Avoiding the Flat Earth Society
In May 2017, Kyrie Irving, a well known NBA superstar said that he believes the Earth is flat. He stated on the podcast Road Trippin’ his beliefs, below:
Since he came out with this statement, many other professional athletes have joined the argument that the earth, is indeed, flat. These include Shaquille O’Neal, Draymond Green, and unfortunately for us Clemson folk, our beloved Sammy Watkins.
So, we do not need to get into why the Earth, is in fact, round, because I am trusting my readers have that knowledge. We have plenty of evidence to support that the Earth is round, such as photographic evidence, the presence of shadows on other planets, the uneven distribution of light in the world, and plenty of others.
However, despite all this evidence to contradict these famous figures, there is a real problem with them making these statements. These famous athletes have a big microphone, and a lot of influence. Not only are they good at their sport, they have pretty decent school experience. Kyrie Irving attended Duke; Sammy Watkins attended Clemson; Draymond Green graduated from Michigan State; and Shaquille O’Neal has a Ph.D. from Barry University and got his undergraduate from LSU. These are ‘educated’ men, and the fact that guys who attended some college are saying that the Earth is flat, along with their star status provides “validity” to their statements.
After these statements, many people started doubting the validity of Earth’s roundness:
Views of videos on Youtube on “The Earth really is flat” and other similar titles have more than 500,000 views. It trended on Twitter and other social media. This is a great example of unreliable information getting out into the world, and potentially influencing our students. Some of the world started thinking that the world may actually be flat, and that science is conspiring agains them. It is important that we as science teachers try to counteract these ideas, using the importance of providing evidence and unbiased experiments.
It is important that we teach our students to think scientifically. The process of thinking like a scientist is what defines scientific literacy for me. Plaut sums up the role of real-world scientists very well. They observe the world, try to make sense of it by considering what they already know, ask questions, seek to interpret evidence, discuss their ideas and hypotheses with peers, write to explore new understandings, and read to compare their ideas with other scientists (Plaut, p. 83).
We need to bring these practices in our classroom. Instead of just reading everything as fact, it is important we let students question our ideas…. and then provide evidence for the new questioning. Analyzing scientific and other text with a scientific frame of thought is a great way to analyze the content. What do students know about this in their world? What do they observe? What questions do we have about it? What evidence is out there? What does the evidence say? What do my peers think? What should I communicate to the world? If we can encourage this scientific, data, fact driven thought, we can avoid a lot of misconceptions in this world.
I would not argue that Kyrie and company are wrong in questioning that the earth is round. It is a great thing to encourage questioning things that have always been thought as fact. However, it is important to go to the next step- exploring that thought- before communicating it to the public for misconstruction, especially at a position of power. Scientific literacy is thinking through the problem by questioning, then exploring and collecting evidence, and communicating results with limited bias. If we can pass this onto our students, we will truly be creating a culture of thinking in our next generation.
It is worth noting that in the months since this story, Kyrie, Shaq, and Draymond have all reversed their flat Earth sentiments, and said they were trying to get a media rise and see how far the ‘fake news’ would spread. Unfortunately, Sammy Watkins has not reversed his sentiments.
Irving, K. (2017, February 17). [Interview]. In Road Trippin’ Podcast.
Plaut, S. (2009). The right to literacy in secondary schools: creating a culture of thinking. New York: Teachers College Press.
Sports Nation: Is Kyrie Irving right about Flat Earth? [Video file]. (2017). ESPN. Retrieved from youtube.com
Harris, S. (n.d.). Then a Miracle Occurs… [Cartoon]. In Science Cartoons Plus.