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Astronaut Chris Hadfield takes on anti-science truthers and blasts some answers into orbit

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Apr 2, 2018

Does life sometimes feel like we’re all trapped on the set of a Mike Judge movie? The rise of the anti-science movement is rapidly making Idiocracy a reality, except without the biting comedy. How else can we explain the resurgence of flat-Earth truthers? Even a few NBA players seem to have bought into that long discredited idea. But perhaps the most alarming thing is that scientific proof no longer seems to hold any value to the loudly ignorant. How can these "alternative facts" be countered when the real facts aren’t being considered?

Former astronaut Chris Hadfield has a solution for this problem, which he recently shared with Big Think. According to Hadfield, anti-science sentiment has been around for centuries, and it probably won’t be going away anytime soon. But it doesn’t mean rational people have to get bogged down in an endless argument that goes nowhere.

Note that Hadfield didn't simply pull the "I'm an astronaut, so I know the Earth isn't flat" card. Instead, he made a strong argument to simply disengage from people who are being willfully ignorant about scientific facts. To illustrate this, Hadfield shared a story about one of the first hot air balloon launches, which occurred in Paris during the late 1700s. The balloon escaped from the launch site and ended up only 15 miles away, where the locals believed it to be an alien invader. Naturally, they used the sharp end of their pitchforks to make their close encounter of the third kind.

Fifteen miles is all that separated the hysterical people and those who recognized the balloon for what it was. It’s not all that different today. Hadfield likens the anti-science crowd to the wild eccentrics at Speaker’s Corner in London’s Hyde Park. That spot gave everyone a space to spout their views, and the people in the park can either listen or choose to walk by them. It's Hadfield's contention that social media has given flat-Earthers and the anti-science gang a larger podium, but everyone still has the right to simply ignore them.

From that perspective, it’s simple. Hadfield says that he welcomes the chance to engage with anyone who wants to expand their knowledge. But there’s nothing to be gained by arguing with someone who simply refuses to accept facts. Even challenging them only provides the ignorant with a sense of validation. Maybe we should just let them embrace stupidity. We’ve got a world to save, if we can.