WikiWhat? The Earth is Flat? Australia is NOT Down Under?

WikiWhatHere at Georgetown, we love to create clubs. We’ve got clubs for creative writers, aspiring political leaders, aca-tastic a cappella-ers, dancers, and a crap load of other people. But there’s one thing we don’t have: a club for flat-earthers. That’s right 4E lovers, this week’s WikiWhat? article is on the Flat Earth Society.

We often associate the “flat earth” idea with pre-classical Greece but, today, the Flat Earth Society is dedicated to furthering the belief that the earth is flat instead of being an ‘oblate spheroid.’ The society, established in 1956 by Samuel Shenton, exists in its modern form thanks to Daniel Shenton (no relation) who resurrected the organization in 2004. At its peak, during previous administration, it had about 3,000 due-paying members, but today holds a modest (but dedicated) 420 people.

Here’s some questions that come to mind:

Q: Couldn’t you fall off of the Earth if it were were flat?

A: Most recently, the FES has advocated that humanity lives on a disc with the North Pole at its center and a 150 ft. (45 m.) wall of ice at its outer edge. Some members, however, believe that the Earth is an infinite plane.

Q: How do you explain how gravity works, then?

A: Some say that gravity doesn’t exist. Others say that the earth is a finite plane accelerating upwards at 9.8 m/s2. (Makes sense…)

Q: How did Ferdinand Magellan, and countless others after him, circumnavigate the world?

A: There’s no information on an explanation for this, but let’s just assume that they’ve found a way to debunk circumnavigators’ claims.

Q:Why has the society (aka Daniel Shenton) been tweeting for the past two years with only 2 subscribers (one of which is me)?

A: We’ll let you speculate on that one…

Q: And, finally, why am I a subscriber of their twitter?

A: I’m an intellectually risky person and proud of it. (Felt bad for the guy…)

You SFS-ers might want to rethink your Map of the Modern World classes.

Simply Science: Vote to Name a Moon or Two

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Ah, Pluto. It brings back memories of my favorite middle school planetary acronym, “My Very Excellent Mother Just Served Us Nine Pizzas.” In 2003, though, something about Pluto’s size and location made astronomers at the International Astronomical Union uncomfortable and led them to reclassify it as a dwarf planet, a fact we astronomical sentimentalists too often lament. That’s right, no more pizza; now she’s just making nachos.

But, that is old news. Pluto has had some limelight lately on some of the top science news websites with an exciting new opportunity for the average internet-goer. In 2011 and 2012, the Hubble Space Telescope discovered Pluto’s two smallest moons (from more than 3 billion miles away), and scientists tentatively named them P4 and P5. It turns out, though, that P4 and P5 just aren’t spicy enough names for the city-sized pieces of rock, so the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence Institute is looking for public input. They have set up, a site looking for the votes of anyone and everyone to determine the new names of these lunar beauties. There’s even a write-in option if you have your own brilliant suggestion!

Sorry, you can’t name it after your Valentine’s Day sweetheart (if you have one); astronomers are apparent admirers of Roman and Greek myth, so the names have to have some mythological origin. Moons are even typically named so to depict some sort of relationship with the main planet. Pluto is the Roman name for the Greek god of the underworld, Hades. It already has three named moons: Charon, the boatsmen who ferried the souls of the dead to the underworld, Nix, the goddess of the night, and Hydra, the name of a many-headed monster that guarded an entrance to the underworld. All of the current options for names are unsurprisingly also related to the underworld, with Cerberus and Styx as the favorites.

You can only vote once a day, and though the SETI Institute seems completely intent on allowing the voters to decide, they remind us that the IAU ultimately has the final authority on the naming of P4 and P5. Never has there been a time when it has been more important for an individual to exercise his/her right to vote on lunar nomenclature than now, in this instant. Don’t be lazy. Click on the link and vote for your favorite underworld-related figure (or just the one that sounds coolest). And don’t be afraid to ask your favorite GUSA candidate which name they support … it’s an important issue.

Click Here To Vote

Deadline: 12 p.m. EST on Monday, Feb. 25, 2013.


*Simply Science is a reoccurring post that aims to make recent scientific discoveries accessible and applicable to the Georgetown student.

4E Flix: Geniuses in the 90’s

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Here at the 4E, we try to identify the needs of our readers and meet them. And, let’s face it, it’s absolutely necessary that you have entertaining material to indulge in as you neglect your work and pretend to be studying for midterms. We at 4E also like to tell you what you want to hear: it’s okay, midterms are only worth 25% of your grade…don’t worry, it’s easy to write an essay on two books you didn’t read…there’ll be a curve on that test, and you’ll be at the top.

Take solace in these Netflix recommendations to get you through this.


This awesome 90’s sci-fi series (for which there are abundant episodes available) features Jerry O’Connell, often recognized from the more contemporary series Crossing Jordan, as a young genius physics student who travels with a motley crew through different realities attempting to return to his own. Just watching it makes you feel smarter. Ain’t nothing like some low-quality special effects paired with a cast outfitted with a Full-House-esque wardrobe. Just watch and revel in how horrible and screwed-up the alternate realities they visit are–you might appreciate your own more, no matter how grim the outlook of your coming sleep schedule.

Good Will Hunting

We all know it’s not fair you didn’t get into MIT or Harvard. In this classic, Matt Damon is a janitor at MIT when he is discovered as a mathematical genius. He struggles with his traumatized past and is unsure about his present, while being pushed and egged-on by a prominent professor (wish my professors motivated me that much…). His transition from a blue-collar bar hopper to a widely renowned genius is something you could achieve if you watch enough Netflix. It’s a good time to watch this movie ANYTIME (even when you should be memorizing those linguistics terms). Sit back, relax, and marvel at the genius you wish you could use right about now.


Photo: Netflix

4E Flix is a weekly post designed to help the Netflixer with nothing new to watch. The Fourth Edition is not affiliated with Netflix in any way.

Simply Science: We’re Dumber Than NHL Players

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Sometimes I wonder why I didn’t become a professional athlete, but then I remember how much I enjoy melted cheese and ice cream. (Not at the same time … well … maybe). When I realized the professional-athlete lifestyle wasn’t for me, I, like many of us, decided that paying inordinate amounts of money to go to college was the next best option. The perceived benefit? Becoming smarter and increasing my human capital, of course.

It turns out, however, that elite athletes (or ath-elites, if you will) do not only have better six-packs, better salaries and better health outlook; they’re smarter, too.

In a recent study, scientists tested English Premier League soccer players, NHL hockey players, France’s Top 14 club rugby players, and amateur ath-elites (it’s catchy, isn’t it?) and determined that their test subjects had more finely developed cognitive abilities than the average university student.

We mere mortals are potentially more eloquent than they are about things you might learn at college: the periodic table elements, the works of Chaucer or maybe even innovative drink recipes, but this study focused on ability. Subjects were asked to describe a series of simulated objects moving through three dimensions, thereby testing:

A Really Smart Dude
  1. Distribution of attention between a number of moving targets amongst distracters.
  2. Scope of field of vision.
  3. Maximum speed of objects one is able to follow.
  4. The ability to perceive depth.

The researchers were sure to design the study so that no sports-related experience or knowledge would help the participants. Each subject partook in 15 simulations, and, lo and behold, the professional athletes were able to learn how to track fast moving objects at a far superior rate than the other groups.

They observed that athletes were able to hyper-focus their attention to enhance learning. This might help explain observed increased cortical thickness in trained athletes’ brains and may lead new ways for exploring the treatment of people who have issues with attention, such as the elderly (and me during European History class).

It’s obvious that being good at a sport requires a certain level of mental processing and learning. But, according to researchers, it is unclear whether this superior ability is unique to professional athletes (and whether these are natural skills that helped them to be good athletes) or whether these skills have been developed through extensive training. Here exists the classic question of “causation or correlation?”

Although my four years of junior recreational soccer didn’t seem to pay off in Bib Lit last semester, it seems that sometimes we don’t give athletes enough credit. Einstein said, “The measure of intelligence is the ability to change.” Apparently, it also has to do, in part, with the quality of your slapshot. (Yay for sports terminology!)

I do, however, have at least one critique of this study. They should specify where they got their samples when it comes to university students. If they equate an “average university student” with a Syracuse student … well, there’s your problem.


*Simply Science is a reoccurring post that aims to make recent scientific discoveries accessible and applicable to the Georgetown student.

Simply Science: SanDisk or DNA?

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Ever get tired of having to lug around that painfully cumbersome flash drive all the time? Do you ever find that your Word documents tend to just fill up your entire terabyte-sized hard drive leaving no room for cat .gifs or unnecessary Photobooth selfies?

Well, you’re in luck.

Every good 7th grade biology student knows that DNA “holds the blueprints for life.”  Now, our good friend Deoxyribonucleic Acid (I had to thrown in the full name somewhere, just to sound smart) might be able to hold on to your pirated copy of Zero Dark Thirty, as well your genetic material.

Scientists have developed new methods to synthesize DNA that holds digital information. You’ve heard of the 0’s and 1’s of computer science’s binary coding system (e.g. 0011010001000101); well, think of what A’s, T’s, C’s, and G’s could do. Through nucleotide encoding (combined with the careful positioning and overlapping of the short encoded strands), scientists have created a potentially revolutionary information storage system.

To demonstrate the sheer epicness of these recent developments, scientists encoded an .MP3 of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech, a .txt file containing all of Shakespeare’s sonnets, a .pdf of Watson and Crick’s original paper on the structure of DNA (clever … clever … ) and, finally, a file containing information on the encoding itself. And when it was all put together, it looked to be the size of a small piece of dust. It was then sent to another research facility where it was successfully decoded.

Watson and Crick, 1953

Let’s break down why this is awesome:

  1. The coding is designed to be error-resistant. No more broken files!
  2. Theoretically, we could store at least 100 million hours of high-def video in a single cup of DNA. That is a LOT of episodes of “Entourage.”
  3. DNA lasts for thousands of years, so no need to worry about expiration.
  4. DNA’s size substantially optimizes information storage so it’s efficient!

Yeah, it might sound weird in a way. The same double helix that provides the design for your brain can also store the Word document of your unfortunate “Philosophy of the Mind” essay that you wrote at 3 a.m. the day before it was due. But it is a significant (and can I just say awesome once again) advancement nonetheless.

Don’t head on over to Staples just yet to buy yourself a cup of this storage DNA. People are still working on a commercially viable storage model; and even so, I doubt it would be very student-friendly. I’m not sure that they’d let you use your Flex dollars for the necessary advanced bio-analytic instruments.



*Simply Science is a reoccurring post that aims to make recent scientific discoveries accessible and applicable to the Georgetown student.