Why do 3.1 Million Americans Believe in the Flat-Earth Theory?

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Leonid Nevezhin

“The one thing that I thought we all could agree on, was that the earth was round,” says Dylan Dubeau, creator of Inside a Flat Earth Conference. He’s right. With so many issues—including those that seem to have an obvious answer—becoming unclear, it’s unbelievable to see something as seemingly apparent as the shape of our Earth become a debate. In fact, official statistics report that over 3 million Americans believe that the Earth is flat, despite scientific evidence repeatedly disputing this claim. 

Civilization first hypothesized the notion of a spherical Earth during the 5th century BC, when it is mentioned in the writings of Greek philosophers. The hypothesis was proven by Hellenistic astronomy in the 3rd century BC when the Earth’s circumference was calculated for the first time. In the 17th century, that statement was edited to describe the Earth as an “ellipsoid” by Isaac Newton, and its flattening was recalculated most accurately in the 1960s. Most recently, space imaging has contributed to photographic evidence of the Earth’s spherical shape, originating with the first photo of the Earth in 1972, depicting it as a perfect sphere. 

So why then, if the fact has been so well-established for thousands of years, are believers stuck on the Mesopotamian-era belief of a flat earth? Well firstly, I’m happy to report that according to a 2017 national survey, only 1% of Americans believe that the Earth was flat and an additional 6% indicated they were uncertain. Therefore, it’s not a large population of Americans, but still an approximate 3.1 million people. 

Surprisingly, the answer does not lie in political affiliation. There was no evidence to show that this stance is politically motivated. The difference between Trump, Clinton, and third-party voters fell within the poll’s 3.2% margin of error.

However, there are two theories that can be posed for these approximate 3.1 million United States citizens. 

Some of the believers could be accounted for by the popularity of flat earth-related satire that became popular on the internet in 2017, sparked primarily by celebrities who began to believe in the theory and the media capitalizing on a basic human intrigue in mystery. Soon, the discussion hit social media, where satirical and serious discussion mixed, re-invigorating the movement. After reaching peak popularity, these discussions became the center of attention for further articles and conversation, eventually catapulting “flat earth” to become one of the most searched terms according to Google Trends, peaking at #1 in November of 2017. 

Furthermore, a short documentary by Dylan Dubeau Inside a Flat Earth Conference can provide rather unique insight into its origins. In November of 2018, Dylan attended the second annual Flat Earth Conference, interviewing presenters, members, and advocates of the theory. He concluded that believers hold an unusual perspective; if the Earth were spherical, it would mean that there is a scientific explanation behind it: The Big Bang Theory. However, this would further imply that there is no God. They hold true that if the Earth were flat, then it would have no sound scientific explanation – meaning that the only way Earth could be created was through the powerful creator that placed humans in the center of it. It’s an interesting approach, one that not many of sphere-earthers consider. 

Therefore, these 3.1 million people who indicated their support of the Flat-Earth Theory were either individuals who did so sarcastically, inspired by social media discussions, or very religious individuals who have a unique belief in the creation of our world. 

Regardless, the Flat Earth movement is quite an interesting conspiracy theory within our country. Not only has it gained traction for its mysterious yet reasonably scientific and sound thinking, but it ties into a broader debate between religion and science that’s been plaguing societal thought and nature for thousands of years.