for the flat-earth community" - "it would be very bad" says the fat credibility-less asshole, assuredly. What they supposedly found/measured was the motion of the world (rotation speed I believe). They supposedly repeated the experiment putting the laser gyroscope within boxes made from bismuth and other material hoping to stop absorption of "heavenly energy" that might be throwing off the test.

I am aware of the michelson-morely experiments, and was taught in HIGH-SCHOOL that there is no experiment you can do to prove that you are moving (inside a stationary inertial frame). I know that no matter how you orient the apparatus, the worlds motion (either through space or rotating about an axis) cannot be detected in any way shape or form, and Michelson-Morley and many others since with far greater accuracy have found the same (though the original accuracy from the 1900's was fine! They made the thing huge to compensate.).

Q: With so many qualified people in the movie, why would this be put forward as the central reason disproving or casting doubt on their beliefs? Just to show how profoundly uneducated and stupid they are? It ends up very much showing the same about the makers of the movie... Has science changed since I was a lad, and now we have a device that can measure the rotational speed of the earth (or speed through the aether?)? I know we now have a device that generates vector thrust without expelling any material, and the emdrive may be an even more impressive example of that too, so I know things like this are not impossible (more exists in heaven and earth...) and basic "givens" taught in high-school are routinely found to be incorrect.
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Old 02-27-2019, 06:11 PM
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Sure, but they believed that the gyroscope would be prove motion or no motion, and when it didn't work (according to their beliefs) they rejected the results. This says something about their psychology.

Correct me if I'm wrong but wasn't the laser experiment to measure curvature a valid test?

I agree about it being difficult to watch in places.
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Old 02-27-2019, 06:52 PM
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Thinking about this some more, doesn't a Foucalt pendulum demonstrate the Earth's rotation and, if it does, why wouldn't a gyroscope? Rotation is acceleration, right?
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Old 02-27-2019, 07:21 PM
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I started a GQ thread on the gyroscope question.
https://boards.straightdope.com/sdmb...d.php?t=871576
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Old 02-27-2019, 07:24 PM
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Crossposting here from the other thread, but Foucault coined the term gyroscope and more or less invented it exactly to demonstrate the earth's rotation in a more satisfactory manner than his pendulum.

Link

It is thus quite ironic that flat earthers are using a gyroscope of all things to demonstrate the opposite of what it was invented to prove.

Last edited by Great Antibob; 02-27-2019 at 07:25 PM.
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Old 02-27-2019, 07:34 PM
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Also, I have no clue what that bit about not being able to observe earth's rotation. A Foucault pendulum demonstrates it nicely.

Even the bit about Michaelson-Morley is not correct. That experiment proves earth isn't moving through an ether but that's different from a proof that earth doesn't move at all. There are literally infinite numbers of inertial frames of reference in which earth can be measured to be moving. I have no clue what 'stationary' inertial frames of reference is supposed to mean. Any 'stationary' frame has to be measured against some preferred frame, which does not exist.

Also, inertial means inertial. Rotation is most definitely non-inertial so there's also that out the window.
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Old 02-27-2019, 07:37 PM
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Crossposting here from the other thread, but Foucault coined the term gyroscope and more or less invented it exactly to demonstrate the earth's rotation in a more satisfactory manner than his pendulum.

Link

It is thus quite ironic that flat earthers are using a gyroscope of all things to demonstrate the opposite of what it was invented to prove.
So a gyroscope can be used to demonstrate the Earth's rotation, just as I thought.

So these flat-Earthers did an experiment, it proved them wrong, and they refused to accept that result. What they're doing is more akin to religion than science.
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Old 02-27-2019, 07:47 PM
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Dunno personally I pretty skeptical of the entire movement. Not the fact the earth isn't flat, the fact there is actually a serious group of people who genuinely think it is.

I am not at all convinced the "flat earth" movement as a whole isn't actually just trolls, who are fully aware the earth is not flat, but are happy to say it is to get a rise out of people (and a ton of attention like this documentary). I mean there may be a deluded minority of people who do genuinely believe it, but IMO it is just that a minority (even within the flat earth movement).
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Old 02-27-2019, 08:04 PM
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Dunno personally I pretty skeptical of the entire movement. Not the fact the earth isn't flat, the fact there is actually a serious group of people who genuinely think it is.


...
That very thought has been in the back of my mind. One thing that seemed off about the documentary was the scene where two guys were talking about how the gyroscope test results should be kept under wraps, presumably until they could find and correct the supposed error. If they want to keep the results secret then why talk about it on camera?
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Old 02-27-2019, 10:33 PM
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Thinking about this some more, doesn't a Foucalt pendulum demonstrate the Earth's rotation and, if it does, why wouldn't a gyroscope? Rotation is acceleration, right?
That's how a "gyrocompass" works - it uses the effect of the Earth's rotation to find north.
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Old 02-28-2019, 04:00 AM
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@Great Antibob - I had never heard that focault invented the gyroscope, I love those things... how did I not know this? I am also vaguely aware (though I definitely need to give myself a refresher) that focaults pendulum demonstrates the rotation of the earth. However, they purchased a laser gyroscope (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ring_laser_gyroscope), not a gyroscope. It is much more like an interferometery setup, and has no moving parts. I refreshed my memory a bit, and found that https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Michel...son_experiment actually did detect the rotation of the earth (no motion through space), and that this is the exception to my not-so-steadfast "there is no experiment you can do to prove that you are moving" rule. So I guess with a very accurate one on a small scale today it could actually be possible to measure the rotation of the earth (which seems to be likely what they did in the movie). Thanks for helping set me straight, it was bugging me!

@davidm - yeah, that scene showing them afraid of it "getting out" directly into the camera is another slightly "bogus" performance. I guess also displaying their ideas for "making the experiment work" for them by putting it in boxes of various materials was pretty hokey too. If you were committed to believing/rationalizing that the earth is flat, why not accept that it rotates too? Seems far simpler than "heavenly energies"... Thanks to you as well for starting this thread, and the other one to help answer my question!
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Old 02-28-2019, 08:52 AM
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It baffles me that as a species, our knowledge marches forward and human kind is now smarter than ever in the way the world works, yet there are still groups like flat-earthers or anti-vaxxers desperate to march backwards.
But that's kind of the point of the documentary - it explores why people do this.

To dismiss people who believe in this sort of nuttery as just stupid is really inaccurate. A lot of smart people believe in nuttery. Rather, I think you will find a common thread amongst people who believe in nuttery, or who belong to odious groups, or even just succumb to any number of social contagions or join weird in-groups is a need to belong, to be accepted, to find meaning. People long to be a part of a group. We are social creatures, and the acceptance and approval of others is something we must have. If you lack that in your life, you will seek it wherever you can find it. Most of us find it in family, friends, and more conventional social settings, but some find it in very odd places indeed.

And so if you try to convince a Flat Earther the world is what it is - round - to you that is a simple argument based on fairly rudimentary observation and logic. But to the Flat Earther (or a member of any number of strange and often ridiculous beliefs or groups) you are not challenging a matter of empirical observation. You are challenging their very self-worth. You are challenging them to abandon a big part of what gives them a sense of meaning and belonging. That's incredibly hard.
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Old 03-01-2019, 02:03 AM
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Dunno personally I pretty skeptical of the entire movement. Not the fact the earth isn't flat, the fact there is actually a serious group of people who genuinely think it is.
Ditto. Without knowing what they really believe in, it's difficult to ascertain what is going on. Calling them stupid, or anti-science or whatever is all meaningless if they are just trolling, which given some the Onion-like claims they make, seems quite plausible.
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Old 03-01-2019, 05:29 AM
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I believe the people who are investing money in this and going to conventions are true nutters. But what I think Mark fails to realize WRT membership, is that the majority of people signing up online or engaging in other social media, are probably just currious onlookers, or people looking to troll Flat Earthers.


Also, I don't like how they ended it. I would have liked to seen how they explained away why the laser test didn't work.
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Old 03-01-2019, 08:22 AM
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I believe the people who are investing money in this and going to conventions are true nutters.
I do not "believe" in Bigfoot, but I went to a "Bigfoot Convention" a few years ago just to look at the wackos. The problem was, the people I spoke with there were like me, just looking at the wackos.
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Old 03-01-2019, 08:55 AM
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...

Also, I don't like how they ended it. I would have liked to seen how they explained away why the laser test didn't work.
They said that the laser was hitting weeds.
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Old 03-02-2019, 09:21 AM
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I just got up and went and had a look at my "Earthrise" photo which is on my bookcase. You can definitely see some continents on the surface, but not all. So how do they explain the many photos since taken from orbit showing the whole disk of the Earth .. but not all of the continents at once? Where do they think the missing continents are hiding?
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Old 03-02-2019, 08:46 PM
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I just got up and went and had a look at my "Earthrise" photo which is on my bookcase. You can definitely see some continents on the surface, but not all. So how do they explain the many photos since taken from orbit showing the whole disk of the Earth .. but not all of the continents at once? Where do they think the missing continents are hiding?
They just deny the veracity of the photos themselves, claiming they're fake. They don't believe in space, so why would there be photos taken from there?
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Old 03-02-2019, 08:55 PM
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I had to turn it off after 20 or 30 minutes.
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Old 03-05-2019, 11:55 AM
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Just watched this last weekend and I'm currently re-reading Micheal Shermer's Why People Believe Weird Things. The two dovetail quite nicely, and I fully agree with the contention that education takes time and attacking someone's belief, however erroneous , isn't going to change their mindset. Much like many religious leaders, I'm pretty sure Mark Sargent isn't in it for the gospel, but the simoleons.
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Old 03-05-2019, 12:08 PM
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...

I'm pretty sure Mark Sargent isn't in it for the gospel, but the simoleons.
According to the documentary, many in the movement think that he and Patricia Steere are undercover CIA agents working to undermine the movement.

I suppose this is what happens when a bunch of conspiracy theorists get together. They don't even trust each other.
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Old 03-07-2019, 10:28 AM
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Thank you for bringing this documentary to my attention.

There are some cringe-worthy sections, and the pacing is uneven, but I enjoyed the show thoroughly - particularly the experiments that they perform. Their reaction to the results is priceless !

I actually know a flat earth believer. He's been dying to discuss it with me. So this documentary is perfect for him. I'm not sure if he believes ALL that that Sargeant guy touts (I didn't realize his model extended to 1) no motion whatsoever, and 2) the whole "Truman Show" dome deception). But this guy I know definitely believes in the model depicted in the movie (north pole at the center of the disk, Antarctica as a ring around the edge of the disk).

What struck me about the flat earthers depicted was that it brought to mind two other "social phenomena":
- the whole year 2K "civilization coming to an end" belief and
- religion.

You may recall in the lead-up to the year 2000, there was a number of people who were convinced that computers (with faulty code) were so prolific that when the 2 digits rolled over to 00, fundamental services (phone, power grid, transportation, etc.) would all cease. And it would be like a post-apocalyptic, every-man-for-himself situation. Similar to the flat earthers was the belief that there was this HUGE cover-up (by "the government") to prevent the truth about this collapse of civilization being imminent (so as to avoid a mass panic).
As many ask, the problem with this whole cover-up theory (the entire space program, including the NASA museums) is "why ?" Why go to such expense and extensive deception ? To what end does it make sense to convince people of this other model of the earth and the universe ?

The aspect that reminded me of religion was the "blind faith" in their belief...despite evidence to the contrary (the experiments the flat earthers designed and executed). There's this whole "unless I (personally) can see/experience/prove something, I can choose to believe whatever I want" (ridiculous) philosophy. I feel everyone is free to believe whatever they want, but when you start to "recruit" others to your "belief" with only "explanations" rather than "proof", this reminds me too much of religion.

I think perhaps a more interesting documentary would be about "conspiracy theory" groups in general. Moon landing deniers, 9/11 conspiracies, con-trails, etc.. Why does belief in these conspiracies give such "purpose" to these people ? Some of the psychiatrists in "Behind the Curve" touch on this, but it seems this would could use more exploration.
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Old 03-07-2019, 10:55 AM
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They said that the laser was hitting weeds.
Yeah, I suspect it wasn't the laser that was hitting the weed if yaknowwhatimean.
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Old 03-09-2019, 01:53 PM
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Yeah, I suspect it wasn't the laser that was hitting the weed if yaknowwhatimean.
That's as good an explanation of these people as any!
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Old 03-09-2019, 06:31 PM
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You may recall in the lead-up to the year 2000, there was a number of people who were convinced that computers (with faulty code) were so prolific that when the 2 digits rolled over to 00, fundamental services (phone, power grid, transportation, etc.) would all cease. And it would be like a post-apocalyptic, every-man-for-himself situation.
Y2K was a real problem which businesses spent a ton of money to fix, and did. I was working for the Chicago area utility Commonwealth Edison at the time and they spent a big pile on tracking down issues in computers and control systems. And because they did, they get people doubting that it was a problem in the first place.
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Old 03-09-2019, 06:36 PM
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Y2K was a real problem which businesses spent a ton of money to fix, and did. I was working for the Chicago area utility Commonwealth Edison at the time and they spent a big pile on tracking down issues in computers and control systems. And because they did, they get people doubting that it was a problem in the first place.
My brother put in a LOT of overtime doing the same thing. I was skeptical as to whether it could be an issue until early 1999, when we found out that a program at the pharmacy that converted refill dates to 2000 was linked to the program that printed patient information leaflets in Spanish. That was corrected; IDK if they had that issue because I left the job a few months later. We didn't have any problems at the grocery store, where I was working when the new millennium arrived.

The one place I encountered that did lose information was an oil chance place. I gave them my information again, and got my oil changed.

As for the movie, I watched it this afternoon and wondered how many of the people in it were trolling, and also what they REALLY did for a living. Mark Sargent's own bio is contradictory, based on what I saw online.
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Old 03-09-2019, 08:17 PM
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As for the movie, I watched it this afternoon and wondered how many of the people in it were trolling, and also what they REALLY did for a living. Mark Sargent's own bio is contradictory, based on what I saw online.
Maybe they're all just dedicated yet confused Terry Pratchett fans who wish they lived on the Discworld?
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Old 03-10-2019, 08:24 PM
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Maybe they're all just dedicated yet confused Terry Pratchett fans who wish they lived on the Discworld?
I've never ready any of these books, but I do know what Discworld is. This explanation would make as much sense as any other.
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Old 03-10-2019, 08:59 PM
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Back on the old Joe Pine Show, a Flat-Earther was one of the many "colorful" guests he interviewed. I actually found it quite amusing.

When asked about satellites orbiting the Earth:

EARTHER: They're going this way (tracing a circle laterally over the desktop).

JOE: Okay, but what about the ones going this way (tracing a circle vertically in the air)?

EARTHER: Well, they've lost some, haven't they?

And:

EARTHER: Now, here I have a drawing of two sets of railroad tracks. Note how they merge at the vanishing point.

JOE: Okay, but how does this prove the Earth is flat?

EARTHER: (Indignantly) Oh, well. I'm no artist.

I found it hard to believe the old man took himself seriously.
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Old 03-11-2019, 09:59 AM
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Originally Posted by snfaulkner View Post
I had to turn it off after 20 or 30 minutes.
As did I, but may go back to try to finish. I get fed up quickly with conspiracy types, their lack of logic, the constant use of "they" to describe the origin of much of their crackpottery, the embracing of all the other stupid or even dangerous CTs out there, the dismissal of science and math as being elitist tools, etc. The notion that we're living under a dome and that the sun and moon are just "lights" has a certain lunatic charm, even if the leaders of this silliness don't.
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