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The sun goes around the earth

March 13, 2014

Periodically you have people conducting surveys to prove how dumb people are. Questions are of the form: Is Germany in Africa? Is the earth less than 1000 years old?

I hate these surveys, and I’m usually able to ignore these obnoxious and unscientific nature of them, except when they also ask the following question: Does the sun go around the earth?

Here’s my reproduction of the imaginary conversation if I encounter such a pollster:

Pollster: Does the sun go around the earth?

Me: It depends on your frame of reference, but yes, if I’m standing on the earth, and I look up in the sky, I will observe the sun going around the earth in a wobbly path, although before I let you go I need to make the point that it would be quite a bit simpler to understand the model of the solar system whereby the earth and other planets revolve around the sun and spin while they do so.

Pollster: Yes or no question, ma’am, what’s it gonna be?

Me: Yes, I guess.

Pollster: You are so ignorant!

Categories: Uncategorized
  1. Guest2
    March 13, 2014 at 8:07 am

    Heliocentric model emerged as a solution to the problem of apparent retrograde motion. Without the need to address that problem, and the willingness to accept an alternative as real, geo-centricity would still be the norm.


  2. Josh
    March 13, 2014 at 12:10 pm

    @Guest2: Do you really think geo-centricity would still be the norm?

    @Cathy: While you are correct. I think that most answers deemed incorrect are not as well-informed as yours.

    When people are unsure whether the Civil War preceded World War One, I think it is usually ignorance of history, not a more sophisticated reason involving the Seven Years War or other similar explanation.


  3. March 13, 2014 at 12:36 pm

    Totally! In general I’m not a fan of the “see how ignorant everyone is” brand of polling/journalism.
    My pet peeve is the ones that talk about how ignorant American [high schoolers/adults] are because they can’t locate [Afghanistan/Iraq/other place] on a map. First, what does it mean to locate a country on a map? Does this involve correctly labeling all the neighboring countries and bodies of water, or just getting the country in the right general region? I couldn’t correctly draw the outlines of most countries on a blank map. Even with the outlines there, depending on the country, I might get it mixed up with a neighbor. (Probably not for the middle east, but quite likely for west Africa, for example.) I need to know exactly what is being tested!
    But more than that, usually the location is based on some recent political happening. Presumably people actually think it’s important to know about the political happenings in the world. Why use geography as a proxy for this knowledge instead of just asking about the thing that happened? I like geography at least as much as the next person, but knowing that there is [type of problem] in [country] due to [drought/actions of leader/oppression of group] is probably much more important than being able to find the country on a map. Why not poll about that?
    Rant over.


    • March 13, 2014 at 1:55 pm

      Because that’s the “liberal media” telling you what’s important to believe. Ignorance of it can be worn like a badge of courage.


  4. Min
    March 13, 2014 at 1:02 pm

    First things first. Is Germany in Africa? Not any more. 😉

    Does the sun go around the earth? Ambiguous question.

    Better questions:

    1) Does the sun go around the earth once a year?

    Answer: Orbital motion is relative, by Galilean relativity. You could say that the earth orbits the earth or that the earth orbits the sun, or that they both orbit some other point. Take your pick.

    2) Does the sun go around the earth once a day? (BTW, that would be my interpretation of the question in a survey.)

    I admit that my physics is rusty, but I don’t think that the spin of the earth on its axis is relative. The sun, along with the rest of the universe, does not go around the earth once a day, either solar or sidereal.


  5. Zathras
    March 13, 2014 at 1:29 pm

    “Is the earth less than 1000 years old?”

    I don’t know. I wasn’t there. Were you? How do you know then?


    • Count Dracula
      March 13, 2014 at 5:27 pm

      Don’t worry. I was there!


  6. The Science Pundit
    March 13, 2014 at 1:42 pm

    Pollster: Did humans coexist with dinosaurs?

    Me: It depends what you mean by dinosaur. Technically birds are dinosaurs so humans always have and still do coexist with dinosaurs. On the other hand, when most people say “dinosaur,” they’re talking about non-avain dinosaurs, and those went extinct millions of years before the first humans even existed.

    Pollster: Yes or no question, sir, what’s it gonna be?

    Me: Yes, I guess.

    Pollster: You are so ignorant!


  7. March 13, 2014 at 9:50 pm

    A better question would involve rotation causing day/night vs. revolution causing seasons. I’ll bet some of those interviewers/ees think the earth going around the sun is causing day/night. But I suppose there is even a frame of reference where the sun goes around us once a day, it’s just even weirder than the one where it goes around us once a year.


  8. March 14, 2014 at 4:00 am

    20-something years ago I was watching Jeopardy and the answer was “the name of this planet is also the name of an element.” The question, asked correctly, was of course “What is Mercury?” I must admit I had been playing with a freeware horoscope casting program and the first thing that came to my mind was “What is Earth?” Upon about 10 seconds reflection it became clear this was a wholly unsatisfactory answer. To the people for whom there were four elements, the number of planets was the number of days of the week, those being the sun and moon and the five visible planets other than Earth. The next day it came to me: “What is Krypton?” But in the universe in which there’s a planet called Krypton, there’s an element called Kryptonite. That of course doesn’t imply that there’s not also an element called Krypton there, but it certainly strongly suggests that the Periodic Table might be structured radically differently there, and therefore begs the question. Much as I adore creativity, I guess sometimes there really is exactly one right answer (or right question) or at least one best answer/question.


    • March 14, 2014 at 5:41 am

      I’m certainly OK with one “best” model of the solar system, but when the question is so vaguely worded that it’s actually misleading, then people should watch who they call ignorant.

      In other words, questions shouldn’t make me think, “I know what you want me to say, but the answer you are going for is technically incorrect.” That’s a different category than your example, where you’re saying, “I need to think about what you mean by ‘element'”.


  9. Bill Door
    March 14, 2014 at 3:49 pm

    That’s always been my response to “Is the earth flat?”
    In some contexts, like small scale or Mercator navigation, it makes sense to assume that it is.
    Who needs trigonometry to get to the grocery store?


  10. March 14, 2014 at 11:29 pm

    The type of polling you illustrate is the basis of a lot of current day polls. Polling, in many cases has gone away from trying to find out how things are and instead is about confirming an existing bias. We can now expand the the adage “Lies, damned lies, and statistics” to include some polling techniques. And an even fouler type of polling is the ‘push-poll’ that is not at all about collecting information but about attempting to change public opinion, and in some sense an intentionally structured poll to confirm an existing bias is a type of ‘push-poll’ where the results of the poll are meant to influence public opinion.


  11. Ed Seedhouse
    March 15, 2014 at 12:04 am

    Technically, considering only the Earth and the Sun and ignoring the other planets for the moment, then I believe Newton’s laws require that both the Earth and the Sun orbit their common center of mass, which happens to lie very near, but not exactly at, the center of the Sun. And I don’t think Einstein’s corrections make much difference in this case.


  1. March 14, 2014 at 11:18 am
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