"Once you go flat, you never globe back."
November 20, 2018 12:53 PM   Subscribe

There is no credible scientific debate over whether the Earth is flat. But that makes a conference of flat-Earth believers a rather exaggerated lens through which to view a much more mainstream trend. Across the country, established authorities are losing their influence.

Mocked and demeaned daily by family, friends and even strangers, hundreds of flat Earthers rejoiced with like-minded folks Thursday during the second annual Flat Earth International Conference at the Crown Plaza Airport Convention Center in Denver.

Last week, an advertisement for the conference went up along Interstate 70 east of Aurora. In large white lettering, the billboard asks passersby to use Google to search “flat Earth clues” and shows an image of the Earth overlaid with the word “FAKE” in red lettering.
posted by asperity (46 comments total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
 
From TFA:

Then he listened to the rapper Bobby Ray Simmons — aka B.o.B. — talk about it. Whitehead watched some videos and realized he couldn’t prove the rapper wrong.

THAT DOESN'T MAKE HIM RIGHT, DOG
posted by GuyZero at 12:57 PM on November 20 [21 favorites]




Emphasis mine.

Statistically, there was no difference between women and men, Republicans and Democrats, Trump voters and Hillary Clinton voters. People who voted in 2016 for Green Party candidate Jill Stein, though, were more likely to say they believe in a flat Earth.

This is my surprised face.
posted by RolandOfEld at 1:05 PM on November 20 [39 favorites]


twitter needs to have a designation of "i follow this person because i want to laugh at them, not with them". alas, I can't bring myself to follow that account.
posted by numaner at 1:08 PM on November 20 [4 favorites]




These are the same people who obliviously use modern day appliances, electronics and automobiles, airplanes, elevators, whatever, that would straight up kill them dead if a couple thousand years of established science hadn't come before them. You know, it's just ... these aren't bright guys.
posted by seanmpuckett at 1:22 PM on November 20 [17 favorites]


I have a raging fever right now, and I can sort of see where people are coming from. An explanation about seeing stuff on the horizon gets into stuff about atmospheric lensing that’s hard for my fever brain to follow. The real world is so complicated, and to be honest, a lot of my belief in science is based on faith in that science, not because I actually understand it.

I can see how getting into something like this could help you feel like you’re taking control of at least one thing, even if everything around you is chaotic. This is a very difficult country to live in, and I wonder if it’s just driving a lot of people out of their minds. It’s like the one way people feel like they can fight the elites, because they have almost no power in reality.
posted by shapes that haunt the dusk at 1:36 PM on November 20 [11 favorites]


FE types are great at yelling that everyone else is wrong, and very bad at proving their thesis
posted by scruss at 1:39 PM on November 20 [2 favorites]


automobiles, airplanes, elevators, whatever, that would straight up kill them dead if a couple thousand years of established science hadn't come before them.

Are you suggesting that the elevators of Ancient Rome weren't up to modern safety standards?
posted by sfenders at 1:44 PM on November 20 [15 favorites]


You know, it's just ... these aren't bright guys.

This is largely true. But you also get some folks who come from populations that the scientific community has historically not treated with kindness and has, in fact, conspired against, in the form of scientific racism and misogyny. I don't have an easy answer for that.
posted by Countess Elena at 1:44 PM on November 20 [12 favorites]


The elevators of Ancient Rome...my new prog rock band!
posted by foonly at 1:45 PM on November 20 [9 favorites]


Drop the "The", though.
posted by Quasirandom at 1:54 PM on November 20 [9 favorites]


Roman Empire: Going Down
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 1:56 PM on November 20 [8 favorites]


If you believe in the flat Earth, it also means you believe that over human history millions of people had and are in on the conspiracy. The military, scientists, cartographers, explorers, sailors, pilots, etc. not a single person has revealed the workings of the conspiracy. During WWII both the Allies and Axis agreed not to reveal the truth. During the Cold War, the US and Soviets kept quiet about it. Keeping hidden the knowledge of a flat Earth has transcended all countries' political and military objectives.
posted by ShooBoo at 2:12 PM on November 20 [36 favorites]


But you also get some folks who come from populations that the scientific community has historically not treated with kindness and has, in fact, conspired against, in the form of scientific racism and misogyny.

They could be people like that and not be very bright at the same time. Not very bright or not very educated. Turn against anthropology if anthropologists are always shitty to your people. Turn against genetics if geneticists always seem to end up trying to eradicate your kind. But why accept every other kind of science and technology in the world and then turn against... basic geography? Is geography what we're talking about here? Were geographers bothering these "folks who come from populations" [etc.]? Or physicists? Astronomers?

Anyway, I would not be surprised to find out that most people into FE stuff are into it like they probably are also into professional wrestling. The writers and speakers know it's a load of shit, the fans know it's a load of shit, and none of them cares as long as they're having fun playing their goofy conspiracy game and enjoying that their game annoys the sort of people they love to annoy.
posted by pracowity at 2:21 PM on November 20 [11 favorites]


The thing that boggles my mind most is that the proof of the Earth's shape and of the heliocentric model hang above us in the sky in a way that is geometrically obvious during most 24 hour periods and is proven directly in a way understandable to anyone every time there is a visible lunar eclipse.

I get that some people aren't visual thinkers and so wouldn't see the cues based on the relationships of the sun, moon, and the moon's phase. But when a circular shadow makes its way across the moon each and every eclipse regardless of the time of evening, it's hard to argue against Earth being a spheroid, especially when all the other large bodies in our solar system also appear spherical.

It's not reason, or even emotion. It's straight up trolling.
posted by wierdo at 2:23 PM on November 20 [6 favorites]


But the world has conspired against them. It told them that if they worked hard and believed in the American way that they would prosper and have a comfortable and stable life. If they were basically decent people, they'd find the right person and have a loving nuclear family. If you listened to the people running for office and followed your gut, you'd end up with a wise and capable leader. And lots of people have had their hopes and dreams crushed. The FE gurus have that exactly in common with Cheeto Benito: overwhelmingly, their message is, you've been cheated.
posted by Halloween Jack at 2:25 PM on November 20 [28 favorites]


That was a lovely article and treated the people in it very kindly. This topic just makes me... I dunno. Sortof sad? Like in a "weep for the future" way maybe? Like i think about these people and just get weary and tired. Too tired for snark. Too weary at the propsect of "being part of the conspiracy" or being a "sheeple" to make any effort to help them. Like, if we can't get people to accept the fucking earth is round what chance for racism, or other truly complicated global issues.


And then i get mad. When im found to be ignorant on something i work very hard to fill that gap. Not these people. They embrace their ignorance and bend the immutable laws of physics to fit their stupidity. And all who disagree are just naysayers of the truth.
posted by chasles at 2:32 PM on November 20 [14 favorites]


I say we compromise on this with the flat earthers and go with a convex earth. Concave for those in the so-called 'southern hemisphere'.
posted by srboisvert at 2:32 PM on November 20 [6 favorites]


Scientific literacy has been in decline for a while, and now the rot has gone as far as basic epistemology. There are lots of villains in this story - right-wing politicians, especially in the US, who are avowed anti-science, and increasingly anti-enlightenment, are a big contributing factor - but in the end a lot of the blame lies with the media who, willingly or not, consciously or not, get to decide which ideas people are exposed to on a daily basis, and how those ideas are presented.

There are very few scientists working within the media (to be clear, this is a structural problem, along with the lack of time that journalists have to report a story, not a sinister conspiracy) and the scientific process - I’m intentionally avoiding the word “method” - isn’t well-understood, or well-suited to producing interesting news on a short timescale. As a result, “scientists” have been pigeon-holed into a few roles within the media’s “narratives”: the unquestioned authority figure who lends legitimacy to an assertion in a story; the amoral monster responsible for heavy industry and leaded petrol, or the wacky PR-funded “this Tuesday is the saddest day of the year” researcher. None of these really do justice to the effects, good and bad, that science has on our world, or to the degree of uncertainty around findings, in either direction (global warming is very bad and caused by humans: little uncertainty. Red wine prevents cancer: lots of uncertainty).

This failure on the part of the media works together with people’s day-to-day experiences of science and technology - and I think Countess Elena’s comment is really important here - the doctor who costs a fortune but can’t tell you what’s wrong, the smartphone that keeps crashing, fucking facebook - and it’s easy to believe that this poorly understood thing that underlies a lot of our lives, as citizens of developed countries, is just bullshit. That’s how you get flat earth, but it’s also how you get vaccination scares, global warming denial and Big Pharma, too.
posted by chappell, ambrose at 2:43 PM on November 20 [18 favorites]


These people consider themselves found to be (previously) ignorant on the existence of the flat earth, and they seem to be working very hard indeed, in their views. They think themselves to know better than the laws of physics and work hard to create alternate models and systems. At some point truth becomes decoupled from reality, through social self-reinforcing, and these sects and circles and fringe subcultures become philosophies and religions and communities.

Consensus reality has been broken in America and has been that way since Bush v. Gore, if not the Lewinsky scandal, the election of Reagan, Watergate, Goldwater...
posted by Apocryphon at 2:44 PM on November 20 [4 favorites]


My instinct is always to assume that flat-earthism is some kind of elaborate troll akin to etreme fandom of professional wrestling, but that's wrong as far as I can tell. Interviews with its adherents that go more than a minute or two reveal that most of them really, really believe that there is a Big Lie behind everything, and that global Earth is just a manifestation of that. It's a comforting philosophy that allows its adherents to assure themselves that they are in clued in on the ultimate truth, they are not anyone's dupes; it's the people who think they know better than they do (about anything!) who are deluded. The fact that flat earth necessarily requires a conspiracy so wide-ranging that pretty much all of human history must be a fabrication of some nebulous evil is a benefit, not a drawback, to the theory. Flat earth doesn't explain anything, but it does allow the rejection of anything the flat-earther would like to reject.

This also means there is zero hope of any satisfaction with a flat earther. Point out GPS, they'll tell you its manipulated. Explain an experiment that can show the curvature of the earth to an observer, they'll tell you the instrument is faulty, or even that the senses can lie to you. Most of them would tell you they would love to be proven wrong, but what they actually love is to engage in the trappings of scholarly debate without adherence to any coherent method of inquiry, which allows them to bail out at any point with a non sequitur, and continue on with their "personal research". There is no point to discussion with anyone who is far along on any of these ideas, some of them give up on it, but not because they are convinced by science or reason.
posted by skewed at 2:50 PM on November 20 [16 favorites]


I'm a flat pack earther. I believe the earth is a sphere, but it took a LOT of work to get it that way.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 3:13 PM on November 20 [16 favorites]


Meanwhile - Climate change is increasingly opening up the Northwest Passage, an Arctic sea route north of the Canadian mainland.

More disinformation from the Globalist Big Lie - Possible routes for the Arctic Northwest Passage: https://ichef.bbci.co.uk/news/624/cpsprodpb/7929/production/_103971013_routes-nc.png
posted by King Sky Prawn at 3:14 PM on November 20


I believe the derisive term is "Globist".
I believe this because I have been called it. . .
posted by flaterik at 3:30 PM on November 20 [2 favorites]


I can't recall if this was someone my parents knew or someone more nationally famous, but I used to hear tell of a man who would gain attention by claiming he was a Flat-Earther. This would have been in the 60s or 70s when the society was pretty conclusively destroyed by the blue-marble photos coming from NASA.

Invariably some bright spark would either take him at face value or want to feed him a straight line, so they'd ask "All right smart guy, then why do ships disappear over the horizon?"

"Oh, that's simple," he'd say, "The Earth may be flat, but it is also corrugated."
posted by rum-soaked space hobo at 3:44 PM on November 20 [9 favorites]


Relevant
posted by evilDoug at 4:27 PM on November 20 [1 favorite]


I have a conspiracy theory of my own.
I am convinced there is a cabal of "them" who are more than pleased with the abysmally faulty education system in this country. The continued emphasis on non academic subjects insures the production of poorly educated citizens who are easily manipulated by "them" and led down primrose paths and into conspiracy theories such as flat earth. Do you see how successful they are? They sucked me right in to this conspiracy theory.
posted by notreally at 4:35 PM on November 20 [4 favorites]


Guillaume Chaslot, who helped develop YouTube recommendation algorithms while at Google and now does an excellent job writing about the terrible effect those algorithms have on society, has a good twitter thread on Flat Earthers and YouTube.
...the conspiracy is promoted by YouTube 100,000,000s of times, so I'm actually surprised that *so few* people fall for it.

Flat Earth is not a "small bug". It reveals that there is a structural problem in Google's and Facebook's AIs: they exploit weaknesses of the most vulnerable people, to make them believe the darnedest things

Another real-life harm of this conspiracy promoted by AI: in Nigeria, Boko Haram used the flat earth theory to motivate the killings of more than 600 geography teachers 😰
posted by jjwiseman at 5:09 PM on November 20 [22 favorites]


Six hundred people. Jesus, I never want to give an inch to these chucklefucks again.
posted by Countess Elena at 6:48 PM on November 20 [7 favorites]


Way back in 1995, Carl Sagan published a book about the public and their relationship with science called The Demon Haunted World. I strongly recommend it as a thought-provoking read, if rather depressing in our current situation.

Some quotes that are relevant:

“One of the saddest lessons of history is this: If we’ve been bamboozled long enough, we tend to reject any evidence of the bamboozle. We’re no longer interested in finding out the truth. The bamboozle has captured us. It’s simply too painful to acknowledge, even to ourselves, that we’ve been taken. Once you give a charlatan power over you, you almost never get it back.”

"I have a foreboding of an America in my children's or grandchildren's time -- when the United States is a service and information economy; when nearly all the manufacturing industries have slipped away to other countries; when awesome technological powers are in the hands of a very few, and no one representing the public interest can even grasp the issues; when the people have lost the ability to set their own agendas or knowledgeably question those in authority; when, clutching our crystals and nervously consulting our horoscopes, our critical faculties in decline, unable to distinguish between what feels good and what's true, we slide, almost without noticing, back into superstition and darkness."

He saw that coming in the early 90s, but he'd be appalled with how bad it's gotten today with the wholesale rejection of science and expertise.

I suspect that today's children will find it easy to believe that the moon landing was faked. They see more impressive CGI than that every day. Which is more likely - that somebody photoshopped it, or that our broken, flat-earther, anti-vaxxer, ignorance-is-strength country actually went to the moon?
posted by bitmage at 6:50 PM on November 20 [18 favorites]


Which is more likely - that somebody photoshopped it, or that our broken, flat-earther, anti-vaxxer, ignorance-is-strength country actually went to the moon?
And just like that, Occam's Razor slits truth's throat.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 7:07 PM on November 20 [17 favorites]


FE types are great at yelling that everyone else is wrong, and very bad at proving their thesis

They have no interest in proving their thesis. Their ultimate driving force isn't that they want to know the truth, it's that they want...need...to be different. They're terrified of being ordinary, so they make themselves special.
posted by rocket88 at 7:22 PM on November 20 [7 favorites]


Colorado Public Radio covered this, too. I'm starting to wonder how many of the hundreds attending the convention were reporters.
posted by asperity at 8:50 PM on November 20 [2 favorites]


I don’t know ... my kids say they saw a video on YouTube by a guy who thinks Australia is fake, and I pretty much tell them I think zero people actually, truly believe that or the flat earth thing. It’s a great way to get attention and our society loves to report on wacky stuff like this. So that makes me a flat earther skeptic.
posted by freecellwizard at 8:53 PM on November 20 [1 favorite]






In early 2001 a certain TV channel decided to produce a documentary about how the most heavily documented event in human history had never happened. They claimed that the bitter rivals who'd tracked and publicized the event in real time were lying for America's benefit even when they had enormous incentives not to acknowledge the event, they claimed that the tens of thousands of people intimately involved with the details had all been paid to fake their lives' work, and they claimed that the wide variety of physical evidence brought back was just regular rocks from a nearby quarry. They denied the evidence of our own eyes.

And so, a fringe conspiracy was brought to the mainstream by fox, survey respondents who doubted the moon landing quadrupled, and our millennium was born.
posted by fomhar at 12:31 AM on November 21 [6 favorites]


The zetetic approach is that you are not supposed to believe something you can not verify with your own eyes so therefore they will never take any scientific claim as truth, yet these same people ascribe motivations and conspiracies to shadowy groups, governments or aliens without a single shred of evidence.
The cognitive dissonance causes a serious break in these peoples minds, that while fun to watch still makes me feel like I'm taking crazy pills when I hear them talk.
posted by exparrot at 6:34 AM on November 21 [1 favorite]


These fools need some Mr.Thomas in their life.
posted by charred husk at 7:19 AM on November 21 [1 favorite]


I suspect that today's children will find it easy to believe that the moon landing was faked. They see more impressive CGI than that every day. Which is more likely - that somebody photoshopped it, or that our broken, flat-earther, anti-vaxxer, ignorance-is-strength country actually went to the moon?

Only if they are predisposed to believing in unsupportable conspiracy theories (as opposed to the mundane everyday conspiracies that do in fact surround us). There's simply too much ancillary evidence. Hardware that nobody would have built if the whole thing was being done on a sound stage.

Besides, saying we've had some dramatic fall in engineering capability is a bunch of bunk sold to you by the MAGA crowd. Sure, we can't build a Saturn V today, but neither can we build the 40+ year old microwave that's still sitting in my friend's kitchen. Not because we can't build such things, but because the parts and tools for that specific item no longer exist.

It's not a sign of deterioration, it's a sign of having made technological progress in the intervening period. It's not as if there is any shortage of robots we've launched into space recently...
posted by wierdo at 7:24 AM on November 21 [2 favorites]


Which is more likely - that somebody photoshopped it, or that our broken, flat-earther, anti-vaxxer, ignorance-is-strength country actually went to the moon?

1960s US reality -- there is no photoshop and doctoring photographs is incredibly difficult, flat eartherism is relegated to crackpot backrooms, everyone is getting vaccinated for everything because polio no longer exists, and our strength is widely recognized in our culture as being the opposite of ignorance because Sputnik scared the hell out of us so everyone got down to some serious learning.

The US of the 1960s doesn't exist anymore, but it did then, and that's what is most likely.
posted by hippybear at 7:41 AM on November 21 [2 favorites]


The zetetic approach is that you are not supposed to believe something you can not verify with your own eyes

This goes back to how much these guys love the trappings of science and academia--they'll go on and on about how they do their own research (watching youtube videos and reading webpages), conduct experiments (totally bizarre shit like taking a carpenter's level onto an airplane to prove . . . ???) and engage in "debate" without end. That's because they have a childish understanding of what science (or really any form of rigorous analysis) is, or what scientists do. They take this caricature of enlightenment era thinkers and apply it to themselves, figuring that through enough thought and research they should be able to understand anything, and if something doesn't make sense after these attempts, then it is false or the product of some deceptive agent.

So you end up with this maddening combination of people who are absolute luddites, but think of themselves as scientists. It's very, very similar to the love of pseudo-academic research among evangelical communities, where it's very popular for a sermon to include some exegesis of the original greek or Aramaic terms discussed. But that never involves any critical/historical engagement with the text, it's just a way to signal that this is seriousstudy.

I feel like all this comes from living in an era where the accomplishments of science and reason are too obvious and abundant to ignore or dispute, so for those who are uncomfortable with the implications they might draw from such a world (materialism, moral relativism, not being God's favorite child), the answer is not to criticize science but to co-opt it.
posted by skewed at 7:42 AM on November 21 [5 favorites]




Another real-life harm of this conspiracy promoted by AI: in Nigeria, Boko Haram used the flat earth theory to motivate the killings of more than 600 geography teachers 😰
posted by jjwiseman

Six hundred people. Jesus, I never want to give an inch to these chucklefucks again.
posted by Countess Elena


False beliefs have real world consequences.
posted by Pouteria at 1:18 AM on November 22


I have a friend who seems to be non-ironically into this.
He's also a professional DJ and part of running a very well known california event series that if you're into those sorts of things you've definitely heard of or been to. So there are some stereotypes being fulfilled there, but his co-producers have... not been thrilled about this.
After digging long enough I finally found the bedrock of the belief - it's not about the physical shape of the earth, really. It's about some spiritual view that people are incredibly powerful beings, but we're being held back, by a purposeful conspiracy to tell us that the earth ISN'T the center of everything and magically special, but just another rock. This is also the explanation for why clearly OTHER planets are spheres, but the earth is not, because we're special.
That very quickly goes to "the ones holding us back are jews", but I don't think he really makes that connection. Or he's smart enough to leave that part out.
Hard to tell, sometimes.
posted by flaterik at 3:06 PM on November 22 [1 favorite]


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