A month or so ago, and again last night, my email, Facebook, and Twitter accounts began to buzz about clips of me appearing in some purported new documentary film promoting … wait for it … geocentrism! The notion that anyone in the 21st century could take seriously the notion that the sun orbits the Earth, or that the Earth is the center of the universe, is almost unbelievable. I say almost, because one of the trials and tribulations of being a scientist with some element of popular celebrity is that I get bombarded regularly by all sorts of claims, and have become painfully aware that ideas as old as the notion that the Earth is flat never seem to die out completely.
Nevertheless, even after being inured to such things, I was surprised to learn of the premise of the film, until I learned that its producer also apparently questions the Holocaust. It is tempting to say that both claims are obscene nonsense, but I believe that does a disservice to the word nonsense.
So, the question I had to face after discovering this abuse of my words was what to do about it. I have no recollection of being interviewed for such a film, and of course had I known of its premise I would have refused. So, either the producers used clips of me that were in the public domain, or they bought them from other production companies that I may have given some rights to distribute my interviews to, or they may have interviewed me under false pretenses, in which case I probably signed some release. I simply don’t know.
Many people have suggested I litigate. But this approach seems to me to be completely wrong because it would elevate the profile of something that shouldn’t even rise to the level of popular discussion. The best thing we can all do when faced by nonsense like that, or equivalent silliness promoted by biblical fundamentalists who claim that science supports a literal interpretation of the Bible, is to ignore it in public forums, and not shine any light on the authors of this trash. As far as this particular film is concerned, one might hope that it has high production value that cost the producers a lot of money. Then, when no one beyond the three people in the country who may somehow have missed the last 500 years of science and history during their education watches the film, we can hope that the whole misbegotten enterprise will bankrupt the production company, or at least severely cramp its style.
It is, after all, impossible in the modern world to shield everyone from nonsense and stupidity. What we can do is provide the tools, through our educational system, for people to be able to tell sense from nonsense. These tools include the scientific method, skeptical questioning, empirical evidence, verifying sources, etc.
So, for those of you who are scandalized that a film narrated by a well-known TV celebrity with some well-known scientists promotes geocentrism, here is my suggestion: Let’s all stop talking about it from today on. This will be the last thing I intend to write about it. Note I have avoided mentioning the name of the film. I objected to even embedding the trailer, but my Slate editor insisted on including the video. I recommend not wasting time watching it. If you haven’t heard about it, as I expect most people haven’t, then you are losing nothing by not knowing it.
If others bring up the film, the best thing we can do is tell them to not to waste their time or money either watching it or talking about it. Maybe then it will quickly disappear into the dustbin of history, where it belongs.
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