Rebirth of the Flat Earth

Maybe evolution is not the front line in the fight for good science education. Judging from this clip, from Dan Abrams’ show on Tuesday night, it would seem there are more pressing problems in that area:

ABRAMS: It’s time for tonight’s “Beat the Press”, our daily look back at the absurd and sometimes amusing perils of live TV. First up: A lot of the time, conversations on ABC’s “The View” aren’t exactly intellectual. But one interchange today would suggest that their new co-host needs to review her 3rd grade color-coded books.


WHOOPI GOLDBERG, THE VIEW: Do you–is the world flat?

SHERRI SHEPHERD, THE VIEW: Is the world flat?


SHEPHERD: I don’t know.

GOLDBERG: What do you think?

SHEPHERD: I never thought about it, Whoopi. Is the world flat? I never thought about it.


ABRAMS: I don’t think about it, either. I just know. Even the show’s mother hen seemed stunned about Sherri Shepherd’s apparent ignorance.


BARBARA WALTERS, “THE VIEW”: You’ve never thought about whether the world was round?

SHEPHERD: No, because–but I’ll tell you what I’ve thought about, how I’m going to feed my child…

WALTERS: Well, you can do both.

SHEPHERD: … how I’m going to take care of my family. The world–is the world flat, has never entered into–that has not been an important thing to me.


ABRAMS: Neither is if the sky is blue or that gravity keeps us from floating to space, but that doesn’t mean you get a pass on knowing one of the basic truths of the world we live in.

Now, I know some of my fellow bloggers (here and here, this latter post noting incidentally that Ms. Shepherd is quite certain that evolution is a load of nonsense) have suggested unkindly that this reflects poorly on Ms. Shepherd’s intelligence. Certainly not! Clearly she just takes the Sherlock Holmes approach to knowledge acquisition. From A Study in Scarlet:

His ignorance was as remarkable as his knowledge. Of contemporary literature, philosophy and politics he appeared to know next to nothing. Upon my quoting Thomas Carlyle, he inquired in the naivest way who he might be and what he had done. My surprise reached a climax, however, when I found incidentally that he was ignorant of the Copernican Theory and of the composition of the Solar System. That any civilized human being in this nineteenth century should not be aware that the earth travelled round the sun appeared to me to be such an extraordinary fact that I could hardly realize it.

“You appear to be astonished,” he said, smiling at my expression of surprise. “Now that I do know it I shall do my best to forget it.”

“To forget it!”

“You see,” he explained, “I consider that a man’s brain originally is like a little empty attic, and you have to stock it with such furniture as you choose. A fool takes in all the lumber of every sort that he comes across, so that the knowledge which might be useful to him gets crowded out, or at best is jumbled up with a lot of other things, so that he has a difficulty in laying his hands upon it. Now the skillful workman is very careful indeed as to what he takes into his brain-attic. He will have nothing but the tools which may help him in doing his work, but of these he has a large assortment, and all in the most perfect order. It is a mistake to think that that little room has elastic walls and can distend to any extent. Depend upon it there comes a time when for every addition of knowledge you forget something that you knew before. It is of the highest importance, therefore, not to have useless facts elbowing out the useful ones.”

“But the Solar System!” I protested.

“What the deuce is it to me?” he interrupted impatiently. “You say that we go round the sun. If we went round the moon it would not make a pennyworth of difference to me or to my work.”

No doubt Shepherd spends her free time dazzling her cohosts by deducing their recent activities from the state of their clothing and the scuff marks on their shoes.

Some have wondered how a person that ignorant could be given a platform on a prominent television show. So naive! When applying for such jobs you do well to include a bullet point on your CV boasting of such ignorance. You see, people who know a bit of science tend to think in paragraphs and sometimes use polysyllabic words. That makes it impossible to affect the proper tone of aggrieved haughtiness when saying things like this (PDF format) (from The O’Reilly Factor, January 18, 2005):

[Fox News Personality Bill] O’REILLY: OK. But science is incomplete in this area of creationism, is it not?

[University of Colorado biologist Michael] GRANT: Science is always incomplete in all areas.

O’REILLY: Well, I don’t agree with that. Science is not always incomplete, and I’ll give you an example. There are 24 hours in a day. All right. That’s science. And there are four seasons. That’s science. So you can state things with certainty in biology or any other science you want. However, if I’m a student in your class and you’re telling me, well, there might have been a meteor or big bang, or there might have been this or there might have been that, I’m going to raise my hand like the wise guy I am and say, “Professor, might there be a higher power that contributed to the fact that we’re all here?”

From the number one rated show on cable television, ladies and gentlemen.

I think The View is already longing to get Rosie O’Donnell back.


  1. #1 Joel
    September 20, 2007

    Why can’t somebody like this Shepard lady run for president, so we can finally get them book-learnin’ flip-floppers out of Washington B.C.?


  2. #2 Daryl McCullough
    September 20, 2007

    Bill O’Reilly’s example of a scientific fact (24 hours make up one day) reminds me of my shock when I played Trivial Pursuit and picked up a question card in the “Science” category that asked when is Mother’s Day celebrated? “Mother’s Day” is a scientific question?

  3. #3 LarryD
    September 20, 2007

    I agree that the willful ignorance expressed by Sherri Shepherd has some resemblance to that of Sherlock Holmes. But her comments on evolution indicate she is 180 degrees from the great detective in the importance of evidence in guiding thought.

  4. #4 LarryD
    September 20, 2007

    I agree that the willful ignorance expressed by Sherri Shepherd has some resemblance to that of Sherlock Holmes. But her comments on evolution indicate she is 180 degrees from the great detective in the importance of evidence in guiding thought.

  5. #5 AnInGe
    September 20, 2007

    The number of hours in a day and of seasons in a year are not scientific facts. They are arbitrary definitions. There are NOT 24 hours in a day (which is why the calendar has to be adjusted every so often), and the time of year that winter, for example, occurs kind of depends on where on the globe you happen to live. But O’Reilly would have to admit to a spinning, spherical earth to understand that.

  6. #6 Mark Duigon
    September 20, 2007

    What’s worse, is that O’Reilly didn’t say 24 hours/day was just a fact, he said “That’s science.” And he spoke with an air of authority. Showing, of course, that Bill O’Reilly doesn’t understand what science is. But still feels he can speak about it with authority.

  7. #7 Fred Mim
    September 20, 2007

    Not to change the subject, but why is Ms. Shepherd’s greatest concern how she’s going to feed her child? Does she live in Darfur? Or is The View paying its co-hosts minimum wage?

  8. #8 Jonathan Vos Post
    September 20, 2007

    A recent issue of New Scientist, the special issue on thr 50th anniversary of spaceflight, made an interesting comment.

    The Intelligent Design movement is an indirect response to Sputnik.

    The argument runs something like this, modulo my paraphrase.

    (1) Before 5 Oct 1957 the primary school textbooks in the USA mostly avoided discussion of Evolution, because of controversy.

    (2) After 5 Oct 1957 the American educational goals, procedures, funding, and structure were revolutionized, the better to make America victorious in the science-based Space Race.

    (3) Evolution was now in the curriculum.

    (4) Creationists rallied to stop the tide from rising.

    (5) Intelligent Design is the latest re-branding.

    I’d agree with the parallel between knowledge of a round earth and knowledge of evolution by natural selection. In addition, spaceflight has made the spheroidal Earth iconic to the majority of living people.

    Now, as to ESA naming a terrestrial planet finding spacecraft DARWIN…

  9. #9 386sx
    September 21, 2007

    Not to change the subject, but why is Ms. Shepherd’s greatest concern how she’s going to feed her child? Does she live in Darfur? Or is The View paying its co-hosts minimum wage?

    Good point. I think Ms. Shepherd is guilty of a bit of what they call “concern trolling” if I’m not mistaken.

  10. #10 hoary puccoon
    September 23, 2007

    Sherlock Holmes did great when Arthur Conan Doyle could control the outcome, but he’s a bad person to emulate in matters pertaining to science. “The Speckled Band,” in which the entire story rests on the supposition that snakes can hear, is just the most famous howler.

    The moral to the story is, if you aren’t a fictional detective created by a fairly wacky spiritualist– or, I suppose, a cynical comedian posing as a right-wing commentator– you’d do better to learn some science.

  11. #11 matt
    September 28, 2007

    Eh? Given the success of both, the moral would seem to be just the opposite: ignorance is bliss.

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