Why should we believe the earth is round, just because scientists say so?

Tom Tomorrow poses the question in this hilarious cartoon for Salon:

This Modern World By Tom Tomorrow

Note:  Someone sent it to me and I missed noting the publication year, which was 2007.  The less things change….

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31 Responses to Why should we believe the earth is round, just because scientists say so?

  1. Steve Bloom says:

    Just to note that the cartoon is from 2007 and so is not the latest.

  2. Anonymous says:

    haha I like Rove in the background…look at that forehead

  3. paulm says:

    more scary stuff…

    Smoke bomb: The other climate culprits

    When China and India reduce their sulphur dioxide emissions, the rate at which the planet is warming will rise dramatically. Satellite measurements show that China is already making headway, says Frank Raes of the European Commission Joint Research Centre in Ispra, Italy.

    As a result, the rate of warming could increase from the current 0.2 °C per decade to 0.3 or 0.4 °C per decade. “Locally, it might go to 0.8 °C per decade,” Raes says. Such rapid change would make it much harder for both people and wildlife to adapt (see “Too fast, too furious”).

  4. Brewster says:

    Exactly what I needed for a discussion I’m having right now – Thanks!

  5. prokaryote says:

    Good analogy!

  6. NathanS says:


  7. prokaryote says:

    “If there were a typo in The Origin of Species by Charles Darwin, would that nullify the theory of evolution?”

  8. Jeff Huggins says:

    We probably need to “demystify” science in some senses.

    Einstein once wrote:

    “The whole of science is nothing more than a refinement of everyday thinking.”

    According to one credible-looking source, the quote comes from Einstein’s “Physics and Reality” (1936). I haven’t checked with the original.

    It’s a quote worth thinking about. Science is not something “magical” and unfounded. Instead, much of science has to do with the elimination of errors (in thinking and experimentation), the following of multiple lines of evidence, the systematic exploration of questions, and the seeking of repeatable and solid evidence, among other things.

    I’m coming to think that many people have an incredibly poor understanding of science itself and, thus, distance themselves from it and (to a degree) think it has to do with pulling rabbits out of hats. Too many people think that they can simply “accept” science when they like what it says and, conversely, choose to disagree with science when what it says causes them discomfort.



  9. prokaryote says:

    We’ve arranged a civilization in which most crucial elements profoundly depend on science and technology. We have also arranged things so that almost no one understands science and technology. This is a prescription for disaster. We might get away with it for a while, but sooner or later this combustible mixture of ignorance and power is going to blow up in our faces.
    * Carl Sagan, interview with Anne Kalosh, 1995

  10. Jeff Huggins, I cannot atest to the the Einstein quote, but there is a long standing tradition in American Pragmatism that makes exactly that argument. It is rooted in the emergence of Pramatism in the works of Charles Saunders Peirce, was picked up by John Dewey, is definitely present in works by Morris Cohen and Ernest Nagel, and continues on in much contemporary work.

    The linkage between science as refined everyday thinking shows up in many current Critical Thinking texts and goes back to an earlier view of logic as the “theory of inquiry”, which can be found pretty explicitly in the works of Aristotle.

    So your proposal, while perhaps not a majority position in the contemporary academic scene, nevertheless has an active, “living” base in philosophy with some very deep roots in Western thought.

  11. mike roddy says:

    Thanks for the Einstein quote, Jeff, good one.

    I read recently that the highest percentage of global warming deniers is found among older white college graduates. In other words, experience, education, and privelege cause mental ….


    [JR: You can come up with a better word, no?]

  12. Jeff Huggins says:

    Mike (Comment 11),

    you Should Try tO be more cryPtic in your messages, so you don’t get snipped so easily. try using capital letters to spell something out, Even if you have to resort to words like Xylophone and Xoo in Order to convey your meaNing. otherwise, joe will catch on.

    be well,


  13. colinc says:

    @9. prokaryote

    “…sooner or later this combustible mixture of ignorance and power is going to blow up in our faces.”

    Ooops, too late, already there! Carl Sagan is still one of my all time “favorite” people! I would watch him, with extreme attentiveness, every time he was on TV while I was growing up and still re-view his works from time to time on YouTube and the Science Channel. I also read a couple of his books.

    @11. mike roddy

    I’m not sure where your comment was headed before Joe’s [snip] but what is remaining, along with a couple other things, reminded me of a scene in Randy Olsen’s “Flock of Dodos…” movie. Randy interviews a working geologist who blatantly states that the Earth _is_ only about 6K yrs old and dinosaurs coexisted with man, thereby obviating more than half of his supposed “education.” As B. Bunny would say, “What a moroon!” If anyone has yet to see this great film, I highly recommend it so you better understand how deep the sh*t-pile we’re in really is.

    I love(?) the GWB frame in the cartoon which leads me to ask, how _does_ someone with an obvious single-digit IQ receive a degree from an allegedly “prestigious” Ivy League school? Moreover, how does such decidedly _uneducated_ and irrational c**stain get “elected” TWICE?!?!?

    Personally, I’m utterly convinced that any “scientists,” really anyone with a “reasonable” amount of intelligence and knowledge, still alive after 2050 _will_ be burned at stake for “witchcraft.”

  14. 13. colinc asks:

    how _does_ someone with an obvious single-digit IQ receive a degree from an allegedly “presitigious” Ivy League school? Moreover, how does such decidedly _uneducated_ and irrational (individual) get “elected” TWICE?!?!?

    Money, money, money, money, money …

  15. Wit's End says:

    meh, I am so bereft to have missed Mike Roddy’s comment before the snip! Wah! It was probably really juicy! Mike, make a post at my blog, I’ll allow it however filthy! Filthy is the most reasonable response these days…

  16. colinc says:

    @14. Logic Deferred

    Thank you but I’m pretty sure that, at least to _living_ brain cells, that is merely freaking obvious, too! :) Nonetheless, I do appreciate your response and it provides added impetus for me to check-out your website. The “point” I was at least trying to allude to is that the Sagan quote cited by prokaryote is even more poignant and profound than _most_ people realize or care to admit. I could write VOLUMES just on the number of people I’ve encountered over the past 2 decades who claim a MIS or some other Comp.Sci. degree who demonstrated that they knew absolutely NOTHING about computers. Our system of “education” _is_ fubar and a major factor in “why” we, as a species, are in our current predicament, economically, environmentally and socially.

    As another example, a few months ago I had a “discussion” with someone claiming a degree in engineering (I won’t get more specific) who was wondering if “the universe” could be represented and understood using nothing more than integer mathematics. (BTW, I have a degree in math and diff.eq. and linear algebra were my favorite classes.) I replied that it IS already being done on computers that do ONLY “understand” just 2 integers, 0 and 1. At that point, this other person questioned if that was indeed true. So, let’s see, “s/he” claims an engineering degree but doesn’t have the vaguest idea how the technology “s/he” uses on daily basis functions. Doesn’t sound like “education” to me!

    @15. Wit’s End

    I like your website, even though I don’t visit often, and I most definitely like your thinking in that comment! I hope Mr. Roddy complies so I can get what he was driving at. However, I must say that whether any word(s) or language is “filthy” is strictly a matter of subjective “sensitivities,” and way too many people are overly sensitive in this regard. I spent more than a few years in construction and as a merchant marine so, in my book, no word is offensive. However, most anything ever passing the lips of GWB, or his cronies, was EXTREMELY offensive, in the most abject and deplorable way. Those a–holes and most of the jacka–es on Faux Noise and Madison Av. think we’re all idiots and, by and large, they’re not far off the mark. Too bad, so sad.

  17. Richard Brenne says:

    Thanks for running this Joe, to someone (who?) for sending it to you, and to Salon for publishing it first.

    This is an outstanding, world-class cartoon with brilliantly succinct points made in each of the six panels and I applaud you Tom, if that is your real name.

    This is exactly the kind of communication we need to have in all mediums.

    Maybe we can project this onto the full moon that is also a disk.

  18. 16. colinc: Don’t mistake my earlier response as an attempt to be insightful; it was merely me being rueful (and attempting to be humorous, which is often a mistake).

    A distinction that John Dewey made (and many of us in the Pragmatism field tend to endorse) is between “schooling” and “education.” Education is the development of the capacity to grow as a human being; schooling is generally the training needed to balance a ball on your nose (the “Seal” of approval, if you will.)

    The ideal of education is a mind capable of engaging in methodologically sound inquiry. Sadly, the results of specialized schooling are often enough nothing more than ball-balancing tricks whose underlying methodological principles (assuming there are such) are never actually learned. So what can often happen — what apparently did happen with your engineering major — is that this person completed a great deal of schooling w/o ever grasping the methodologically legitimate principles of inquiry that would have made for a real education.

    This is, I would argue, a fundamental problem that is particularly relevent to the science of climate change. Persons with some measure of schooling never achieved any real education, and as such do not even know the difference, therefore lack the basic tools of inquiry yet presume to make decisions on a subject they cannot intelligently engage because they don’t even know that they are refusing to even try.

  19. mike roddy says:

    OK, Joe, let’s use “disintegration” in my #11, a far more PC term. Thanks for paying attention, btw. I also want to blame my 14 year old son for the misspelling of privilege, as long as we’re trying to be precise here.

    It is odd that the most blessed among us seem to have the most virulent form of global weirding, AKA denial syndrome. This is a mystery that would be fun to explore.

  20. DreamQuestor says:

    A timely cartoon, perhaps, but “hilarious?” Somehow, I can’t help but feel that humor is more amusing and effective when it is not used as an anvil.

    I have often speculated that the anti-science backlash among many older Americans is a consequence of the increasing complexity of society in general and technology in particular. I know people who have trouble figuring out how to use a DVD player and certainly cannot grasp of the complexity of climate science. We have entire generations who grew up with the threat of nuclear annihilation, Thalidomide babies, Love Canal, Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, etc. Is it possible that this disillusionment is a significant factor in AGW denialism?

  21. Jeff Huggins says:

    To Logic Deferred (Comments 10 and 18),

    Thanks for those. Cheers, Jeff

  22. Lewis Cleverdon says:

    On the topic, just for the record, the notion of a flat earth whose edges should not be approached was a novel propaganda applied by the medaeval papacy as a means to raise its control of the society within its theocratic hegemony.

    Off the topic, but worth noting, is the idea that a space our brains cannot evaluate tends to be seen as effectively limitless. In this context we can readily judge the area of a flat earth by eye, given a place to stand, but a spherical one ?
    And it was during the “Age of Enlightenment,” when the globe was finally re-acknowledged by the wealthy & powerful, that society organised the capacity to start treating the Earth as if it were just limitless material, rather than a Creation of finite extent.

    The formula for the surface area of a sphere may be too complex for many handle : 4.pi.r2 – with the cryptic memnonic “For pie are squared”
    A better visual technique for internalizing the reality is by looking at the full moon’s shining disc and accepting that the moon’s surface area is equal to four such discs.

    For society to learn that the area of a sphere is finite is evidently critically important – the example of the moon’s area can and should be taught in childhood.



  23. prokaryote says:

    colinc, i have no education and are jobless. Thanks for the tip with carl sagan i only know this quote from him so far, will search for some videos on yt.

    I disagree with your statement on “witchcraft” though. I belive that soon people who spread lies will face an angry mob and that scientist will gain the respect and ear which is needed. In those regards i recommend the video of Dr James Lovelock on the vanishing face of gaia (To those who don’t have the money to buy the book).

  24. David Volz says:

    You people are dangerous idoits

  25. prokaryote says:

    David i have to agree the people in this cartoon are not very bright.

  26. Mikel says:

    The comments about education reminded me, an older white college graduate, of a quote about the purpose of education:

    “Nothing that you will learn in the course of your studies will be of the slightest possible use to you in after life — save only this — that if you work hard and diligently you should be able to detect when a man is talking rot, and that, in my view, is the main, if not sole purpose of education”

    J.A. Smith
    Professor of Moral Philosophy
    University of Oxford, 1914.

  27. Stan says:

    Hilarious. Any fool knows that there has never, in the history of man, been a time when the scientific consensus was wrong. Just go back and look at scientific publications from the 18th century and see how well they understood the world. One wonders why anyone bothers to continue to pursue science careers today. Scientists have almost god-like infallability!

  28. Someone please tell me that the typo in #24 is deliberate: as much as I appreciate irony, that one might make my head explode.

  29. Barry says:

    Nice try Stan.

    I guess we have to add “ignorance of the history of science” to the list of things general society has trouble understanding. The arc of science has been toward increasing precision in any given area of study.

    Yes theories have been proposed that were mostly accepted and then overturned later by better science and more data. That is the scientific method and will always happen. But as any area of science evolves these areas of uncertainty become increasingly small.

    For example the level of uncertainty in the science of the physical earth is no longer about the big issues of general shape or relative age.

    The history of science has been a homing in on the physical truths of our world. The theories that are overturned are now about the details of the picture.

  30. If the scientific consensus were promoting something comfortable or confirmatory to business as usual, there would not be an industry of disinformation. But the science is challenging the fundamental assumption that we can continue to run a high-energy economy on endlessly increasing supplies of fossil fuels.

    There’s a honesty test I wish people who doubt the science would take. If the scenarios painted by climate scientists for a world in which the ice caps melt and sea levels dramatically rise, huge areas of the world turn into dust bowls, and natural carbon sinks that dwarf human emissions are released have even a 10% chance of taking place, shouldn’t we be taking out some insurance? Especially since it accrues other benefits like less dependence on imported oil and cleaner air?

  31. David B. Benson says:

    Logic Deferred (28) — You need a better quality, heavy duty irony meter…