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Why Neil deGrasse Tyson failed to prove Earth isn’t flat

In the early 20th century, the famous scientist Albert Einstein explained to the world that what we call gravity is actually the fabric of space-time bending around massive planets.

Some 100 years later, most people still don’t understand what Einstein was talking about. Meanwhile, famous scientist Neil deGrasse Tyson is trying to convince us the Earth isn’t flat.

Flat-Earth theory — in which we all live on a big dinner plate that a global discal conspiracy of elites has tricked us into believing is a ball — has lately seen something of a popular renaissance.

Basketball star Kyrie Irving declared the Earth flat on a podcast last year. This led to a class of middle-schoolers so convinced of the idea that they thought their teacher was in on the conspiracy. Then came the round-Earth skeptic daredevil Mike Hughes, whose repeated failures to launch himself in a homemade rocket have drawn international attention to his flat-Earth space mission.

Enter Tyson, one of the great explanatory scientists of our age. He’s an astrophysicist who communes with the masses. He has explained the universe on Twitter and hosted a well-reviewed sequel to Carl Sagan’s science show “Cosmos.”

So surely he can convince the world it’s round.


Unfortunately (and we really can’t believe we’re saying this), Tyson largely failed to debunk the pillars of flat-Earth theory in last week’s episode of “StarTalk.”

In fairness to him, that’s largely because flat-Earthism — which LiveScience dates to at least the 19th century — has evolved into a pseudoscientific conspiracy theory that resists any attempt to prove or disprove it. Find a hole in the theory? There will be an explanation for it, or at least a strong suspicion that you’re part of the conspiracy.

We can best demonstrate this by letting Tyson lay out his arguments in calm, logical statements — and then counter each one with some nonsense pulled from the Flat Earth Wiki or Twitter.

Said Tyson: “There’s people who think Earth is flat but recognize that the moon is round. Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune are all spheres, but Earth is flat. Something doesn’t square.”

This is a good pun, and Tyson’s video illustrates the ridiculous notion with a graphic of Frisbee Earth lined up in orbit with all the normal, spherical planets.

Alas, that’s not actually fair to the flat Earthers. Their Frisbee Earth is conventionally rendered with the sun, moon, planets and stars all whirling around directly above us like a nursery mobile, moving in complex epicycles that we mistake for sunsets and orbits and whatnot.

Said Tyson: “The universe favors spheres.”

He meant that gravity and other basic laws of physics naturally pull matter into a spherical shape — thus the trillions and trillions of spherical stars and planets in the universe. Spheres are natural, and something special has to happen to make an object flat.

Tyson should have read the Flat Earth Society’s FAQ, which says right there in black and white: “The earth isn’t pulled into a sphere because the force known as gravity exists in a greatly diminished form compared to what is commonly taught.”

What we think of as gravity isn’t what Newton or, later, Einstein taught. Our big Frisbee and its galactic baby mobile is actually being pushed upward through space by a constant “aetheric wind,” like a penny in a wind tunnel.

Also, there’s probably a giant ring of sea ice around the world’s edge that keeps the oceans from spilling over the edge.

Tyson: “We have video from space of the rotating spherical Earth.”

Wiki: No, we have a conspiracy of astronauts who fake those videos to keep the round Earth hoax going.

Tyson: “The Greeks knew this, a thousand years before Columbus.”

Wiki: The ancient Greeks actually weren't advanced enough to understand flat-Earth theory.

Tyson: “Seafarers knew this” because they saw ships sink beneath the horizon of the curving Earth.

Wiki: Here are some unlabeled diagrams proving that’s just an optical illusion.

Tyson: “If Earth were flat, sometimes you'd get a flat shadow [on the moon]. And we’ve never seen a flat shadow.”

Wiki: You globeheads always get the moon stuff backward.

Tyson: “We live in a country with a failed educational system.”

And here the two sides finally agree, at least in a narrow sense.

But where Tyson sees a system that has failed to teach people the difference between a valid argument and unprovable nonsense, the flat Earthers see one that’s been corrupted by the lying astronauts NASA and their fake moon photos.

Tyson used to serve on a NASA advisory council, by the way. Just one more reason that no true flat-Earther is going to be convinced by his video.

More depressing science stories:

NASA wanted to talk about science. A congressman wanted to ask about Martian civilizations.

Please stop annoying this NASA scientist with your ridiculous Planet X doomsday theories

This man is about to launch himself in his homemade rocket to prove the Earth is flat