At first, I thought a story on Tech.mic titled “Meet the People Who Believe the Earth Is Flat” was satire. You know, a parody of those zany conspiracy theorists who believe in such nonsense as chemtrails, gluten-free, the government staged the 9/11 attacks, homeopathy, vaccines cause autism, Trump is a good presidential candidate, astrology, creationism, climate change is a hoax, Collingwood Council has ethics, and the rest of the rampant silliness and stupidity that haunts the Net.
And it would be easy to write: wingnuts are almost too easy to lampoon. But no one can really believe the earth is flat, can they? I mean, come on: how stupid do you have to be? It’s gotta be a spoof.
Flat earth belief – or more properly, platygeism – goes beyond mere gullibility into the realm of a self-induced ignorance coma. As Rational Wiki succinctly puts it:
It is probably impossible for any single example to fully disprove flat-earthism, simply because there is always an ad hoc explanation for any given, apparently-contradictory phenomenon. However, it’s quite difficult for a flat-earthist to explain away all of the problems with flat-earthism and maintain a consistent theory, mostly because the “evidence” they provide is circumstantial, and generally pulled out of their asses.
But the article referenced a Facebook group, sites and some YouTube videos. A lot of them. If it’s a spoof, it’s a convoluted one with lots of seemingly disparate players. As conspiracies go, this one is easily debunked.
And they weren’t the sort of economic “flat earth” believers Thomas Friedman referenced in his book. Nor are they the metaphorical “flat earther” that Trump supporters are often described as. These are the mythical Dark Ages* sort of flat-earther dressed in New Age clothes. You know, the no-science, no-logic, no-education, superstitious piffle sort of believer with access to the internet. The kind that increasingly populate the dark corners of the web to grow conspiracies and wingnut ideas in the dark.
As I read, I started to get worried. This didn’t look spoofish at all. It looked frighteningly real. As if these people actually believed against all reason, all science, all geography, all physics and all astronomy that, yes indeed, we do live on a flat surface. As if these people were actually the most stupid on the planet and proud of it.
I decided to check it out myself. Here’s what I found:
It is real. These people are out in growing numbers there and spreading their wackiness faster than Zika; they swarm online like fruit flies on a too-ripe peach!
It’s the most blatant condemnation of our educational system I’ve encountered. How have we failed to teach people the very basics?
Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson famously said this accelerating passion for self-stupidity is bringing down an intellectual Dark Age on us today:
“There’s a growing anti-intellectual strain in this country that may be the beginning of the end of our informed democracy,” he said during the bit.
The whole thing sprang whole cloth from one man’s head in the mid-19th century (an era famous for its gawkishly gullible attention to the paranormal and other superstitious codswallop). A century after its last flat-earth wingnut died out (his passing unmourned by the scientific community) , the movement was resurrected in 2004 by an online conspiracy theorist named Daniel Shenton. And it has grown like an algal bloom ever since, thanks to the stupifying power of the internet. They even have a Canadian arm (and you thought we were smarter than that, eh?)
To rub salt into this brain wound, a whole lot of them are also religious wingnuts: literalists and creationists (particularly the America followers). That rules out being able to argue with them through logic, common sense, science or simple fact. As one zany site – that risibly labels itself “flat earth science and the Bible” – says:
The Flat Earth is set on a flat non-moving stationary foundation (1 Samuel 2:8; 1 Chronicles 16:30; Psalms 93:1; Psalms 96: 9-11)… The Bible says it is made of glass (Job 37:18). The Bible clearly describes a firm dome (firmament) IN which the sun and moon were placed (Genesis 1:14-19)…The Bible clearly describes a stationary non-moving earth inside a glass dome (firmament) with a sun and moon placed inside the firmament as lights for day and night.
Science and Genesis melded together. You chortle, as did I. And then it claims,
The Flat Earth is set on a flat non-moving stationary foundation (1 Samuel 2:8; 1 Chronicles 16:30; Psalms 93:1; Psalms 96: 9-11). All the continents center around the North Pole and are surrounded by Ocean. Surrounding the flat earth 360 degrees on all sides is Antarctica. It is also known as the Antarctic ice wall and has been measured at 200 ft high and and thousands of miles long. Captain Cook sailed along the ice wall for 60,000 miles and never found an inlet. Bet you never heard about that in your history books.
Well, that piffle is easily sloughed off into the dustbin. Captain James Cook’s path over his three voyages took him all over the world, as far north and south as a wooden-hulled vessel could travel (but at 150 miles away for his closest approach, he never even glimpsed the southern continent). He didn’t sail solely along the south, Antarctic waters; he meandered all over the globe three times (see maps of his first, second and third voyages on Wikipedia).
The first expedition where humans actually stepped onto Antarctica’s land was in 1853 (Mercator Cooper), almost a century after Cook. The continent wasn’t even begun to be properly explored until the end of the 19th and start of the 20th centuries. But we’ve been there many times since, planted flags at the pole, flown over it and we have satellite images of it that show it’s an isolated land mass, not some “wall” around an imaginary disk.
Scotch the idea it’s some bizarre conspiracy by every geographer on the planet to Photoshop every image to make it look like a continent instead of a wall. You can even take a cruise ship there today and see for yourself. You can take your GPS with you to confirm your location – although flat-earthers insist every GPS on the planet is rigged and there are no GPS satellites.
What about gravity, you ask. Surely that disproves a flat earth. Well, according to the FES websites, gravity, like curved space, is also a hoax. Yep. You’ve been lied to by 250 years of scientists. We’re held on the planet and rocks fall from our hands not because mass exerts a downward pull, but because we’re flying so fast in space that it pushes everything down to the surface. Accelerating at 1g constantly through the magic of undefined “dark energy” (although, conveniently, never reaching light speed in violation of Einstein…).
Yes, they really believe all of that diaphanous piffle:
FE assumes that the Earth does not generate a gravitational field. What we know as ‘gravity’ is provided by the acceleration of the earth.
And every space mission is a hoax, of course. It’s all a conspiracy by hundreds of thousands of government workers. NASA exists solely to “…fake the concept of space travel to further America’s militaristic dominance of space.” But wait, it gets crazier, notes Live Science:
While writing off buckets of concrete evidence that Earth is spherical, they readily accept a laundry list of propositions that some would call ludicrous. The leading flat-earther theory holds that Earth is a disc with the Arctic Circle in the center and Antarctica, a 150-foot-tall wall of ice, around the rim. NASA employees, they say, guard this ice wall to prevent people from climbing over and falling off the disc. Earth’s day and night cycle is explained by positing that the sun and moon are spheres measuring 32 miles (51 kilometers) that move in circles 3,000 miles (4,828 km) above the plane of the Earth. (Stars, they say, move in a plane 3,100 miles up.) Like spotlights, these celestial spheres illuminate different portions of the planet in a 24-hour cycle. Flat-earthers believe there must also be an invisible “antimoon” that obscures the moon during lunar eclipses.
I know, I know. Stop shaking your head. It’s worse than you think. That initial site above links to all sorts of fellow-travellers in the wingnut zone. And some of them make this one read like an astronomy textbook, they are simply so far from reality. Once you start clicking you fall down the rabbit hole. Except that Alice’s wonderland looks sane in comparison.
You cannot argue with someone who says his or her Hairy Thunderer made it so, then wrote it in a book 4,000 years ago, and everyone since is lying. You’re far better off trying to teach the Nimzovitch defence in chess to a grumpy toddler in need of a nap. Thor Jensen described this group of truthers as the “internet gutter” on the Geek website:
…for every piece of science there must be a skeptic, and it shouldn’t surprise you that Flat Earthers are alive and well on the Internet. This devoted group of truthers mandate that all of the so-called “evidence” we’ve seen of the planet’s rotundity was either misinterpreted or faked. And they’re really into making YouTube videos to tell you all about it.
And he points to the credibility of their spokespeople:
Flat earth truthers got a big boost in early 2016 when Georgia rapper B.o.B. went on a frankly flabbergasting Twitter rampage proclaiming his belief in the theory. He was joined by internet model and professional lunatic Tila Tequila.
A rapper named Bob? Don’t they use last names any more? Bob the rapper, a grade-nine dropout, is their spokesperson.
(digression: what’s an “internet model”? Someone who can’t get a job in a real modelling or advertising agency? I think it’s like an”internet celebrity” – someone whose achievements aren’t worth celebrating in the real world because they’re merely virtual. And when your popularity tanks among the fickle social media watchers, you can always resort to spouting wacky conspiracy theories or engaging in pornography. Like Tila Tequila has. Fame has no shame.)
I remain flabbergasted at humanity’s gullibility and susceptibility to hoaxes. Every time I encounter one of these wingnut fantasies, my first thought is, “You can’t be serious.” And then I realize someone is. And he or she has followers. Pretty much any and every wacky idea gets people on its bandwagon, no matter how silly, illogical or simply stupid.
Some days I despair over our future. We are fast becoming the Eloi Wells warned us about.
* Okay, I realize that the notion people believed the earth was flat in the Middle Ages is itself a myth, but it’s a good metaphor, regardless. This is well described on the Society and Civilization site:
…as Jeffrey Burton Russell added in his Inventing the Flat Earth, “with extraordinary [sic] few exceptions no educated person in the history of Western Civilization from the third century B.C. onward believed that the earth was flat,” and credits histories by John William Draper, Andrew Dickson White, and Washington Irving for popularizing the flat-earth myth. The flat-earth error flourished most between 1870 and 1920, not in the Middle Ages.
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NASA video from the ISS showing Hurricane Matthew over the Caribbean – and the curve of the earth is clearly visible. I’m sure the wingnuts will claim it’s faked, of course.
IFL Science has this video:
Very interesting comment on conspiracy theories and how the flat-earth nonsense is scarier than we thought.
Thank you for this amusing article. I came here via the story of Cook’s “Endeavour” having apparently been found in Rhode Island. I followed up the account of his circumnavigation of Antarctica and … well you can guess the rest. Without wishing to be critical, you have the great man’s journey take place almost two centuries before man set foot on the continent, instead of mere decades. It stuck out because I’m in Australia. Good luck to you.
Thanks for catching that. Captain Cook was in the Antarctic region in 1773-74. I have updated the piece to read “almost one century,” dating it from his voyage to Mercator Cooper’s 1851-53 expedition; the first that actually landed a person on the landmass. Others may have landed on islands in the Antarctic region or sighted the ice shelf sooner, but never reached the continent itself.