Freshly Baked Science
Pseudoscience: Is The Earth Flat?
15th January 2019
Is the Earth flat? To put it bluntly, no. So why are there an increasing number of people, on this very much round planet, that think otherwise? We’re going to have a look into what ‘Flat Earthers’ believe and have a dig to see if there is any evidence to support their unusual theories.
So, if the Earth is not a sphere, as any every teacher since nursery has ever taught us, what does it look like? Well according to the Flat Earth Society, it’s actually a giant bowl. They think all of the world’s countries exist on a flat surface, like the side of a coin, with the Arctic Circle right in the centre. Around the outside of this vast, sprawling landscape is an ice wall that wraps around the edges and is about the height of a football stadium (~ 150 ft). Beyond this ice wall is, well, they don’t know… which seems rather convenient. So, apparently, we live in a giant bowl surrounded by a thick icy boundary. I mean, does this not make Game of Thrones more of a documentary series than a fantasy TV show?
Credit: Creative Commons 1.0 Generic/Trekky0623
‘Okay, if the Earth is flat, does that mean that the Sun and Moon are also flat?’ Well, funny you should ask because according to Flat Earthers they are in fact both worthy of sphere status and move in a circular motion above the flat Earth. ‘Well hang on a tick, if the Earth is flat, and the sun is constantly above it, how do we have day and night?’ Great question. Flat Earthers say that the Sun acts like a lighthouse, shining in a certain direction over a certain area. So, when it’s night time in your city, that just means that the Sun is pointing its rays elsewhere in the world, like a giant spotlight moving through the sky. Confused yet? Well not only do Flat Earthers claim that both the Sun and Moon are about the size of the Isle of Man (~ 31 miles), but they are also about as far away from the Earth’s surface as London is from New York ( ~ 3000 miles).
The main argument that they tend to use against the ‘idea’ of a spherical Earth is that we can’t see its curvature on the horizon. If you hold a tennis ball in your hand, you can see its curves and edges. However, if you were an ant standing on the surface of that tennis ball, because you are so small in comparison, wherever you look the horizon will appear flat. This is because you can’t see very far in any direction. As you move higher up into the atmosphere, we see further into the distance. It’s only as the height of our line of vision gets higher than 6 - 7 miles above the ground we can start to see the curvature of the Earth. There are numerous images from space expeditions that perfectly show the curvature of the Earth but Flat Earthers believe that NASA fakes all the images taken from space so that America can control the planet by tricking everyone into thinking they have weapons of mass destruction in space. Yes, you read that correctly.
It all sounds a bit far-fetched and about as believable as a Snowman surviving in the Sahara Desert. Theories such as the Flat Earth Theory are known as ‘Pseudoscience’; things that people consider science but have no facts supporting them. In psychology, there is a phenomenon where if an idea is repeated enough times to a group of people, they begin to believe it without any need for evidence. This is known as ‘Communal Reinforcement’, and with so many people having access to social media, their views and beliefs can be shared at the tap of a phone screen. Still, we live in a world where people can believe whatever they want, so we should respect other people’s beliefs… even if they are completely ridiculous.