It is hard to believe that in 2018, there could be a thriving community of people who believe in a flat Earth, hundreds of years after scientists proved the notion wrong. And yet, according to Google Trends data, searches for “flat Earth” over just the past two years have increased threefold, indicating growing curiosity and belief in the strange conspiracy theory.
There’s even a word they have for people who buy into the widely accepted notion that the Earth is indeed round: globeheads. And they have some celebrity power on their side, including NBA star Kyrie Irving, as well as Tila Tequila and Bobby Ray Simmons.
And some people have been willing to try crazy stunts to prove it, including “Mad” Mike Hughes of California who has been trying to launch a homemade rocket a couple of thousand feet to prove that the Earth is flat. Although, considering the fact that commercial aircraft already travel tens of thousands of feet up in the air, it’s unclear what he thinks that will accomplish.
So what is driving flat Earth believers? Many appear to be fundamentalist Christians who think that the Earth is a flat disk that God presides over and where everything is close by, and appear to feel threatened by the concept that we are nothing more than a tiny speck in a vast universe.
The theory earned some scorn from popular physicist Neil deGrasse Tyson recently, who released a video on YouTube (embedded at the bottom of this article) slamming flat-Earthers over a number of logical problems. He pointed out that the Earth’s shadow is always perfectly round during eclipses, and never casts a flat shadow, and also notes that all objects in the universe tend to take on a spherical shape. He blames the state of schools for not teaching critical thinking skills and says they are responsible for the growing popularity of the flat Earth idea.
The following is an excerpt from Wikipedia on Neil deGrasse Tyson.
Neil deGrasse Tyson is an American astrophysicist, author, and science communicator. Since 1996, he has been the Frederick P. Rose Director of the Hayden Planetarium at the Rose Center for Earth and Space in New York City. The center is part of the American Museum of Natural History, where Tyson founded the Department of Astrophysics in 1997 and has been a research associate in the department since 2003.
Tyson studied at Harvard University, the University of Texas at Austin and Columbia University. From 1991 to 1994 he was a postdoctoral research associate at Princeton University. In 1994, he joined the Hayden Planetarium as a staff scientist and the Princeton faculty as a visiting research scientist and lecturer. In 1996, he became director of the planetarium and oversaw its $210-million reconstruction project, which was completed in 2000.
From 1995 to 2005, Tyson wrote monthly essays in the “Universe” column for Natural History magazine, some of which were later published in his books Death by Black Hole (2007) and Astrophysics for People in a Hurry (2017). During the same period, he wrote a monthly column in Star Date magazine, answering questions about the universe under the pen name “Merlin”. Material from the column appeared in his books Merlin’s Tour of the Universe (1998) and Just Visiting This Planet (1998). Tyson served on a 2001 government commission on the future of the U.S. aerospace industry, and on the 2004 Moon, Mars and Beyond commission. He was awarded the NASA Distinguished Public Service Medal in the same year. From 2006 to 2011, he hosted the television show NOVA ScienceNow on PBS. Since 2009, Tyson hosted the weekly podcast StarTalk. A spin-off, also called StarTalk, began airing on National Geographic in 2015. In 2014, he hosted the television series Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey, a successor to Carl Sagan’s 1980 series Cosmos: A Personal Voyage. The U.S. National Academy of Sciences awarded Tyson the Public Welfare Medal in 2015 for his “extraordinary role in exciting the public about the wonders of science”.
The following is an excerpt from Wikipedia on the flat Earth theory.
The flat Earth model is an archaic conception of Earth’s shape as a plane or disk. Many ancient cultures subscribed to a flat Earth cosmography, including Greece until the classical period, the Bronze Age and Iron Age civilizations of the Near East until the Hellenistic period, India until the Gupta period (early centuries AD), and China until the 17th century. That paradigm was also typically held in the aboriginal cultures of the Americas, and the notion of a flat Earth domed by the firmament in the shape of an inverted bowl was common in pre-scientific societies.
The idea of a spherical Earth appeared in Greek philosophy with Pythagoras (6th century BC), although most pre-Socratics (6th–5th century BC) retained the flat Earth model. Aristotle provided evidence for the spherical shape of the Earth on empirical grounds by around 330 BC. Knowledge of the spherical Earth gradually began to spread beyond the Hellenistic world from then on.In 1956, Samuel Shenton set up the International Flat Earth Research Society (IFERS), better known as the Flat Earth Society from Dover, UK, as a direct descendant of the Universal Zetetic Society. This was just before the Soviet Union launched the first artificial satellite, Sputnik; he responded, “Would sailing round the Isle of Wight prove that it were spherical? It is just the same for those satellites.”
His primary aim was to reach children before they were convinced about a spherical Earth. Despite plenty of publicity, the space race eroded Shenton’s support in Britain until 1967 when he started to become famous due to the Apollo program.
In 1972 Shenton’s role was taken over by Charles K. Johnson, a correspondent from California, US. He incorporated the IFERS and steadily built up the membership to about 3,000. He spent years examining the studies of flat and round Earth theories and proposed evidence of a conspiracy against flat Earth: “The idea of a spinning globe is only a conspiracy of error that Moses, Columbus, and FDR all fought…” His article was published in the magazine Science Digest, 1980. It goes on to state, “If it is a sphere, the surface of a large body of water must be curved. The Johnsons have checked the surfaces of Lake Tahoe and the Salton Sea without detecting any curvature.”
The Society declined in the 1990s following a fire at its headquarters in California and the death of Johnson in 2001. It was revived as a website in 2004 by Daniel Shenton (no relation to Samuel Shenton). He believes that no one has provided proof that the world is not flat.
In the modern era, the proliferation of communications technology and social media platforms such as YouTube, Facebook and Twitter have given individuals, famous or otherwise, a platform to spread pseudo-scientific ideas and build stronger followings. The flat-earth conjecture has flourished in this environment.
The solar eclipse of August 21, 2017, gave rise to numerous YouTube videos purporting to show how the details of the eclipse prove the earth is flat. Also in 2017, a scandal developed in Arab scientific and educational circles when a Tunisian PhD student submitted a thesis declaring Earth to be flat, unmoving, the center of the universe, and only 13,500 years of age.