Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Iraqi scientists: is the Earth flat?

In October 2007, an Iraqi TV aired a discussion of an Iraqi astronomer with an Iraqi physicist about the shape of the Earth. The astronomer insists that one must only allow science that can be verified by the Quran. The Moon is 1 million kilometers in diameter, the Sun is twice as big, and the Earth is even bigger which is why the Sun orbits around the Earth.

The physicist, described as a heretic, uses some bizarre theoretical arguments to argue that the Earth is round. The astronomer avoids these speculations about the astronauts that are not even wrong. And he even gives an explanation why we only see the upper part of distant ships: it is because no doctor in the world knows how the eye works and whether it is able to see blurred distant objects. ;-)

If you watch the discussion carefully, you will notice that the physicist is much closer to reality but he is not flawless either. Around 3:20, he argues that the gravity on the Moon is g/6 because the lunar mass is 1/6 of the Earth's mass. It is actually 1/80 of the Earth's mass and the different radii influence the counting, too.


I really think that this discussion is way too similar to the discussions that physicists sometimes have with the likes of Peter Woit or Lee Smolin who are always ready to use technically silly arguments because the actual justification for their wrong statements are sociological cliches not unsimilar to the Iraqi astronomer's Islamic belief: the only reason why they can be heard is that millions of uneducated people are ready to buy and approve their irrational stupidities.

In both cases, one of the main "arguments" is that the "scientific principles" or any sufficiently complex scientific derivations can be and should be ignored because they "cannot be seen": in other words, stupid people - such as the Islamic fundamentalists or the Not Even Wrong readers - don't really understand them which is enough to "show" that they're not even science or they're false.

Also, I wonder whether the Iraqi war has strengthened the position of the simpletons similar to the "astronomer" above or similar groups. I am afraid that it has. If it has, it is too bad because similar primitive people as the "astronomer" can return the country back to the first millenium.

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