How do you convince someone the Earth is round?
A few years ago, this would have been a nonsensical question. Since the 19th century, there has been an organized group of flat earth…enthusiasts? Partisans? Kooks?
Whatever you call them, they were few in number and lived on the fringes of reality.
They’re still on the fringes of reality. But there are more of them. How many? We don’t know. Hundreds, perhaps thousands. And they’re gathering followers.
There are two types of flat earthers, as far as I can tell. The first kind believes in a peculiar Biblical literalism. The second, and increasingly common kind, just doesn’t think a round earth is plausible.
They literally don’t believe the earth is round, because it, y’know, looks flat, right?
Hey, did you know you can prove the earth is round with a stick? Really, philospher Eratosthenes did it more than 2,000 years ago. It might take a genius to figure out how to do that, but anyone can now replicate the experiment.
But that won’t convince the flat earthers. Nor will the thousands of years of scientific consensus, the way ships sink into the distant horizon, or even the personal testimony of dozens of astronauts.
How do you get through to people who believe that NASA is a conspiracy – one that was apparently in league with the Soviet Union’s space program during the Cold War?
It’s an important question. There are hordes of people who are less obviously wrong than flat earthers, but are wrong in more important ways.
Global warming and vaccines are the most obvious areas of concern. So far, we’ve not found any easy way to convince people that reality is real. Not when they’d rather believe nonsense and conspiracism.
We need to learn how to do this. Because a world where people don’t believe in science, but trust in what feels right to them, is not one that will end well.
If the flat earthers and their kind win, we’re in trouble. And they’re gaining ground.