What to do about the Flat Earthers? Debunk, or ignore?

Mick West

Administrator
Staff member
My father was a member of the Flat Earth society. He knew the Earth was a globe, but liked the idea of questioning assumptions. Like many (if not most) flat earthers he was just playing devil's advocate - for intellectual amusement, and to make a point about accepting claims on face value.

The Earth is verifiably spherical (or oblately spherical, if you want to get technical, but just "spherical" is good enough for most purposes). We can perform simple experiments to verify this (measuring the length of shadows at solar noon in different places), we can make observations which verifying this (the shadow of the earth on the moon being round, buildings and ships vanishing below the horizon), we can note the field of view of the stars changes around the globe. There are hundred of different observations we can do to demonstrate the earth is round. There are none that demonstrate it is flat.


And yet there's still Flat Earth advocates. Some do it for religious reasons, some just don't know any better, some are just trolling.

I'm somewhat conflicted as to what to do. There is a lot of people just doing it for the lulz, people who are just trolling. Obviously it is pointless to engage such people. Then there's also some who believe it because of religion, or have some kind of mental obsession with the world being flat, regardless of science. Again, not a lot of point engaging them.

But is it possible that there are people who are genuinely interested in the question, but simply have not figured it out yet. People who have just made a few mistakes in their understanding of the science or the math - or who have been suckered in by glib arguments? Are there people for whom it would be worthwhile actually expending some effort in debunking flat earth arguments?

Flat earth arguments are kind of fun to argue against, as they often involved simple math, and they are obviously wrong. So it seems like low hanging fruit. So debunkers often end up getting into quite long discussion on the topic. But I feel that is is largely wasted effort, because the people they are arguing with are either trolling or mentally stuck. And the people who would benefit from the argument (if they even exist) are not reading.

So I discourage Flat Earth discussion on Metabunk. There's some threads on the math of how much the curvature of the earth obscures things, as that's nice pure math. But really that should be all people need. If they can't see that the curvature of the Earth actually does obscure things, then is there really any point in rebutting their other points?

To keep up the signal to noise ratio on Metabunk, I plan to continue to discourage Flat Earth discussion unless someone can explain why I should not. I encourage people who would like to debate flat earthers for fun to stop, or, if they insist, go the Flat Earth Society Forums, where there are plenty of willing people.

I'd be interested to hear personal stories. Did anyone used to troll as a Flat Earther? Did anyone think the arguments held water, but then figured it out? Does anyone believe in the Flat Earth model, and think I'm being unreasonable.

And for the honest flat Earth believers, some guidelines. Yours is an extraordinary claim, and as such it requires extraordinary evidence. Do not expect others to do the heavy lifting for you. You need actual evidence, not just your personal opinion. This evidence should include measurements, and math. For example, if you think the horizon is always at eye level, then you would need to demonstrate this - for example by calculating the amount of expected drop from some place, and then showing a detectable difference from this amount. If you think high altitude photos don't show enough curvature, then you need to calculate what the curvature should be, and measure how much it differs. If you cannot provide this evidence, then please do not post here.

[Update] I wrote the above some time ago, and since then have allowed more Flat Earth discussion on Metabunk, simply because there seems to be more genuine interest.
 
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deirdre

Senior Member
i think you should stick to examining SPECIFIC claims of EVIDENCE. This site has a great premise of bunk vs truth. I think ALL these 'discussions' are just noise. Maybe you could make a seperate "discussion forum" Metatalk or something.
 

Mick West

Administrator
Staff member
i think you should stick to examining SPECIFIC claims of EVIDENCE.
I just added a paragraph about that. I've have no intention of allowing long threads about "is the earth flat?", and the Earth curvature thread only went on so long because of the fun math.

The question is more to what extent should we even entertain specific claims of evidence for a flat earth. I suggest having a higher bar here, as the claim itself is so groundless.
 

deirdre

Senior Member
i know technically youre supposed to have it flat with elephants riding a turtle shell.. but what they should do is make the earth turtle shell shaped. then it would be harder to debunk :p (of course, then there is the issue of what to call themselves. Shellers maybe?)

turtle.PNG
 

Auldy

Senior Member
A sub forum for flat-earth discussion perhaps? The same points tend to be brought up over and over again, so once a point has been addressed they can just be re-directed to that thread?

But I guess the point is is all that effort worth it
 

Hama Neggs

Senior Member
I've not tried debating them but I have read debates with them, and it really looks like people trolling to see how gullible others are.
I heard a flat Earther interviewed on radio the other day, along with a real scientist. It was a good study in what can happen when a knowledgeable person does not know the talking points being used to "prove" things like flat Earth. The scientist mainly kept repeating that science KNOWS the Earth is round, for hundreds of years. He wasn't prepared to address specifics, like how gravity can be proved to exist. Debunking nonsense claims means being prepared to address their specific points, and to do that one has to know them ahead of time. It doesn't matter how knowledgeable you are from a science point of view. You have to be knowledgeable in THEIR arguments.
 

BombDr

Senior Member
Been there, had that discussion. It is sometimes accompanied by 'space travel is impossible and there are no satellites', which has the irony that their missive is probably bounced off a satellite somewhere...

I have asked all the obvious questions such as 'where is the edge' and 'can you point me to another flat planet for comparison'....

It is a hopeless discussion.
 

Spectrar Ghost

Senior Member
This is a valid question. As Mick has said in the past, we debunk not to change the minds of those whose minds won't change, but to inform those who are uncertain.

From this point of view, it hardly matters if a poster is trolling, because if they are, he or she is not the target audience. The information given still serves its purpose.

The question would then be if there are enough people uncertain about Earth's shape to make such a debate worthwhile.
 

Mick West

Administrator
Staff member
Why assume that flat-Earthers are any less sincere than believers in chemtrails, reptilians and hoaxed moon landings?
Of course some of them are sincere. It's a question of scale.

Go read the flat Earth forums. There are lots of people there who are obviously just trolling, or just arguing for fun.
http://www.theflatearthsociety.org/forum/index.php?board=10.0

Also, a secret spraying operation is at least technically possible. Flat earth is simply wrong.

If people want to argue about it, there's a forum for that. I just don't want to clutter up Metabunk with what will essentially be 90% troll feeding.
 

Spectrar Ghost

Senior Member
One technique I've seen used to good effect is just dumping all discussion on a topic in one thread. Having a single thread in OD that everything that doesn't meet PG goes to would at least contain the discussion.
 

turingtest

New Member
Absolutely a waste of time. I think most of them are trolling (I prefer the term "gaming," though); arguing with them is just playing their game. The religiously convinced can almost never be made otherwise; the mentally obsessed likewise. The subset of those who sincerely just don't know what they don't know, and so know wrongly, is too small to bother with. And the whole set of Flat Earthers is such an anomaly to begin with; it's not like with creationists, there's no viable clamor to introduce their teachings into our schools, so it's not even a socially meaningful set. I remember reading a few pages of the Flat Earth forum a year or so ago; there was one poster there trying to get through to them, correct their misapprehensions and counter their "evidence"- he got increasingly frustrated with them to the point he was (metaphorically) shouting obscenities at them. I wondered why- it seemed such a waste of time, an explicit demonstration of that "someone on the internet is wrong!" cartoon. Even if they're sincere but obsessed with their nonsense, you risk becoming as obsessed in trying to counter it.
 

MickeyS

Member
Wow, I had no idea flat-earthers existed. In believing the earth is flat does that automatically go hand in hand with not believing in space travel or satellites?? It would have to right? Because I would assume the most direct answer to why we know the earth is round is because we've seen it in its entirety. I'm sorry, I find this fascinating, but I agree with turingtest, that would be one that would have you pulling your hair out...again, wow
 

Hevach

Senior Member
Some of them also give some incredibly complex explanation for why it looks that way - usually some crazy gravitational lensing or magnetic effect. These are the few that don't claim the entire space program is fake, but that the Earth really does look round from space, it just isn't because reasons.

It's a small step out towards the fringe to claim NASA is a hoax factory, but it neatly rejects all the clearest evidence in one package.
 

Gary Cook

Active Member
Just spent an hour debunking this on FB. Not the first time either. It's getting a bit much and a distraction from other things going in the world.

Although some of the points are quite clever and interesting. Like old maps and stories that put the size of Antarctica at a different size theoretically than we do now and things like there being a treaty not to let normal people near it, apparently.
 

Whitebeard

Senior Member
Like old maps and stories that put the size of Antarctica at a different size theoretically than we do now and things like there being a treaty not to let normal people near it, apparently.
There are old maps showing most of the worlds land masses as different sizes and shapes, mainly due to the fact that they are, well, old maps, drawn before modern cartography. Sometimes maps were drawn by people who had never seen the landmass concerned - often working from older sketch maps or even oral descriptions from sailors who had seen the lands concerned, or at least claimed they had. Then in the case of Antarctica you have the ice problem, what is land and what is ice? Not an issue to a modern cartographer, but to a guy trying to use basic trigonometry and a telescope on an 18th Cent ship in the Southern Ocean, it will be a problem. In fact the first accurate maps of the Antarctic coastline didn't appear until around 1900, and the interior wasn't fully mapped until well into the 1950s!!

As for treaties and normal people not being allowed...

The Antarctic treaty of 1961 means that the continent is in fact open, not closed. The treaty assures non militarization of the continent, it being a nuclear free zone, open to international scientific research etc... the original 12 articles being...
There are additional treaties mainly dealing with wildlife protection and the conservation of the environment.

And anyone can go there, for around £2000 you can go on a cruise around the coast and land at a few of the coastal bases, £5000 plus will buy you a guided overland trek from a few days, more cash will get you to the south pole for a few days, mountaineering in Marie Byrd mountain or dog sledding along Amundsens route to the pole. Hell, Port Lockroy even has a museum and guest house!! Around 40,000 tourists a year visit the continent.

If thats to expensive, then for few hundred quid you can get a sight seeing flight from Australia, New Zealand, Argentina or Chilie. Not exactly stopping folks from going there then.

http://poseidonexpeditions.com/antarctica/?gclid=CLW5rqTTgMgCFReZGwodMOADvA
 

Whitebeard

Senior Member
additional to the above...

There ARE some parts of Antarctica that are off limits to the general populous. But these are areas such as penguin breeding colonies, areas of pristine environment that are being studied that the scientists etc do not want contaminated, and some of the more remote areas and the like. These areas are listed, and the reasons why they are off limits without special permission well explained.
http://www.ats.aq/e/ep_protected.htm
 

Dick Holman

New Member
I've thought about this since my last post.
Debunking chemtrailers & anti-vaxers is worthwhile because they're dangerous, given some chemtrailers desire to shoot a plane down, & anti-vaxers for obvious reasons.
Flat-earthers are not a threat, so filling Metabunk threads with their nonsense is just a waste of space & brainpower.
/If/ anything spectacular came from the FE camp (fat chance) then it would be worth a thread.
 

TWCobra

Senior Member
Their map of the world, which basically makes the Southern Hemisphere enormous, (Australia is twice the width of CONUS), gives some aviation examples that are inexplicable.

For instance, the QF63 flight from Sydney to Johannesburg would leave Sydney heading north-west, fly over China and the Gobi desert, arc down over the Horn of Africa and arrives in Jo'Berg almost from the north. Total distance of 10,500 nautical miles or about 2000 nm longer than any current airliner can currently fly.

Disregarding any technical data, people are going to notice that the aircraft is over land for 80% of the journey instead of over the Southern Ocean for the 95% of the flight it currently flies.

The Sydney-Santiago service would be flying down the west coast of the USA instead of flying 98% of the current flight over water.

I agree they are harmless. Intriguing, but harmless.

Flat earth sydney to johannesburg.jpg

Flat earth syd to Santiago.jpg
 
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Chew

Senior Member
Why fly when you can drive?

Drive one of these longest straight roads in the world, one with mostly an east-west component, and compare your odometer to the distance dictated by the flat earth model:

http://www.dangerousroads.org/rankings23/3759-the-10-longest-straight-roads-in-the-world.html

The driving distance between the icons for the I-10 in the attached Google Earth file is 78.9 statute miles; the FE distance would be 92.5 statute miles.

For the icons marking the Eyre highway in Australia, the driving distance is 154 km; the FE distance would be 386 km.
 

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Whitebeard

Senior Member
Flat-earthers are not a threat, so filling Metabunk threads with their nonsense is just a waste of space & brainpower.
/If/ anything spectacular came from the FE camp (fat chance) then it would be worth a thread.
Not a threat for sure, but Flat Earth is still bunk, and given the CT mindset that 'if A and B is true therefore so must everything else in the conspirasphere be true' its still worth us pointing out exactly why flat earth 'theory' is bunk.

I know a few people personally who are buying into FE just because they believe other CT bullshit, so a page of evidence to at least try to stop that particular passage into the warren I feel is justified.
 

Hevach

Senior Member
Most CTs are no threat past headaches and empty threats. Groups like antivaxxers and Soverign Citizens with indirect or direct body counts are rare exceptions, and even the worst stupidity they produce isn't a threat so much as a symptom of a wider issue of education and information that is far beyond our collective paygrade on this site. That doesn't make others less worthy of debunking.
 

Hama Neggs

Senior Member
Most CTs are no threat past headaches and empty threats. Groups like antivaxxers and Soverign Citizens with indirect or direct body counts are rare exceptions, and even the worst stupidity they produce isn't a threat so much as a symptom of a wider issue of education and information that is far beyond our collective paygrade on this site. That doesn't make others less worthy of debunking.
The "threat" is in infecting others with their beliefs. Of course, it DOES go back to an education issue or the new recruits wouldn't have been vulnerable.
 

Chew

Senior Member
The "threat" is in infecting others with their beliefs.
I wouldn't call that a threat. It's more of an unintended bonus. For a long time the ultimate derisive jab was to call someone a flat earther. Now it seems more and more people who lack the skills (aka conspiracy theorists) necessary to properly evaluate the claims of the flat earthers are falling for it. We should encourage certain subsets of conspiracy theorists like anti-vaxers and chemtrailers to embrace the flat earth so they can further marginalize themselves.
 

NoParty

Senior Member
My 2 cents:

If CTers see pages and pages of info debunking "chemtrails." 9/11 "truthers," and every claimed "false flag..."
but not flat earth debunking, I can see that some might interpret that as "Well, this one's likely true, then!"

And since belief in one CT has been shown to seem to be evidence for other, unrelated CTs,
in the minds of believers, it seems worthwhile, to me, to have a thread on it.
 

mazoola

Member
I can't help but think of the passage in Robert Shea and Robert Anton Wilson's 'Illuminatus!' trilogy where someone slips some AUM (a mind-expanding chemical) into the punch at a KCUF (Knights of Christ United in Faith) convention:

 

Leifer

Senior Member
And yet there's still Flat Earth advocates. Some do it for religious reasons, some just don't know any better, some are just trolling.

I'm somewhat conflicted as to what to do. There is a lot of people just doing it for the lulz, people who are just trolling. Obviously it is pointless to engage such people. Then there's also some who believe it because of religion, or have some kind of mental obsession with the world being flat, regardless of science. Again, not a lot of point engaging them.
After much reading of flat-earth theories....I'm more than convinced, there is a lot of trolling. I'd say most of it.
I've been accustomed to accepting an overall..."people are often honest, but temporarily mistaken in their beliefs or claims".
I can't quite apply that to the "flat earth" crowd.
The FES (flat earth society) has, in years past, been a sort of "ha ha" side-hobby for many members......'let's throw bones into the gears of current understanding, and see what happens'.

But some FES members are serious, and have always been on the fringe.
...but social media gives these people a voice, so they seem more common ?...
have these thinkers always been there ?

I believe most of them are trolling, and using the social medium to "game-their-way" into online controversies, where controversy and debates are "sport" and for disrupting conventionally held ideas, just for the thrill of being different and unique*.

*reference needed, standing out from the vast online crowd.
 

Mick West

Administrator
Staff member
I believe most of them are trolling, and using the social medium to "game-their-way" into online controversies, where controversy and debates are "sport" and for disrupting conventionally held ideas, just for the thrill of being different and unique
Agreed, and I think there's also something of a misunderstanding about classical trolling in the debunker community that results in people getting sucked into the hoax. The debunkers don't recognize that someone could do something like promote flat Earth theories for fun. They think of "trolls" as being stuff like 4chan - crude and often offensive material used to provoke emotional responses. The word "troll" has even been conflated recently with internet stalking, or (in the minds of the conspiracy theorists) government disinformation agents.

Internet trolling dates back to Usenet in the 1990s, and there's a certain type of troll that enjoyed very subtly playing with their victims. Making them jump though hoops by saying things that the target can't help arguing with.

Is it possible that the growth in flat earth theories (which now seem more popular than chemtrails) might have been prompted by a rise in interest in debunking, thus giving the FEs more of an audience? Or is it some kind of organic feedback loop - more FE bunk led to more debunking, which in turn led to more bunk?

https://www.google.com/trends/explore#q=chemtrails, flat earth&cmpt=q&tz=Etc/GMT+8
Flat Earth vs. Chemtrails .png
 

Svartbjørn

Senior Member
Agreed, and I think there's also something of a misunderstanding about classical trolling in the debunker community that results in people getting sucked into the hoax. The debunkers don't recognize that someone could do something like promote flat Earth theories for fun. They think of "trolls" as being stuff like 4chan - crude and often offensive material used to provoke emotional responses. The word "troll" has even been conflated recently with internet stalking, or (in the minds of the conspiracy theorists) government disinformation agents.

Internet trolling dates back to Usenet in the 1990s, and there's a certain type of troll that enjoyed very subtly playing with their victims. Making them jump though hoops by saying things that the target can't help arguing with.

Is it possible that the growth in flat earth theories (which now seem more popular than chemtrails) might have been prompted by a rise in interest in debunking, thus giving the FEs more of an audience? Or is it some kind of organic feedback loop - more FE bunk led to more debunking, which in turn led to more bunk?

https://www.google.com/trends/explore#q=chemtrails, flat earth&cmpt=q&tz=Etc/GMT+8
View attachment 17075

Honestly its difficult to say... I had a discussion today at work with a rather intelligent colleague of mine (UGA Grad none-the-less) who said he was a Moon Hoaxer until he saw the photos from the Japanese Satellite (Kaguya) that showed the tracks from the rovers and the footprints from Apollo 15. It seems reasonable that a rise in debunking, and people looking things up themselves rather than just relying on a broken telephone system might help explain it but Im not sure how one would go about testing a hypothesis like that. Would be cool to find out though.
 
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