Flat Earth Society Trolls Elon Musk, Claims Mars is Round

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Earlier this week, Elon Musk got into a bit of a tiff with the Flat Earth Society. The brief exchange was likely partly inspired by ‘Mad’ Mike Hughes’ plans to launch himself in a homemade steam-powered rocket using a launch ramp constructed from the remnants of a mobile home. Musk asked, sensibly enough, why we don’t have a Flat Mars Society, given that we have a Flat Earth Society. The FES responded with the following:

FlatMars

According to the Flat Earth Society, in fact, Earth is the only verified flanet (flat+planet). In fact, when challenged to explain why the Earth would be unique in this fashion, the organization trotted out the uniqueness of Earth to explain itself.

UniqueEarth

Image by CNET

Let me be clear: I’m assuming the FES is trolling mostly because I’m dubious that any group that so thoroughly rejects science, geometry, and basic math is willing to accept any evidence of how planets shape themselves. Wading into their “scientific” explanations for the shape of the Earth is like being kicked in the head by a mule and falling into a vat of stupid.

The evidence Flat Earthers cite to justify their views are claims that were disproven thousands of years ago. The Greek mathematician, astronomer, and geographer Eratosthenes (276-194 BC) calculated the circumference of the Earth within a 10 to 15 percent margin of error with extremely simple tools and observations. Given the resources available at the time, this is no small accomplishment. Various claims about being unable to see the curve of the Earth while flying in an airplane have also been explained, at length.

Flat Earthers like to argue that their rejection of simple knowledge constitutes a willingness to embrace new and creative modes of thinking. Believing “scientists,” they say, is equivalent to believing in a religious faith.

FETweets

Name redacted.

While this argument has a certain simplistic appeal, it’s not hard to see the enormous flaw running through it. One of the fundamental requirements of science is that experiments are reproducible. Anyone who wishes to do so can research the history of how the circumference of the Earth was calculated, conduct the same experiments that people used hundreds and thousands of years ago, and arrive at the same conclusions. Eratosthenes’ relatively crude measurements and some weaknesses in his assumptions doesn’t change that he was within 10 to 15 percent of the circumference of the Earth 1,700 years before Ferdinand Magellan would lead an expedition to circumnavigate the planet.

Artist's depiction

Flat Earthers try to weasel out of such replication requirements by emphasizing evidence they claim comes from human observation, but this is a dodge. As intelligent as the ancient Greeks were, they weren’t flying balloons up to 80,000 feet or using calculators to derive their results. Yet somehow, the same simple human observations led them to conclude the Earth was round, not flat.

Isaac Asimov’s essay on the relativity of wrongness indirectly addresses this problem as well. The Earth isn’t flat. Clinging to simplistic, easily rebutted arguments doesn’t make you an independent thinker.

Note: The full version of the top feature image can be seen here.

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