Galileo Says We’re Being Tricked

Here’s Galileo, Lee Harvey Oswald, 9–11 and Global Warming all tied into a single, tight mind-bender.

But first, imagine you’re flying above the arctic — there is a pilot, you, and 100 other passengers. The 100 passengers are all professional pilots who specialize in arctic crossings. You, not a pilot, are along for the ride. You are cruising at 40,000 feet. Its nighttime. You’re in the clouds and the plane rocks in the turbulence.

Suddenly, the engines quit. A minute later, one engine re-starts and then the other. The Captain makes an announcement. “We have 30 minutes of fuel left on board. We’ll either cross the mountains and risk running out of fuel or land at the abandoned airfield this side of the artic mountains and await help.”

The Captain emerges to ask for a vote. “Do you believe we cross or land?” Hands go up accordingly and you watch with your life in your hands. Fifty pilots around you, all pilots who specialize in flying across the arctic, vote to land at the nearby abandoned airfield. The other 50 pilots, equally qualified, disagree. The Captain, seeing the split among his peers, remarkably, turns to you, the only non-pilot in the room. What would you advise the Captain to do, land short or continue over the mountains? Which risk are you willing to take?

Now, imagine instead that 60% vote to land short of the mountains, 40% to continue on. Imagine the Captain still wants your opinion. Is your decision easier to formulate? One last scenario. Imagine 97% percent of the pilots vote to land short while 3% percent vote to carry on over the mountains. The Captain again turns to you — what do you say then?

At 97–3, are you still debating the facts or are you now considering the threshold for making a decision? Maybe this is the more important question. Facts or threshold?

Here’s why this matters. There’s at least one retired FBI Agent who believes Lee Harvey Oswald didn’t shoot President Kennedy. There are university professors who believe The Holocaust is a myth. It’s easy to find experts who will share evidence that the 9–11 attacks were false flag missions engineered by the CIA. And then there are the cadre of experts who will prove that the Apollo moon landings were faked.

For people who have trouble accepting chaos, there is comfort to be found in the order imposed by a conspiracy. With a conspiracy, there was a plan and a resulting order to the events — one that we can grasp, understand and address. Chaos and mystery are avoided.

The climate-change deniers are our latest conspiracy theorists. Some of them will point to Galileo as an example of the odd man out who turned out to be right. Galileo was famously persecuted for his scientific views which, dismissed in his day, turned out to be prescient. The critical fact here is that Galileo was imposing science during a decidedly non-scientific era. Galileo was guilty of fighting intuition and conventional wisdom — as well as pure observation — with science.

Today’s scientists use data to fight the same people Galileo fought — those who would put their finger in the air on a cold day, see snow falling in mid-January, and declare climate change a myth. These people are the descendants of the flat-earth experts who touted what they saw with their own eyes and decried Galileo’s mathematical measurements as craziness.

The result is that we’re engaged in the wrong argument. In a world in which people maintain that our lunar landings were faked, let’s accept that 100% agreement is out of reach. We need to ask ourselves what percent of scientists need to tell you your life is at risk before you agree to act? Arguing facts in today’s environment is nothing more following a magician’s sleight of hand — instead we should argue over thresholds. In short, we should argue over whether we want to believe the 97% of scientists or the 3% of conspiracy theorists.

If you’re still holding out for the claims of the besieged minority, join me back on the plane with 30 minutes of fuel over the arctic on a turbulent night. Ninety-seven percent of the pilots say that your only chance of living is to land short of the mountains, 3% disagree. Which decision do you want the Captain to make?

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