“Get Tinder, everyone has it!” I hear that from my peers too many times. “All you need to do is sit back, relax, and swipe!”
For those who don’t know: Tinder is a location-based social dating app that has over 50 million users worldwide1 and it works through a simple principle: look at a person’s pictures and swipe right if you’re interested, or swipe left if you’re not. On Tinder, everyone can have virtual autonomy and the opportunity to select their potential dating mates based on their pictures.
As a biologist, the big questions I have are: What do evolutionary and neurobiological theories tell us about the most common parts of the online dating process? Although culture and heritage highly influence the perception of beauty and the visual aspects of attraction, some studies suggest that our preferences may be influenced by evolutionary biology. So, let’s explore the steps from getting a match on Tinder to the actual date, and see what evolutionary and neurobiological theories can tell us about the dating process.
On July 12th, a group called The Coalition for Safer Food Processing and Packaging published a report online in which they claim to have detected a class of chemicals called phthalates in several boxed macaroni and cheese products. Phthalates are “plastisizers,” meaning that they are commonly used to improve flexibility and durability in many of the plastics used today. In the weeks that followed, the story spread across the internet and was reported by numerous news outlets and blogs. That such a story would be so widely reported is not surprising – mac & cheese is a very common food for kids these days (as well as poor college students) and no one wants to hear they are poisoning their children. But in this case, how the story was reported was perhaps even more interesting (at least to UYBFS contributors!), because it tells us a lot about how scientific information is communicated in our modern media landscape.
Should I Be Worried?
Before we get to that, let’s start with a discussion of risk. Is there any risk to children (or those poor college students) from the phthalates found in these products? Despite what many sources reported, the risk is almost certainly very low. Phthalates are definitely toxic in rats, where they act as endocrine disruptors. (An endocrine disruptor is a chemical that interferes with normal sex hormone signaling, and in the case of phthalates, they can alter sexual development and also cause changes in neurological development in rats.) Do they have the same effects in humans? Well, that’s not so clear. Some studies say that they do, others show no evidence of it. The uncertainty comes from the fact that humans are less sensitive to the endocrine effects of phthalates and the fact that while most people are exposed to phthalates, they aren’t exposed to very much.
PART IV. CONSPIRACY THEORIES ARE NOT PROOF OF ANYTHING
16) The Navigation proof. If the Earth is round, how come boats and planes don’t account for it in their navigation? They just go straight!
This is just not true. First of all, planes traveling long distances fly what is commonly referred to as “great circle routes“, which absolutely account for the curvature of the Earth, allowing them to fly shorter routes than a traditional straight line. This is why you’ll find no airline pilots who think the Earth is flat (besides the fact that they see the curvature of the Earth from their cockpits at work) – they account for the curvature of the Earth every day. We’ve already covered why planes don’t account for the curvature of the Earth in terms of altitude (part 1 proof 4).
Boats don’t generally take great circle routes because they have to worry about things like not hitting land or other boats, currents, and wind, and they are more likely to be traveling near the equator, where circle routes don’t really help. You know what they use to navigate? GPS, which is based on satellites, which wouldn’t exist if the Earth was flat and gravity was a lie. Also, in high latitude navigation (in the arctic), sometimes the GPS satellites are blocked by the curvature of the Earth and other methods need to be employed. Another means of maritime navigation in use since the 1700’s is the sextant. Many ships still carry one today as a backup to GPS-based navigation. Navigators take the refraction of light by the lower atmosphere into account when using a sextant – something you would not need to do on a flat Earth.
PART III. ATTEMPTS TO PROVE THE EARTH IS FLAT BRING ONLY PAIN
11) The Bedford Level Experiment. In 1870, a flat Earther bet that he could prove the Earth was flat. He lost and ended up in jail.
This is an interesting story. As early as 1838, and Englishman by the very English name of Samuel Birley Robotham* had been performing experiments on the Bedford river in which he lined up several markers of uniform height over the water and used a surveyor’s telescope to “prove” that there was no curvature to the earth. No one paid much attention to Robotham, however, probably because he was wrong. He had forgotten to take into account the refraction of light by the atmosphere (explained in nauseating detail here), which bends light close to the surface of the earth. Sailors had known to correct their telescope sights for light refraction for a hundred years by this time, so Robotham was a bit out of the loop.
Then, in 1870, a guy named John Hampden bet the naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace that he could repeat Robotham’s experiment and prove the Earth was flat. Wallace, however, knew about light refraction, corrected for it, and proved Hampden wrong. Hampden did not accept defeat gracefully – he harassed and defamed Wallace for years, and was eventually jailed for libel and threatening to kill the naturalist.
Welcome to part 2 of our ongoing effort to stamp out the scourge of flat-Earthery. Is that a word? Well it is now. Nice. Click here for part 1. Let’s jump right in:
PART II. MATH AND SCIENCE ARE HARD SOMETIMES
Sooooo….. wow. This guy brought what looks like a 2 foot level on a plane and recorded it on his phone for over 20 minutes (presumably until the flight attendant yelled at him or his phone ran out of battery). Our flat Earther said that since the level read as “level” the entire time, this means that the plane’s flight wasn’t accounting for the curvature of the Earth. This proves nothing, and here’s why:
Over the course of 1 foot, the curvature of the Earth would change by less then 30 millionth of an inch. You cannot detect this with a level you bought at Home Depot. If you had a 1000 foot long level, you would still need to detect less than 3 hundredths of an inch difference. Do you have any idea how hard it would be to manufacture a level that is 1000 feet long AND is so precisely straight AND strong enough that it doesn’t bow under its own weight that could detect such a small curvature? I am not an engineer, so I have no idea, but I am certain it would be the most expensive level in the history of mankind. As near as I can tell, no one has even tried.
Our friend is also assuming that planes only move forward when they fly. This is not true – it’s not even remotely close to true. For example, as a plane lands, the pilot keeps the nose up so the rear landing gear hits first. If you put a level on the floor of the plane during landing, it will tell you the plane is pointing up, but it is clearly descending. I think you get the point – the angle of the cabin of the plane does not necessarily tell you about the direction it is traveling.
There are other reasons this makes no sense, but we at UYBFS will take the high road and not pile on to the trashing this poor fellow is taking on online. We’ll just say that the only thing he proved is the need for better science education in this country.Continue reading…
Welcome to Ask a Scientist, where we answer questions from our readers on a wide range of scientific topics. Got a scientific question? Drop us a line.
Chemtrails aren’t real, right? – A.S. Riverhead, NY.
No, they are not.
Ok, now that this is out of the way, let’s have some fun and learn a bit more about what may be the most wildly preposterous modern conspiracy theory.
Q) What are chemtrails?
A) The word “chemtrail” is used to describe the cloudy trails of condensation (actually called “contrails”) that high altitude planes leave behind them in the sky that conspiracy theorists believe are actually chemicals being sprayed by planes into the atmosphere in an attempt to poison the human race.
Q) Wait, what?
A) That’s right – just read that last sentence again. Give it some time to sink in.Continue reading…
Almost everyone knows that the Earth is a sphere. Someday, we’ll be able to drop the “almost” from that sentence. Unfortunately, today is not that day. Two different flat Earth societies have now raised enough money for billboards. First, “The Infinite Plain Society” put up a billboard outside of Philidelphia that says “Research Flat Earth”. Soon afterwards, “The Flat Earth Society”, which somehow has over 80,000 likes on Facebook, probably not all of which are ironic, put up a billboard in Oklahoma that asks the question “Is the Earth flat?”
Just to be clear, the answer to this question is a very definitive “no”.
At UYBFS, we have written about the flat Earth people before. However, the billboards are a distressing new twist to this sad story. The folks at The Flat Earth Society are even claiming to be “persecuted” for their beliefs. “We get accused of being idiots, of doing it for money,” lamented Bob Knodel, a flat-Earther from Denver.
Everyone in this country has the right to “believe” what they want and flat Earthers have the right to talk about their theory too. However, I think persecuted is the wrong word here. Flat Earth is not a religion, a way of life, or value system. It is a statement of implied fact: “I believe the Earth is flat.”Continue reading…