Alternative facts in a nuclear age
NEWS ITEM: On Sunday, Jan. 22, 2017, Chuck Todd of NBC’s “Meet the Press” was talking with Presidential Advisor Kellyanne Conway and challenging the White House claim that President Donald Trump had the largest inauguration crowd in history. “You’re saying it’s a falsehood?” Conway queried incredulously. She defended the new administration’s calculation by explaining that “Sean Spicer, our press secretary, gave alternative facts.” Todd retorted that “alternative facts” are not facts; they are falsehoods. Kellyanne smiled.
Facts and more facts
So much of what we believe today is the product of information that came into being hundreds, even thousands, of years ago. For example, the notion that the earth is a spherical body floating in space appeared about 2,600 years ago in the work of the Greek philosopher/mathematician Pythagoras. Nearly a thousand years later, Aristotle provided “evidence” for the spherical shape of the earth. This idea has been accepted by many -- but not all -- since then.
In more modern times, Samuel Rowbotham disputed that claim in a pamphlet titled “Zetetic Astronomy,” published in 1849. One of his supporters, William Carpenter, produced a work, “A Hundred Proofs the Earth Is Not a Globe,” printed in Baltimore in 1864. Carpenter challenged the idea of a global planet with “alternative facts.”
He pointed out that the Nile River runs for hundreds of miles, yet only falls about one foot. If the earth were round, rivers would have to follow its curvature, not run in a flat line. Moreover, Carpenter claimed, navigators use flat maps when they go to sea. If the world were spherical, wouldn’t they use a globe? “With such a toy as a globe for a guide,” he wrote, “the mariner would wreck his ship, of a certainty! This is proof that Earth is not a globe.”
Based on the belief that the earth is a flat disc, centered at the North Pole and bounded along its edges by a wall of ice (Antarctica), the International Flat Earth Research Society (IFERS) was founded in 1956 by Englishman Samuel Shenton. After his death, his work was carried on by American Charles K. Johnson, who also founded the Covenant People’s Church in Lancaster.
At the time of Johnson’s death in 2001, IFERS had about 3,500 followers. But then the “science” lay dormant until it was resurrected in 2004 by a man claiming to be “Daniel Shenton,” a resident of Hong Kong, who was probably trying to establish some sort of family tie to the Englishman of the same surname.
His web-based discussion forum on the Internet, established in 2009, is an attempt to modernize the notion that the earth is a round plate with a dome that contains the other plates (planets) and stars. Members of IFERS are people who accept “alternative facts” because they fit with a world view that has already been adopted or which confirm their existing beliefs.
Future alternative facts
NEWS ITEM: One Day in May, 2017 — President Donald Trump exchanged tweets with North Korean President Kim Jong Un. According to unnamed White House sources, the two men had amicable conversations over a two-day period and look forward to improved relations between their respective countries.
Newly appointed Double-Secret Second Vice President Kellyanne Conway told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer that we are now much closer to global peace than has ever before been achieved by world leaders. Blitzer replied that Wikileaks reported that Trump made fun of Kim’s hair and that Kim replied, “I’m rubber; you’re glue; anything you say to me bounces off and sticks to you.” To which Trump retorted: “Am not.” Kim fired back, “Are too.” Kellyanne smiled.
ASSOCIATED PRESS: Moscow, Idaho — A huge tremor, centered on the city of Tacoma in the neighboring state of Washington, was detected by seismographs at the University of Idaho at 3:12 a.m. PDST. The 12.6 reading on the Richter Scale is believed to be an equipment error because no known earthquake has ever been measured at this magnitude.
REUTERS: Eugene, Oregon — At least three tremendous explosions have been detected in the northwest corner of the continental United States. The first was reported by the University of Idaho, where officials could not be contacted for confirmation. All communications seem to be shut down in…
MEDIA ONE: Salt Lake City, Utah — After multiple events of an unknown nature rocked the nation’s northwest coast, several mushroom-shaped clouds have been reported drifting toward the city of Logan in northern Utah. Officials have been unable to establish communications with scientists in Washington and Oregon for information. Researchers at the University of Utah said that the clouds are radioactive, but this allegation has been disputed by White House sources and the Defense Department. However, thousands of dead sheep have been reported in fields west of Ogden, Salt Lake City, and Provo.
ASSOCIATED PRESS: Seoul, South Korea — North Korea’s Supreme and Beloved Leader Kim Jong Un has denied claims that he has launched missiles in the direction of the United States. His spokeswoman said that Kim had ordered a festive display of fireworks to celebrate his recent triumph on the National Golf Course, where he broke his own record of 38-under par. This morning, he had 12 hole-in-one shots, one better than the first time that he picked up a golf club in 1994. Today, he carded a total of 30 on the 72-hole championship course.
Between tee boxes, he also composed his seventh opera, another work that is intended to give the North Korean people a “better understanding of the world culture.” Meanwhile, loud speakers in the city of Pyongyang were blaring Kim’s signature song, repeating the lyrics over and over, “We cannot exist without you, Comrade Kim Jong Un. The motherland cannot exist without you.”
PRESS BRIEFING: Sean Spicer, Washington, D.C. — “Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. Isn’t this a beautiful afternoon? It’s too bad that our leaders are not here to experience it. Today the White House is deserted because the President, his family, and all members of the staff are participating in a tour of the underground facilities I’d like to take questions from the press, but I have to leave now to catch the last elevator.”
Conway, standing next to the President’s press secretary, did not smile.