This is point of inquiry for Friday, April 30th, 2010.
Welcome to Point of Inquiry. I’m Robert Price. Point of Inquiry is the radio show and the podcast. The Center for Inquiry, a think tank advancing reasons, science and secular values and public affairs. And at the grass roots.
Roberts shot Oswald was, say, science writer who specialized in unorthodox thought in science and the proponents of these views. Bob was inspired to take this path after he read Martin Gardner’s Great Fads and Fallacies. The classic book on pseudo science in its many forms. Bob’s favorite alternative belief was Flat Earth ism, and he became a world expert on the history surrounding this alternative cosmology. He also wrote prolifically on other alternate or pseudo science views such as Perpetual Motion, The Hollow Earth, Big Foot, the Loch Ness Monster, The Search for Noah’s Ark, Pyramid, Power, Mysterious, Vanishing Zen, many others in the early 1980s. Bob added creationism to his list. He was a founding member of the National Center for Science Education and served on the board of it as president for two years and also as the editor of the NSCLC newsletter. Throughout all his activism and his writings, Bob QandA Wald also came to be known as an expert in the area of creationism and in its attacks on the teaching of evolution. This is how I first came to know him, reading various articles refuting creationist arguments in the journal Creation Evolution. Bob Shot Oswald died in 2000, leaving a large collection of writings in the form of magazine articles, book chapters, correspondence and unpublished pieces. His goal had always been to publish books on alternative science and alternative thinkers. His sister Lois shot. Oswald, who will actually be interviewing today, is a chemistry professor at Norman Dale Community College in Minnesota. She’s edited a collection of Bob’s writings called Worlds of Their Own A Brief History of Misguided Ideas. I love that title subtitled Creationism Flat Earth ISM, Energy Scam’s, Amabella Koff Ski Affair. This book’s a collection of some of Bob’s articles, interviews and correspondence. Worlds of their Own focuses not only on these particular alternative science beliefs, but also on the personalities of people that hold them and on what Bob called the philosophy of pseudo science. Lois welcomed a point of inquiry.
Well, thank you. It’s good to be here.
Well, it’s great to have you here representing your brother Bob, and also yourself. You seem to have assimilated all of us. Carry on the work. Let me ask you one question some folks may have in mind. Why should anybody do as Bob did and take the time to study and then refute quack science? What is it? Because I get asked this all the time in regard to biblical material, like why not just talk to the people that already know better and just leave the herd to snooze in the ignorance they prefer? Are we wasting our time with this kind of thing?
No. Couple things. So as you had mentioned before, the way to really understand science is to really look at a pseudoscience and understand why it doesn’t fulfill, you know, the rigors of science. What’s wrong with the arguments? And so I believe that of those that to really show arguments for their actual work had a lot of value. He also believes that every person had some flaky ideas. And I think that made him also believe that maybe somebody who is seemed way over the top with their flaky ideas that still could be brought around. And to be honest. My brother did bring a few people around from believing in a pseudoscience and then seeing the light or whatever and, you know, changing their beliefs from knowing my brother. So I think he took that from the whole aspect of it. So the scientists themselves and from communicating with people who maybe don’t have a. Big scientific background and allowing them to analyze the arguments for themselves as well.
I have to admit, I’m just giving you a devil’s advocate argument here, because I think that’s exactly true. It nothing has helped me to understand real science as much as looking at the Brand X and seeing the difference, as you say.
In fact, I always think of that when people say, oh, you should teach the controversy between creation and evolution. I’d hate for law to compel that. But if you actually did it, I think that would be the best presentation on behalf of evolution.
You could do. Okay, let’s talk about creation if you want to be mighty interesting. Could you tell us a bit more about the worlds of their own? I think the Spook’s fascinating. So I’d love to hear you show our listeners how fascinating it is.
Well, it’s a collection of my brother’s writings. And what I did was I picked what I thought was most representative of of Bob’s interest. And I ordered it a little bit and sort of a timeline of hire a member at Bob’s interests progressing. And so that includes his interview with Emmanuel Vilakazi, who had written worlds in collision and had a theory of catastrophe ism.
You’re right. That’s that’s a toughie. Yes, that’s right.
Then. And so it flows through that. And then perpetual motion, which is a huge area of my brother’s interest. Personally, I think he really loved investigating current perpetual motion scams. And once he found the historical ones. Then he started recognizing or people would tell him because he’d start talking about it and stuff and people would tip him off to current ones that were going on as well. And in the 70s and then the flatter was his big, huge favorite love, learning about the different personalities there and the history of that, and then ending with the creationism, which was his focus at the end of his life.
I’d just like to let listeners know they can order this book very conveniently by going to our point of inquiry Web site and finding a link there to Amazon. Did he and I read a funny thing he did serious two in creation evolution, where he took a bill proposed that mandated the teaching of creationism in public school classrooms and said, well, you know, if you want to go that far, let’s do the same with a flat earth. And so he just changed your words and and came up with this proposed bill. And just just as a kind of a modest proposal. Has anybody ever done that, as far as, you know, in my memory?
He did propose the bill to the legislature, but I think that’s a false memory on my part.
And then he just had written the article, just expose the argument, sort of a reductio ad absurdum and do that. You can do this. If he had of actually presented it to a legislature, maybe and it got struck down. That might have been a very strategic precedent for future creationism battle.
That’s true. He would say, why should the creationists get all the attention? You know, what about the flat earth?
Did he ever deal with these Thai coningham astronomers and others who went almost as far and said that we ought to, oh, maybe find them on an oh, we ought to believe that the Sun orbits the Earth after all, because there are such people.
Oh, yeah. He wrote about that as well. Geo centricity. He wrote a chapter in a book called The History of Science in the Western Tradition. And he wrote a chapter about geo centricity there. But he also, when he flatter his Bible, he had that published in the Bulletin of the Kornienko Society, and he made the argument about how the Bible supported the belief in the bladder. So if you were going to take a fundamentalist feel of the Bible, you had to believe the earth was flat. And he was showing that in the Bulletin of the Technion Society because they would believe that the earth was the center of the universe. So a comparable kind of belief. So that alternative cosmologies was one of the things that he wrote about. He wrote about the hollow earth as well.
Did you know this is a kind of a pet question in mind and may not even make any sense to me? But I have often thought reading about the philosophy of science debates, starting with Thomas Kyun for me anyway, the guy that wrote The Shape of Scientific Revel. Lucian’s. He says that science has advanced not only or not so much by discovering new data, but by people proposing a succession of new paradigms to construe the same old evidence with and that that people went from the Ptolemaic to the Copernican world picture by a mathematical conversion.
It was just easier to to calculate the retrograde motion of the planets, etc. if if the sun were the center, not the Earth. And that made me wonder, there’s any one in the flat earth of these other camps sophisticated enough to use that as an argument. Well, you people just believe the earth is round because you prefer to calculate it that way. But but it would work our way.
You mean they their argument would be you prefer to believe the earth is round because the Mathes is here?
Yes. That’s a yeah. Just that kind of a thing. Well, we can never really know these things. But it’s just the way you look at the evidence. I wonder. I’ve always wondered if people have retreated to that strategy.
I know that the flat earth has had their own math calculations for the, you know, the orbit of the Sun and how far away the sun is and things like that. And the oral math would look kind of like a record or SCBA or something just flat with the North Pole in the center. And that they had math calculations all worked out.
But I don’t remember seeing anything, any argument like that that you just know that’s comes mighty close, though, to just what I was asking.
That seems like they really have. Now, if we get the bottom line with the same results and get it a different way, how can you say, though, like you point out somewhere, ABAB had some encounter with someone that was shown a flat earth or who was shown a photograph of the earth from space and said the untrained eye might be tricked into thinking that the earth is round. But I know better. They they don’t believe in that.
Right. That was Samuel Shinton, who is the president of the International Flat Earth Research Society. Previous to Charles Jensen, who took it over.
I’m going to I’m going to say and maybe the 70s, something like that. So, yeah. You said it’s easy to see how this photograph could fool the untrained.
Do you think it was photo shopped or something or.
I guess so. Maybe he just that that they would say there was this trick of perspective that made the earth look curved or that, you know, you’d see a ship go over the horizon and they had some kind of relationship through something like that that they said it was just some kind of trick of perspective.
So I’m not sure what he was thinking. And I don’t know. He went into it and deep here, I think.
Wow. Once I saw some TV show with the guys that did weird New Jersey magazine and then I guess Weird America and they found a some sort of tourist center for the original core Ashanti cult, though the one whose name was borrowed by the Branch Davidian is Cyrus Tee’d.
I think it was believed that in the hollow worth and that we’re living on the inside of it and they have this great breakaway globe that had the stars on the outside and the continents, et cetera, on the inside. Did Bob ever have any of these great mockups like this? I would love to see like a flat earth model or one of these I’d buy one.
It didn’t matter that he would make little 3-D drawings and and he had little drawings of the flatter or the Earth with different shapes and things like that, but nothing but no no scale models anywhere of dinosaur money waiting to be made there.
Well, how about this Ballah Kosky interview you mentioned? What an opportunity Arbat had come about.
Well, that was, let’s see, in 1979. And Bill Cosby’s book Worlds in Collision had been published in 1950. So Bob was getting the interview in order to publish an article for the 30 year anniversary of Worlds in Collision coming out. And so Bob was in New Jersey doing some contract writing and he contacted dalkowski and arranged the interview with him for that purpose. So Bob had interviewed him and then neither one of us was really satisfied with the interview.
And he was going to do a second interview with Alan Caskey. But unfortunately, dalkowski died within a week of that, an interview that he gave to Bob. So it turns out that was the last interview, that forecast he gave to anybody in that interview, as well as several of these other writings and such.
I was very impressed with the way Bob would treat these people whom he must have regarded as deluded fanatics with genuine, humane respect. You often do not find that in this kind of thing. And I much appreciated his approach. He actually became friends, didn’t they?
Well, he did with many people, yes. I’m not sure how cordial he was with Caskey in that brief time. But you’re correct in that it is very respectful. And that was the thing about Bob, is that he could he could see the person for their humanity, I guess. And, you know, regardless of what he thought about their beliefs, he didn’t.
I gather just challenged them in regard to this occasion to set somebody straight. He’s wanted to understand better.
Yeah, I think he really wanted to understand why they think the way that they do. So, you know, I think anybody would respond to that.
I believe by trying to explain to you why they think that way.
And so and I was just kind of a cool thing once I read an essay in a book about so-called cults and new religions. And one was spy, a I guess an anthropologist or sociologist who said that when she was a kid, she loved reading the Oz books, and she wished somehow she could have the experience of meeting people in these totally different fantastic worlds.
And when she began to study, she said, well, there is a way to do that because there are so many groups of people that that live in worlds. We wouldn’t recognize worlds of meaning and belief. And to just touch down and research it is like going to another world. I thought, yeah, that is a great way of understanding it.
It is maybe in that that may explain how bad I felt about it too. Yeah.
Wouldn’t it be Sy? Boy, status is a bad thing to say, but wouldn’t it be sort of a shame if if everybody renounced the Flattr thing, I mean, isn’t kind of fun that there’s like a group of Lubar Ventures or Armatix in a scientific sense of believe in geo centricity? I kind of like a world where you can find that.
Yeah, you know what? I agree with you and this comes from just a mystery book that I had read and are there it’s like Barbara Michaels at the beginning of the book.
It says something like, what would the world be like if all questions were answered and all problems solved?
It would be a world without school for the imagination or depth for the soul.
That reminds me in turn of something Lessing said that he. He says if if God himself were to approach him and say, take your pick. I’ve got the truth in one hand and the search for truth and the other. I would unhesitatingly pick the search for truth, Lessing said, because the truth is for God alone, that even if there is no God. The point is the same. He just look at what happens to the people who think they’ve got the absolute truth.
Yeah, I guess. Yeah.
Could you tell us about the interesting character of Charles Johnson, the president of the International Flat Earth Research Society? And didn’t he deny that the moon landing ever happened, that it was a fake some way?
Well, he did. Yeah. Charles Manson could see where they were building the space shuttle from his home in California. So he could he could see it. And he thought he said it was all a set.
Like from Buck Rogers. But Buck Rogers felt was better. And there was that right. And there was something happened like when they were transporting the shuttles. One of the components. So very something. And Johnson loved that. He was like, oh, yeah, oh, it’s Daddio. And go on to transport it across a few miles or something.
Yeah. He thought it was all just a big, big feat. And another thing about Johnson is that he thought that the governments of the world all knew that the earth is flat, but that they were suppressing it.
And I’m not really sure why, but I mean, I don’t know what. Yeah. What it got him. But once everyone knew that the world was flat, that there’d be sort of like worldwide peace and all of this and.
Here I just open the book to this point. And here’s Jensen said Uncle Joe Stalin, Churchill and Roosevelt had the master plan to bring in the new age under the United Nations because the United Nations has a symbol in the center of its symbol. Is it really is a flat earth map.
If you look at it and it says that that Columbus that the earth is flat or knew that the earth was flat, he says Moses was the flat earth there and the flat earth was founded in fourteen ninety 2B.
I don’t know that there were many latter theories.
Boy, oh boy. That’s interesting. I guess he felt like if he can’t have an organization dedicated to this, you better think there’s some payoff that day. So what if everybody came to believe as you do. Oh well be no more war boy. Well, I’m sure he would have loved to have lived to see one of the hosts of The View, this discussion program, the one that replaced Star Jones, I think.
Yes, very. I think. Yeah.
That’s when somehow the flat earth came up and she said she didn’t know what shape the earth was and had never really. I thought, oh, now this this can’t be true. I’m having a nightmare.
I know, VI. Oh yeah. I don’t want you out of here at all of that.
And Bob would have thought that that really is frightening. I what. It’s like a cockroach. If you see one, there must be a whole lot more. I hope she’s not the tip of an iceberg of flat earth belief.
Oh. Had the creationism remake. What a make over into intelligent design begun to take place while Bob was writing about creationism is on a new strategy census time.
Well, I found the phrase intelligent design. Maybe once imbibes writing. So I believe that it was just on the cusp of turning over. When Bob died. And so Bob’s writings really speak to creationism.
I guess that in one sense, the whole changeover attests to the fact that creationists really dis took such a beating that it was so easy to overturn their arguments about the God created the world with light inda in already half the earth from. And all that nonsense that they finally said, OK, to heck with that. Let’s just stick with what we can defend with a straight face, though, this is no better. Really, I, I remember reading Bais he’s argument about irreducible complexity. I thought.
Didn’t I read a refutation of this in a book by George Gaylord’s Simpson written 50 years ago. Like this thing with the I like you have to have a complete well-formed eye for to do you any good mirror light sensitivity wouldn’t. Well, Simpson has like a page with 50 examples of living organisms with different degrees of light sensitivity. It’s just not so. And people have known that for decades. And, boy, what a shame. What about this perpetual motion thing you mentioned?
But isn’t it true that Bob built his own gravity engine? What was like a joke or a model of.
Well, there again, there just the concept. I don’t think there was or I mean, I know there was never an actual model of that, but a drying and all of that.
And, yeah, it runs on gravity and it works because the gravitational constant being decreasing its a wheel and the wheel will take the gravitational energy and its way down and when it comes back up it won’t have to use that same energy because by the time it gets to the top again, that constant will have decreased. So every time he had the weight on the wheel coming down, you’re gaining a little bit of energy there.
That was the theory behind Bob’s perpetual motion machine. Shadwell gravity engine.
Huh. Was this like a parody or did he?
Well, I can say is that it appeared in the April issue of Science Digest, I believe. Wow. And above gave the rights away for free. And he wanted his initials.
And each machine. That’s all he asked his initials for, Bob Shadowlord.
Well, are you going to put together another book or two of his work?
Yeah, I’d like to eventually publish the Flat-Rate book. I think that almost scares me with the scope of it more than my other project, which is that I would like to publish another book, just individual articles that Bob had written and not really trying to make so much cohesive, but just again about pseudoscience and different things that he had written.
For example, his very first article he wrote is called Up Alfred Loss and a Forgotten Pioneer, and it’s a biography of Alfred Loss and who was a pioneer in the field of aviation and contributed to that field. But yet he wrote books about physics and that was called like Zig-Zag and Squirrel. And he didn’t think that there was gravity. He thought that the earth. So his theory of gravity was called, I think, push and pull. And he had, I think, a religion called LA Sodomy. So he had a lot of nutty ideas on the one hand. But on the other hand, he had contributed quite a bit to the field in aeronautics. So that was Bob’s first article. And I’d like to put things like that in there. Bob had written some articles about pyramid power and the search for a noise are like the Loch Ness Monster Bigfoot, some articles about Tesla and that that kind of falls in with the perpetual motion.
And so I’d like to be able to get those out there as well.
Yeah, I’d love to hear what he wrote about Tesla, for instance. Mm hmm. Yeah. I hope you get that book out.
So I give you love Martin Gardner’s fans and phalluses in the name of science. You’re gonna love these books. The same good stuff. Yeah. Yeah, yeah. You sure been a great guest. I guess we gonna wrap it up here. Thanks for enlightening us.
Thank you so much. It was really fun. And thank you for giving me this opportunity to talk about. I really enjoyed it.
Thank you for listening to this episode of Point of Inquiry to get involved with an online conversation about today’s show. Join me online discussion forum at point of inquiry dot org. And if you haven’t already subscribed to point of inquiry on iTunes, views expressed on point of inquiring aren’t necessarily the views of the Center for Inquiry, nor its affiliated organizations. Questions and comments on today’s show can be sent to feedback at point of inquiry dot org.
Point of inquiry is produced by Adam Isaac in Amherst, New York. And our music is composed for us by Emmy Award winner Michael Playland. Today’s show also featured contributions from Debbie Goddard. I’m your host, Robert Price.