I don’t have a huge amount of time to write, but I do have to say at least something. I read an article on CNN that makes me want to weep. Flat Earth belief is exploding precipitously.

The problem I have is a very simple one. You cannot argue with a flat earther. Flat earthers are so certain that they have the truth of it that they simply cannot be argued out of their stance. The belief is so deeply wrong and so deeply contrarian to reality, that a good portion of the support thinking for the claim involves completely discarding evidence that anyone might point to. They will not accept satellite photos. They will not accept videos. They will not accept pictures obtained by any source that is “part of the conspiracy.” The evidence has to come through their own eyes. Even more, if you look at that CNN article, it seems that you can’t tell them where to look and expect them to see what’s in front of their faces.

As a scientist, I did question and I do question. I understand why we think the Earth is round and I’ve tested this in the world around me. What I would say, you can read here, here, here and here. I have gone and looked in the best way I can and I can tell you that aspects pointing to the roundness of the Earth are indisputably visible. The flat earth model that is cited in the CNN article, the disc with an ice wall, is complete trash; it does not stand up to any physical inquiry even at the most basic level at all. You can junk this model just by asking what path the sun should take across the sky as opposed to what path the sun actually takes, and that’s enough. It appalls me deeply that these people think of themselves as scientists and are so completely inept at checking their models.

Read this quote from the CNN article and cringe:

But most adherents say they’re just curious, as all good scientific minds should be. “We love science,” Davidson insists.

That is the biggest flat-out lie that has ever been uttered. No, you don’t. No, you absolutely do not! Davidson says this first:

“Let’s just say there is an adversary, there is a devil, there is a Satan. His whole job would be to try to convince the world that God doesn’t exist. He’s done an incredible job convincing people with the idea that we’re just on a random speck in an infinite universe.”

There are reasons why people think such a thing about this universe. It is based on physical observations, not random supposition. The subject is so big that you cannot throw everything that has been seen before out the window and pretend like you can start climbing the mountain from its base all by yourself. The mountain of science is completely insurmountable if you do it alone.

Part of the reason for my willingness to post today about flat eartherism is because I watched a documentary on Amazon Prime this weekend about Mike Hughes, called “Rocketman.” I mentioned him in one of my previous posts on the flat earth; he’s the fellow who built the steam rocket and flew about 1,800 ft into the air in the name of figuring out what the shape of the Earth is.

I feel truly truly sorry for this fellow. I won’t say anything about his character, but watching him in that movie made me very sad. If he should google his name and end up reading this post, all I can say is… he really doesn’t deserve death threats. I don’t believe that anyone does. However, he is not merely wrong; he is prodigiously wrong. Mike, if you read this, hurry up and build that bigger rocket… the sooner you can take a flight higher, the sooner you will see exactly how wrong you are.

Fact is, I say hurry up SpaceX, hurry up Blue Origin, hurry up Virgin Galactic. The sooner people are flying where they don’t have to work at making the measurement, the sooner we can put this flat earth bullshit behind us and get on with more important things.

I will counter one of the Mike Hughes claims that I saw in the documentary. There is a Mike Hughes talk show appearance where he says that the thing which convinced him that the Earth is flat was that airliners flying from one place to another don’t have to tip their noses forward in order to navigate the curve going around the world, therefore there is no curve. This idea is totally wrong.

There are multiple reasons why airplanes don’t have to make this manuver.

The first reason is that airplanes are quite strongly dependent on air pressure in order to fly; the geometry of the atmosphere confines where airplanes can fly and they are confined ultimately to where the ~40,000 ft tall layer of the atmosphere is isolated. An airfoil doesn’t work without air. And, since the atmosphere follows the curve of the Earth, airplanes have to stay within it.

Secondarily, airplanes are kept in the air by balancing the force of lift with the force of weight. One must note that the center of lift and the center of mass, where the force of gravity acts, are not necessarily in the same spot, meaning that interactions between lift and weight can put torque on the body of the airplane. Weight changes direction as the airplane goes around the curve, creating a natural torque if lift is not also adjusted. Consider the design of a Cessna 172:

Cessna 172 from wikipedia

This airplane has an interesting design, don’t you think? The center of mass is somewhere inside the body of the airplane directly below the center of the wing while the center of lift is between the wings at the top of the roof. The airplane’s mass hangs below the wing. As you go over the curve, the weight of the airplane continues to point toward the center of the planet, creating a torque since the lift vector is at a lever arm from the center of mass, bringing the nose forward until the vectors for lift and weight are coaxial again. The pilot needs to make no adjustments because physics built the adjustment straight into the design of the airplane.


Note, the force decomposition of the Red Lift force makes the Green vector bigger than the Yellow one. At the same lever arm from the center of mass (the big green spot) the green vector will dominate creating a net torque that will tend to tip the nose of the plane forward until Red and Blue point along the same line again and balance. In most normal situations, the angle of difference between the Blue (weight) and Red (lift) vectors is much smaller than illustrated here, meaning that the analogous green vector is usually much bigger than the matching yellow vector (which would have nearly zero length). Totally passive here; the body of the plane will simply tip forward to follow the curve. In more advanced aircraft than this one, the management of flight characteristics is performed electronically, meaning that an airliner with a glass cockpit is using its computers to keep lift and weight balanced, totally hiding whether the aircraft is even dynamically unstable and further, making the adjustment to follow the Earth’s curve straight in the calculation simply to keep the aircraft flying.

Several additional thoughts. First, Youtube has done huge damage to our ability to view reality in the world around us.  Combine a D+ understanding of physics with a dependence on “Googling it” and damn, you are screwed. The shape of the Earth was understood a long time before the infrastructure for a crazy huge government conspiracy ever existed –never mind that organized religion was the earliest infrastructure capable of crazy conspiracies and the irony that flat earthers also seem to include a large number of born again Christians. Second, you have to wonder if the rise in flat eartherism isn’t also rooted in the explosion of marijuana as a legal recreational drug. One of the basic symptoms of marijuana overuse, even overdose, is paranoia. Conspiracy theory thinking is rooted in paranoia. I make the basic observation that people who use marijuana a lot also tend to be unusually paranoid, if not quite psychotically so. Does the population Venn diagram for marijuana use also include an unusual number of modern flat earthers? If Eddie Bravo is an typical example, I’d say yes. In legalizing, are we shooting ourselves in the foot because we’re normalizing people dosing themselves recreationally with a drug that predisposes them to thought processes that can become weaponized in an anti-reality bent? One wonders…

I end by shaking my head.


Published by foolish physicist

Low level academic enthralled with learning how things work.

Leave a comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: