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Is the Earth Flat?

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No, the Earth is not flat.

According to the FAQ page of a Flat Earthers website, many supporters of the flat Earth theory justify their theory by highlighting three occurrences. First, they claim the Earth is flat because the horizon "always rises to meet eye level- which is impossible on a ball earth," Second, they refute the scientific data of the globe Earth by claiming that the theory of a globe Earth is promoted so that the government can maintain legitimacy after, as the flat Earthers claim, faking the moon landing. Third, Flat Earthers believe that those promoting the globe Earth are doing so only to gain power and money through additions to their space budgets, and to keep the general society in the dark.

Origin and Prevalence

The flat Earth debate spans millennia, from its beginnings in the late 1800s, to the modern day. Since it's first mention by Samuel Birley Rowbotham, in his book Zetetic Astronomy: Earth Not a Globe, noted that the concept of Earth being flat has proliferated throughout society. In his book, published in 1888, Rowbotham discarded the commonly understood layout of Earth, and replaced it with his own. Rowbotham believed that, a layer of fire creates the base on which the oceans and continents float upon and, in opposition to later flat Earthers, he didn't believe that the Earth dropped off at the Arctic, instead, he believed that on either side of known land existed a boundless wilderness.

There are now several official webpages for the Flat Earth Society ( Example 1, Example 2). These websites all have major groups of followers who discuss the merits of the Earth being flat, along with claims that many scientist promoting the globe theory are merely involved in an elaborate hoax, Alongside all of the flat Earth websites, there are also numerous Reddit forums, where fellow conspiracy theorists can gather and share ideas. These forums and chats have made the flat Earth theory relevant in today's world.

In addition to the webpages and Reddit forums, there have been several articles written examining the validity of the flat Earth claims in the modern world. The Live Science article "Are Flat-Earthers Being Serious?" written by Natalie Wolchover lists a few more modern claims made by the flat-earth community. Wolchover's article shows that flat Earthers often claim that the Earth is a disk, with the Arctic circle in the center and Antarctica surrounds the rim. In addition to this, they claim that NASA employees stand around the Arctic to protect people from falling off, and to make sure that every day citizens are kept in the dark about the Arctic conspiracy. Furthermore, they also claim that gravity, as every-day society knows it, is an illusion, and Earth actually accelerates upward by the power of dark energy.

The biggest claim that Wolchover article examines relates to the day and night cycle:

"Earth's day and night cycle is explained by positing that the sun and moon are spheres measuring 32 miles (51 kilometers) that move in circles 3,000 miles (4,828 km) above the plane of the Earth. (Stars, they say, move in a plane 3,100 miles up.) Like spotlights, these celestial spheres illuminate different portions of the planet in a 24-hour cycle. Flat-earthers believe there must also be an invisible "antimoon" that obscures the moon during lunar eclipses."

Issues and Analysis

With more than 18,000 individuals working around the country, NASA provides many of the sources used to refute the idea that the Earth exists on a flat plane. One of the most tangible pieces of evidence is the existence of numerous photos from outer space, both from US sources, and from countries around the globe. Alongside the obvious curvature of the Earth seen in these pictures, the consistency of the data between these rival nations, in comparison to the often contradictory narratives of the flat Earthers, such as when Rowbotham claimed the Earth stretched endlessly and modern day theories say it drops off, further proves scientists correct. In addition to the claims made by NASA, another factor that sways the argument to the side of science is the reliability of the respective sources. The speakers from the flat Earth website are youtubers, construction workers, and stay at home parents. While successful members of society, these people are not as empt at exploring the place of Earth in the universe as the multitude of scientists at NASA are.

Many flat Earthers question how it is possible that humans don't fall off the underside of a globe Earth, a fear that can be easily appeased through the use of simple mathematics. The formula for gravity is as follows: F = Gm1m2/r2. We can see through this formula that the mass of an object plays a role in the amount of gravitational pull that it has. This phenomenon explains why the Earth is able to pull humans to its surface, and why humans aren't able to attract anything to their surface. While humans do a have a gravitational field, in comparison to that of the earth, it is almost obsolete. This fact might help to satisfy flat Earthers questions as to how humans can be floating "upside down" in space without falling off.

Furthermore, through the use of science, which is centered around the continuous testing of data until all possibilities of falsehood are exhausted, the flat Earth theory is able to be proven wrong. Newton's law of universal gravitation has been explored around the globe by highly specialized scientists and it explains the universal gravitational attraction between all objects.

Another issue with the claim has to do with what Wolchover refers to in her article as "conspiracy theory psychology." People who believe in certain conspiracy theories are extremely set in their beliefs because evidence surrounding true ideas is usually explained vaguely. Since those beliefs are regarded as true, people don't usually have to explain themselves. Usually, people don't have to explain how the Earth isn't flat--it's a given fact that has been scientifically proven and has been taught as correct. Wolchover points to a study published in March 2014 by Eric Oliver and Tom Wood, in which they said, "many people are willing to believe many ideas that are directly in contradiction to a dominant cultural narrative"; specifically, people tend want to find out how to perceive unseen forces (known as magical thinking). Science is part of the "dominant cultural narrative," so the theory that the Earth is flat comes out to contradict that, especially since most people don't get the chance to go up to space to see for themselves how the Earth moves. If they can't see it for themselves, then any scientific or verifiable fact is a conspiracy to them.

Finally, the original claim that the Earth is flat comes from highly unreliable sources that did not have the technology of today to fully explore their claims, and thus any current arguments based on their past findings are irrelevant.

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The Digital Polarization Initiative is a student-run project which allows university students to investigate questions of truth and authority on the web and publish their results. Learn more, or see our index. Photo credits here. DigiPo members can edit this page.