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The Earth is round — needless to say?

While it is strange (and disturbing) that some religious conservatives dispute the scientific consensus on the age of the Earth and the universe, another article this past week (3-10-2018) — Yep, the Earth Is Still Round, Neil deGrasse Tyson Says — reminded me that there’s an even stranger group, namely, those who still play with the notion that the Earth is flat  (hopefully not just as performance art or for publicity).

The fact that an astrophysicist like Tyson found it necessary to address the notion of a flat Earth is telling. In the 21st century no less. But his answer provides a useful historical context and overview of scientific reasoning.

“Cosmos” host and astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson recently shot down the ideas of anyone who still thinks the Earth is flat. In a new YouTube video on the scientist’s StarTalk channel, he used examples ranging from space observations to ancient Greek experiments in a conversation with stand-up comedian Chuck Nice.

“What’s odd,” Tyson continued, “is there are people who think that Earth is flat but recognize that the moon is round. Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune and the sun are all spheres. But Earth is flat … something doesn’t square here.”

  • The science argument
  • The geometry argument

Is that the end of the story? No more flat-earthers?1

So, what if people still believe the Earth is flat?

“That’s OK,” Tyson quipped, “as long as you don’t run NASA.”


[1] Another article: “8 Times Flat-Earthers Tried to Challenge Science (and Failed) in 2017.”


UPDATE 6-25-2018: This article from June 22, 2018, “How Fast Is Earth Moving?” references NASA Goddard’s 2016 YouTube video “One Year on Earth – Seen From 1 Million Miles” which was composited from images taken by the space agency’s EPIC camera on NOAA’s DSCOVR satellite.

[Spin] If you estimate that a day is 24 hours long, you divide the circumference by the length of the day. This produces a speed at the equator of about 1,037 mph (1,670 km/h).

[Orbital speed around the Sun] So, Earth travels about 1.6 million miles (2.6 million km) a day, or 66,627 mph (107,226 km/h).

[Galactic motion] The sun and the solar system appear to be moving at 200 kilometers per second, or at an average speed of 448,000 mph (720,000 km/h). Even at this rapid speed, the solar system would take about 230 million years to travel all the way around the Milky Way.

In about 4 billion years, the Milky Way will collide with its nearest neighbor, the Andromeda Galaxy. The two are rushing toward each other at about 70 miles per second (112 km per second).

4 thoughts on “The Earth is round — needless to say?

  1. By contrast, this March 19, 2018, article “Nicolaus Copernicus Biography: Facts & Discoveries” hearkens back to the time when the Earth was believed to be the center of the universe.

    Although Copernicus’ model changed the layout of the universe, it still had its faults. For one thing, Copernicus held to the classical idea that the planets traveled in perfect circles. It wasn’t until the 1600s that Johannes Kepler proposed the orbits were instead ellipses. As such, Copernicus’ model featured the same epicycles that marred in Ptolemy’s work, although there were fewer.

    According to Rudnick, Copernicus went beyond simply creating a model of the solar system.

    “All his work involved a new cosmological principle originated by him. It is today called the Genuine Copernican Cosmological Principle and says, ‘The Universe as observed from any planet looks much the same,'” Rudnick wrote.

  2. Followup:, April 29, 2018, “How to Reason With Flat Earthers (It May Not Help Though).”

    I recommend letting philosophy do the work. I recommend “epistemic contextualism.” … Flat earthers are pulling the same trick. They’re right that you don’t know the earth is round. But they’re only right in a context where testimonies of hundreds are disregarded, where widely accepted facts among the scientific community don’t count, where photographic evidence is inadmissible, and so on. … So do you know whether the earth is round? It turns out it depends on context. But in most regular contexts then, yes, you do. And that’s even though I doubt most people could prove it, right here and now.

  3. The Washington Post’s “The Technology 202” post (January 28, 2019) had this interesting news byte:

    Youtube said it is changing its recommendation algorithm to avoid promoting conspiracies and false information in a sign the company is trying to curb disinformation on the platform, The Post’s Elizabeth Dwoskin reported. The change will be gradual and will apply to less than 1 percent of the content on the platform. It will also affect English-language videos only.

    For instance, YouTube said it will reduce recommendations for videos that claim that the Earth is flat or that make “blatantly false claims about historic events” such as the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. However, the videos would not be deleted from YouTube. “YouTube, which has historically given wide latitude to free speech concerns, does not prohibit conspiracy theories or other forms of false information,” Elizabeth wrote.

  4. Paul Sutter notes that “there remain people today who still believe that the Earth is flat.” He discusses the evidence; then the real issue.

    • > “How to debate a flat-Earther” by Paul Sutter (Feb 4, 2022) – Why do people believe this, and is it even worth getting into a debate over?

    I don’t think this discussion is really about the actual evidence or the scientific process, however.

    … the question isn’t “Why do people believe in a flat Earth?” but rather “Why do people believe in a conspiracy?” And the answer is the same reason it always is: a lack of trust.

    Many people don’t trust the society around them, most notably the representatives of that society. That trust often falls even further when it comes to elite representatives of that society, which include government officials, members of academia and scientists like me.

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