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Will COVID-19 kill off flat Earthism once and for all?
One silver lining of the pandemic: The value of common sense, facts and rational decisions increases.
- The recent rise of flat-Earth theory can be explained by a certain social and political atmosphere.
- The coronavirus crisis may put an end to the flat-Earth model's already waning popularity, which has been trending down since 2017.
- Some have already argued that the coronavirus will sound the death-knell for populism. Perhaps it will prove the last straw for flat Earthism too.
Looks like a snow globe: The world according to Homer.
Image: Public domain
'It is no surprise,' writes The Economist, 'that the industry clobbered hardest by the COVID-19 pandemic is the one responsible for helping spread it to the four corners of the earth.'
Even without further context, you will have guessed the economic sector in question: the airline industry. But if you're of a particular (some would say: peculiar) mindset, another thing will have struck you about that sentence.
The four corners of the earth! Aha! How ever much they try, even the mainstream media can't completely cover up the truth: that our earth is flat, not spherical! And this in a piece about airlines!
That last bit is the icing on the cake, if you're a flat Earther. Airlines are some of the worst offenders against flat Earth truth, what with their assertions that you can fly around the world and go east by winging it west; or north, if only you keep going south long enough.
Let's not begrudge our putative flat Earthers their chuckle. For that third thing stalking the above sentence—the coronavirus—could prove more devastating for their belief system than they may yet surmise.
In the oft-quoted words of Ernest Hemingway, bankruptcies happen in two ways: "Gradually, then suddenly." That also applies to intellectual bankruptcies, and their demise too is speeded up by crises like the current one.
One silver lining of earth-shaking emergencies like these is that they tend to reaffirm the value of common sense, fact-based discourse and rational leadership. Some have already argued that the coronavirus will sound the death-knell for populism. And perhaps it will prove the last straw for flat Earthism too.
What goes up, must come down: the rise and fall of the flat-Earth trend
Image: Google Trends
As this Google Trends graph shows, flat-Earth theory had been growing in popularity since the mid-2010s—one more symptom of the generalized blurring of the line between fact and opinion. But eventually the novelty of taking 'fake news' for real starts wearing off. The popularity of 'flat Earth' as a search term peaked at the end of 2017 and has since been in decline. Two exceptions:
- The spike in March 2019 reflects media attention for a plan by flat Earthers to organize a cruise to Antarctica, which according to them is not a continent centered on the South Pole, but a giant ice wall fencing off the edges of the world. In the 'flat Earth' scenario, circling Antarctica would take more than 60,000 miles, not 14,500 miles, as in the 'Ball Earth' one. That cruise would once and for all prove the 'sun-worshippers' (i.e. proponents of scientific heliocentrism) wrong.
- A smaller spike towards the end of the graph corresponds to news about the death of 'Mad' Mike Hughes, who died this February when his homemade, steam-powered rocket crashed into the Californian desert shortly after take-off. Hughes had wanted to fly high enough above the earth to gather photographic evidence of its 'flatness'.
The cruise was scheduled for this year but may not go ahead as planned, for obvious reasons. But even if it did, and failed, that in itself wouldn't be the end of flat Earthism. Like ufology, its defeats merely enhance its belief in the vastness and intricacy of the conspiracy it seeks to unmask.
Excerpt from Tractatus de Sphaera ('On the sphere of the world'), published in 1230 AD by Johannes de Sacrobosco (a.k.a. John of Holywood), clearly showing the nautical proof for the earth's curvature. Sacrobosco's book was required reading at European universities for the next four centuries.
Image: Public domain
Flat Earthism has been endemic since the dawn of human consciousness. For indeed, our own eyes show us that our immediate surroundings are (relatively) flat. That false certainty was codified in early literature.
- In the Iliad, Homer uses the shield of Achilles as a simile for the world—a circular island under the dome of heaven (see also #288)
- Numerous references in the Bible indicate our world is flat; in Isaiah 11:12, for example, the Lord will "gather together the dispersed of Judah from the four corners of the earth."
But that doesn't mean that flat Earthism has been the default position throughout history, only to be 'defeated' relatively recently by modern science. Even the ancients caught on to the spherical Earth pretty quickly.
- Thousands of years ago, the earliest astronomers figured out that the data they gathered added up to the earth being round instead of flat.
- The ancient Greeks noticed that they could first see the sails and only slightly later the hulls of ships approaching their harbors. And if you're in the ship approaching a harbor, you'll see the top of its lighthouse before you see the land it stands on.
- In the 4th century BC, Aristotle pointed out that lunar eclipses always show a circular Earth shadow, and that stars appear and disappear as we move north or south.
- A century later, Eratosthenes calculated the circumference of the earth to a remarkably accurate degree, using the different lengths of shadows at the same time of day in cities separated by a known north-south distance.
- The Middle Ages have a reputation for obscurantism, yet even then most educated people thought the earth was round.
- Columbus understood this, as he sailed west in his attempt to reach the East.
If flat Earthism lingered on until recent times, it's mainly because of Biblical literalists and other religious fundamentalists. They have fought a losing battle against the wealth of evidence increasing over the centuries, from science itself and—since the start of the space age—from the images and testimonials brought back by satellites and astronauts.
Flat Earthism has taken such a beating that it has become marginalized even within Christian creationism: Why would creationists bother to reject scientific astronomy too when they have trouble enough concentrating on just geology and biology?
The dying movement was 'saved' in recent decades by secular skeptics, who transformed religious dogma into anti-establishment meme. The frame of reference for Latter-Day Flat Earthers is not so much the Revelation as the Conspiracy. Their defense of the flat Earth is motivated by a big, bold rejection of modern life and all its hypocrisies, compromises and disappointments. It's no wonder that many of these modern flat Earthers also tick the box that says 'the Moon landings were faked'.
Gravity doesn't exist?
Orlando Ferguson's map of the square and stationary Earth (1893): "Four hundred passages in the Bible that condemn the Globe Theory, or the Flying Earth, and none sustain it; this map is the Bible map of the world."
Image: Library of Congress – Public domain.
However, even though the mountain of evidence against the flat Earth may be easily dismissed as part of the vast 'globularist' conspiracy, its main problem ultimately is its own internal inconsistency. Maximum points to Elon Musk for neatly summarizing that inconsistency in a simple question: "Why is there no Flat Mars Society?"
If our earth were a disc world, it would not only be uniquely different from easily observable objects in the sky, that uniqueness would also require an explanation beyond that of accepted science. In short, a flat Earth can only be explained by the existence of a divine Creator—or by powerful technology unknown to mankind.
On a flat Earth, many theories and observations that fit with the spherical Earth model no longer make sense. These include:
- The formation and movement of continents
- The existence of tides
- The change of seasons
- The phases of the Moon
- The existence of gravity
Yes, gravity. Flat Earthers who have given their model some thought (emphasis on some), often claim gravity doesn't exist. That's because equal gravitational pull only really makes sense on a globe. Towards the edges of a disc world, gravity would pull at you from an increasing angle instead of straight down. And not just dear old you. Air and water would also be pulled toward the central North Pole, leaving the edges bereft of both.
So, if gravity can't make a flat Earth model work… gravity must be wrong. The flat Earth counter-model: a disc world that is accelerating upward at a rate of 32 feet (9.8 meters) per second squared, giving the illusion of gravity.
Nor can flat Earthers explain why the shortest distance between Australia and South America isn't over the North Pole. Or why people at any edge of the disc see the same stars in the sky—yet those differ from the heavens at the centre of the disc.
Dustbin of geography
Map of the flat Earth, showing the ice wall at its outer limits.
Image: Public domain
These are just few slingshots from the vast and well-stocked arsenal of scientific arguments against the flat Earth model. But most flat Earthers are less interested in arguing with scientists than in cherry-picking half-truths that allow them to claim the title of lone wolves, fighting for truth against a vast network of conspirators.
But here's the thing. Just limiting ourselves to the personnel involved in the space race, that network numbers in the hundreds of thousands and is spread out over various competing countries and organizations. And yet, it has managed to enforce a total omertà for more than half a century.
That's testament to the power of the conspiracy. Yet at the same time, it is too weak to stop flat Earthers from spreading their message. But most importantly: That vast and costly conspiracy, both so successful and unsuccessful, serves no apparent purpose.
Except if that conspiracy is… 'Satanic'. Ultimately reintroducing religious fundamentalism into the belief system, the divine, flat Earth world view is at war with the globular view, which somehow supports the Devil's plan with the world.
Meanwhile, the real world has just received a deadly wake-up call from nature, which it is scrambling to contain. COVID-19 will leave a lasting impression on humankind, not all of it bad: The pandemic has demonstrated that our planet's problems do not stop at national borders, and how ill prepared we are to solve them country by country.
Perhaps this will finally urge us towards an era of truly global cooperation and progress. But at least it should eliminate our patience with fraud, quackery and self-indulgent wrong-headedness, delivering the flat Earth into the dustbin of geography, where it belongs… together with its pre-dustified cousin, the Hollow Earth (#85).
Strange Maps #1017
Got a strange map? Let me know at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- The Universe is Flat – Here's How Astrophysicists Know and Why ... ›
- Flat Earth Society ›
- Reality show about Flat Earthers - Big Think ›
The COVID-19 pandemic is making health disparities in the United States crystal clear. It is a clarion call for health care systems to double their efforts in vulnerable communities.
- The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated America's health disparities, widening the divide between the haves and have nots.
- Studies show disparities in wealth, race, and online access have disproportionately harmed underserved U.S. communities during the pandemic.
- To begin curing this social aliment, health systems like Northwell Health are establishing relationships of trust in these communities so that the post-COVID world looks different than the pre-COVID one.
COVID-19 deepens U.S. health disparities<p>Communities on the pernicious side of America's health disparities have their unique histories, environments, and social structures. They are spread across the United States, but they all have one thing in common.</p><p>"There is one common divide in American communities, and that is poverty," said <a href="https://www.northwell.edu/about/leadership/debbie-salas-lopez" target="_blank">Debbie Salas-Lopez, MD, MPH</a>, senior vice president of community and population health at Northwell Health. "That is the undercurrent that manifests poor health, poor health outcomes, or poor health prognoses for future wellbeing."</p><p>Social determinants have far-reaching effects on health, and poor communities have unfavorable social determinants. To pick one of many examples, <a href="https://www.npr.org/2020/09/27/913612554/a-crisis-within-a-crisis-food-insecurity-and-covid-19" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">food insecurity</a> reduces access to quality food, leading to poor health and communal endemics of chronic medical conditions. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has identified some of these conditions, such as obesity and Type 2 diabetes, as increasing the risk of developing a severe case of coronavirus.</p><p>The pandemic didn't create poverty or food insecurity, but it exacerbated both, and the results have been catastrophic. A study published this summer in the <em><a href="https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s11606-020-05971-3" target="_blank">Journal of General Internal Medicine</a></em> suggested that "social factors such as income inequality may explain why some parts of the USA are hit harder by the COVID-19 pandemic than others."</p><p>That's not to say better-off families in the U.S. weren't harmed. A <a href="https://voxeu.org/article/poverty-inequality-and-covid-19-us" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">paper from the Centre for Economic Policy Research</a> noted that families in counties with a higher median income experienced adjustment costs associated with the pandemic—for example, lowering income-earning interactions to align with social distancing policies. However, the paper found that the costs of social distancing were much greater for poorer families, who cannot easily alter their living circumstances, which often include more individuals living in one home and a reliance on mass transit to reach work and grocery stores. They are also disproportionately represented in essential jobs, such as retail, transportation, and health care, where maintaining physical distance can be all but impossible.</p><p>The paper also cited a positive correlation between higher income inequality and higher rates of coronavirus infection. "Our interpretation is that poorer people are less able to protect themselves, which leads them to different choices—they face a steeper trade-off between their health and their economic welfare in the context of the threats posed by COVID-19," the authors wrote.</p><p>"There are so many pandemics that this pandemic has exacerbated," Dr. Salas-Lopez noted.</p><p>One example is the health-wealth gap. The mental stressors of maintaining a low socioeconomic status, especially in the face of extreme affluence, can have a physically degrading impact on health. <a href="https://www.scientificamerican.com/index.cfm/_api/render/file/?method=inline&fileID=123ECD96-EF81-46F6-983D2AE9A45FA354" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Writing on this gap</a>, Robert Sapolsky, professor of biology and neurology at Stanford University, notes that socioeconomic stressors can increase blood pressure, reduce insulin response, increase chronic inflammation, and impair the prefrontal cortex and other brain functions through anxiety, depression, and cognitive load. </p><p>"Thus, from the macro level of entire body systems to the micro level of individual chromosomes, poverty finds a way to produce wear and tear," Sapolsky writes. "It is outrageous that if children are born into the wrong family, they will be predisposed toward poor health by the time they start to learn the alphabet."</p>Research on the economic and mental health fallout of COVID-19 is showing two things: That unemployment is hitting <a href="https://www.pewsocialtrends.org/2020/09/24/economic-fallout-from-covid-19-continues-to-hit-lower-income-americans-the-hardest/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">low-income and young Americans</a> most during the pandemic, potentially widening the health-wealth gap further; and that the pandemic not only exacerbates mental health stressors, but is doing so at clinically relevant levels. As <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7413844/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">the authors of one review</a> wrote, the pandemic's effects on mental health is itself an international public health priority.
Working to close the health gap<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDc5MDk1MS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYxNTYyMzQzMn0.KSFpXH7yHYrfVPtfgcxZqAHHYzCnC2bFxwSrJqBbH4I/img.jpg?width=980" id="b40e2" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="1b9035370ab7b02a0dc00758e494412b" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Northwell Health coronavirus testing center at Greater Springfield Community Church.
Credit: Northwell Health<p>Novel coronavirus may spread and infect indiscriminately, but pre-existing conditions, environmental stressors, and a lack of access to care and resources increase the risk of infection. These social determinants make the pandemic more dangerous, and erode communities' and families' abilities to heal from health crises that pre-date the pandemic.</p><p>How do we eliminate these divides? Dr. Salas-Lopez says the first step is recognition. "We have to open our eyes to see the suffering around us," she said. "Northwell has not shied away from that."</p><p>"We are steadfast in improving health outcomes for our vulnerable and underrepresented communities that have suffered because of the prevalence of chronic disease, a problem that led to the disproportionately higher death rate among African-Americans and Latinos during the COVID-19 pandemic," said Michael Dowling, Northwell's president and CEO. "We are committed to using every tool at our disposal—as a provider of health care, employer, purchaser and investor—to combat disparities and ensure the <a href="https://www.northwell.edu/education-and-resources/community-engagement/center-for-equity-of-care" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">equity of care</a> that everyone deserves." </p><p>With the need recognized, Dr. Salas-Lopez calls for health care systems to travel upstream and be proactive in those hard-hit communities. This requires health care systems to play a strong role, but not a unilateral one. They must build <a href="https://www.northwell.edu/news/insights/faith-based-leaders-are-the-key-to-improving-community-health" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">partnerships with leaders in those communities</a> and utilize those to ensure relationships last beyond the current crisis. </p><p>"We must meet with community leaders and talk to them to get their perspective on what they believe the community needs are and should be for the future. Together, we can co-create a plan to measurably improve [community] health and also to be ready for whatever comes next," she said.</p><p>Northwell has built relationships with local faith-based and community organizations in underserved communities of color. Those partnerships enabled Northwell to test more than 65,000 people across the metro New York region. The health system also offered education on coronavirus and precautions to curb its spread.</p><p>These initiatives began the process of building trust—trust that Northwell has counted on to return to these communities to administer flu vaccines to prepare for what experts fear may be a difficult flu season.</p><p>While Northwell has begun building bridges across the divides of the New York area, much will still need to be done to cure U.S. health care overall. There is hope that the COVID pandemic will awaken us to the deep disparities in the US.</p><p>"COVID has changed our world. We have to seize this opportunity, this pandemic, this crisis to do better," Dr. Salas-Lopez said. "Provide better care. Provide better health. Be better partners. Be better community citizens. And treat each other with respect and dignity.</p><p>"We need to find ways to unify this country because we're all human beings. We're all created equal, and we believe that health is one of those important rights."</p>
What’s Eminem doing in Missouri? Kanye West in Georgia? And Wiz Khalifa in, of all places, North Dakota?
This is a mysterious map. Obviously about music, or more precisely musicians. But what’s Eminem doing in Missouri? Kanye West in Georgia? And Wiz Khalifa in, of all places, North Dakota? None of these musicians are from those states! Everyone knows that! Is this map that stupid, or just looking for a fight? Let’s pause a moment and consider our attention spans, shrinking faster than polar ice caps.
Can passenger airships make a triumphantly 'green' comeback?
Large airships were too sensitive to wind gusts and too sluggish to win against aeroplanes. But today, they have a chance to make a spectacular return.
Vegans and vegetarians often have nutrient deficiencies and lower BMI, which can increase the risk of fractures.
- The study found that vegans were 43% more likely to suffer fractures than meat eaters.
- Similar results were observed for vegetarians and fish eaters, though to a lesser extent.
- It's possible to be healthy on a vegan diet, though it takes some strategic planning to compensate for the nutrients that a plant-based diet can't easily provide.
Comparison of fracture cases by diet group
Credit: Tong et al.<p>The results showed that vegans were especially vulnerable to hip fractures, suffering 2.3 times more cases than meat-eaters. Vegetarians and pescatarians were also more likely to suffer hip fractures, though to a lesser extent.</p><p>One explanation may be that non-meat eaters consume less calcium and protein. Calcium helps the body build strong bones, particularly before age 30, after which the body begins to lose bone mineral density (though consuming enough calcium through diet or supplement can <a href="https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Calcium-Consumer/" target="_blank">help offset losses</a>). Lower bone mineral density means higher risk of fracture.</p><p>Protein seems to help the body absorb calcium, <a href="https://www.bonejoint.net/blog/did-you-know-that-certain-foods-block-calcium-absorption/#:~:text=Historically%2C%20nutritionists%20have%20warned%20that,may%20increase%20intestinal%20calcium%20absorption." target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">when consumed in normal levels</a>. The recent study, along with past research, shows that people who don't eat meat tend to have lower levels of both protein and calcium. When the researchers accounted for non-meat eaters who supplemented their diets with calcium and protein, fracture risk decreased, but still remained significant.</p>
Credit: Pixabay<p>Another explanation is body mass index (BMI). Non-meat eaters tend to have a lower BMI, which is associated with higher fracture risk, particularly hip fractures. In the new study, vegans with a low BMI were especially likely to suffer hip fractures. That might be because having more body mass provides a cushioning effect when people fall.</p><p>Still, the study has some limitations. For one, White European women were overrepresented in the sample. The researchers also didn't collect precise data on the type of calcium or protein supplementation, diet quality or causes of fractures.</p><p>Another complicating factor: Producers of vegan products, such as plant-based milk, are increasingly fortifying foods with nutrients like calcium and protein, so modern vegans are potentially at lower risk of deficiency.</p><p>The researchers wrote that their findings "suggest that bone health in vegans requires further research."</p>