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    Is B.o.B just doing what his science teachers told him to do?


    Image source: theapod.com

    It’s not often that the worlds of rap music and science education collide, but it’s happening.

    You’ve probably heard about rapper (and my fellow Decaturite) B.o.B’s recent tweet storm — still happening — in which he claims the Earth is flat, and about science advocate extraordinaire Neil deGrasse Tyson coming out against him in the name of education and rationality.

    ”There’s a profound failure of our educational system if people come through it and have the absence of critical thinking skills to leave them susceptible to believing that the Earth is flat,” said the King of Science to the Daily News.

    B.o.B is having none of it. “I’m going up against the greatest liars in history,” he tweeted to his 2.31 million followers. “You’ve been tremendously deceived.”

    We have known the earth is round for centuries, millennia even. The ancient Greeks not only knew it was spherical, but also had a decent sense of its actual size. So of course the Earth is not flat. B.o.B is wrong about that.

    But he’s not completely wrong about everything. In this Atlantic article, Lizzie Wade points out that B.o.B is really just observing the world around him. He’s using his sense experience along with reason to draw conclusions, just like scientists do.

    He’s about 25 centuries late to the round-Earth conversation, and that might make for some good jokes, but his arguments do require some effort to refute.

    For example, this one:


    These statements are not self-evidently false. Explaining why they are not true requires a little knowledge of optics.

    I’m not saying that B.o.B is a paragon of reason. Nor do I think it’s a good idea for someone with well over 2 million Twitter followers to promote the idea that scientists are no more than a bunch of power-mad liars (and that those who agree with them — “ballers” — are unthinking sheep), which is what B.o.B’s doing.

    I just think it’s funny that, in his own strange and misguided way, B.o.B is doing what scientists (and science educators) have been doing (and asking their students to do) ever since Galileo turned his telescope skyward: look at the world around you, think for yourself, and question authority.

    Comment Pages

    There are 9 Comments to "Is B.o.B just doing what his science teachers told him to do?"

    • Todd Timberlake says:

      I hope this stems from his own observations and thinking. If that is so, then I am willing to be much more forgiving. But there are two other possibilities:

      1. He is getting this stuff from a website or other source like the Flat Earth Society. He is just taking the arguments of these other cranks and tweeting them to his followers without any thought on his own part.


      2. He is fully aware that what he is saying is wrong and he is just doing this to generate controversy, and thus interest, to aid his rap career.

      I agree that the honest misunderstanding theory is at least possible, although it is pretty scary to think that someone could so easily reach the conclusion that all the world’s scientists and many others are involved in a conspiracy that has lasted for 2500 years.


      • Paul Paul says:

        Both possibilities occurred to me also. I think he probably believes it on some level. And, scary or not, plenty of people see scientists as no more than a political pressure group.

        Surely he is surely getting a lot of this stuff (and certainly the water-reflection piece) from somewhere other than his own head. But he’s still putting arguments out there, and that’s worth something IMO.


        • Todd Timberlake says:

          I can understand the idea of viewing scientists as a political pressure group if you are thinking about CURRENT scientists talking about CURRENT issues (e.g. global warming). I disagree with it, but I can at least understand why someone might hold that idea. But the idea that all scientists have been in the round Earth conspiracy for over 2500 years spanning across multiple continents is a pretty whacked out conspiracy theory. And since I am part of that conspiracy, apparently, I would like to point out that I have not yet started receiving my monthly checks from the Free Masons or the Elders of Zion or the Illuminati or whomever. Surely such a vast conspiracy has access to my mailing address! :-)

          Arguments are good. As you know, every year I try to convince students that Ptolemaic astronomy makes a ton of sense. But I follow it up by showing them that modern astronomy makes even more sense. Hopefully the folks reading BoB’s tweets are doing some thinking of their own, or at least reading NdGT’s responses. Thinking for yourself is great and should be encouraged. But the reality is that we all must accept many things on authority. We just don’t have time to think everything through on our own. And if people are going to accept something on authority, I’d prefer that they accept Neil’s authority over BoB’s on issues of astronomy.


    • Mark N Taylor says:

      I think the main reason B.o.B. can devote himself to Flat Earth Theory is that belief or disbelief in it is not going to change his life in any meaningful way. Everybody needs a hobby.

      I agree with NdGT that the quality of our education (even self-educated observation) determines the quality of our critical thinking. People who buy into conspiracy theories (CTs) are usually not idiots. Often they are widely read; they have active curious skeptical minds—qualities we value in critical thinkers. But what they lack is the training to fully process their information and skepticism. In the end it becomes painfully obvious, that, for all the care they lavish on every detail of their pet theory, they lack perspective. You will find this in every CT, whether of Shakespeare, UFOs, JFK, Bermuda Triangle, 9/11, whatever. Perspective is one thing that a solid education in arts and sciences can best provide. Education allows seekers to spend time in the company of well-trained critical thinkers. The peer-review system, whatever its flaws, is pretty good at winnowing out the CTs.

      As Stephen Hawking quipped: “I am discounting reports of UFOs. Why would they appear only to cranks and weirdoes?”


      • Paul Paul says:

        Mark, you are right about CTers. They have high native intelligence but have not had the opportunity to channel their smarts in constructive directions.

        As for B.o.B, after sleeping on it I have decided that he’s probably just looking for a way to drum up attention (see Todd’s #2 above ). I think flat-earthism has already changed his life. Whether or not it’s a meaningful change, that’s not for me to say.


    • Don Salmon says:

      I wonder if this might not drive everyone here crazy….. but perhaps B.o.B. is not a liar or naive, but a radical empiricist along the lines of William James – he may be giving us a mahamudra view that the earth as flat or round may be a “conventional” truth but on the Absolute level, it is absurd.

      See this from Ronald Nixon (a British man who later took the name “Krishna Prem”, the first Westerner to be accepted into the Vaishnava tradition in India and much admired by Ramana Maharshi and Sri Aurobindo)

      “It is well that we should find time to pause and remember that the world as a thing in itself has no existence. We mean that there is no such thing as a solid globe of earth, spinning its way on an orbit around another globe called the sun in a detached, self-existing, and quite impersonal manner. Not withstanding all that may be written by scientists upon the nature of such a globe, there is no such thing. .. The descriptions of [the earth] as a globe and as moving on an elliptical orbit are convenient schematizations of our experience, but they are not more than that and should not be taken as such. … There is no floor on which we sit, no paper on which we write, no hand which guides the pen, no separate self which guides the hand…
      —Sri Krishna Prem, “Philosophy and Religion”


      • Paul Paul says:

        Hi Don. No, B.o.B does not strike me as a radical empiricist or a Hindu sage. I think it’s about the attention and the dough (see my response to Mark above).


    • Paul Paul says:

      Thought I’d share this FB comment from my friend Bill McGuire, who should be the president of some major anti-BS organization. It is an admirable statement with which I finally agree:

      Questioning things that don’t seem to make sense is laudable. I’m on board with that part..but that only gives you a question; not an answer. This is exactly where the army of citizen scientists go infuriating wrong.

      From there you drop (or at the very least fight against) your cognitive biases and a) research to find out if your new idea is good, while b) researching to find out if opposing ideas are better. Those steps are missing here, as they are with so many other vacuous unsupported lines of thinking. This isn’t praiseworthy. Honoring stupidity, or pretending stupidity isn’t stupid, is dangerous.

      The initial impulse to find out more isn’t enough. It’s the steps taken afterwards that determine whether your cause/idea is worthwhile or just idiotic. In this case, B.o.B. simply doesn’t care that all of his questions have already been answered, or that his alternative “theory” makes more problems than it solves. This isn’t news to anyone reading this, but the problem that I see here is that this kind of dipshittery gets rewarded by an army of the similarly uninformed who insist on stopping progress and throwing turds into the intellectual discourse until their unfixable concerns have been fixed.

      As far as logic and rationality are concerned, it doesn’t matter if bad thinking is religiously or politically motivated. Wrong is wrong. Bad thinking is bad thinking. Encouraging the insipid “I found something that doesn’t make immediate intuitive sense to me, so therefore I’ve found the secret that the scientists have been hiding all along!” mindset just clutters up the intellectual landscape for those of us who give a shit about what’s REAL.

      There’s a difference between honestly trying to understand more and just being a contrarian ass about things we actually already know, is what I’m saying.


    • IdPnSD says:

      “I just think it’s funny that, in his own strange and misguided way, B.o.B is doing what scientists (and science educators) have been doing (and asking their students to do) ever since Galileo turned his telescope skyward: look at the world around you, think for yourself, and question authority.”

      Did science look around the world? No it did not. Take Newton’s first law – An object will continue in motion in a straight line with a constant velocity. Have you ever seen such an object? No, neither on earth nor in space. Therefore Newton did not observe the nature, and so he was and is wrong. After Galileo, every body stopped observing nature.

      Einstein did not observe nature. He did some math sitting in his home or office, and declared his theory SR as a law of nature. It cannot be correct. Do you know that Einstein assumed inertial frame? Inertial frame obeys Newton’s first law. How can then SR be correct? He also assumed light speed is constant. There are at least 1000 peer reviewed articles which say light speed is not constant.

      In reality all of science is wrong. You can see many examples, including QM, in the free book at the blog site https://theoryofsouls.wordpress.com/



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