Members of the Flat Earth Society claim to believe the Earth is flat. Walking around on the planet's surface, it looks and feels flat, so they deem all evidence to the contrary, such as satellite photos of Earth as a sphere, to be fabrications of a "round Earth conspiracy" orchestrated by NASA and other government agencies.
The belief that the Earth is flat has been described as the ultimate conspiracy theory. According to the Flat Earth Society's leadership, its ranks have grown by 200 people (mostly Americans and Britons) per year since 2009. Judging by the exhaustive effort flat-earthers have invested in fleshing out the theory on their website, as well as the staunch defenses of their views they offer in media interviews and on Twitter, it would seem that these people genuinely believe the Earth is flat.
But in the 21st century, can they be serious? And if so, how is this psychologically possible?
Through a flat-earther's eyes
First, a brief tour of the worldview of a flat-earther: While writing off buckets of concrete evidence that Earth is spherical, they readily accept a laundry list of propositions that some would call ludicrous. The leading flat-earther theory holds that Earth is a disc with the Arctic Circle in the center and Antarctica, a 150-foot-tall wall of ice, around the rim. NASA employees, they say, guard this ice wall to prevent people from climbing over and falling off the disc. (In keeping with their skepticism of NASA, known flat-earther conspiracy theorist Nathan Thompson recently approached a man he said was a NASA employee in a Starbucks in mid-May 2017. In a YouTube video of the exchange, Thompson, founder of the Official Flat Earth and Globe Discussion page, shouted that he had proof the Earth is flat — apparently saying an astronaut drowning was that proof — and that NASA is "lying.")
Earth's day and night cycle is explained by positing that the sun and moon are spheres measuring 32 miles (51 kilometers) that move in circles 3,000 miles (4,828 km) above the plane of the Earth. (Stars, they say, move in a plane 3,100 miles up.) Like spotlights, these celestial spheres illuminate different portions of the planet in a 24-hour cycle. Flat-earthers believe there must also be an invisible "antimoon" that obscures the moon during lunar eclipses.
Furthermore, Earth's gravity is an illusion, they say. Objects do not accelerate downward; instead, the disc of Earth accelerates upward at 32 feet per second squared (9.8 meters per second squared), driven up by a mysterious force called dark energy. Currently, there is disagreement among flat-earthers about whether or not Einstein's theory of relativity permits Earth to accelerate upward indefinitely without the planet eventually surpassing the speed of light. (Einstein's laws apparently still hold in this alternate version of reality.)
As for what lies underneath the disc of Earth, this is unknown, but most flat-earthers believe it is composed of "rocks." [Religion and Science: 6 Visions of Earth's Core]
Then, there's the conspiracy theory: Flat-earthers believe photos of the globe are photoshopped; GPS devices are rigged to make airplane pilots think they are flying in straight lines around a sphere when they are actually flying in circles above a disc. The motive for world governments' concealment of the true shape of the Earth has not been ascertained, but flat-earthers believe it is probably financial. "In a nutshell, it would logically cost much less to fake a space program than to actually have one, so those in on the Conspiracy profit from the funding NASA and other space agencies receive from the government," the flat-earther website's FAQ page explains.
Who believes the Earth is flat?
Flat-earth believers are not relegated to the hidden corners of the universe: Plenty of celebs have been quite vocal with their beliefs. For instance, on Jan. 25, 2016, rapper-singer Bobby Ray Simmons Jr. (known as B.o.B) released a track called "Flatline" in which he disses astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, after the two had a Twitter battle over the spherical-ness of the planet. B.o.B is convinced Earth is flat. A day earlier, the rapper tweeted: "No matter how high in elevation you are... the horizon is always eye level ... sorry cadets... I didn't wanna believe it either."
And then there's Shaq. In a podcast that aired on Feb. 27, 2017, former NBA player Shaquille O'Neal proclaimed our home planet is flat, saying that when he drives from Florida to California "it's flat to me." Shaq later said he was just kidding. [5 Scientific Rebuttals of Shaq's Flat-Earth Claims]
Some believers have gotten creative in their quest to prove a flat planet: Conspiracy theorist D. Marble posted on YouTube on May 1, 2017, that he brought a spirit level aboard a flight from Charlotte,
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