There are many Flat Earth believers around the globe and the belief system has been endorsed by various celebrities, including rapper B.o.B and ex-England cricketer Freddie Flintoff. We look into why the rise of this belief system is a primary example of the misinformation age in action, and how a modern democratisation of opinion is creating a vacuum in which opinion and expertise are considered to be on equal-footing for any given topic.
The internet has provided a medium for doctrines such as the Flat Earth Theory to exist, and for various Flat Earth societies to grow and communicate. In a great deal of these forums, experiments involving taking spirit level tools on flights, pointing and shouting at the horizon whilst confusing perception with reality, and taking a ruler to the U.N logo are all present. But why is this phenomena really on the rise? Let’s consider the factors.
The government are lying to us, man! Some argue that peddling the Flat Earth Theory as the biggest conspiracy theory is convenient because it drags the term conspiracy theorist through the mud. Those that believe in slightly more possible conspiracies such as the JFK assassination are lumped in with the evangelical Flat Earthers.
Conspiracy theorist was a term coined by the CIA in the 60s to ridicule anyone who questioned the political narrative from the fringes. At the time, conspiracies tended to be specifically political, and not of a scientific nature. What makes the rise of the Flat Earth conspiracy uniquely dangerous, is that it attempts to convince us that the sense of mistrust people sometimes feel towards political authority, should be applied to the scientific community, too.
At a time when the scientific community is already being attacked for their indisputable evidence on climate change, it’s a shame that in the 21st Century, people have to defend the neutral pursuit of knowledge from industrial denialisms and also some of the general public, who are not just attacking scientists with the Flat Earth Theory, but gullible individuals looking for validation, too.
There is no Room for Opinion
Some people hate the idea that they can’t apply an opinion to something. Science, and in this Flat Earth case, Physics, has no quantifiable space for opinion. Hypothesising and conducting experiments to validate or disprove a hypothesis is the closest you are going to get.
Point out the difference between “belief in” and “belief that” to a Flat Earther. “Belief in” requires blind faith and this phrase can be found on countless Flat Earth forums, followed by “the disc earth has an ice wall around it so that the sea doesn’t drop off the sides”. On the other hand, if you have a “belief that”, you are about to make an observable statement that others can see, there is evidence in reality.
Trying to intertwine personal belief into a scientific domain is a great example of the democratisation of opinion. This is unfounded belief matching real, lifelong expertise in a specific field and leads to the sort of narcissism that saw rapper B.o.B calling out Scientist Neil Degrasse Tyson for a debate on the topic.
This is an ideal scenario for a Black Mirror episode that could see a scientific debate between a celebrity and a physicist play out, the celebrity gets the highest score on a “clap-o-meter” thus confirming the post-truth world we are living in. Obviously, Degrasse Tyson has more pressing things to do than defeat B.o.B with facts…
Celebrity endorsement has given traction to the Flat Earth movement, too. Freddie Flintoff surprised us all when he admitted he believed in the Flat Earth Theory and a lack of gravity, too. Bear in mind that this is a man who made his living hurtling a spherical object at a wicket, would he have been an even better bowler if someone had given him a CD to throw instead? Also, how can someone who has spent years around the gravitational pull of James Cordon’s mass and ego not believe in gravity?
It’s audacious and attention seeking, it gets people like Tia Tequila and B.o.B into into mainstream news, and feeds the intellectual laziness of falling down a YouTube rabbit hole to then claim you have thoroughly researched a subject.
We live in a free society in which you are free to believe in the Flat Earth Theory, but as soon as your belief is possibly influential given that you have sort of platform, be it a popular rapper or President, then you have the responsibility to seek more accuracy and revise beliefs into fact. As soon as someone with legislative power denies scientific understanding for a personal “belief in” system, then we are firmly within the Misinformation age. The only thing Flat Earthers seem to fear, is sphere itself.