Monday, January 05, 2015

Zero gravity day: millions Facebook users were getting ready

Some people must have been weightless yesterday, celebrating the Zero Gravity Day.

On December 15th, 2014, – a fake news website – posted the following story that first appeared in 1974:
Planetary Alignment On Jan 4, 2015 Will Decrease Gravity For 5 Minutes Causing Partial Weightlessness
The story starts with a tweet from NASA where British astronomer Patrick Moore is credited with figuring out that for five minutes on January 4th, Earth's gravity will drop to less than 10% of its value due to some alignment of Pluto and Jupiter or something like that. (The astronomer died in December 2012 but he was the actual original author of the hoax many years ago – realizing it was a hoax, of course.)

The tweet is fake and everything is nonsense, of course. Not a terribly witty hoax. But what's truly remarkable is the number of Facebook users who have shared the hyperlink pointing to the fake article: it was over one million Facebook users!

Some of them may have shared it just because they thought it was funny or they wanted to make fun out of their potential stupider Facebook friends. But you can't explain all of them in this way. It seems obvious to me that a significant portion of those one million users had to share the news about weightlessness because they thought it was serious – in other words, because these people were utterly hopeless morons. Undecided Internet users were asking whether the report was true on Quora.

Even most of the journalists, and they are a very stupid subgroup of the mankind, were able to find out that the story wasn't real and they were patiently explaining to their readers that they wouldn't become weightless on January 4th.

Nevertheless, one million of complete morons of this caliber – that's quite some mass. I get terrified when I imagine that you could meet these people. They could use Facebook to organize a rally in your hometown. If you wouldn't learn to become weightless and to fly, you would almost certainly be trampled to death by this megapile of stupidity shaped in the form of human beings.

It's sort of remarkable that people who are this stupid are able to survive on Earth. Why didn't at least 1,000 people among these 1,000,000 candidates try to jump from their window at the 6th floor, to check that the fall would take a square root of ten times longer time than usually, and it would end with a soft landing? Maybe because all of them are so stupid that they can't even invent the idea to do an experiment? And assuming that such people can't be dumb merely about gravity, why haven't they done something lethally stupid in thousands of opportunities that are waiting for them every day?

Or why thousands of these morons don't visit a weblog that claims that theoretical physics is not even wrong? Oops, they actually do. ;-)

If you understand at least Newton's gravity to some at least qualitative degree, you must be able to guess that almost all the attraction to Earth is due to Earth's own mass, not some other planets. That's why the force points in the right direction, towards the center of the Earth. The gravitational attraction by Jupiter and especially Pluto are completely negligible, thanks to the inverse square law (and lightness of Pluto). But even if we don't neglect the force, only the tidal forces are detectable and they scale like the inverse third power, not just the inverse second power. These tidal forces wouldn't even contribute to "global weightlessness". Even if something contributed to weightlessness, there is no reason why it should only last five minutes. Even if... and one could continue for hours.

But even if someone doesn't know anything about "how gravity works" and "why it exists", he or she should still be able to see that the claim can't be right because if it were right, it would lead to so drastic consequences that people couldn't ignore it. Everyone would have to talk about it. Lots of trains would be derailed and cars wouldn't be able to keep themselves on roads, inmates would be able to jump from the prison over the fences, and so on, and so on. Such dramatic alignments have probably occurred in the past – which should make you ask why you haven't heard about such Zero Gravity Days yet? Why has life on Earth survived?

The fake article was probably made more trustworthy by the fake tweet decorated with all the expected NASA symbols. There is "NASA" written next to it so it must be serious, right? It must be serious for all people who are not capable of thinking by themselves at all, people who effectively don't possess any real brain to speak of. Even if someone at NASA published such a tweet, he could still be making fun. Or the Twitter account could have been hacked. Even if someone published such a tweet seriously, it would simply mean that someone at NASA has lost his mind.

But the stupid people without their own brain – and I am afraid that this group is much larger than one million people who were accidentally offered to share the Facebook post – would just consider all my "alternative explanations" to be heretical, impossible, or at least unlikely. It's much smarter to believe everything with the text "NASA" next to it, isn't it?

A society that seriously doubts (the permanent presence of Earth's) gravity clearly cannot appreciate string theory. Or even quantum mechanics. Or many simpler things, for that matter. To hope that all of us – including the million(s) of weightless morons – may survive together in some way without killing each other due to some stupidity is perhaps a more realistic dream.


  1. The United Nations must demand and heinously enforce that all atomic clocks

    be accompanied by pendulum clocks to document gravitational excursions. Collected data will be excluded from the public domain as ever more expensive studies continue. Trust the UN, and pay your Terrestrial Temporal Tax.

    All solar eclipses will be outlawed.

  2. Given that Facebook is a pre-filter of narcissistic stupidity, there is some selection bias to be sure.

  3. Wouldn't the fall from the 6th floor take only sqrt 10 times longer than usual?

  4. You mean in the FDJ days (?):

  5. I always make that point in conversation with friends...and now there are 6 billion people on the planet, with access to an electronic rumor mill - you do the math.

  6. This is the explanation for the Fermi civilization survives it's stupidity.

  7. Something in me resists. I don't really like any legislation to further restrict free speech, even the hate speech and the books to that effect.

    The potential for abuse is too great. I don't trust institutions to enforce such laws justly and efficiently.

  8. Hmm, the potential for abuse may be great but I think that the European 20th century empirical historical data shows that the potential to abuse the hate speech itself is (much) greater still.

    Institutions are perhaps lousy in enforcing freedom-protecting legislation fairly and effectively. But the greater problem is that the institutions are very effective in enforcing freedom-killing legislation once the society switches to the new regime.

  9. Dear CT, I added "square root of" into the sentence you mentioned because your attempted correction is the most likely one, and I want to avoid similar debates that have nothing to do with the key - sociological - point of this story.

  10. My first reaction to the post title was that someone was arrested for posting a book critical of Islam.

    Fascism has a specific definition. It is a form where big business, big government, and big labor work together for the state.

    I don't know that your 'money will assimilate them' argument holds up, given how much ISIS is dominating social media and getting converts from Britain and the US. The alternate view is that you can get good kebabs from some Indian places as well.

  11. A day will come when a muslim party will be leading in France. Most churches and temples will become mosques and everybody will be ok with it. More and more women will happily wear a veil...
    A French writer, Michel Houellebecq, has just written a book on this fiction called "Soumission" where a muslim party wins against the Front National in the 2022 presidential elections ;-). The book will be released in February and it is already on the headlines.

  12. Moreover,the very claim that the normal jump in the air only takes 0.2 seconds is unrealistic - that would correspond to a tiny initial speed.

    It's too bad January 4 has already passed. I would have hoaxed these people by jumping upward from the top of a building (which would slow my fall).

  13. But even if someone doesn't know anything about "how gravity works" and
    "why it exists", he or she should still be able to see that the claim
    can't be right because if it were right, it would lead to so drastic
    consequences that people couldn't ignore it. ...

    Yes, indeed. One of the most remarkable failings of stupid people is their failure to ask themselves what the world would look like if some proposition of theirs was true.

  14. How does legislation solve anything?

    The speech is going to get out regardless, exactly the same way that illegal revolutionary movements develop in totalitarian regimes least this way the conversation is on the surface.

    One a speech/ideology gains enough momentum it's unstoppable by any laws (nazism). Trying to stop it at the root is very difficult through legislation...ideas are hard to contain :)

  15. There are no redeeming features in pisslam. It is the most backward, barbaric and repulsive of creeds, worse than Naziism. Moreover, everything about it is fucking ugly. Its presence, and that of its adherents, however in the least devout, should not be tolerated in Europe or any other parts of the the West. But the problem it presents is wider than that. It is an ideology that needs to be wiped of the face of the earth, just like smallpox, since it is an ideology PERMANENTLY at war with the rest of the world.

    That's it in a nutshell. Back home we're on a war footing whether we like it or not. Meanwhile one can argue about the principles of free speech and the niceties of legislation but winning that war at expunging its cause is the first priority — everything else is secondary. No doubt in order to do so some emergency powers, however imperfect, will be necessary. I see the use of this kind of legislation in that light.

    On free speech generally. What people do in other countries is their business. I can only be concerned with mine. As far as I am concerned, I take it as an absolute that there should be no restrictions on the speech of my fellow countrymen. No muslime can ever be my fellow countryman. (There are many other restrictions too, but here is not the place to enumerate them.)

    Incidentally, here's a quote from a comment I liked on another blog today by a fellow named Edward Spalton.

    "It is also overlooked that Islam means "submission" and it is every last non Muslim who is required to submit. All and every means to achieve that submission are justified. Mass immigration is part of the process. At Geert Wilders' trial, an eminent Arabist, a Professor Jansen, was due to give evidence for the defence. A judge, who had insisted on the decision to prosecute, actually tried to nobble him by engineering a meeting at a private dinner party. A new bench of judges had to be appointed.

    Simply summed up, Jansen's testimony was this. There is not nor ever can be any such thing as "moderate Islam" because the faith is fixed for all time by its scriptures and authoritative commentaries. There are, of course, moderate Muslims - that is, those who are not fully observant of all the commandments (such as perpetual war on unbelievers until their death or submission). The new bench of judges would not allow Professor Jansen to testify in court but his written evidence was accepted and included in the record.

    I was prompted to write this by a friend's account of hearing an Imam preach in a Church of England cathedral, giving the lie direct that Islam translated as "Peace". When my friend remonstrated with the cathedral clergy afterwards, he was told that they thought the cathedral should be a "neutral space" in a multicultural city. So our national Church has surrendered spiritually and mentally already.

  16. The tidal force (actually it is a force gradient) due to Pluto is 2 x 10^13 times weaker than that due to our moon. The tidal “effect” of a spherical body is proportional to the product of its visual diameter and its average specific gravity. The sun has less effect on earth’s tides than the moon only because it is less dense.

  17. Are you suffering fromm tertiary syphilis too al?
    Only you are so smart to see the treachery of the jew.
    Only you have the ability, the, the foresight to understand his ways.Al you are so lucky you dont run into real jews too often.
    You would find yourself with a few unnatural orifices providing additional ventilation to your putrid body.

  18. David,

    Be careful you're not indulging in a bit of blue on blue here. Or perhaps more accurately, Jew on Jew — we don't know that Al isn't Jewish himself, or at least I don't. :)

    Hmmm? I wander what the chances are?

    Let's ask him if he's been circumcised. That should make the betting a little less risky. :)

    Anticipated response from Al: MYOFB!

    P.S. I take it you're Jewish. Just a guess? :)