Using GPS to disprove flat Earth theories

July 9, 2018  - By
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Thoughts on the Spherically Challenged

Did you know Australia doesn’t exist? (Sorry, Aussies.) The entire continent is part of a massive conspiracy designed to confuse you. Anyone who says they’re from Australia is an actor (paid by NASA, probably.) And all the airline pilots are “in on it,” flying people to a carved out section of South America.

The “rationale” (I use the word very lightly) seems to be that Britain just wanted to dump its convicts in the ocean, so made up the continent to tell people where they were taking them.

These and other “theories” spouted by Flat Earthers are akin to falling down a rabbit hole where up is down and round is flat. How can they believe such nonsense?

The 1893 Orlando Ferguson map imagines Antarctica as a wall of ice around the world. (Image: Library of Congress/2011594831)

The 1893 Orlando Ferguson map imagines Antarctica as a wall of ice around the world. (Image: Library of Congress/2011594831)

Last year, the flat Earth idea became national news when rapper B.o.B. used Twitter to jump on the flat Earth bandwagon, even starting a GoFundMe campaign to find Earth’s curve. B.o.B.’s campaign wants to “launch multiple weather balloons and satellites into space” to observe (and try to disprove) what centuries of science and technology have already confirmed. So far, he’s raised less than $7,000 of his $1 million target.

How do Flat Earthers explain GPS? Is there a way to convince them that they’re wrong? Probably not. Anyone who tries is met with an argument that their evidence is faked or faulty. GPS satellites aren’t in space — there’s a “celestial dome” over the Earth. Or the signals are really from giant towers and the G stands for ground. Or Google has laid cables across the oceans to track you.

Astrophysicist Neil DeGrasse Tyson blames the educational system — not for teaching insufficient science subjects so much as needing to improve critical thinking skills. “Our system needs to train you not only what to know, but how to think about information, knowledge and evidence,” he said.

Should we bother to convince Flat Earthers they’re wrong? Some on the internet could be trolls toying with arguments and theories. True believers, however, are an extreme minority, and there will always be people who choose to believe in “alternative facts.” Let’s hope they remain a minority.

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Tracy Cozzens has served as managing editor of GPS World magazine since 2006, and also is editor of GPS World’s sister website, Geospatial Solutions. She has worked in government, for non-profits, and in corporate communications, editing a variety of publications for audiences ranging from federal government contractors to teachers.

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