President Obama made news the other day, when he called green energy skeptics “founding members of the Flat Earth Society.”
But as Talking Points Memo notes, in his 1995 book “Dinosaur In a Haystack,” the late Harvard paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould wrote:
There never was a period of “ﬂat earth darkness” among scholars (regardless of how many uneducated people may have conceptualized our planet both then and now). Greek knowledge of sphericity never faded, and all major medieval scholars accepted the earth’s roundness as an established fact of cosmology.
This point was confirmed to me recently by Dr. James Hannam, who noted: “As far as we know, in the middle ages proper, there was nobody who thought that the world was flat.” As evidence, Hannam noted that, “When a medieval king was crowned…they’re handed an orb as the symbol of their secular power — of their power on earth.”
“If people had thought the earth was flat then that would have been a really, completely pointless piece of symbolism, and they should have handed them a dinner plate, instead,” he joked.
So where did the notion come from? Hannam attributes the canard to Sir Francis Bacon, who wrote a book falsely claiming the Catholic church had previously put people on trial for saying the earth is a sphere.
In addition to the flat earth thing, Obama was also criticized for telling a likely apocryphal story about Rutherford B. Hayes.
As TPM noted, “for an address specifically going after his opponents for their ignorance, it’s probably not great to have a “citation needed” banner on top of his speech.”