Who wants to break the news to them?

I consider this a clear case of pathological skepticism. Or perhaps more charitably, naive skepticism. A professional 747 pilot has set up a kickstarter to charter a passenger jet to fly from Rio de Janeiro to Perth, passing over Antarctica, to prove to flat-earthers that the Earth is spherically, or at least, that Antarctica isn’t an ice wall surrounding the rim of a disc-shaped earth. Why would you think that this, on top of all the far easier to obtain evidence, is the final clincher to convince a tiny group of delusional ranters that they are wrong?

It’s going to cost $1.5 million dollars to book this 16 hour flight, and it’s all supposedly for the benefit of educating flat earthers. Buy them a good introductory physics book instead. It’s less flashy, but probably more likely to work, given that this isn’t going to work at all.

Skeptics ought to be familiar with studies of the end-of-the-world cults, in which a prophet predicts armageddon or the rapture or some such nonsense to occur on a specific date, and the cultists gather and pray and wait and…nothing happens. It turns out that they don’t instantly drop their beliefs, which were socially expensive to acquire — getting ostracized by the out-group hurts — and which gave them the benefit of being valued by the in-group. Instead, they rationalized (that is, made excuses) and believed even more firmly. The flat-earthers are also a gang of conspiracy theorists who will invent various subterfuges that were made to undermine the truth by the pilot, who is obviously part of the plot.

It’s apparent that the flat-earthers don’t believe in their delusion because they’ve used science, so why would you imagine science would get them to think otherwise? Also, even a glance at most flat-earth literature will reveal that it’s all paranoid religious gobbledy-gook, and they aren’t going to be dissuaded by an airplane ride.

There is a documentary, Behind the Curve, about these fanatics. They are repeatedly shown evidence that demonstrate they are wrong, and they even design their own experiments to prove the earth is flat which consistently fail. They don’t change their minds. This is more of the same, only with a $1.5 million price tag, and it’s going to be another exercise in futility.


  1. larrylyons says

    These people are true believers. That flight won’t convince them, they have too much invested in their beliefs. The thing about True Believers is that they will hold onto their precious beliefs no matter what. Unfortunately, when confronted by objective, credible and verifiable evidence that contradicts their cherished beliefs, True Believers dig in deeper and believe even stronger. What should be evident from the research on this phenomenon is you can never successfully refute an argument online. When you start to pull out facts and figures, hyperlinks and quotes, you are actually making the True Believer feel as though they are even more sure of their position than before you started the debate. In a pessimistic sense, this makes most refutations useless. http://youarenotsosmart.com/2011/06/10/the-backfire-effect/#more-1218

  2. eternalstudent says

    Kelsey is one of the top YouTubers in the aviation arena. The $1.5mil includes hiring a professional film crew to document the flight. Convincing anyone is almost besides the point. Either (a) they don’t raise the money in which case Kelsey can say the flat earthers are afraid to put their money where their mouth is, or (b) he gets a whole pile of professionally-produced content for his channel paid for by the flat earthers. Win-win.

  3. eternalstudent says

    I should add that this challenge is in response to a bunch of flat-earth youtubers claiming there is a specific plane flight that is impossible because the earth is flat. Some mentioned Kelsey by name. This is that flight.

  4. birgerjohansson says

    There are related sub-species across the world: Brexit believers, Trumpwonistas, Wokesarenazis-ers et cetera. But the biggest group of all is the Theytookourjobs sub-species, found in great numbers in South Park and wherever rednecks and Brit gammons hang out.

  5. birgerjohansson says

    Yesterday, the Ukrainans captured a forward supply depot with 200 millions* worth of missiles and hardware – a result of the Russians avoiding supply problems like at Kiev by bringing the stuff up front. The downside of this remedy is now obvious.
    And now they have hit a command post, claiming to have killed two Russian generals – one of them identified by name.
    This is what happens when a guy the Republicans like is put in charge of a huge military machine.
    * I do not recall which currency.

  6. says

    I watched a documentary, I think on Netflix, about flat-earthers. Rather I should say I watched part of it; I couldn’t handle the stupid for more than a few minutes. There is an extreme Dunning-Kruger effect at work here–these people actually think they’ve figured something out that proves the earth must be flat.
    One guy was standing on the shore of a lake, Lake Washington by the looks of things, looking across the water at the Seattle skyline maybe 5-6 miles away. He “explained” how you wouldn’t be able to see things like that over the curve of the earth, even got down in the sand and drew a semicircle and a line and showed how distant objects would not be in the line of sight. He was absolutely convinced he had a logically irrefutable argument that proved the earth could not be round. The failure of his thinking with regards to scale was astounding.
    I don’t think a video of a plane flight is going to change these people’s minds.

  7. kenbakermn says

    I’ve had conversations with a few flat-earthers, read some of their stuff, and overheard conversations between FE’ers and reasonable people. If you listen carefully to their refutations of evidence contrary to their beliefs, every time without a single exception their argument ultimately reduces to a simple “nuh-uh”.

  8. David Richardson says

    Look, it’s easy. If the earth really was flat, cats would have pushed everything over the edge a long time ago …

  9. says

    My mom’s half of the family was Jehovah’s Witness. I got dragged into a kingdom hall by my uncle when I was about 10. All they do is talk about the end of the world like it’s happening tomorrow. I was super creeped out.
    The survivors from that half of the family are no longer in that church. Turns out, being in a death cult is unhealthy.

    Well That’s my experience with a death cult in a nutshell.

  10. raven says

    Completely OT but news you should know. FML.

    Some troll is threatening to kill me. Again.
    To be sure, it is me and a few tens of millions of my friends. Nuclear wars tend not to be highly specific.
    It’s not a completely baseless threat because the troll does have 6,000 nuclear weapons.

    The Daily Beast: Attacks Begin in New Country as Russia Warns Nuclear Threat Is ‘Real’

    It appears that Russia is also going to invade Moldova.
    Within hours of his remarks, explosions were heard inside the sovereign borders of Moldova.
    Moldova is small at 2.8 million people and the second poorest country in Europe. They won’t last more than a few days.

  11. Akira MacKenzie says

    God Awful Movies covered a few of the more popular flat-head “documentaries” (i.e. Flat-Earth Clues and recently Level). They found that there is usually a very hard-core Christian streak running through their arguments. They point to the Hebrew cosmology of the Bible as evidence and, live evolution, they declare the idea that the planet is an oblate spheroid to be a effort by atheist scientists to convince us that we are “meaningless monkey-men.”

  12. larpar says

    Are the tickets free*? If they are, the Earth is flat.

    *Also including transport from home.

  13. cates says

    The End of the World

    From ‘ Beyond The Fringe’ (1961).
    The cast: Peter Cook, Jonathan Miller, Dudley Moore and Alan Bennett. They are seated, huddled, on the top of a mountain…

    Jon :
    How will it be, this end of which you have spoken, Brother Enim?
    Yes, how will it be?
    Peter :
    Well, it will be, as ’twere a mighty rending in the sky, you see, and the mountains shall sink, you see, and the valleys shall rise, you see, and great shall be the tumult thereof.
    Jon :
    Will the veil of the temple be rent in twain?
    Peter :
    The veil of the temple will be rent in twain about two minutes before we see the sign of the manifest flying beast-head in the sky.
    Alan :
    And will there be a mighty wind, Brother Enim?
    Peter :
    Certainly there will be a mighty wind, if the word of God is anything to go by…
    Dudley :
    And will this wind be so mighty as to lay low the mountains of the earth?
    Peter :
    No – it will not be quite as mighty as that – that is why we have come up on the mountain, you stupid nit – to be safe from it. Up here on the mountain we shall be safe – safe as houses.
    Alan :
    And what will happen to the houses?
    Peter :
    Well, naturally, the houses will be swept away and the tents of the ungodly with them, and they will all be consuméd by the power of the heavens and on earth – and serve them right!
    Alan :
    And shall we be consumed?
    Peter :
    Con..sum..éd? No, we shall not be consuméd – we shall be up on the mountain here, you see, while millions burn, having a bit of a giggle.
    Jon :
    When will it be, this end of which you have spoken?
    Omnes :
    Aye, when will it be – when will it be?
    Peter :
    In about thirty seconds time, according to the ancient pyramidic scrolls… and my Ingersoll watch.
    Jon :
    Shall we compose ourselves, then?
    Peter :
    Good plan, Brother Pithy. Prepare for the End of the World! Fifteen seconds…
    Alan :
    Have we got the tinned food?
    Dudley :
    Peter :
    Ten seconds…
    Jon :
    And the tin-opener?
    Dudley :
    Peter :
    Five – four – three – two – one – Zero!
    Omnes :
    (Chanting) Now is the end – Perish The World!

    A pause

    Peter :
    It was GMT, wasn’t it?
    Jon :
    Peter :
    Well, it’s not quite the conflagration I’d been banking on. Never mind, lads, same time tomorrow… we must get a winner one day.

  14. robro says

    raven @ #10 — Not too far off topic since the menacing troll that wants to kill us seems to be a true-believer as are some of his important supporters, like Patriarch Kirill of Moscow. I’ve wondered how much Putin and Kirill ascribe to apocalyptic thinking.

  15. submoron says

    As you say, there’s no point trying to convince them. Alfred Russell Wallace wasted time and money trying to do that.
    cates@ 13. One of my favourite sketches from that group. Do you know ‘Gospel Truth’ where Matthew from The Bethlehem Star interviews A. Shepherd? Far more offensive than much of The Life of Brian.

  16. Rob Curtis says

    I watched Behind the Curve.
    two experiments performed by flat earthers in the movie actually gave evidence against a flat earth.
    made me chuckle.

    one used a ring laser gyroscope and found a 15 degree per hour “drift” in the signal. mysterious!

    another tried showing that a laser on shore, aimed at a target on a boat a long way off on a calm lake, would strike the target at the same height as the laser on shore. nope. they had to raise the target up, demonstrating the boat was partially below the horizon.

  17. birgerjohansson says

    Akira MacKenzie @ 11
    Yes, I listened to those podcasts and occasionally go back to them, like a fan watching the Monthy Python episodes until he can the dialogue by heart.
    Michael Marshall from UK is brilliant.
    -Another weird documentary triggered the comment “No, water does not get sad if you yell at it!”
    A closely related set of concepts can be found in the episode about the film
    “The Day When sun rises in the west; Film That shock the world” (I left in the grammar errors).
    In islam, it is believed the start of the end times will be signalled by the sun rising in the west.
    The protagonists also discuss that the koran says the mountains prevent earthquakes; there are supposed to be earthquakes at the end of days so obviously the mountains will collapse first. And the sun is supposed to come closer to the Earth.
    Since Noah, Heath and Eli know their geology and astronomy they had a lot of fun when unpacking the film.
    Also, did you know it is not aliens that are abducting people? It is demons, masquerading as aliens. Yup, there is a documentary about that, too.
    -There is a film about the people who think you can absorb the sun’s energy directly by staring at it, that way they do not need to eat.

  18. JM says

    Some flat earthers think plane flights are all faked anyways. The windows are video screens that show what the conspiracy needs them to show. This is because on their flat earth model planes are often flying shorter trips so they think planes are doing big loops in the air to delay.

    This sort of thing isn’t done to convince the hard core. It is done to convince the people considering the idea. The ones that have watched a few videos on Youtube and read a few message boards but are not convinced yet. You show them that the core flat earthers are religious fanatics or conspiracy theorists or otherwise way off base.

  19. birgerjohansson says

    It is the Elder Things that are bending reality so the world looks spherical.
    Except the region near Valinor, that is the maiar.

  20. ethicsgradient says

    A physics textbook won’t help (even if it does cover the earth being a globe, which it might not), because, as you say, “It’s apparent that the flat-earthers don’t believe in their delusion because they’ve used science, so why would you imagine science would get them to think otherwise? ”

    I think that, since there really is paranoia involved, one possible way could be to appeal to what millions of everyday people in the southern hemisphere see every night, and regard as normal – a southern pole around which the stars circle. This is so normal that several countries put the Southern Cross on their flags. The citizens of these countries would notice if the idea of their flag was built on a lie about what they see daily. And if the flat-earthers have never approached the equator from their home in the north, you’re still appealing to the common sense of millions in the southern hemisphere.

    And this is roughly how the Earth being a sphere got accepted – by noticing how the movement of the stars (or the Sun) changes as you go south or north. You can’t get two poles out of a flat earth. Experiments with views from mountains, across lakes and so on need careful measurement. This is just “look up”.

    If they’re so paranoid that they think the millions of southern hemisphere inhabitants are all part of the conspiracy, there’s no hope for them.

  21. Evil Dave says

    The Rio de Janeiro to Perth path would be kind of sad, as the great circle path just grazes Antarctica at Enderby Land.
    Going from Rio to Adelaide would be far more impressive, spending much more time over Antarctica and passing near the South Pole itself.

  22. says

    I don’t remember where I heard it first, but it humorously points our how silly some of the millions of delusional crackpots running around today are:
    ‘the earth is not flat, it’s round, like a pizza’

  23. answersingenitals says

    I always wonder why anyone would want to dissuade flat-earthers of their delusion. These people almost always maintain a quiver of preposterous beliefs, including religious ones, and when they spout their flat earth nonsense that just exposes their limitless credulity for the ridiculous and raises skepticism for anything else they espouse.

  24. DanDare says

    My mantra? Always remember the audience.
    There may be people on the edges with a trajectory inwards to madness who see this and do change their mind. The people in the middle may be immovable but the discussion with them may help highlight their madness to the audience of madness candidates.
    Its why abusers try to isolate their victims, so they don’t have a way out or even knowledge of one.

  25. unclefrogy says

    that sounds like a fun flight to me the “original” one sounds good as well. the day to do it would be on the equinox of course timed so as to clearly pass through the shadow I would love to go.
    Even if you took them past the equator the paranoia would kick in and make them think it was the “the devil” twisting things to fool them or some other nonsense to protect themselves and their beliefs

  26. vereverum says

    William Carpenter’s 100 Proofs the Earth is not a Globe, from about 1900, is available from librivox org and gutenberg org. Most of the points of the modern flat earthers are probably from here whether admitted or not.

  27. whheydt says

    The first person to sail, solo, around the world was Joshua Slocum. (He wrote a book about it.) When he stopped in South Africa, he was invited to visit the then-president of the Transvaal Republic, Oom Paul Kruger. There was some concern about having them talk as Kruger was a flat-earther. (Slocum was an experienced commercial ship captain. He’d been around more than once that way. One of his more famous exploits was coming into anchor at Hong Kong by sailing a full-rigged ship between two anchored ships of the Royal Navy, clearing on by 18 inches and the other by 24 inches at the same time. He apologized the to squadron commander later for not having fired a salute on the way by.)

  28. birgerjohansson says

    Are there still people that think the Arctic has an entrance to the lands inside the hollow Earth? It was a popular belief among some nazis (by which I mean classic nazis) so their contemporary analogs might share that particular delusion.

  29. whheydt says

    Re: birgerjohansson @ #33..
    Edgar Rice Burroughs used that idea (plus a dirigible that used vacuum for lift!) in one of his Tarzan books. But, then, he knew he was writing fiction.

  30. Matt Cramp says

    Dan Olson’s documentary about flat-earthers agrees that at its heart, there’s a deep anger about the sidelining of Christianity as a sole source of truth. He does also point out that flat earth has peaked, that it was largely driven by a maliciously designed YouTube algorithm and now it doesn’t let people go down flat earth rabbit holes, and most new flat earth videos are getting tiny view counts.

    He unfortunately points out this is probably because they’ve all gone to QAnon.

  31. says

    The failure of his thinking with regards to scale was astounding.

    I think that’s a major component of such backward beliefs: the simple inability of many people to grasp how big things like the Earth (let alone a solar system!) really are. I also notice this in the conspiracy-theories the same people make up to explain all the evidence against their beliefs: they seem to have no clue as to how many people are needed to knowingly and actively participate in any such conspiracy for it to have any chance of working. Like, do they really have any idea what it would take for ALL COUNTRIES’ NAVIES to blockade the edge of the Earth to keep people from seeing it, or thinking something serious was being hidden?

  32. skybluskyblue says

    No one here has mentioned the video by Folding Ideas? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JTfhYyTuT44

    In Search of Flat Earth agrees with all of you.
    As usual it a very thoughtful video that eventually gets to the idea that “Their will is a hammer that they are using to beat reality itself into a shape of their choosing, a simple world where reality is exactly what it looks like through their eyes,
    devoid of complexity, devoid of change, where they are right and their enemies are silent.They are trying to build a Flat Earth.”

  33. Owlmirror says

    another tried showing that a laser on shore, aimed at a target on a boat a long way off on a calm lake, would strike the target at the same height as the laser on shore. nope. they had to raise the target up, demonstrating the boat was partially below the horizon.

    I’m guessing that they were about a mile away, and the target had to be raised about 8 inches?

    In Isaac Asimov’s essay on the topic, he has a useful summation of the curvature:

    The curvature of such a sphere is about 0.000126 per mile, a quantity very close to 0 per mile, as you can see, and one not easily measured by the techniques at the disposal of the ancients. The tiny difference between 0 and 0.000126 accounts for the fact that it took so long to pass from the flat earth to the spherical earth.

    [ . . . ]

    To put it another way, on a flat surface, curvature is 0 per mile everywhere. On the earth’s spherical surface, curvature is 0.000126 per mile everywhere (or 8 inches per mile). On the earth’s oblate spheroidal surface, the curvature varies from 7.973 inches to the mile to 8.027 inches to the mile.

  34. Owlmirror says

    Some flat earthers think plane flights are all faked anyways. The windows are video screens that show what the conspiracy needs them to show. This is because on their flat earth model planes are often flying shorter trips so they think planes are doing big loops in the air to delay.

    But what do they think is happening when the Flat Earth path would be longer than the actual great circle route? Regardless of what the windows show, the plane will take off, fly, and land, in less time (sometimes far less time) than it “should”.

    This puts me in mind of a possible economic argument against Flat Earth: I cannot believe that airlines would spend time and fuel and equipment (all those screens on the windows!) just to support the conspiracy, rather than have, y’know, accurate maps.

  35. Rob Grigjanis says

    Owlmirror @39: Asimov wrote:

    The tiny difference between 0 and 0.000126 accounts for the fact that it took so long to pass from the flat earth to the spherical earth.

    ‘tiny’ doesn’t always manifest as tiny. On a clear day, I could see the land across Lake Ontario from my apartment on a hill in Toronto. If I walked down to the beach, I could no longer see the land across the lake. I’m sure many ancients (certainly the littoral and island Greeks) noticed this sort of thing. It may be more accurate to say that it took a long time for people to have the leisure to think about what that observation meant.

  36. tuatara says

    Rob @ 41.
    I completely agree that people will have noticed this phenomena long before Eratosthenes devised a method for measuring the circumference of the Earth. I would contend though that it was not the leisure to think about it that they lacked. It was rather a reason to do so. Many of our ancient ancestors had a great deal of “free” time to hand compared to us. In fact here in Australia many of the first peoples spent only two to three hours each day gathering and processing food, leaving most of their time for cultural persuits.

    On a tangent, here in Australia, among the Yolngu in Arnhem Land, there is an ancestral mythology that tells of the yidaki or what is commonly known as a didjeridu. These people say that they have been using the instrument for tens of thousands of years. But as far as science is concerned, there is only anecdotal evidence of this and the firm evidence dates to about 1200 years ago. This evidence is in the form of datable rock art.
    It is, to me, akin to thinking that because we have only anecdotal evidence we must conclude that human verbal language did not exist prior to the oldest written evidence of language. I think this is not the correct approach for subjects such as these where the truth is lost to time.

    Some Aboriginal groups alledgedly had a spherical or at least egg-shaped earth in their cosmology. That is not, I know, necessarily evidence for a knowledge of a spherical earth.

    Polynesian ocean navigators knew of latitude and used seasonal azimuth stars as latitude markers. They would have been lost at sea without an intuited sperical earth.

    Flat earthism seems to actually be from a recent European culture war between religious adversaries, namely protestant v catholic. It seems only natural therefore that the most strident flat earthers would still be xians.