Modern flat Earth societies

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Azimuthal equidistant projections of the sphere like this one have been co-opted as images of the flat Earth model depicting Antarctica as an ice wall[1][2] surrounding a disk-shaped Earth.
A modern model of the Earth's rotation
A modern scientific model of the Earth's rotation, showing the planet as a spherical globe

Modern flat Earth societies consist of individuals who promote the idea that the Earth is flat rather than an oblate spheroid. Such groups date from the middle of the 20th century; some adherents are serious and some are not. Those who are serious are often motivated by pseudoscience or religious literalism.[3]

In the modern era, through the use of social media, flat Earth theories have been increasingly espoused by individuals unaffiliated with larger groups, many of which have members around the globe.[4][5]

Historical context[edit]

Modern flat Earth hypotheses originated with the English writer Samuel Rowbotham (1816–1884). Based on conclusions derived from the Bedford Level experiment, Rowbotham published a pamphlet Zetetic Astronomy. He later expanded into a book Earth Not a Globe, proposing the Earth is a flat disc centered at the North Pole and bounded along its southern edge by a wall of ice, Antarctica, with the Sun and Moon 3,000 miles (4,800 km) and the "cosmos" 3,100 miles (5,000 km) above Earth.[6] He also published a leaflet titled The inconsistency of Modern Astronomy and its Opposition to the Scriptures!!, which argued that the "Bible, alongside our senses, 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"[7] (see Biblical literalism).

Rowbotham and followers like William Carpenter gained attention by successful use of pseudoscience in public debates with leading scientists such as Alfred Russel Wallace.[8][9][10] Rowbotham created a Zetetic Society in England and New York, shipping over a thousand copies of Zetetic Astronomy.[11]

After Rowbotham's death, Lady Elizabeth Blount established a Universal Zetetic Society, whose objective was "the propagation of knowledge related to Natural Cosmogony in confirmation of the Holy Scriptures, based on practical scientific investigation". The society published a magazine, The Earth Not a Globe Review, and remained active well into the early 20th century.[12] A flat Earth journal, Earth: a Monthly Magazine of Sense and Science, was published between 1901–1904, edited by Lady Blount.[13]

International Flat Earth Society[edit]

In 1956, Samuel Shenton created the International Flat Earth Society as a successor to the Universal Zetetic Society, running it as "organizing secretary" from his home in Dover, England.[12][14] Given Shenton's interest in alternative science and technology, the emphasis on religious arguments was less than in the predecessor society.[15] When satellite images showed Earth as a sphere, Shenton remarked: "It's easy to see how a photograph like that could fool the untrained eye".[16]

In 1969, Shenton persuaded Ellis Hillman, a Polytechnic of East London lecturer, to become president of the Flat Earth Society; but there is little evidence of any activity on his part until after Shenton's death, when he added most of Shenton's library to the archives of the Science Fiction Foundation he helped to establish.[17]

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.
-Flyer written by Charles K. Johnson, 1984.[18]

Shenton died in 1971. Charles K. Johnson inherited part of Shenton's library from Shenton's wife, and established and became president of the International Flat Earth Research Society of America and Covenant People's Church in California. Over the next three decades, under his leadership, the Flat Earth Society grew to a reported 3,500 members.[19]

Johnson issued many publications and handled all membership applications. The most famous publication was Flat Earth News, a quarterly, four-page tabloid.[20] Johnson paid for these publications through annual member dues costing US$6 to US$10 over the course of his leadership.[20] Johnson's beliefs were based on the Bible, and he saw scientists as pulling a hoax which would replace religion with science.[19]

The Flat Earth Society's most recent planet model is that humanity lives on a disc, with the North Pole at its center and a 150-foot (45 m) high wall of ice, Antarctica, at the outer edge.[21] The resulting map resembles the symbol of the United Nations, which Johnson used as evidence for his position.[22] In this model, the Sun and Moon are each 32 miles (52 km) in diameter.[23]

Flat Earth Society recruited members by speaking against the U.S. government and all its agencies, particularly NASA. Much of the society's literature in its early days focused on interpreting the Bible to mean that the Earth is flat, although they did try to offer scientific explanations and evidence.[20]

Criticism and decline[edit]

A photograph of the Earth taken from Apollo 17
A photograph of the Earth taken from Apollo 17

Flat Earth societies have long been criticized, due to scientific observations that have disproved and discredited the belief. This includes photographs showing the Earth as a sphere.

Eugenie Scott called the group an example of "extreme Biblical-literalist theology: The earth is flat because the Bible says it is flat, regardless of what science tells us".[24]

According to Charles K. Johnson the membership of the group rose to 3500 under his leadership, but began to decline after a fire at the house of Charles K. Johnson which destroyed all of the records and contacts of members of the Society.[when?] Johnson’s wife, who helped manage the membership database, died shortly thereafter. Johnson himself died on March 19, 2001.[25]

Logo of the 2013 Flat Earth Society


In 2004, Daniel Shenton (not related to Samuel)[26] resurrected the Flat Earth Society, basing it around a web-based discussion forum.[27] This eventually led to the official relaunch of the society in October 2009,[28] and the creation of a new Web site, featuring a public collection of Flat Earth literature and a wiki.[29] Moreover, the society began accepting new members for the first time since 2001, with musician Thomas Dolby becoming the first member to join the newly reconvened society.[30] As of July 2014, over 500 people from all around the world have become members.[31]

In 2013, part of this society broke away to form a new web-based group also featuring a forum and wiki.[32]

Canadian society[edit]

Flat Earth Society of Canada was established on November 8, 1970, by philosopher Leo Ferrari, writer Raymond Fraser and poet Alden Nowlan;[33] and was active until 1984.[34] Their archives are held at the University of New Brunswick.[35]

Calling themselves planoterrestrialists,[36] their aims were quite different from other flat earth societies. They claimed a prevailing problem of the new technological age was the willingness of people to accept theories "on blind faith and to reject the evidence of their own senses."[34] The parodic intention of the Society appeared in the writings of Ferrari, as he attributed everything from gender to racial inequality on the globularist and the Spherical Earth model.[37] Ferrari even claimed to have nearly fallen off "the Edge" of the Earth at Brimstone Head on Fogo Island.[38]

Ferrari was interviewed as an "expert" in the 1990 flat earth mockumentary, In Search of the Edge by Pancake Productions (as in the expression "as flat as a pancake").[39] In the accompanying study guide, Ferrari is outed as a "globularist," a nonce word for someone who believes the earth is spherical.[40] The real intent of the film, which was part-funded by the Ontario Arts Council and National Film Board of Canada,[41] was to promote schoolchildren's critical thinking and media literacy by "[attempting] to prove in convincing fashion, something everyone knew to be false."[42]


Multi-media artist Kay Burns re-created the Flat Earth Society of Canada with her alter ego Iris Taylor as its president.[43] Burns created an installation entitled the Museum of the Flat Earth, which included some artefacts from the 1970 group. It was exhibited in 2016 at the Flat Earth Outpost Café in Shoal Bay, Newfoundland.[35]

In popular culture[edit]

The Flat Earth Society's most recent world model, proposing that humanity lives on a disc, resembles the flag of the United Nations.
  • Richard A. Lupoff's novel Circumpolar! (1984) describes a flat Earth, with a hole at the centre instead of a North Pole, and the underside contains fictional lands such as Atlantis and Lemuria.[44]
  • In 1984, English musician Thomas Dolby released an album called The Flat Earth. This became the name for his fan club and subsequent website forums. Daniel Shenton credited this album as his introduction to the theory, and offered the first membership of the reopened Society. Dolby, while not a believer, accepted.[30]
  • California-based punk rock band Bad Religion include a song titled "Flat Earth Society", by Brett Gurewitz, on their album Against the Grain (1990). A prominent feature of the song is the refrain "lie, lie, lie," indicating a strong denunciation of the society and its theories.[45]
  • In 2013, while discussing the importance of acting on climate change, President Barack Obama said there was no time for "a meeting of the Flat-Earth Society" in reference to climate change deniers.[46]
  • Rapper B.o.B composed a song titled "Flatline", in which he claims the Earth is flat, and promotes other conspiracy theories.[47] He was offered, and accepted, membership in the Flat Earth Society.[48][49]
  • In 2017, former basketball player Shaquille O'Neal claimed on his podcast that the Earth was flat.[50][51] A few days later, he stated that this was a joke: "this world we live in people take things too seriously".[52]

Resurgence in the era of celebrity and social media[edit]

In the modern era, the availability of communications technology and social media like YouTube, Facebook[53] and Twitter have made it easy for individuals, famous[54] and not, to spread disinformation and attract others to their erroneous ideas. One of the topics that has flourished in this environment is that of the Flat-Earth.[4][5][55]

The August 21, 2017 solar eclipse gave rise to numerous YouTube videos purporting to show how the details of the eclipse prove the earth is flat.[56][57] Also in 2017, "the Tunisian and Arab scientific and educational world" had a scandal when a PhD student submitted a thesis "declaring Earth to be flat, unmoving, young (only 13,500 years of age), and the centre of the universe."[58]

See also[edit]

Notes and references[edit]


  1. ^ Schadewald, Robert J "The Flat-out Truth:Earth Orbits? Moon Landings? A Fraud! Says This Prophet" Science Digest July 1980
  2. ^ Schick, Theodore; Lewis Vaughn How to think about weird things: critical thinking for a new age Houghton Mifflin (Mayfield) (October 31, 1995) ISBN 978-1-55934-254-4 p.197
  3. ^ Falkenberg, Steve (2002). "Biblical Literalism". New Reformation. Archived from the original on May 21, 2017. Retrieved 9 November 2012. 
  4. ^ a b AMBROSE, GRAHAM. "These Coloradans say Earth is flat. And gravity’s a hoax. Now, they’re being persecuted.". Denver Post. Retrieved 19 August 2017. 
  5. ^ a b Dure, Beau. "Flat-Earthers are back: 'It’s almost like the beginning of a new religion'". The Guardian. Retrieved 19 August 2017. 
  6. ^ Schick, Theodore; Lewis Vaughn How to think about weird things: critical thinking for a new age Houghton Mifflin (Mayfield) (31 October 1995) ISBN 978-1-55934-254-4 p.197
  7. ^ Garwood 2007, p. 46
  8. ^ Nature April 7, 1870.
  9. ^ "The Form of the Earth—A Shock of Opinions" (PDF). The New York Times. 1871-08-10. Retrieved 2007-11-02. 
  10. ^ Hampden, John (1870): The Bedford Canal swindle detected & exposed. A. Bull, London.
  11. ^ Garwood 2007, p. 133
  12. ^ a b Moore, Patrick (1972). "Better and Flatter Earths" (PDF). Can You Speak Venusian?. ISBN 0-352-39776-4. 
  13. ^ Garwood 2007, pp. 155–159
  14. ^ "On the Level?". New York Times. June 12, 1960. p. 2. (subscription required)
  15. ^ Garwood 2007, pp. 220–225
  16. ^ Schadewald RJ. "Six "Flood" Arguments Creationists can't answer". National Center for Science Education. Retrieved 2010-04-24. 
  17. ^ Garwood 2007, pp. 320
  18. ^ "Documenting the Existence of "The International Flat Earth Society"". Retrieved 26 December 2013. 
  19. ^ a b Martin, Douglas (25 March 2001). "Charles Johnson, 76, Proponent of Flat Earth". New York Times. Retrieved 27 December 2013. 
  20. ^ a b c Schadewald RJ (July 1980). "The Flat-out Truth". Retrieved 2009-06-15. 
  21. ^ Voliva, Wilbur Glenn (Mar 1979). "Is the Earth a Whirling Globe?" (PDF). Flat Earth News. Lancaster, CA: International Flat Earth Research Society. p. 2. 
  22. ^ Johnson, Charles K. (Dec 1978). "Flat Earth News: News of the World's Children" (PDF). Lancaster, CA: International Flat Earth Research Society. p. 2. 
  23. ^ Flat Earth News & Dec 1978, p. 1.
  24. ^ Scott, Eugenie (1997). "Antievolution and Creationism in the United States" (PDF). Annual Review of Anthropology. 26: 263–289. doi:10.1146/annurev.anthro.26.1.263. Retrieved Dec 8, 2011. 
  25. ^ Author(s): John R. Cole, Contributing Editor (2001). "Flat Earth Society President Dies | NCSE". National Center for Science Education. Retrieved 2009-06-15. 
  26. ^ "Miedo a un planeta esférico". 2010-03-19. Retrieved 2012-07-21. 
  27. ^ "The Flat Earth Society forum". Retrieved 2014-07-24. 
  28. ^ "Relaunch of the Flat Earth Society (press release)" (PDF). 
  29. ^ "The Flat Earth Society Homepage". Retrieved 2014-07-24. 
  30. ^ a b Adam, David (February 23, 2010). "The Earth is flat? What planet is he on?". The Guardian. 
  31. ^ "The Flat Earth Society - Membership Register". Retrieved 23 July 2014. 
  32. ^ "The Flat Earth Society". Retrieved 2014-07-14. 
  33. ^ "Leo Charles Ferrari". New Brunswick Literary Encyclopedia. St. Thomas University. Retrieved 16 March 2013. 
  34. ^ a b "Series No. 2 The Flat Earth Society of Canada". Leo C. Ferrari Fonds. UNB Archives and Special Collections. Retrieved 16 March 2013. 
  35. ^ a b Bird, Lindsay (20 May 2016). "Museum of the Flat Earth opens on (where else?) Fogo Island". CBC. Retrieved 8 May 2017. 
  36. ^ "Dr. Ferrari and the Flat Earth Society by Alden Nowlan". Retrieved 2013-02-07. 
  37. ^
  38. ^ Colombo, John R (1984). Canadian Literary Landmarks. Dundurn. p. 19. ISBN 978-0888820730. 
  39. ^ Barrie, Scott (Director); Marsh, Robert (Narrator) (2005). In search of the edge : an inquiry into the shape of the earth and the disappearance of Andrea Barns (DVD). Toronto, Ontario: Pancake Productions. ISBN 9781594582295. OCLC 81094526. 
  40. ^ Barrie, Scott (Director); Marsh, Robert (Narrator) (2005). In search of the edge : an inquiry into the shape of the earth and the disappearance of Andrea Barns (DVD). Toronto, Ontario: Pancake Productions. ISBN 9781594582295. OCLC 810945
  41. ^ Study Guide
  42. ^ "In Search of the Edge An Inquiry into the Shape of the Earth and the Disappearance of Andrea Barns". Bullfrog Films. Retrieved 8 May 2017. 
  43. ^ "Flat Earth Society". Iris Taylor Research. Retrieved 8 May 2017. 
  44. ^ "Circumpolar! (Twin Planets, book 1) by Richard A Lupoff". Retrieved 2013-06-28. 
  45. ^  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  46. ^ O'Brien, Michael (25 June 2013). "Obama: No time for 'flat-earth society' on climate change". NBC News. Retrieved 27 December 2013. 
  47. ^ Ellen Brait. "'I didn't wanna believe it either': Rapper BoB insists the Earth is flat". the Guardian. 
  48. ^ Manon, Tiannon. "Flat Earthers: Dumb, Crazy or Just Free Thinkers?". Open Mic. Retrieved 28 July 2016. 
  49. ^ The Flat Earth Society. "The Flat Earth Society Welcomes B.o.B.". The Flat Earth Society. The Flat Earth Society. Retrieved 29 July 2016. 
  50. ^ Boult, Adam (March 20, 2017). "Shaquille O'Neal: 'The world is flat and satellite imagery is fake'". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 21 March 2017. 
  51. ^ Jones, Rhett (March 19, 2017). "Some Photos of Earth For Shaq, Who Thinks the Earth is Flat". Retrieved 21 March 2017. 
  52. ^ Mandell, Nina (2017-03-24). "No, Shaq does not believe the world is flat: 'I'm joking, you idiots'". Retrieved 2017-03-27. 
  53. ^ Abbott, Erica. "Mark Zuckerberg Banning All Flat Earth Groups from Facebook Is A Hoax". Business2community. Retrieved 19 August 2017. 
  54. ^ HEIGL, ALEX. "The Short List of Famous People Who Think the Earth Is Flat (Yes, Really)". People. 
  55. ^ Herreria, Carla. "Neil deGrasse Tyson Cites Celebrity Flat-Earthers To Make A Point About Politics". Huffington Post. Retrieved 19 August 2017. 
  56. ^ MARTIN, SEAN. "‘The sun hologram needs updating’ THIS is how flat earthers explain the solar eclipse". The Express. Retrieved 19 August 2017. 
  57. ^ HICKEY, BRIAN. "What do flat Earthers think about Monday's solar eclipse?". Philly Voice. Retrieved 19 August 2017. 
  58. ^ Guessoum, Nidhal. "PhD thesis: The earth is flat". Gulf News. Retrieved 19 August 2017. 


Further reading[edit]

  • Raymond Fraser (2007). When The Earth Was Flat: Remembering Leonard Cohen, Alden Nowlan, the Flat Earth Society, the King James monarchy hoax, the Montreal Story Tellers and other curious matters. Black Moss Press, ISBN 978-0-88753-439-3
  • Christine Garwood (2007) Flat Earth: The History of an Infamous Idea, Pan Books, ISBN 1-4050-4702-X

External links[edit]