Sometimes, you just have to wonder. Are some people serious or are they just kidding around? Take planoterrestrialists, for instance. Rapper B.o.B. tweets and raps, disses astrophysicist who, in turn, disses the rapper. It’s all funny but not funny!

Planoterrestrialist derives from plano – flat, terra – Earth. The belief that Earth is flat – yes, flat! – is called planoterrestrialism and its adherents are planoterrestrialists.

You and I have read and been told from an early stage, in our geography textbooks that Earth is round or, more accurately, an oblate spheroid (slightly squished at the poles and slightly bulging in the equatorial region, like it has just had a fantastic buffet lunch at some wedding!). In general, we know it is not flat as human beings believed at some distant past time in our history.

Astronauts in spacecraft have taken photographs showing the shape of Earth to be anything but a flat disc! And the textbooks during my school days used to have seriously ugly diagrams about how a ship sailing away from an observer would soon appear to go lower and lower and then disappear altogether, only to appear at some distant port where an observer there could verify that the ship had actually arrived. Also, satellites orbiting Earth have shown us that Earth is decidedly not flat.

None of this cuts ice with some folks even in this day and age. They are called … yes, say it now, five times, fast, without mispronouncing it!

They even have a Society to promote their views, discuss the ‘evidence’ they have for their ‘arguments’ and so on. Sometimes it is all a big joke and they are just kidding around. Well, not all of them, not all of the time, not in all ways.


An English writer called Samuel Rowbotham, in the late 19th century (by which time, Earth’s shape was rather well-established), conducted some experiments based on which he wrote a small pamphlet titled Zetetic Astronomy. Later, he developed this into a whole book very mysteriously titled Earth not a globe.

He argued that Earth is a flat disc with the North Pole as its centre. Its outer edge was a wall of ice (Antarctica). The sun and moon were 4,800 km above this disc. He argued that religious sources and our own sense-experiences “supported the idea that the earth was flat and immovable and this essential truth should not be set aside for a system based solely on human conjecture.”

In 1956, another Englishman, Samuel Shenton, established The International Flat Earth Research Society which later was taken over and led by an American in California, Charles Johnson. Johnson said, “Historical accounts and spoken history tell us the Land part may have been square, all in one mass at one time, then as now, the magnetic north being the Center. Vast cataclysmic events and shaking no doubt broke the land apart, divided the Land to be our present continents or islands as they exist today. One thing we know for sure about this world…the known inhabited world is Flat, Level, a Plain World.” He said this in 1984. Yes.


Even now, there actually are planoterrestrialists (PTs) who hold on to their views. Visit their website and read about their viewpoints. This group is trying to persuade Google to have a Google doodle to observe the rising interest in their ‘theory.’ (Google doodle is “a special, temporary alteration of the logo on Google’s homepage that is intended to celebrate holidays, events, achievements and people.”) They wanted to mark it as of 1 January 2016. It has not happened.


Plantoterrestrialst view of Earth’s shape. Antarctica is a large wall of ice surrounding the flat Earth. (Image courtesy: Wikipedia)

It is hard to make out how many of the participants in their online forums are actually serious PTs and how many are there just to “take the mickey” (a British expression meaning that someone is being sarcastic – detailed definition here).

You can visit another ardent PT site that claims to have been “Deprogamming the masses since 1547.” I am not sure what the significance of the year is. If you can find out, let me know. As I read through some of the text on these pages, I still could not be sure whether they were serious or not.

There is another site that “documents the Existence of The International Flat Earth Society.” Here, they say, “This group is not a joke; it is deadly serious and manages to publish some of the most anti-intellectual and vicious (not to mention illiterate) prose I’ve seen in a while.”

Remember Charles Johnson who took over the Flat Earth Society in California? Well, among the many membership benefits that he listed for his Society, there is this about their newsletter: “Each issue contains further proofs of the fact – earth IS flat.”

In this day and age, the facts are well-established. The PT kind of thinking – even if it gets “vicious” – hardly matters. At most, it is amusing to read these viewpoints and their roots. I say this because the PTs take their viewpoints literally and not in some metaphorical way.

Update: a few days before this blog article went up online, a rapper called B.o.B. sang a rap about how Earth is flat and the view that it is a sphere or oblate spheroid is all bunkum. Famous astrophysicist Dr Neil deGrasse Tyson publicly corrected the rapper with scientific argument. B.o.B. “dropped” a rap “dissing” Dr Tyson. Not to be outdone, Dr Tyson came up with his own rap dissing B.o.B. Check it out below.

Meanwhile, you please pay attention to expressions such as “four corners of the world”, “far corners of the globe”, and such!

Avoid them.

(A version of this article appeared in the Deccan Herald Student Edition on 28 January 2016)

Featured image, courtesy: Wikipedia.


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