Stephen Fry, wit, actor, Twitter giant (Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons)
By James Dacey
I visualize the social-networking site Twitter as a giant cocktail party where multiple conversations, all taking place at once, result in a cacophony of chitchat. Strolling around this gathering you come across crowded pockets where fans huddle round their favourite celebrities, looking for some juicy gossip or dazzling insight into their everyday lives. At the heart of all this you might spot a particularly attentive crowd gathered around the English actor and comedian, Stephen Fry, as he dishes out his devilishly sharp one-liners, always within the limit of 140 characters.
In reality, most of what Fry writes on Twitter is, as the man would say himself, Quite Interesting. But he does sometimes come out with some obscure gems, like yesterday when he drew the attention of his 2 million+ fans to this hilarious entry on Conservapedia about the supposed flaws in Einstein’s theory of relativity. For those not familiar with Conservapedia, it is promoted as “the trustworthy encyclopedia”, and directly contrasts itself with Wikipedia, which it criticizes on a number of points.
The Conservapedia entry comprises a list of 33 “counter-examples to relativity”, and I thought I would just pull out a couple.
Number 9: “The action-at-a-distance by Jesus, described in John 4:46-54”.
Number 21: “The lack of useful devices developed based on any insights provided by the theory; no lives have been saved or helped, and the theory has not led to other useful theories and may have interfered with scientific progress. This stands in stark contrast with every verified theory of science.”
I hope this blog entry doesn’t sound too sneering of people who might hold religious beliefs. And it is certainly not a bad thing to hope that science can lead to useful technologies that can help improve everyday lives. But these “counter-examples” on this ridiculous website give a completely false representation of the process of science. Besides, to say that relativity has no practical use is just plain wrong , as the accuracy of GPS systems depends on relativistic corrections, and these systems help to save plenty of lives. But there is no point in arguing with some people.
My sense of unease intensified when I read that Conservapedia boasts over 200 million views and more than 810,000 edits. Among the website’s guidelines it states that “we are neutral to the facts” and “everything you post must be true and verifiable”.
Just to give you a flavour of the site, here is Conservapedia‘s entry for “a liberal”: “someone who rejects logical and biblical standards, often for self-centered reasons. There are no coherent liberal standards; often a liberal is merely someone who craves attention, and who uses many words to say nothing”. Yep, that sounds both neutral and verifiable.
As for why Fry felt the need to tweet about this entry now…well it’s probably no coincidence that his picture appears on the Conservapedia homepage alongside an article on “atheism and obesity”. And why I wrote this blog entry giving Conservapedia more oxygen? Well, I’m not quite sure. Guess I was just quite angry.