Trump, Behind Closed Doors, Insists Earth is Flat (a lesson)

The flat earth of Trump’s imaginings. Image from Ref. (2)

A story hit the press today – behind closed doors last night, while meeting with both Democrats and Republicans, Trump advanced the idea that the world is flat and not round. In a story tonight on NPR’s “All Things Considered,” excerpts from a press briefing today with Press Secretary Sean Spicer suggested things got pretty heated as Spicer came under increasing pressure to have Trump take action on this matter if he so strongly believes it.

The transcript

Here is the transcript from a segment of the “All Things Considered” story [1]. The italicized portions are from audio from the press conference, and italicized and bold portions are from the radio story itself with host Ari Shapiro interviewing Mara Liasson, national political correspondent:

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Does the president believe that the earth is flat, and what evidence do you have of a flat earth if that’s the case?

Sean Spicer takes questions from the press as he deals with Trump’s closed-door assertions about the shape of the earth. Photo from Getty Images.

SEAN SPICER: The president does believe that. He has stated that before. I think he’s stated his concerns of misrepresentation of the earth’s shape during the campaign. And he continues to maintain that belief based on studies and evidence that people have presented to him.

LIASSON: Spicer didn’t say what that evidence was, except for at one point, he referred to a Nature study that actually is not about the shape of the earth. It’s about irregularities in the crust of the earth, like the number of mountains in the Andes range.

SHAPIRO: Mara, what are the implications of President Trump bringing this up again?

LIASSON: There are a lot of implications . . . This would be the biggest cover-up of a basic fact in human history. It would call into question the model of the Solar System, too . . . And if he believes the earth is flat, wouldn’t he want to restore faith in our basic knowledge of the world by calling for an investigation to get to the bottom of this. Now, I asked Sean Spicer about that today, and he wasn’t taking the bait. Here’s what he said.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

LIASSON: If the earth is really flat and not round, that is a scandal of astronomical proportions. Doesn’t he want to restore Americans’ faith in their education system? Wouldn’t he want an investigation of this?

SPICER: Well, I…

LIASSON: I mean this is a huge, huge scandal.

SPICER: But Mara, you – as I’ve noted several times now, he’s believed this for a long time.

LIASSON: I’m not (unintelligible).

SPICER: And I think he’s traveled uneventfully in a jet from place to place in the world, so he’s not – and look; we’ll work…

LIASSON: I’m asking you, why not investigate something that is…

SPICER: Well, maybe we will.

LIASSON: Maybe we will, but later he said an investigation was just hypothetical.

WTF? Relax – this is satire

OK, you can be done being confused. This was satire.

Of course, Trump didn’t say this specific thing and that’s not what this press conference questioning was about. Instead, it was about Trump’s repeated and continually baseless claims that there was massive voter fraud in the 2016 Presidential Election. He, nor his aids, ever produced evidence of this claim – yet they repeat it over and over and over again. That’s propaganda, not science.

Yet, many people buy into this nonsense because it suits their worldview. I thought it would be a useful exercise to use parody to get across how it feels, as a scientist, to listen to people like Trump and Spicer assert unverifiable or absolutely refuted claims. So I replaced references to voter fraud in the original transcript with phrases about the shape of the earth, and adjusted other text accordingly. Because, you see, without a mountain of gold-standard evidence to back his claims, Trump’s assertions are about as sane as the assertion that the earth is flat. Massive voter fraud claims fly in the face of all direct evidence to the contrary, and any attempt to assert the claim is a distortion of reality so terrifying that it makes my brain hurt – much the same way that “flat earthers” make my brain hurt. They are merely asserting a false claim to protect some value system or world view – but that is not science.

So now you know how I feel, listening to this man spout his nonsense.

UPDATE – Jan. 25, 2017

Over night, Trump tweeted that his administration will conduct a thorough investigation of his own claims. He tweeted this:

I will be asking for a major investigation into VOTER FRAUD, including those registered to vote in two states, those who are illegal and….even, those registered to vote who are dead (and many for a long time). Depending on results, we will strengthen up voting procedures! [3]

(emphasis is his own)

This is a major victory for the press, who called his bluff and made him blink. Thank God for the 4th estate.

[1] http://www.npr.org/2017/01/24/511468443/as-trump-moves-ahead-on-agenda-controversial-election-claim-resurfaces

[2] http://www.geek.com/culture/internet-gutter-welcome-to-the-flat-earth-1659303/

[3] https://twitter.com/realDonaldTrump/status/824227824903090176 and  https://twitter.com/realDonaldTrump/status/824228768227217408

Science Policy Under Trump: Vaccine Policy . . . or maybe not.

A chart from the CDC showing the rate of measles infections and how it dropped precipitously upon the introduction of the first measles vaccine. Like all other vaccines, this one saved thousands of lives.

Since the election, while I have paid attention to the developments of the Trump administration, I have withheld on commenting about any of the news so far because nothing has actually happened. On the science front, the most salient decisions related to science policy that Mr. Trump has made so far have been the nomination of former Texas Governor Rick Perry for Secretary of Energy, the nomination of US Representative Tom Price for Secretary of Health and Human Services, and the nomination of the Attorney General of Oklahoma, Scott Pruitt, for Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency. The Secretary positions require confirmation, and I am waiting to hear the confirmation process for Perry and Price before I come to any conclusions about how they might set policy for the nation on these areas of national priority.

However, there is one area that I feel compelled to write about, even though no formal action has been taken and the action reported earlier today is now contradicted by the Trump team itself. That is the announcement today that Mr. Trump has asked a leading ant-vaccine, anti-science advocate, Robert Kennedy Jr., to lead a panel to investigate the safety of vaccines . . . or maybe he hasn’t.

Continue reading “Science Policy Under Trump: Vaccine Policy . . . or maybe not.”

Bad Science Writing: College Paper Edition

A screen capture of the digital print version of this article on the Paleo Diet. It claims to debunk diets, but is so credulous that I think this word they use does not mean what they think it means.
A screen capture of the digital print version of this article on the Paleo Diet. It claims to debunk diets, but is so credulous that I think this word they use does not mean what they think it means.

Writers are born young. Good writers learn their craft through practice, trial, and error. Failure is the best teacher. Given my view of writing, there is much my own University’s weekly campus paper, the SMU Campus Weekly, can learn from this recent article that claims to assess the “Paleo diet.” [ARTICLE] I got so upset about this article and its complete lack of scientific assessment, I actually wrote a letter to the Editor of the paper. This is not the first credulous diet review article in our campus newspaper, but it is the last straw for me – a professor who teaches a class in the scientific method and how to construct a good assessment of a claim. This article represents the worst kind of science writing. Check out the article. Then read my letter below. I marked typos that I wish I’d caught before sending the letter with “[sic].”

UPDATE: I updated this after receiving a response from the Editor. I summarize her response, print my own email reply to her, and then document an assessment of the claimed “experts” used in the article.

Continue reading “Bad Science Writing: College Paper Edition”

Trick or Treat or Pseudoscience?

When a charity organization that works to support families and children dealing with childhood cancer partners with a race organization that promotes pseudoscience, this scientist gets upset.
When a charity organization that works to support families and children dealing with childhood cancer partners with a race organization that promotes pseudoscience, this scientist gets upset.

Every year, Jodi and I run a local Halloween-themed 5K race together. Recently, the race became a charity for an organization that tries to help children and their families deal with particular cancers. It’s nice that the race goes to support a good cause; to be honest, I don’t run it for the cause, but for the run itself. That said, for the past 2 years I have been fairly horrified by some of the “goodies” in the race bag that you get at registration.

Continue reading “Trick or Treat or Pseudoscience?”