BBC drops the ball on “Atlantis”

21 February 2009


atlantis

Shame on the BBC. There was a story on their website today titled “Google dismisses ‘Atlantis find’.” Apparently, some delusional observers using Google Earth had noticed a grid out in the Atlantic that they took to be the streets of a sunken city.

Athanasius Kircher's map of Atlantis, in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. From Mundus Subterraneus 1669, published in Amsterdam. The map is oriented with south at the top. (from Wikipedia)

Athanasius Kircher's map of Atlantis, in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. From Mundus Subterraneus 1669, published in Amsterdam. The map is oriented with south at the top. (from Wikipedia)

The BBC’s culpable idiocy in this idiotic little drama was this excerpt from the story:

“Experts had said this was one of the possible sites of the city described by Plato, the Greek philosopher.”

Experts? Experts? Who exactly is an expert on Atlantis? In what would this expertise consist? Presumably this “expertise” would not include geomorphology or plate tectonics.

To add insult to injury, and to further embarrass the BBC, this story was classified under “Science & Environment” on the BBC website. While it is true that the BBC website currently lacks a “Fraud & Pseudo-Science” category (perhaps they should consider having this in the future), this kind of garbage could have been classified under “Entertainment” or the like.

The inability to distinguish between science and pseudo-science is crucial to understanding the world today. When a prestigious source of information like the BBC — a source of information upon which I personally depend every day — demonstrates their inability to distinguish between fact and fiction, between lunacy and rationality, between science and pseudo-science, the intellectual level of the world is taken down a notch.

Formation of oceanic crust at rift zones located in the mid-oceanic ridges. Beneath the rift zone upwellings of magma occur in the mantle. These upwellings produce fissures and volcanoes on the ocean floor surface. The added rock, produced from the solidification of magma, pushes previously formed oceanic crust horizontally away from the rift zone like a conveyor belt. Ocean crust is returned to the mantle through subduction. This can occur when ocean crust meets continental crust or other ocean plates.

Formation of oceanic crust at rift zones located in the mid-oceanic ridges. Beneath the rift zone upwellings of magma occur in the mantle. These upwellings produce fissures and volcanoes on the ocean floor surface. The added rock, produced from the solidification of magma, pushes previously formed oceanic crust horizontally away from the rift zone like a conveyor belt. Ocean crust is returned to the mantle through subduction. This can occur when ocean crust meets continental crust or other ocean plates.

We should value our reason for the rare gift that it is. The fruits of our reason are hard-won by generations of dedicated investigators. These researchers have, over the past few hundred years since the scientific revolution, slowly clawed their way to an understanding of how our planet works. We know that the Atlantic is an ocean that is growing, it is spreading apart about as fast as fingernails grow. There is a ridge that goes down the center of the ocean where the magma from below the surface wells up to fill the gap left by the spreading of the seafloor. All of this is well-established knowledge, verified by maps and cores and samples thousands of times over.

By analyzing radioactive minerals in igneous rocks, scientists can tell how much time has passed since rocks solidified from lava. This amount of time defines the age of a rock. This image shows the age of rocks on the Atlantic Ocean seafloor.

By analyzing radioactive minerals in igneous rocks, scientists can tell how much time has passed since rocks solidified from lava. This amount of time defines the age of a rock. This image shows the age of rocks on the Atlantic Ocean seafloor.

The natural history of the Atlantic Ocean will not accommodate a missing continent of Atlantis or a large landmass lost in the ocean. While there certainly have been violent and catastrophic episodes in our natural history, many of them in recorded history, and there have been cities destroyed as a result of catastrophic earth change, the attempt to identify any of these episode with “Atlantis” is problematic in the extreme, like identifying an historical King Aurthur or determining the exact historicity of the Trojan War. Atlantis is an important part of our mythology, but one would hope that, in the twenty-first century, we would have learned to distinguish mythology from science. Apparently, the BBC has not so learned, and that is a shame.

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