Flat Earthers, like their creationist brethren, are wrong

Amazingly, in 2019 in the U.S. there are flat earth believers. They were wrong in Galileo’s time and are still wrong.

“The ancient Greeks knew that the world is round; observing the Earth’s shadow during a lunar eclipse, as Aristotle noted, makes it pretty clear. There were other hints that, whatever shape the Earth might be, it couldn’t be flat: As a sailing ship sails over the horizon, its hull disappears from view first; then its sails, and the top of its mast last of all.”


“And yet, a survey conducted last spring found that a solid 16 percent of Americans aren’t sure of the Earth’s shape—with flat-Earth support running highest among millennials and those with lower incomes. The doubters have a smattering of celebrities and self-promoters on their side, from rapper B.o.B. and NBA basketball star Kyrie Irving to amateur rocketeer Mike Hughes, who last year launched himself about 1,875 feet into the air in a homemade rocket and parachuted back to Earth.”

Medicynical Note: Antivaxxers, flat earthers, creationists, climate change deniers, old earth deniers all seem part of the same simplistic reasoning.

The science behind the rejection of science is still in its infancy, though much work on conspiratorial thinking has been done since the time of the Kennedy assassination (when such theories spiked noticeably). The political scientist Michael Barkun lists three key factors behind the appeal of conspiratorial thinking: First, such theories make sense of an otherwise confusing world. Second—in keeping with what Wertheim observed—they offer simplicity and especially moral clarity, dividing the world sharply into good and evil, right and wrong. Finally, they allow the believer to identify as part of a privileged, enlightened minority, as champions of reason amid the unenlightened, brainwashed masses. (This was surely as true in Rowbotham’s time as it is now; had the word “sheeple” been in vogue in Victorian England, I imagine he’d have embraced it.) “Confirmation bias”—the tendency to absorb evidence that appears to support one’s position, and dismiss evidence that doesn’t—almost certainly plays a role; as does the Dunning-Kruger effect, in which people who know rather little about a subject come to believe that they’re extraordinarily well informed. 

The scary question to me is whether a government that falls victim to a culture of denial of facts for political reasons can long survive.

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