The fact that many individuals around the world really think the Earth is flat will startle physicists. Rachel Brazil investigates why such opinions are becoming more prevalent and how the physics community might best respond to this.
B.o.B, a rapper from the US whose real name is Bobby Ray Simmons Jr., started a satellite launch campaign in 2017. The rapper, an outspoken supporter of the “flat-Earth theory,” sought proof that the earth is a disc rather than a globe.
His goal was to use the GoFundMe website to fund $200,000 (later increased to $1 million) in order to deploy one or more spacecraft to assist him in “finding the curve,” the word that “flat-Earthers” use to define the edge of our alleged disc-shaped planet.
It can appear that the rapper’s journey is a marketing gimmick or prank. There is presently no proof that B.o.B successfully raised any funds or even came close to his goal.
However, the number of people who, like B.o.B, hold flat-Earth views has alarmingly increased in recent years. More than 600 people attended the most recent flat-Earth conference, which is now held annually in the US. YouTube is also flooded with videos that claim to show that the Earth is flat.
The flat Earth theory may be mocked by physicists, but it is becoming more popular, especially among those who are receptive to other conspiracy ideas.
According to philosopher Lee McIntyre, a specialist in the subject of science denial and author of Respecting Truth: Wilful Ignorance in the Internet Age, “They truly really do believe it” (Routledge, 2015).
McIntyre attended the 2018 Flat Earth International Conference in Denver, Colorado, so he has first-hand knowledge of how strongly flat-Earthers hold their beliefs.
A psychologist from Texas Tech University named Asheley Landrum, who attended the gathering in Denver, concurs that flat-Earthers are sincere and not making things up.
She remarks, “If they were [trolling], they would be really good performers. We spoke with almost 90 people who believe in a flat Earth, and they were all sincerely committed to their views. “Talking to your relatives and friends about flat Earth,” “NASA and other space myths,” and “14+ ways the Bible states flat Earth” were among the topics covered in the Denver event’s lectures.
A cyclic narrative.
Ancient Greek thinkers such as Aristotle (384–322 BC) received practical proof after visiting Egypt and observing new constellations of stars, effectively ending the debate over whether the Earth is a sphere.
The first person to determine the Earth’s circumference was Eratosthenes in the third century BC. From the ninth century AD onward, Islamic academics continued to make increasingly complex measurements, while in the sixteenth century, European navigators completed the Earth’s orbit. If any more evidence was required, images from space sufficed.
The History Of Flat Earthers
However, those who believe in a flat Earth today are not the first to cast doubt on something that seems obvious. In the 1800s, the idea of a flat Earth first reappeared as a reaction against scientific advancement, particularly among Christians who desired to return to biblical literalism.
The British author Samuel Rowbotham (1816–1844) was arguably its most well-known supporter. In his theory, Antarctica would be replaced by an ice wall at the disc’s outer perimeter and the Earth would be a flat, immobile disc with the North Pole as its centre.
Many people thought that the International Flat Earth Research Society, founded in 1956 by Samuel Shenton, a signwriter from Dover, United Kingdom, was just a funny and insignificant example of British eccentricity.
However, as the Internet became a more established platform for unconventional viewpoints in the early 2000s, the concept started to acquire popularity once more, mostly in the US.
Online forums saw a resurgence of conversation, the Flat Earth Society was reestablished in October 2009, and the annual flat-Earth conference got underway.
The Flat Earth Dispute
There are arguments for and against the flat-earth hypothesis, as with any fringe movement. According to some theories, the oceans are contained at the boundaries of the Earth by an ice wall.
Others contend that the atmosphere and our flat world are enclosed within a massive, hemispherical snow globe from which nothing can escape the edges. Most flat-Earthers believe that the Sun revolves around the North Pole, casting its light like a spotlight, explaining the existence of night and day.
For instance, according to the most recent “US model,” the Sun and Moon circle the disc-shaped Earth at a height of 5500 km, with the stars above it on a spinning dome.
The “UK model” proposes that the disc is itself accelerating up at 9.8 m/s2 to provide the appearance of gravity, which is another common rejection of gravity among flat-Earthers.
The Swirling Flat Earth Theory Controversy
These theories will be ridiculed by physicists, but what’s alarming is that they’re gaining ground quickly and support outside of the United States as well.
According to Jan Slegr, a physicist from the University of Hradec Králové in the Czech Republic, who co-authored a paper outlining strategies for teachers and others to challenge absurd flat-Earth ideas with physics in 2018, “While they may not be as many [in Europe], they are as loud as their colleagues in the US” (Phys. Educ. 53 045014).
How Much Popular Is This Theory?
These efforts are crucial. Alarming polling results from the company Datafolha, for instance, show that 11 million Brazilians, or 7% of the population, think the Earth is flat.
This startling statistic has been linked to the resurgence of the evangelical Christian church, but there are also indications that religious fundamentalism is disseminating these beliefs in Islamic nations.
A geology student from Tunisia was reportedly planning to defend her work on a flat-Earth model in a PhD defence in 2017, according to the website Jeune-Afrique.
Mentality Behind The Conspiracy
It would be simple to write off flat-Earthers as ignorant people who are just misinformed. Landrum of Texas Tech claims that flat-Earthers aren’t always those who don’t believe in science, even though there are signs that those who are receptive to such views have low levels of scientific literacy.
It’s not really a problem with schooling, she claims. “Really, it’s about distrusting institutions and authorities. It appears to be founded on a deeply held conviction that resembles religiosity but isn’t necessarily connected to a particular religion as well as a conspiracy mentality.
What Are The Beliefs Of A Flat Earth Believer?
According to McIntyre, the flat-earthers he spoke to all had a variety of conspiratorial beliefs, such as that governments manipulate the weather and that chem-trails left by aeroplanes are made up of chemical or biological substances. The one thing I discovered that they all agreed on was that we hadn’t visited the Moon, he said.
They claim it’s false if you present them with supporting evidence, such as a photo of the Earth taken from the moon. In fact, many proponents of flat Earth theory are more interested in the theory of a conspiracy than in offering a practical flat Earth model.
We frequently fail to understand the extent to which trust in authority influences our ideas, according to Nikk Effingham, a philosopher at the University of Birmingham in the UK who has interacted with flat-Earthers at a meet-up in London.
“We under-play the proper function of authority in that when we try to prove something like the Earth being round, because it’s a belief that we are so confident about,” he claims. Therefore, even if they are unable to recall the scientific data right away, most people are at ease embracing the idea that the world is a globe.
How Does YouTube Fuel Up These Controversies?
It is also obvious that YouTube videos in particular have contributed to the surge in flat-Earth views. According to Landrum, “almost everyone that we spoke to claimed that they had either been directly exposed to the flat Earth on YouTube or had been indirectly exposed through a family member who had been directly exposed to it on YouTube.”
Videos promoting flat earth theory frequently provide a variety of ideas quickly and with what Landrum calls “an illusion of fluency.” The algorithms that show the videos to users of other conspiracy-related content have also proven crucial to their success.
According to Landrum, “the algorithms encourage the normalisation of conspiracies and the sense of a consensus inside your community.”
Another illustration of such is the flat Earth. In 2019, YouTube acknowledged the issue and announced changes to the algorithm to lessen the number of videos that promote conspiracies. However, the videos are still available on its platform.
Evidence That The Earth Isn’t Flat
The 2018 flat-Earth conference in Denver was brought to his attention by McIntyre’s work on science denial. There, attendees spent time debating the “evidence” and specifics of the theory as well as the purported conspiracy that flat-Earthers believe is hiding their ideas from the general public.
He explains, “I think if I could figure out how to fight back against flat-Earthers, I could use the same strategies to fight back against climate change doubters and anti-vaxxers.” After all, each of their theories is mostly founded on misconceptions about science and logical fallacies.
Some flat-Earthers have a basic understanding of physics that allows them to use the terminology, but they lack the understanding necessary to be convinced by the truth.
But even without the visual evidence provided by images captured from space, many of the arguments put up by proponents of the flat Earth may be easily refuted using trigonometry or fundamental physical principles. The Foucault’s pendulum, which bears the name of the French physicist Léon Foucault who famously hung a massive 28 kg brass bob from a 67 m chain in the Panthéon in Paris in 1851, is a good place to start.
A pendulum of this kind, which may swing in any direction, would change direction throughout the course of a day, providing concrete proof of the Earth’s rotation. (However, as Slegr points out, this hasn’t stopped some flat-Earthers from asserting that all Foucault pendulums are fake and that museums shift the plane of the pendulum’s movement in order to make the Earth appear to rotate.)
Here Are Some Evidences To Proof That The Earth Is Not Flat.
Why Despite The Earth’s Curvature, Faraway Skyscrapers May Still Be Seen?
Here Is An Example That Explains This Statement.
The city of Chicago, which is located on the other bank of Lake Michigan, is about 60 kilometres away from Mount Baldy in Indiana Dunes National Park on the southeast shore of Lake Michigan.
Chicago’s skyline shouldn’t be visible from there because of how far away it is due to Earth’s curvature. It’s just a mirage that the buildings appear to be visible. Mirages typically form when a layer of cold, thick air lies on top of a layer of warmer, less dense air, such as when the Sun shines down on a dark road on a scorching summer day.
What Is An Inferior Mirage?
An “inferior mirage” is produced when the warm ground heats the bottom few centimetres of the atmosphere and refracts sunlight into your eyes. However, you get a “better mirage” if a layer of warm air is above your line of sight and a layer of cool air is beneath it.
Because our eyes believe that light has travelled in a straight line, even when light bends downward toward the thicker air, the item appears to be higher than it actually is. A distant ship can be seen even though it may have dropped below the horizon because of this effect. Even faraway vessels can appear to float in the air due to it.
However, as McIntyre discovered, flat-earthers are unlikely to be persuaded by this line of argument. They appear to have a very low bar for acceptable proof for what they want to believe and an absurdly high bar for acceptable evidence for what they don’t.
What Tool Does The Flat Earthers Believe?
A Nikon P900 camera with an 83 optical zoom is one of their main experimental tools, and flat-Earthers have an almost religious faith in it. They intend to use it to demonstrate that objects do not vanish over the horizon but rather reappear when studied at high enough resolution since it is able to catch features that are not visible to the naked eye.
In a piece published in the American Journal of Physics (87 694) last year, McIntyre expressed his dissatisfaction with flat-Earthers and tasked physicists with providing clear, concise arguments to disprove the “evidence” for a flat Earth that anyone could understand.
Bruce Sherwood, a retired physicist, took the bait and afterwards understood that “simply giving the scientific facts is not going to convince anybody.” Instead, he and colleague Derek Roff chose to build a navigable 3D computer simulation of a flat Earth to examine how well it could duplicate what humans see because flat-Earthers place so much significance on observations made with the naked eye.
How Are Things Different In The Flat Earth Globe?
It enables anyone to virtually wander a flat globe and is based on the flat-Earth concept used in the US. As Sherwood describes it, “walking around in it, there were numerous things that demonstrate significant differences.” The Sun’s size and brightness are among the main issues. In the flat-Earth model, this varies from dawn to midday by more than a factor of two, which is certainly not what we observe.
Additionally, the night sky varies. Constellations are visible in the northern hemisphere rising in the east and arcing across the sky, but according to the flat-Earth theory, they would simply circle at a fixed height.
Because it takes their own ideas seriously and outlines the implications, “what [Sherwood] has done is something that’s a lot tougher for [flat-Earth proponents] to laugh off,” claims McIntyre. I believe that other physicists can go out and assist in pushing on the basis of this.
How Can This Theory Be Dangerous For People?
McIntyre believes that flat-Earth conspiracies pose a threat and should be addressed. “Perhaps 10 or 20 years ago, I would have advised just laughing at them because I didn’t think they would get much traction. I no longer experience that. He worries that proponents of the flat Earth may start running for US school boards, just as those who believe in “intelligent design,”
In an effort to introduce their ideas into the country’s educational system. He cautions that their kind of thinking is contagious and that if you don’t fight it, it will just get worse and they will be able to attract more people.
However, Effingham, who has also communicated with flat-Earthers on Facebook, questions whether physics is the best place to start disproving these paranoid theories.
“I’m not saying there isn’t some sort of physics argument in the ideal formula, but just turning on a YouTube video of physics lectures is not going to accomplish it,” the author said.
Instead, Effingham has attempted to persuade those who believe in a flat Earth that by watching YouTube videos, they are also slavishly adhering to an authority—just not a scientific one, but rather the authority of the person who is putting forward the conspiracy theories they believe in.
How Can These Theories Be Exposed?
Effingham makes an effort to expose these contradictions as well. “It was impossible to get a consistent conspiracy going that explained everything,” said one observer. “Every position they took required a different view of the conspiracy, and required the conspiracy to be bigger or smaller.”
For instance, McIntyre remembers questioning a flat-earther about why planes travelling over Antarctica from, say, Chile to New Zealand don’t need to refuel, which they would need to do if the continent were (as they believe) an ice wall thousands of kilometres long.
He was merely informed that aircraft can travel on a single tank of fuel and that refuelling aircraft may simply be a massive ruse to prevent us from understanding the Earth is flat.
How Science Is Misinterpreted?
Landrum concurs that faith, not physics, is the fundamental issue. “We really need to determine how we can begin reestablishing faith in our organisations and institutions as a scientific community and as a society as a whole.” She also thinks we should discuss this face-to-face.
“I’m not suggesting you yell at them on Twitter because that’s not interesting. She adds that it’s crucial for scientists to take objections seriously rather than patronising flat-earthers. Although it may seem like an agonisingly difficult process, it is essential if people are to once again have faith in science as an institution.”
Strangely, Landrum claims that even though many flat-earthers hate scientists, they support the scientific approach. For want of a better term, the majority of them place a lot of faith in science. There are many of the excellent traits that make scientists, such as curiosity and scepticism.
Although there may be an experimental spirit, flat-earthers are not always willing to abandon their beliefs when their tests are unsuccessful. And for that reason, McIntrye is hoping that some physicists will accompany him to upcoming flat-Earth conferences.
He asserts, “I think scientists ought to be more active.” There is just no justification for us to watch them and laugh at them. Because they are enlisting people to believe these absurd claims while we are laughing.