Climate

We Asked Scientists If Ted Cruz And B.o.B Had Anything In Common. They Had A Lot To Say.

CREDIT: Dylan Petrohilos/ThinkProgress

Hip hop artist and record producer Bobby Ray Simmons, Jr., better known as B.o.B, recently brought an ancient geodesic argument back to Twitter from where it had been gathering dust in old reference libraries. His position: the earth is flat.

After tweeting that “You can regurgitate force fed information all day… still doesn’t change physics,” on Monday, B.o.B started making more specific claims about seeing tall buildings far away, and where the North Star is visible as evidence for his claim.

America’s “Personal Astrophysicist,” Neil deGrasse Tyson, came to the rescue.

B.o.B responded to Tyson (too quickly, it seems, to consult the peer review process) with a diss track called “Flatline.” He told Tyson to “loosen up his vest,” and asserted that science is a “cult” and a “club full of liars” before getting distracted by some antisemitic ideas and Holocaust-denial.

In a late-breaking development, Dr. Tyson’s nephew, who is also a rapper who goes by the moniker Tyson, released a diss track (called “Flat to Fact”) in response to B.o.B’s diss track.

What does B.o.B have in common with the people running for the Republican presidential nomination this year?

Many leading contenders deny outright that the earth is getting warmer (it is), and many more question the role human activity plays (they shouldn’t, it’s us), despite overwhelming agreement in the scientific community. Both climate denial and flat earthers reject tested and retested evidence and scientific consensus, yet climate denial is a central tenet of a major American political party.

“I often *do* compare climate change denial (and evolution denial) to the ‘flat Earther’ mentality,” Dr. Michael Mann, Director of Penn State’s Earth System Science Center, told ThinkProgress in an email. “In each case, we’re talking about the wholesale rejection of overwhelmingly well-established science.”

“The difference is that there are no political or commercial interests behind flat-eartherism,” Stephan Lewandowsky, a cognitive scientist who studies climate denial at the University of Bristol, told ThinkProgress via email. “So the number of people who believe this, if they really do, is extremely small and they are easy to mock. In terms of scientific evidence, there is not much daylight between how certainly we know that the Earth is round and how certainly we know that greenhouse gases cause the climate to change, but there is a world of political difference between the two. If nothing were at stake in climate change, the ‘deniers’ would be mocked as surely as flat earthers.”

Climate denial got the benefit of a entire hearing before the U.S. Senate late last year, courtesy of the man currently leading the field in Iowa for the Republican presidential nomination, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX).

“Facts matter, science matters, data matters. That’s what this hearing is about,” Cruz began the hearing, before launching into many favorite theories of climate deniers: CO2 is actually good for the planet, satellite data shows no warming, Arctic sea ice is increasing. It did not matter to Cruz that none of these things are true.

Cruz has also said “Climate change is not science. It’s religion.”

The other frontrunner for the nomination, Donald Trump, merely notes when it snows to conclude that global warming is a hoax.

“I think there’s not a substantive difference between flat earthism, climate change denial, or indeed Holocaust denial or creationism,” Josh Rosenau, the programs and policy director at the National Center for Science Education, told ThinkProgress. “All reject abundant evidence in order to prop up an ideological bias and reinforce group identity.”

“What is more concerning are very specific trends among Conservatives (in the US) who increasingly distrust science whereas there is no such trend among moderates and liberals,” Lewandowsky said.

In a 2013 speech about climate change, President Obama made light of people who refuse to believe mainstream climate science.

“I don’t have much patience for anyone who denies that this challenge is real,” he said. “We don’t have time for a meeting of the flat earth society.”

The Flat Earth Society, while having its heyday early last century, is actually still a thing.

Rosenau dug into the modern flat earth movement, which started in the 1830s courtesy of a man named Samuel Rowbotham.

“Evidently an ingenious character, who delighted in controversy and dispute, he could not resist the ultimate challenge of toppling orthodox ideas and a fact so established as the earth’s rotundity,” Rosenau quoted historian and author Christine Garwood in a 2014 post. “He had seen the passions that scientific and religious topics could evoke and, moreover, the money that people would pay to listen to a feisty debate on these themes.”

Rosenau told ThinkProgress “that kinda sounds like a fair description of B.o.B, too. It’s possible, indeed, that he was just repeating any claim that he thought might get a rise out of people, in the same way that Rowbotham did in the 1830s.”

Inquiries to B.o.B’s press contact at Atlantic Records about the artist’s thoughts on climate change, and whether he was an actual member of the Flat Earth Society or merely shared their views, went unanswered by press time.

Last year, ThinkProgress asked Neil deGrasse Tyson about climate denial and the political debate in the United States.

“The issue here is not what politicians do because the electorate votes them into office,” he said. “So what does it mean to complain about what politicians do? We should complain about what the electorate does. I’m an educator, so I see it as one of my duties, especially as a science educator, to alert people of what science is and how it works. About what it means for there to be an objective truth that we would then act upon.”

“If you want to lean in a political way because that’s your politics, you should do that based on an objective truth rather than cherry-picking science before you even land at an objective truth,” he said. “You can’t just cherry-pick data and choose what is true about the world and what isn’t.”

Fortunately for music lovers, Dr. Tyson made clear that B.o.B’s extreme geodesic views did not necessitate a boycott of his songs.

After all, B.o.B does not have access to the levers of national public or scientific policy and can safely make music without doing much harm. He’s not running for president, or anything.

UPDATE JAN 26, 2016 5:09 PM

In a late-breaking development, Dr. Tyson's nephew, who is also a rapper who goes by the moniker Tyson, released a diss track called "Flat to Fact" in response to B.o.B's diss track (embedded above).

Here are some key lines:

"He learned the game from Carl Sagan, you can never check him
You say the earth is flat and then you try to disrespect him
I'm bringing facts to combat a silly theory
Because B.o.B has gotta know the planet is a sphere, G
[...]
It's very clear you're rapping for fame
While I represent the culture and the spirit we claim
I mean please, check him for a wire or a ear piece
Is Donald Trump the one who's feeding you all of these
Stupid bits of information, keeps you on your knees"

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