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​Will Every Field of Science Inevitably Spawn Its Own Truther Movement?

The truther is out there.

by Becky Ferreira
Feb 5 2016, 12:00pm

Image: Vuk Kostic/Shutterstock

The year is 2016, and Flat Earth Truthers are still a thing. This reality was recently made abundantly clear in an exchange of diss tracks between rapper B.o.B and astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson over the true shape of our planet. B.o.B's argument? "No matter how high in elevation you are...the horizon is always eye level." Notorious NDT's rebuttal? "The Earth isn't fucking flat."

Tyson responds to B.o.B. Video: YouTube/Comedy Central

Of course, healthy skepticism is a crucial ingredient for scientific progress, and history has repeatedly shown that established scientific narratives often turn out to be partly or wholly wrong. But Tyson is also onto something when he says that the revival of the Flat Earth conspiracy is a symptom of a growing inability for many people to distinguish reasonable doubt from outright denial.

Or, as Carl Sagan put it: "The fact that some geniuses were laughed at does not imply that all who are laughed at are geniuses. They laughed at Columbus, they laughed at Fulton, they laughed at the Wright brothers. But they also laughed at Bozo the Clown."

Indeed, we have already become accustomed to entrenched movements like climate change deniers or the anti-vax community. But what are the up-and-coming truther movements out there? Here's what we dug up, for your reading pleasure (or terror).

Pluto Flyby Truthers

Denying the existence of a dwarf planet is nothing new, but denying real missions to visit to them is another matter. When the New Horizons spacecraft flew by Pluto last July, the space community rejoiced, but some people remained unconvinced that NASA had actually pulled off such an ambitious rendezvous.

"The whole mission is fallacious," Pluto truther Justin Shaw told Newsweek. "There's no authenticity to this at all."

That's not a planet! That's a lie! Image: NASA/APL/SwRI

Some have even speculated that New Horizons footage was filmed on a Burbank soundstage, which makes it sound like a weird homage to the Apollo Moon landings conspiracy theory—the OG of space trutherism. While spaceflight has evolved a lot since the Space Race, it seems that spaceflight conspiracy theories are still stuck with 1960s tropes.

DDT Truthers

On Wednesday, marine biologist and shark expert David Shiffman shared the below message on his Twitter page.

Indeed, people have continued to deny the destructive effects of the pesticide DDT (dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane) well over five decades after Rachel Carson wrote Silent Spring.

There are legitimate debates to be had over whether DDT should be banned outright, given that it is an effective tool in fighting diseases like malaria or potentially even the Zika virus. But to argue that it is not harmful at all, or that the US ban on DDT was a case of "scientific fraud" or that it constituted "genocide"? Now, that's extreme. Watch out for this movement, because it seems to be on the the upswing.

Hollow Earth Truthers

The good news is that Hollow Earth truthers believe that the Earth is round. The bad news is that they also think it is devoid of any substantial interior material. An empty vessel, so to speak. This model is widespread in folklore, and was relatively popular among scientists for a few centuries as well. The brilliant astronomer Edmond Halley flirted with it, for instance.

A concept for a concave hollow Earth. Image: Joshua Cesa

But with the advent of more sophisticated instruments for studying the Earth's interior, scientists have produced increasingly accurate models of the world below us. This indirect journey to the center of the Earth has revealed crazy stuff like subterranean oceans, molten rock, and a big ole ball of iron-nickel. As a result, the Hollow Earth theory has mostly died out, though it still holds strong in some farflung online corners.

Dinosaur Truthers

Dinosaurs are so awesome that they occasionally short circuit people's brains. I can understand this—as a dinosaur lover, it can feel overwhelming to accept that these fantastic animals really did roam planet Earth. But they did, and that's what is so miraculous. They left footprints, bones, and big hunks of poop behind for us to find. Indeed, considering they lived so long ago, we know an awful lot about them.

Even so, many people can't seem to wrap their heads around dinosaurs, or extinct animals in general. "I don't believe dinosaurs existed," said Rams defensive end William Hayes in December 2015. "Not even a little bit. [...] I believe there is more of a chance you will find a mermaid than you will a dinosaur because we find different species in the water all the time."

I'm not entirely sure what this means but it showed up on Flickr under "dinosaur truth." Image: Jiggery Pokery/Flickr

If you don't want to believe in dinosaurs, that is absolutely your prerogative. But a dinosaur-less life is a sad one indeed.

Sun Truthers

When it comes to tin-foil speculation, even the Sun is not safe from side glances. "As for eyewitnesses, the Sun is said to be very difficult to look at," reads this masterpiece about why the Sun is a hoax. "This means that there are NO reliable eyewitnesses."

The fact that there are some people who apparently doubt the existence of the freaking Sun demonstrates the most even the most fundamental realities—like giant inferno of nuclear fusion we orbit—can be called into question by a truther mindset. Regardless of whether these movements are sparked by trolls, hacks, or earnest skeptics, it looks like they are here to stay.