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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
6 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
6 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
Karalora
6 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
6 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
6 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
Karalora
6 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
6 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
6 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
6 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
6 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
6 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
6 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
6 years ago

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

http://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Cellular_cosmogony

Kirbywarp
Kirbywarp
6 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
Karalora
6 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
6 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
6 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
6 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
6 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
6 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
6 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
6 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
6 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
6 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
6 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. 😀

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