It bewilders me that people still think that the Earth is flat. Nevertheless, the Flat Earth conspiracy is probably one of the best conspiracy theories out there.
As Neil deGrasse Tyson said:
The fact that there’s a rise of Flat-Earthers is evidence of two things. One, we live in a country that protects free speech. And two, we live in a country with a failed educational system.
… Our system needs to train you not only what to know, but how to think about information and knowledge and evidence. If we don’t have that kind of training, you’d run around believing anything.
To elaborate on the point Dr. Tyson is making, the Flat Earth conspiracy is one of the best conspiracy theories because almost every rational adult instantly recognizes it for the complete bullshit that it is.
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Without being fully aware, people are exercising healthy skepticism in their dismissal of the conspiracy theory. Without having to go into a technical explanation, the evidence is easily accessible to them. We’ve been to the moon. An entire new industry – privately owned space companies – is booming. We have pictures of the Earth taken by satellites on a daily basis. Even pictures of power lines demonstrate how much the Earth curves away from us. These are all easily accessible pieces of evidence that anyone can use to quickly debunk the ridiculous notion that the Earth is flat.
Much like how almost every rational adult knows that vaccines are safe and effective, it serves as a rallying point for many people and can be a gateway into helping people apply the same skepticism towards other subjects (like climate change).
Flat Earthers are gonna do what Flat Earthers are gonna do
Alas, here we are. On a Flat Earther forum, user Varaug introduced the next great explanation for the shape of the Earth: a donut.
I was wondering how a theory like FE theory gets formed, and I came to the conclusion that someone must’ve thought of the original idea, and then it must’ve been followed by a long series of people pointing out flaws and then re-adjusting the theory (or thinking of new ideas) to iron out the flaws in the theory.
So, I thought it might be fun if we emulated that here.
I will state my theory, and then we can adjust it by pointing out flaws and seeing if we can think of arguments that will counteract these flaws.
I have a theory that the Earth is in fact shaped like a torus (a donut-shape). However, light is curved so we cannot tell.
“Theory.” You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.
Varaug goes on to elaborate on this, and provides a handy, if not verbose, FAQ.
Q1. Why has the hole in the centre of the torus not been discovered?
A. Light bends and follows the curvature of the torus, making the hole “unseeable”.
Oh, okay then?
Q3. How does the light curve?
A. Radio waves are reflected by the atmosphere (hence why we don’t need to set up several towers to transmit radio waves across very long distances). Light waves are also reflected in a similar way. When we look across, the light diminishes as it travels, and by the time it reaches the atmosphere, it is diminished enough to be reflected. The light will then hit another corner of atmosphere and so on and so forth, curving every time. This gives the impression that the Earth is flat (or has a slight curvature).
Except… We do. During the Mercury program, NASA had to setup communication stations all over the Earth in order to maintain contact with orbiting spacecraft because the Earth is not flat.
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Q5. Ah, so if I stand on the surface in the middle of the TE and look up, why can’t I see the opposite side of the torus?
A. When you stand in the middle of the TE and look up, the light passes through the first atmosphere it reaches. However, by the time it reaches the second atmosphere (the one to re-enter the atmosphere of the TE) it has diminished enough to be reflected, and gets reflected into space, so you see space.
This makes absolutely no sense.
Q7. How do we have night and day?
A. Lay a torch horizontal on a table and turn it on. Now, get a donut and place it on it’s side, with the hole perpendicular to the torch. The side that is illuminated by the torch is in day. Over 24 hours, the donut performs one complete revolution. Spin it half way around, this signifies the passing of 12 hours. Now, the side that WAS in day, is facing away from the torch and is in night. The side that WAS in night, is now facing the torch and is in day.
This one is great. They’re soooo close to getting the right answer here. Yes, absolutely the Earth rotates once every 24 hours (well, just about 24 hours). And if you rotate the donut around enough, the path of the orbit is spherical. So just fill in that donut (stuff it with cream if you want) and boom, you have a round Earth. They’re so close, yet so far.
It goes on, and there are 11 “frequently asked questions” (who is asking these questions and why are they being asked so frequently!?) in total. Even the other Flat Earthers on the forum give the Varaug a hard time about it though, which shows there’s some form of skepticism working there, even if their efforts and energy are slightly misplaced.
Any way you look at it, as played out and tired as the jokes about the Flat Earth conspiracy (or the “dihydrogen monoxide” conspiracy for that matter) might be, I think they serve an important purpose as a gateway drug into the world of skepticism for many people. It’s important to help others value facts and evidence if we want to win the battle against bad ideas.
Cover image credit: u/osrsslay (Reddit)