Are You Smarter Than a Flat Earther?

Pop Culture

Are You Smarter Than a Flat Earther?

Illustration: Akshita Monga

The Flat Earth Society has, in the last few years, gone from being a really stupid fringe movement to a really stupid fringe movement with a verified Twitter handle. A few days ago, it held its first conference in North Carolina, inviting people from around the world to gather in a warehouse and affirm to each other that the world is flatter than the iPad screen Steve Jobs used to dream about. They managed to amass a grand total of 500 people.

Encouraged by this uptick in their fortunes, the Flat Earth Society wasted no time in taking on some of the smartest people in the world. When Elon Musk, the man from the future, asked them whether Mars was flat too, they replied, “unlike Earth, Mars is observed to be round,” as if it was Musk’s question that was silly, and not their society’s entire existence.

The Flat Earth Society is like Scientology for fools. Both are based on equally ridiculous theories, but flat-earthers don’t have to go through half as much propaganda to be convinced. All it takes to convince them that 100 years of science is as useless as the globes in their schools, are a few propaganda videos made by teenagers with no friends.

One such teenager uses a robot lady’s voice to claim in a video that NASA has photoshopped every single image of the Earth from space. Every, single one, except the ones of Mars, apparently, because they “observed” that one. Another “scientist” types uses graphs, subtitles, a serious VO, and chill electronic music to propose that the earth is indeed flat. His theory: “If you follow a ship with a camera, you’ll realise it is always sailing straight… why does it not sink into the horizon?” Now while this is possibly the dumbest thing that’s ever been said, it was said in a knowing voice that, for some reason, I wanted to believe.

Each video follows the same pattern: Calm voice, high-production values, out-of-context quotes, interviews with fringe scientists (whatever the fuck is a “shamanologist”?) and a concluding question that should be followed by a winky emoji: “Who do you believe now?”

While these videos have done their job in convincing 500 people to go to the conference, the flat-earth theory is actually much older than any YouTube. It has its origins in the Middle Ages, when books were written on parchment, and the Roman Catholics were happy to set fire to anybody who disagreed with them. Once that whole situation died down, it was commonly accepted that the Earth was an oblate spheroid – or a roundish thing. For many years, this was taken as gospel. Then in the late 1800s a man named Samuel Rowbotham, decided “Jesus rulz” and refuted all round-earth theories in his no-nonsense bestseller, Earth is Not a Globe. And thus he created the Modern Free Earth Society, a group of people who were actually scared they will fall off the face of earth if they keep walking in a straight line.

Unfortunately, we don’t seem to have evolved much since then. The Society will continue to find blind followers, as will other more absurd theories on this post-truth internet. Propaganda videos will continue to be a rage, because nobody really trusts anyone anymore. A wise man once said that there is a sucker born every minute, but going by the number of views on these videos, we’d probably revise that figure to a thousand.