Determining the Authenticity of a Photo

It is impossible to positively prove the authenticity of a photo beyond any doubt unless we take the photos ourselves. Instead, we gather as much information as possible related to the photo, evaluate the information, then use inductive reasoning to determine if the photo is real. And the conclusion will always be a probability, not a certainty.

Flat-Earthers like to demand us to prove that a particular photo is real, and if we cannot, they will conclude the photo is fake. In reality, while we might be able to prove a photo is not real, at the very best, we can only say there is no reason to believe the photo is not real from all the available information. This applies to practically all photos and also plenty of other things in everyday life.

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Making-of or Behind-the-Scenes

In cinema, a making-of or behind-the-scenes is a documentary featuring the production of a film. It describes how the scenes in a movie were created. Some trolls took footage from the behind-the-scenes of various space movies and present them to flat-Earthers as though it is how space agencies “faked” their videos.

Flat-Earthers fail to realize that these footage were just behind-the-scenes of space movies and unrelated to the actual space footage from space agencies. These spread as hoaxes in flat-Earth circles.

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CGI Argument

Computer-generated imagery (CGI) is the application of computer graphics to create or contribute to images. Some astronomy and Earth images were made with CGI, and flat-Earthers incorrectly use the fact as “evidence” the objects in the images are not real. In reality, it is possible to use CGI to create images of real objects, and therefore, CGI is not evidence that the objects in the images are not real.

For example, most images in IKEA’s catalog were created using CGI. If we were to use the same flat-Earthers’ “logic,” we can conclude that IKEA products do not exist, but we all know they exist.

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Usage of Animation to Visualize Space Missions

Many space missions use animations to visualize the state of the missions because it is impossible to record a video of the event. Spacecrafts continuously send telemetry data to Earth informing the status of their mission, and from the data, an animation can be constructed to illustrate the spacecraft’s current situation.

Flat-Earthers accuse that the animations are “proof” that the missions are faked. In reality, the animations are faithful depictions of the missions and are made to visualize the real state of the mission. Animations are used because it is not viable to send another spacecraft only to record a video of the mission. Furthermore, in the cases where the video is available, it is still too difficult for these flat-Earthers to accept reality.

Tim Peake’s Scientific Demonstration on the ISS and the Green Screen Conspiracy Theory

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In 2006, astronaut Tim Peake from the UK was tasked to perform some physics demonstration on the ISS for the National Space Academy. Tim performed the demonstrations in front of a gridded background specifically made for the purpose.

One of Tim’s video appeared during the former US president George H.W. Bush’s visit to NASA’s Mission Control Center. Flat-Earthers discovered the footage and quickly claim that it used a green screen background for CGI purposes. Such allegation was only from their ignorance and the eagerness to accuse others of lying. Tim’s videos are published in the National Science Academy’s web site as is, proving the background in the videos was merely an ordinary background, not a green screen for CGI.

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JPEG Compression

JPEG is a method of lossy compression of digital images. When a photograph is saved in the JPEG format, some details imperceptible to our vision are discarded. The JPEG compression reduces the file size at the expense of perfect image reproduction.

Flat-Earthers like to perform “investigations” by adjusting brightness, contrast, levels or curve of an image to find evidence of tampering. If they find irregularities, they will proclaim the picture has been faked. In most cases, these are only JPEG compression artifacts and do not prove anything.

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Composite Photos of the Earth

NASA has published several pictures of the Earth that are composites. It means the pictures were the result of combining many images into a single picture. In most cases, the source pictures were taken from low-orbiting satellites to obtain higher resolution pictures of the Earth.

Flat-Earthers discovered the photos are composites and claimed to have exposed “yet another evidence” of wrongdoing. They would publish this “findings” everywhere to turn us emotional. They are wrong. Nobody is covering the fact the pictures are composites, and there is no intention to deceive. Information that the photos are composites can be readily found in NASA’s website, far before the claimed “discovery” by flat-Earthers.

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Circular Reasoning

Circular reasoning is a logical fallacy in which the proposition is supported by the premises, which is supported by the proposition, creating a circle in reasoning where no useful information is being shared.

Flat-Earthers often commit the fallacy of circular reasoning to defend the notion that the Earth is flat. Such reasoning is never useful, and cannot be regarded as evidence of anything, despite what they are claiming.

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Real Photos of the Earth

The first photo showing the entire Earth was taken in 1966 from the spacecraft Lunar Orbiter 1. Since then, there are too many photos showing the whole earth taken from various missions to space.

The advent of computers in the 80s introduced a new technique of generating such pictures. A satellite can be used to take many photos of the Earth from a low orbit, and computers can be used to assemble those pictures into a single photo of the Earth.

Flat-Earthers ‘discovered’ such technique, then they concluded that all pictures of the Earth taken from space are all composites, the results of manipulation or assembled by computers. They are wrong. Just because there were pictures created using such technique, it doesn’t mean there is no genuine picture showing the entire Earth, not composites, not stitched, and were taken from a single shot.

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The Curvature Fitting Game

The amount of curvature that appears in a photograph of a sphere depends on 1. The radius of the sphere, 2. Camera distance from the sphere, 3. Field of view of the camera, and 4. The distortion characteristic of the camera being used.

The ‘curvature fitting game’ has been flat-Earthers’ favorite pastime. They would try to fit a photograph of Earth’s curvature with another. If they find the result is not proportionally correct, they will make fun of it. They are wrong. Two different photos of a sphere can be taken differently and would show a different curve, even if the object being photographed is the same object.

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The Starburst Effect is not Evidence of CGI

In photography, the starburst effect gives the illusion of light rays from strong light sources in an image. The effect happens when the lens’ aperture is not a perfect circle, and it gets more pronounced under a narrower aperture.

Flat-Earthers often find themselves looking for any peculiarity —no matter how small or unbelievable— to discredit any picture they deem unacceptable to their misguided causes. One of this peculiarity is the starburst effect.

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Appeal to CGI of the Second Form

Another CGI related fallacy regularly committed by flat-Earthers has the general form of:

  • Observation: there’s no photo or video of the object ‘X’ that is not made with CGI.
  • Conclusion: ‘X’ does not exist in the real world

This is invalid for two reasons:

  1. A real object is still real even if nobody has taken a photo of it.
  2. The premise itself might be invalid because there could be someone who has a photo of the object, and the perpetrator of the fallacy is simply unaware of its existence.

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Appeal to CGI of the First Form

A logical fallacy commonly committed by the victims of the flat-Earth ideology is CGI related. CGI —or computer graphics imagery— is the use of computers to produce realistic images or videos.

Because this fallacy is very common within the flat-Earth circles, let’s give it the name ‘appeal to CGI’. Its argument has the general form of:

  • Observation: a photo or video of an object ‘X’ is made with CGI
  • Conclusion: ‘X’ does not exist in the real world

This is a fallacy because it is definitely possible to create a CGI image or video of a real-world object.

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The Philosophy of CGI

When a photo of spherical Earth is pointed out to flat-earthers, they will dismiss it as CGI in the blink of an eye; even if they haven’t done any analysis at all. They do this because their belief in flat-Earth is not evidence-based, and any evidence contrary to their beliefs needs to be invalidated no matter how.

They are so used to doing it, and sometimes they become confused by it themselves, to the point that they would take the slightest hint of digital manipulation of any picture of the Earth as evidence of the flat Earth.

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