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Good Reads  Reference  Physical Sciences  Popular Science

Weird Earth Debunking Strange Ideas about Our Planet

Popular Science New
By: Donald R Prothero(Author), Michael Shermer(Foreword By)
293 pages, b/w photos, illustrations
NHBS
Weird Earth is an entertaining disarming of geological fringe ideas that educates the reader on the actual evidence and how we gather it.
Weird Earth
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  • Weird Earth ISBN: 9781684351794 Paperback Jul 2021 Usually dispatched within 1 week
    £13.99
    #254457
  • Weird Earth ISBN: 9781684350612 Hardback Sep 2020 Usually dispatched within 1 week
    £16.99
    #249790
Selected version: £16.99
About this book Contents Customer reviews Biography Related titles

About this book

Aliens. Ley lines. Water dowsing. Conspiracies and myths captivate imaginations and promise mystery and magic. Whether it's arguing about the moon landing hoax or a Frisbee-like Earth drifting through space, when held up to science and critical thinking, these ideas fall flat.

In Weird Earth: Debunking Strange Ideas about Our Planet, Donald R. Prothero demystifies these conspiracies and offers answers to some of humanity's most outlandish questions. Applying his extensive scientific knowledge, Prothero corrects misinformation that con artists and quacks use to hoodwink others about geology – hollow earth, expanding earth, and bizarre earthquakes – and mystical and paranormal happenings – healing crystals, alien landings, and the gates of hell. By deconstructing wild claims such as prophesies of imminent natural disasters, Prothero provides a way for everyone to recognize dubious assertions. Prothero answers these claims with facts, offering historical and scientific context in a light-hearted manner that is accessible to everyone, no matter their background.

With a careful layering of evidence in geology, archaeology, and biblical and historical records, Prothero's Weird Earth examines each conspiracy and myth and leaves no question unanswered.

Contents

Preface

1. Science and Critical Thinking
2. The Flat Earth
3. Ptolemy Revisited
4. The Hollow Earth
5. The Expanding Earth
6. Did We Really Land on the Moon?
7. Magnetic Myths
8. Earth-Shaking Myths
9. Quacks and Quakes
10. Was There a Great Flood?
11. Are Dinosaurs Faked?
12. Is the Earth Only 6000 Years Old?
13. Mysteries of Mount Shasta
14. The Myth of Atlantis
15. The Mysterious Ley Lines
16. Crystal Con Artists
17. Water Witching
18. Mysterious Earth: Why People Want to Believe Weird Things

Customer Reviews (1)

  • An entertaining slaying of geological fringe ideas
    By Leon (NHBS Catalogue Editor) 21 Sep 2021 Written for Paperback


    Geologist and palaeontologist Donald R. Prothero is a busy man. Next to writing a steady stream of books on geology, fossils, and evolution, he is a noted sceptic. Previous books have addressed cryptozoology, UFOs and aliens, and science denial more generally. In Weird Earth, Prothero debunks conspiracy theories and pseudoscience relating to our planet, making for an entertaining slaying of geological fringe ideas. However, his aim is not merely to demean, but also to show readers what the actual evidence is and how we gather it. If the idea of a flat earth strikes you as unbelievable, buckle up, because it gets much weirder.

    The concept and organisation of Weird Earth is reminiscent of the "25 Discoveries" book series that Prothero has written with Columbia University Press. Here, he takes 16 outlandish ideas, loosely grouped in themes, and picks them apart.

    Appropriately, he starts with the currently best-known geological pseudoscience: flat-earthism, the idea that the earth is a flat disc rather than a globe. This is grouped with other planetary blunders, such as the hollow earth, the expanding earth, and geocentrism. Then there are typical Creationist ideas, such as flood geology, a young earth, and what can only be called dino-denial: the idea that dinosaurs are fake. Others are your standard New Age fare: ley lines, crystal healing, dowsing, UFOs on Mount Shasta, and the lost continent of Atlantis. A smattering of others deal with myths around shifts of the magnetic pole, earthquake predictions, and the claim that the moon landing was a hoax, admittedly an outlier that you would expect in the hands of Phil Plait.

    Though I was familiar with most of these, Prothero presented many interesting details, especially on the history of some ideas. It is simply not true that most educated people in mediaeval times believed the Earth was flat, Prothero writes here. It has long been a fringe idea that only resurged in 1956 with the founding of the Flat Earth Research Society. Similarly interesting are Prothero's comments on Bible history, all the more as he learned Hebrew in high school and read the Bible in its original language. This reveals all sorts of internal inconsistencies when it comes to the story of Noah's flood, arguing against a literal interpretation. Prothero furthermore points out that many important geologists and palaeontologists who contributed to our scientific understanding had a Christian faith. The two do not have to be at loggerheads. It was only the birth of Christian fundamentalism, and then certain strains of creationism in the early twentieth century that saw a rejection of previously accepted, or at least tolerated, scientific theories. He does not really discuss geomythology, the idea that myths and stories might record historical events, such as past floods and post-glacial sea level rise. Though when discussing Atlantis, and reminding readers that this was a literary device invented by Plato, he does make a link to the Thera eruption.

    I doubt that Prothero will make many friends amongst the adherents of the theories he debunks, as he does not mince his words. After laying out the evidence against geocentrism, he writes that "[...] only the religious extremism of the modern geocentrists makes them twist scientific data into incredible knots in order to preserve [discredited] ideas [...]" (p. 59). The fact that creationists continue to believe in Noah's flood despite all the evidence against it points to "[...] religious blinders [that] are so dense that [they] cannot tell common sense from fantasy anymore" (p. 137). A website that gives tips for crystal healing is put down as "complete gibberish, a mishmash of scientific ideas blended with pseudoscience and mumbo jumbo" (p. 210). And the internet is repeatedly described as a "cesspool of lies". No doubt some readers will be put off by what they perceive as pomposity. I, personally, cannot disagree with anything he writes here and feel his frustration and pain while wading through this morass of scientific illiteracy, which is often brandished with a sense of pride and defiance.

    The full catalogue of logical fallacies is on display here: cherry-picking of data, special pleading, moving of goalposts, claims of grand conspiracies, arguments from authority, etc. Now, to be fair, Prothero does not let scientists off the hook either. The book opens with a chapter on critical thinking and the nature of science where he reminds the reader that scientists are humans too and fall prey to the same cognitive errors and mental foibles. Fortunately, experimental replication and peer review will weed out bad ideas sooner or later. This stands in sharp contrast with Prothero's revealing and sometimes tragically comical examples of how believers respond when confronted with evidence. More importantly, despite his disillusion, Prothero wants to go beyond regurgitating facts and is keen to explain how science has come to its conclusions. Thus, most chapters include a "how do we know?" section that he sincerely hopes is the biggest takeaway from this book. Especially as he feels that this is where our education system fails. Some of these are particularly extensive, with the rebuttal of flood geology spanning 18 pages with multiple illustrations.

    Prothero closes Weird Earth with an examination of why people believe weird things and where their beliefs come from. The reasons are, he writes, complicated. Primarily, our brains do not operate rationally but are "belief engines", and both faith and group identity can be powerful overriding forces. In his opinion "It's usually pointless to argue facts with someone who is deeply committed to demonstrably false beliefs, because you will never convince that person. You'll just waste your time [...]" (p. 232).

    But then who is this book for? I feel Prothero misses a beat here in not identifying his audience. I agree with him that you will not sway hardcore believers. However, the reason many skeptics write books and articles, produce podcasts, and generally get worked up is to address the frankly shockingly large percentage of people who are on the fence, many of whom have a say over other people's lives: parents, teachers, doctors and nurses, politicians etc. I like to think that not all them are beyond reason. They, then, are who books such as Weird Earth are written for.

    Prothero ends by quoting from Carl Sagan's The Demon-Haunted World. You can call me dramatic, but I agree with the sentiment that science is our candle in the dark. Weird Earth is one such candle and Prothero deserves praise for doing the ungrateful job that most people would rather not do: to patiently explain the reasons why certain ideas are flat-out wrong.
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Biography

Donald R. Prothero is the author of numerous books and scientific papers including UFOs, Chemtrails, and Aliens: What Science Says, Reality Check: How Science Deniers Threaten Our Future, and Abominable Science! Origins of the Yeti, Nessie, and Other Famous Cryptids. He taught college geology and palaeontology for 40 years, at Caltech, Columbia, Cal Poly Pomona, and Occidental, Knox, Vassar, Glendale, Mt. San Antonio, and Pierce Colleges.

Popular Science New
By: Donald R Prothero(Author), Michael Shermer(Foreword By)
293 pages, b/w photos, illustrations
NHBS
Weird Earth is an entertaining disarming of geological fringe ideas that educates the reader on the actual evidence and how we gather it.
Media reviews

"Weird Earth is about the facts and the people who don't believe them. Don Prothero describes the process of science – and the process of not accepting it. If you're wondering if humans walked on the Moon, if you've wondered where the lost City of Atlantis went, or if you're wondering what your cat will do before an earthquake, check out Weird Earth. (They sure did. It was never lost. And, your cats won't do any more than they ever do.) Don Prothero lays it out for us Earthlings – and it's weird."
– Bill Nye

"Written in a clear, readable style, Weird Earth is a science-based analysis of various dubious and 'crank' geological beliefs, and is especially useful to lay readers curious about these so-called unexplained topics."
– Benjamin Radford

"Geologist Prothero (Fantastic Fossils) offers a breath of intellectual fresh air with this amusing look at how to dispel endemic pseudoscience and conspiracy theories through rational thinking [...] As Prothero takes on one crackpot notion after another, his writing is accessible and often wry. With its wide variety of topics and sharp insights, Prothero's latest delivers something weird for every reader."
Publishers Weekly

"Pairing convincing arguments with photographs and helpful diagrams, Weird Earth is lucid in applying common sense to everyday geological questions and passionate as it calls for scientific literacy."
– Rebecca Foster, Foreword Reviews

"Prothero offers plenty of convincing proof that nonsense is nonsense."
Kirkus Reviews

"In his latest, science teacher and proud skeptic Prothero takes on a raft of pseudo- and antiscientific beliefs and handily debunks them: flat earth, hollow earth, young earth, geocentrism, moon landing conspiracies, faked fossils, flood myths, Atlantis, dowsing, and more. He briefly describes these schools of thought, where they come from, and summarizes the scientific evidence which shows that these beliefs are incorrect. But he wants to do more than just debunk. He believes scientists need to explain why and how they come to the conclusions they do."
Booklist, American Library Association

"I really enjoyed it, but part of me is also thinking, 'It's such a bummer that we're in a place where [the author] felt like this was a good thing to write.'"
– Phil Ferguson, The Phil Ferguson Show

"In the current Trumpian political climate, where basic moral and scientific values seem to have been made effectively "redundant", it is refreshing to have a reminder that the Earth is not flat, Antarctica is still a continent, and there is a collective, knowledge-based world out there. Prothero, a popular educator and excellent science writer, is so engaging and readable in print that it almost becomes purely entertaining to read his prose. The book offers a series of 16 chapters, all debunking particular crackpot theories related to the Earth. These come wrapped between a very good introduction titled "Science and Critical Thinking" and a concluding chapter titled "Why People Want to Believe Weird Things". Some of Prothero's chapters address topics related to the actual history of geology and astronomy, such as the hollow Earth theory and the progressive understanding of our place in the solar system. Other chapters cover elements of the creationist debates on the great flood, the young age of the Earth, and the question of the reality of dinosaurs. Then there's the "Myth of Atlantis" and the question: "Did We Really Land on the Moon?" Each of these cases is described and deconstructed for the reader in a straightforward and accessible style."
– P. K. Strother, Choice

"If you have any interest in geology and the basics of skepticism, this is a good book for you."
– Lee Moller, The God Con

"This book [...] is in a way a coming together of his years of study and analysis of scientific investigations of some of the most prevalent weird ideas from beliefs in flat earth, expanding earth, hollow earth and geocentrism to faith in the paranormal, aliens, UFOs, crystal healing, and even the controversy of the faked moon landing. Although written from the perspective of American realities, the ideas in the book hold true globally [...] With vivid examples and scientific explanations, the book makes for interesting reading."
– Hasan Jawaid Khan, Science Reporter

"Prothero writes well and knowingly. He patiently analyzes one wild claim after another and presents scientific evidence so that no questions remain unanswered. As one reviewer put it, "Prothero provides ample evidence that nonsense is nonsense.""
– Kim Møller Hansen, Scandinavian UFO Information

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