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Memeday: Flat Earthers channel GamerGate in their attacks on Neil deGrasse Tyson

Flat Earthers: Not big fans of Neil deGrasse Tyson
Flat Earthers: Not big fans of Neil deGrasse Tyson

Like a lot of people, I was a bit gobsmacked a couple of months ago when rapper B.O.B. came out as a literal Flat Earther, as in, someone who literally believes that the earth is a disk, not a sphere.

Having something of a professional interest in bad ideas and the people who hold them, I’ve been poking around in the FlatEarthosphere ever since. Turns out they have a lot in common with the bad-idea-believers that I’ve been writing about daily since I started this blog.

Like the internet’s innumerable antifeminists, the Flat Earthers love making interminably long videos in which they ramble incoherently about their beliefs.

Happily for those of us with shorter attention spans, they also like making memes, many of which are strikingly similar to antifeminist memes not only in their often inept design but in the fundamental dishonesty of many of their “arguments.”

Consider, for example, the way that Flat Earth mememakers have given science dude Neil deGrasse Tyson the Anita Sarkeesian treatment.

The Flat Earthers hate Tyson, who took down B.O.B. and his Flat Earth beliefs on Twitter in a literal mic-dropping moment on the Larry Wilmore show and even by making a cameo in a diss track aimed at the rapper.

While not inundating Tyson with death and rape threats, as far as I know, the Flatties have pored over his past writings and public appearances looking for things they can go after him about — much as Gamergaters did with Sarkeesian.

And, as Gamergaters have done many times with Sarkeesian, the Flatties have taken innocuous remarks from Tyson and misrepresented them so thoroughly that, to them at least, they look like a “gotcha!”

You may recall how Gamergaters seized upon Sarkeesian’s statement that “everything is sexisteverything is racist, everything is homophobic.” The comment, taken out of context from a talk she once gave, became the subject of endless jokes and indignant blog posts and even a music video.

And there were of course memes:

sarksexist1

sarksexist2

Sarkeesian was pretty clearly just pointing out that sexism (and racism, and homophobia) permeate almost every nook and cranny of our culture. Which is true. But Gamergaters assumed (or pretended) that she thought plants and birds and rocks and things were all sexist somehow.

The Flatties have done the same thing with some comments from Tyson on the not-quite-perfectly-spherical shape of the earth.

He gave a slightly longer explanation of this at an event in 2007. It’s not something that he made up; it’s true. The centrifugal force from the rotation of the earth has made the earth ever so slightly chubby. (Why it’s chubbiest slightly south of the equator I don’t quite know.)

Obviously, Tyson isn’t saying that the earth is literally the shape of a pear. He’s saying that it deviates an eensy teensy weensy bit from a perfectly spherical shape. Indeed, in the 2007 event he made clear that the earth is only very very slightly pear-shaped; that “cosmically speaking, we’re a practically a perfect sphere.”

None of this is really very hard to grasp. I’m utterly baffled by dark matter and string theory and most other things that astrophysicists spend their lives pondering, but I understand centrifugal force. Everyone who’s ever been on a merry-go-round understands centrifugal force.

But Tyson said “pear-shaped,” and the Flat Earth mememakers aren’t going to ever let him forget that.

dg1

He ha! He's just like that other black guy named Tyson!
He ha! He’s just like that other black guy named Tyson!

dg3

dg4

dg5

dg6

dg7

Other Flat Earth mememakers find the word “oblate” funnier than “pear.”

Tyson actually answered this question in the very same short talk in which he made the 'pear" remark, but never mind.
Tyson actually answered this question in the very same short talk in which he made the “pear” remark, but never mind.

dg10

There are more Neil deGrasse Tyson pear-shaped-earth memes out there — many many many more.

But I’m not sure anyone will ever be able to top this one.

nicepear

Such is the state of Flat Earth memery today.

And after all this, the Flatties have so little self-awareness that they attack him for making jokes about them.

jokememe

Jeez, Flat Earthers, so sensitive about a joke? Grow a pear.

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dlouwe
dlouwe
5 years ago

the edge of the sun’s light? what? why would it move with me, then?

You’re probably just moving in sync with the sun. Until night.

Or in other words: ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

skybison
skybison
5 years ago

@dlouwe

Burn those heretics! Everyone knows that every word of the Discworld series is literally true and there’s no icewall in there.

That’s why our prophet Terry Pratchett faked his death. He didn’t really have alzheimers, he just faked it to throw THEM off his trail. Soon he will return with a hundred more discworld books and lead us to the Truth.

Karalora
5 years ago

Because the edge is surrounded by a giant ice wall that no human has the ability to go beyond. Temperatures are thought to approach absolute zero as you near the edge, so it’s impossible to explore.

Then why not get as close as they can and send a drone as far as possible beyond that, to take pictures of the ice wall, or at least the conditions that would begin to prevail the closer one gets to the ice wall?

…or is that what they think Antarctica is? The natural consequence of a giant 0K ice wall surrounding the Earth? Even so, a drone should be able to get farther than any human expedition and Skype back some pictures of phenomena that have never been witnessed before.

What I really don’t get, though, is the emotional appeal of Flat Earthism. I can understand why people might prefer creationism to evolution by natural selection. I can even understand why they might prefer geocentrism. But what makes a flat Earth more appealing than a spherical (or oblate, slightly pear-shaped) one?

Ichthyic
Ichthyic
5 years ago

While not inundating Tyson with death and rape threats, as far as I know, the Flatties

In case the obvious has not already been said…

someone SO needs to make a “No Flatties” meme.

skybison
skybison
5 years ago

@ Karalora

Because we brave Chelonists are freedom fighters who will drag the world kicking and screaming into the Century of the Fruitbat! Down with the Omnian empire that secretly controls the world! The Turtle Moves!

Karalora
5 years ago

I should clarify. I understand perfectly well the appeal of a flat world as a fantasy setting, a la Discworld or Narnia or the one I invented a while back that had all kinds of hostile terrain around the edges, not just ice walls. What I don’t get is why anyone would prefer to believe that we literally live on one. Why is that more emotionally satisfying than the truth?

dlouwe
dlouwe
5 years ago

Then why not get as close as they can and send a drone as far as possible beyond that, to take pictures of the ice wall, or at least the conditions that would begin to prevail the closer one gets to the ice wall?

Yeah, I haven’t found a good explanation there. Basically, they can explain away lack of evidence of the edge because it’s impossible to get there. But I haven’t found any explanation of why there’s no evidence of a boundary to what we can explore. Like, I think it would be a pretty big topic if there was a region on earth that naturally approached 0K and we would have a big body of knowledge about that, even if it wasn’t the literal edge of the flat earth.

…or is that what they think Antarctica is?

Some of them do think that’s what Antarctica is, but some think Antarctica is a real continent. That’s a big problem with these sorts of theories: there isn’t a consistent model or belief, because there’s no measurable evidence. It’s basically taking the exact opposite lesson as you should from Russel’s Teapot. Since they can “reasonably” refute any evidence to the contrary with a jumble of ad hoc theories, they take that as positive support of their claim. They sincerely believe in the teapot.

skybison
skybison
5 years ago

@Karalora

I was serious. The appeal I think comes from seeing oneself as the possessor of secret knowledge, the only one smart enough to have figured out the real Truth. A flat earth is as good as anything else for this. It becomes a role playing game of sorts where someone gets to be the brave, rule breaking rebel without having to actually do anything, hence why they’re making memes attacking Tyson instead of going to the Ice Wall.

PS if you don’t mind my asking, there’s a forum called Avatar Spirit for the show Avatar the Last Airbender, and there was a user there also named Karalora back in the day. I was wondering if you were the same person.

Ichthyic
Ichthyic
5 years ago

IIRC, the reason the earth is pear shaped (wider at the southern pole) is because of the tilt of the earth’s axis relative to the sun.

The bottom half of the globe is *slightly* more angled towards the sun as the earth orbits, thus gets a tiny tiny tiny fraction more gravitational pull.

I mean… it’s really really tiny.

but again, I’d have to check that using googlefu.

Ichthyic
Ichthyic
5 years ago

Why is that more emotionally satisfying than the truth?

I think it has more to do with narcissism myself.

I could easily imagine Drumpf spreading this meme, for example.

Ichthyic
Ichthyic
5 years ago

meh… I think I too do not really understand where the pear shape comes from.

the maths go over my head… something about harmonics as the earth spins and the moon goes around it…

The shape of the earth that he is talking about is the geoid, the equipotential surface that more or less corresponds to sea-level. It is usually represented in term of spherical harmonics, the same functions used to model electron orbitals. Each degree n set of harmonics have 2n+1 functions that have the same wavelength but are orthogonal to each other on the sphere (like cos nθ and sin nθ on a line). The 0-degree harmonic (there’s only one) has a magnitude of 6.4×10^6 meters. It represents the mean radius of the earth. The three 1-degree harmonics have a single high and a single low, and represent a shift of the surface with respect to the coordinate system, in the x, y, and z directions. The coordinate system is chosen so that all three 1-degree harmonics have a magnitude of exactly zero.

There are five 2-degree harmonics, four of which are nearly zero. Two of them are associated with an offset of the rotational axis (which causes a wobble that tends to reduce that offset), and two that are associated with a slight “pinching” of the equator, two alternating lows and highs at ninety degrees from each other (this effect is small, but large enough that geostationary satellites tend to feel a tug towards the two equatorial points.) The fifth 2-degree harmonic is the “centrifugal” bulge, a combination of inertial effects of rotation and greater distance from the center of mass. It has a height of 2×10^4 meters at the equator, and a depression at the poles of half that–so, it’s two orders of magnitude smaller than the 0-degree, and hardly noticeable from space.

There are seven 3-degree spherical harmonics, one of which is the so-called “pear-shape”. Not only is the pear-shape two orders of magnitude smaller yet than even the almost unnoticeable 2-degree, there are other 3-degree harmonics that are a bit bigger than it! The pear-shape was the first 3-degree harmonic to be measured, by analyzing the effect of the earth’s gravity field on the orbits of the first artificial satellites in the late fifties, and it caused a stir. A lot of people, geophysicists and non-geophysicists alike, responded to the idea that earth could have such an odd and asymmetrical shape, in even the slightest way. But it is extremely slight, relative to the spherical shape of the earth.

um… yeah.. that.

Sir Bodsworth Rugglesby III
Sir Bodsworth Rugglesby III
5 years ago

Ignore the flat Earth heretics! The Earth is hollow, not flat! John Cleve Symmes Jr was the great thinker, not Tyson or Mr smarty – pants Copernicus!

Hollow, I say!

skybison
skybison
5 years ago

The Earth is Hollow, and we’re on the inside!

http://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Cellular_cosmogony

Kirbywarp
Kirbywarp
5 years ago

There is one big difference between the manosphere memes and the flat earth memes.

I found the sheep one kinda cute. :3

Karalora
5 years ago

PS if you don’t mind my asking, there’s a forum called Avatar Spirit for the show Avatar the Last Airbender, and there was a user there also named Karalora back in the day. I was wondering if you were the same person.

I am. 🙂 The nice thing about a unique nym like mine is that I can use it anywhere. I drifted away from ASN after the show ended. There just wasn’t too much to talk about anymore, and then Legend of Korra underwhelmed me and I never found a reason to go back.

skybison
skybison
5 years ago

^Yeah the communitys kind dead these days, but still it’s cool to see you around again. Small Internet.

I wasn’t a big fan of Legend of Korra either. It started out with some good ideas but the writing quality was never on the same level.

hugseverycat
hugseverycat
5 years ago

I’m willing to join the flat Earth movement if it means I get my own personal sun that follows me around like a celestial spotlight.

Yeah that’s pretty much literally what some of them believe. The sun is a big old flashlight moving around in a circle over the disc of the earth.

http://i.imgur.com/sJddKRe.png

Flat earthers are amazing.

hugseverycat
hugseverycat
5 years ago

There is one big difference between the manosphere memes and the flat earth memes.

I found the sheep one kinda cute. :3

Also, they didn’t use the word “cuck” at all!

Bina
5 years ago

That reminds me of one of my favorite scenes in the Young Wizards series. In the future, anyone who wants to run for public office has to go to the moon and look at Earth for a while, to make sure they understand.

I wish we could do that. It would cure a lot of them of their delusions of grandeur, among other things…

Fabe
Fabe
5 years ago

That reminds me of one of my favorite scenes in the Young Wizards series. In the future, anyone who wants to run for public office has to go to the moon and look at Earth for a while, to make sure they understand.

I wish we could do that. It would cure a lot of them of their delusions of grandeur, among other things…

Ehh they would just say it’s fake and they’re really on a sound stage or something.

Victorious Parasol
Victorious Parasol
5 years ago

@ Fabe

At which point, I’d be tempted to invite them to take a walk outside the observation lounge. I wouldn’t push ’em out there, just give them the freedom to prove themselves wrong.

Buttercup Q. Skullpants
Buttercup Q. Skullpants
5 years ago

@hugseverycat:

The sun is a big old flashlight moving around in a circle over the disc of the earth

Wait, if the sun and the moon are both on the same side of the disc, how do they explain lunar eclipses?

Fabe
Fabe
5 years ago

At which point, I’d be tempted to invite them to take a walk outside the observation lounge. I wouldn’t push ’em out there, just give them the freedom to prove themselves wrong.

And if they did other flat earthers would say you murdered them to prevent them from telling every one else how fake their moon trip was.

LindsayIrene
5 years ago

@ Lkeke35

I don’t know if there are any ScarJo clones, but there’s a robot with a suspicious resemblance.

https://youtu.be/FL_tZxRqIys

Sweet dreams, everybody!

Skiriki
Skiriki
5 years ago

About ScarJo being everywhere: it reminds me of Philip K. Dick’s Upon the Dull Earth story.

Maybe someone should make it into a movie. 😀

Viscaria
Viscaria
5 years ago

@hugseverycat

Yeah that’s pretty much literally what some of them believe. The sun is a big old flashlight moving around in a circle over the disc of the earth.

Well all right then, kiddies, sign me up! Flat Earth… ing(?) is my new thing.

Did you know that gravity don’t real? We’ve all simply caved to social pressure to behave as if gravity were a real thing, but if we forgot about it, it wouldn’t affect us anymore. Evidence of this phenomenon can be found in Road Runner cartoons.

NASA is a fraud organization set up to trick us all into believing the Earth is a different shape than it actually is. At first glance, this deception seems pointless, but if you look deeper you’ll see that NASA pension funds are all wrapped up in Big Gravity. Nobody wants to stop the gravy train.

kupo
kupo
5 years ago

I’m not sure how I feel about this being compared to the treatment GGers dish out. I don’t see any threats of violence, especially not the kind of actionable threats Anita got. There is some racism, though, but it’s not as strong as what I would expect from GG. I dunno, it just feels toothless by comparison.

skybison
skybison
5 years ago

Don’t forget shoe makers. Without gravity we wouldn’t need shoes because we could just float everywhere.

Question: what do flat earthers think will happen if you dig a really, really deep hole?

Catalpa
Catalpa
5 years ago

That’s why our prophet Terry Pratchett faked his death. He didn’t really have alzheimers, he just faked it to throw THEM off his trail. Soon he will return with a hundred more discworld books and lead us to the Truth.

If believing in a flat Earth will bring Sir Terry Pratchett back to us, then I’ll convert on the spot.

Tovius
Tovius
5 years ago

Do these Flaties ever give a reason why there’s a coverup in the first place, or is that simply taken as a given?

skybison
skybison
5 years ago

^ I went to the flat earth societies website and interestingly they don’t claim that scientists or the government are covering up the shape of the earth, but that they are just honestly wrong.

msexceptiontotherule
msexceptiontotherule
5 years ago

@Makroth

I know what they *are*, and I swear that more than one of those pics is of a cat who is seriously contemplating how best to murder humankind. Just look at them! The furrowed brows! The obstinate jutting little chins!

Wrinkly, naked, cat-versions of all the world’s military leaders from the “war room” they are! The only one missing requires black gloves and a very naughty paw it can’t control.

Now I’m going to have trouble falling asleep for fear there’s an evil naked cat-gremlin under my bed waiting to strike, and the beast’s possible resemblance to Churchill.

As if the furred cat variety wasn’t sharp, pointy, murderous and scary enough!

Jo
Jo
5 years ago

@Kupo I take your point, but the Maury image was certainly pretty racist.

Temascos
Temascos
5 years ago

I never understood the Flat Earther ideal, it seems completely pointless. It was actually upsetting for me that my own father, who helped me in my studies and who I see as an intelligent guy, has fallen for this nonsense.

I remember being told by him that I was being brainwashed, and we blew up into a fight over that. He’s been increasingly looking at conspiracy video nonsense over the last few years, such as one related to how the U.K birth register system is appreantly based on navel code which means you’re not actually a citizen or something. It’s weird.

Anyway rant over, that mic dropping video is great. 🙂

Skiriki
Skiriki
5 years ago

Temascos: Holy crap, are you saying that Sovereign Citizen/Freeman on the Land movement has landed to UK as well?

http://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Sovereign_citizen
http://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Freeman_on_the_land

Imaginary Petal
Imaginary Petal
5 years ago

@Buttercup

Wait, if the sun and the moon are both on the same side of the disc, how do they explain lunar eclipses?

comment image

Viscaria
Viscaria
5 years ago

^ I went to the flat earth societies website and interestingly they don’t claim that scientists or the government are covering up the shape of the earth, but that they are just honestly wrong.

No way, really? I really don’t understand how they can rationalize air travel, then. “Pilots are a bunch of stinking liars” is the only explanation that could be consistent with their vision of reality, afaict.

Pie
Pie
5 years ago

Alan Robertshaw:

That last formula is interesting. So we could theoretically have spaceships with artificial gravity for the whole journey?

Yep. There are two problems though.

1: you need ridiculously powerful engines. It isn’t actually possible to build a rocket powerful enough to fly even to alpha centauri using a continuous 1g acceleration; you need magical warp-drives (because of the Tsiolkovsky’s rocket equation, which I won’t go in to here). Even just to go to the moon this way you’d need a nuclear rocket.

2: as you get faster and faster, stuff starts hitting you with unreasonable force. Hydrogen atoms start looking like someone firing some sort of ion cannon at you. Dust grains pack kinetic energy to rival nuclear weapons, and ultimately the cosmic microwave background gets blueshifted into gamma rays, and there’s not much you can do to shield against that.

Alan Robertshaw
Alan Robertshaw
5 years ago

@ viscaria

Pilots are a bunch of stinking liars

Hey, if they’re willing to deliver chemtrails then lying about the true shape of the Earth is small beer.

Alan Robertshaw
Alan Robertshaw
5 years ago

@ pie

Is that the one where you need 100 to 1 fuel/cargo ration, but then fuel becomes cargo and all of a sudden it’s exponential?

It’s a pity about the engineering problems (let alone the physics ones) make interstellar travel so difficult. I do like these proposed micro-craft they’ve been developing though. I was a bit sceptical but then a guy from the company that’s making them pointed out how much smaller commsats have got in 30 years, so I think a 30 year transit to alpha centauri is now pretty plausible.

Karalora
5 years ago

That “no gravity, just constant acceleration” thing might be the weirdest aspect of it all. If you’re going to reject physics’s explanation of gravity, why then appeal to physics for an alternate one? Why not just take downward motion as a given?

katz
5 years ago

I guess once you switch to a paradigm where facts are a matter of politics rather than a matter of, you know, facts, there’s no reason to believe the truth even when it doesn’t threaten your religion or political interests or whatever. You might believe in a flat earth because a friend does, or because it’s aesthetically pleasing to you, or just to be contrarian, or whatever — there’s just no particular reason you should believe the truth once “it’s true” is no longer a factor.

kupo
kupo
5 years ago

@Jo
I acknowledged the racism. It’s still nothing compared to what GG would dish out.

Robert Kelly
5 years ago

What kills me about the review of Homer Badman is that, to me, Homer is presented as pretty reprehensible even before he peels the gummi Venus from Ashley Grant’s butt. The gummi Venus, of course, Homer stole from the convention, seriously injuring (in the exaggerated Simpsons fashion, of course) lots of people.

The irony is that Homer’s subsequent harassment from the protesters and the media is because of something that’s, well, inconsequential to him. Unlike the convention incident, Homer touching Ashley’s butt is a unintentional result of his own ignorance. But it could be karmic balance for Homer’s actions in the first act of the episode, too.

And at the end of the episode, Homer is readily taken in by the very same show that painted him as a violent pervert and even says he didn’t learn a thing. He’s just as bad as he was before his flaying by the media.

If there’s one thing that the episode is condemning, is the yellow journalism that Rock Bottom is such a vicious parody of, and how the media can be made to follow along the narrative of one source that may or may not be wholly on the level.

Robert Kelly
5 years ago

And also, how many of those links are to right-wing or right leaning sites? I definitely recognise reason.com in there.

It kind of seems like Mr. Enter has been taken in by the real life Godfrey Joneses of the internet to me.

Slutty Miss Havisham Penguin briefly known as Nady
Slutty Miss Havisham Penguin briefly known as Nady
5 years ago

@ Skybison

*Looks around suspiciously and whispers* Hey! Hey Skybison! The turtle moves!

History Nerd
History Nerd
5 years ago

@kupo I agree, but I think it’s valid to say MRA’s are at least pretty similar to Young Earth Creationists.

For instance, Warren Farrell did all his graduate work in political science (yes, his Ph.D. dissertation was about feminism as a political movement and getting men to support it, not the sociology or psychology of gender relations). Then he apparently quit political science and got into sexology and the infamous child abuse apologia reseatch. He probably realized the sexology angle wasn’t the best way to defend abusive men and got into “men’s rights” and later the family court abuse denialism stuff (again, despite not being a psychologist or sociologist).

Arctic Ape
Arctic Ape
5 years ago

I understand perfectly well the appeal of a flat world as a fantasy setting, a la Discworld

Well, its not the flatness that makes the Disc cool.

The appeal I think comes from seeing oneself as the possessor of secret knowledge, the only one smart enough to have figured out the real Truth. A flat earth is as good as anything else for this.

Better than almost anything else, perhaps. IIRC, some 19th century intellectuals invoked flat earth as a strawman for what people supposedly believed in the so called dark ages. Then it became a popular joke, with whole clubs of people ironically professing to believe it.

Then those clubs probably were taken over by hardcore contrarian types wanting to truly believe something really unfashionable. The ironic types moved on to newer jokes.

Flat earthism is, unlike most of the more socially exclusive pseudoscience, fairly well known and ridiculed by the mainstream. I figure this ridicule perpetuates a sense of persecution, which perpetuates the belief.

Pandapool -- The Species that Endangers YOU (aka Jackie; currently using they/their, he/his pronouns)
Pandapool -- The Species that Endangers YOU (aka Jackie; currently using they/their, he/his pronouns)
5 years ago

Question: Is the Earth the only flat planet? What about Venus and Mars? Are THEY flat? How does a constantly moving Earth stay within the same solar system or even galaxy? Does everything move all together? How does everything keep moving if their no gravity to pull the planets toward each other? Infact what is keeping the Sun and Moon around the Earth if there’s no gravity to keep them in place? If everything is constantly moving, what about dark matter? Wouldn’t we run into dark matter?

This raises a lot more questions than answers, flat Earthers.

Imaginary Petal
Imaginary Petal
5 years ago

@Jackie

Look, it’s easy. I’ve copied the relevant parts from the Flat Earth wiki:

Rotoundity
Q. If the planets are round, why isn’t the earth?
A. The earth is not a planet.

Size and Magnitude
Q. How big are the planets in the FE model?
A. Pretty small.

Case closed.