Only 2/3 of American Millennials believe that the Earth is round

April 8, 2018 • 1:45 pm

UPDATE: Reader Brian called my attention to an NPR article reporting that young people are much more likely to lie on polls than are their elders; perhaps that explains the result below. As he noted, “This does not explain the link between religion and flat earth that you observed, which is definitely interesting, but this may very well make us skeptical of the results of such polls.  I do not believe that this ‘mischievous responder; phenomenon will explain all of the recent rise in flat-earth conspiracy belief, but I at least hope this accounts for some of it.”


A first I thought this was an April Fools joke, but the date didn’t comport, and it was reported reported by CBS News, ” which led me to the YouGov poll site. CBS reports a sample size of 8,215 Americans.  The first graph shows the results for the entire sample, showing that only 84% of them have always believed in a round (well, “spherical” is more accurate) Earth, with 9% having some doubts or being flat-Earthers. 7% aren’t sure!  Don’t they know the data?

When you divide it up by age, the youngest group, 18-24 years of age, show only 2/3 accepting the world is round, with 18% having some doubts (or being flat-Earthers) and 16% being sure. The proportion of round-Earthers rises with age, with fully 94% of those over 55 saying they’ve always believed the world is round. What are they teaching the kids in school these days? Or haven’t they looked at the photos from space?

As one might expect, flat-Earthers tend to be more religious than “evidentialists”. After all, if you believe in the delusions of faith, you can believe anything. Since the YouGov supplementary page shows that there is a flat-earth control, these people are probably those who have always believe in Pancake Earth, though it’s not clear which of the four groups are included. It’s interesting that in the total sample, 42% of Americans consider themselves either “not very religious” or “not religious at all.”

h/t: Wendell


112 thoughts on “Only 2/3 of American Millennials believe that the Earth is round

    1. It’s actually very slightly pear-shaped, as astronomers discovered in the early 1960s by tracking the orbits of artificial satellites. The pioneer of this type of analysis was Desmond King-Hele of the Royal Aircraft Establishment, Farnborough.

    2. And the Egyptian “pyramids” are actually pyramidoidal. The Great Pyramid should be called the Great Pyramidoidal, or the Pyramidoidal of Khufu.

      They’re not perfect pyramids, you know.

      Glen Davidson

      1. True. This is because it’s flattened out a little more in the southern hemisphere, because of the shape of the turtle’s back upon which it sits.

  1. It seems to be one more bit of evidence to show we do get smarter with age. I say that with great caution, however, because there remains a large number of old people who bring us the likes of Trump. Even more evidence of exactly the opposite. I rest my case.

  2. Don’t get overheated about this. There are real issues here but a lot has happened in our school curricula. To make room for “new” material, old material is jettisoned. My parents learned “casting out 9’s” in math, I did not. Every generation has new stuff to learn. I didn’t even see a computer until I had graduated from high school, let alone learn to program or use one. (I learned BASIC programming on a teletype machine attached to a “minicomputer” the size of a four-drawer file cabinet.)

    In school, I learned that the Earth was round in the context of the story of Christopher Columbus’s “discovery” of the new world. (They left out the enslavement and abuse of the Native Americans … probably didn’t have room for that or didn’t want to offend any Italians, etc.)

    Because I was a science-type that information was reinforced. But if you eschewed science it could easily have been lost and many people do not waste time thinking about unimportant stuff.

    The existence of time zones, tells you the world is spherical, but not if you don’t think about it. You can see on TV that it is dark in New York for a baseball game but light in California where people are watching the game. This tells you that it is dark in some places while it is light in others which cannot be the case if the earth is flat, but not if you don’t think about it.

    I think we have to get off of this stupid teaching to the test jag the education privatizers have forced on us and get back to educating people. This belief has shown us a flaw in our schools systems, so we need to fix it and move on, but you can’t do that with this moronic attack on public education underway by our home grown oligarchs. (Who needs Russian oligarchs? we have our own and they are doing far more damages.)

    1. Before laying this on education I would want specification of what education you are referring too. If you mean to say religious education which is where this flat earth stuff comes from, you are correct. However, you did not use the word religion anywhere in your comment, so I just wanted to point that out.

    2. I agree with Randy. There are more and more religious schools in the US.

      Testing isn’t the issue either. Standardized testing across schools is usually only in reading, maths, and general science. You can’t find out where the kids need help if you don’t know what level they’re at.

      There’s also a major problem with the way schools are funded in the US with it being based on property taxes. Therefore poor areas get less funding. It shocks me that schools there sometimes don’t even have textbooks. Teachers are poorly paid in many states, especially red ones.

      Also, if you check out the international PISA rankings, you’ll find the outcomes for US education have been dropping for some time. You still have many of the top students, but the average is dropping. The US is way down the rankings.

      1. I should mention to bring us up to date, Kansas legislature finally passed a bill to add around $500,000 over the next 5 years. We will see if the court says this is enough. It may not be. They are still on strike in Oklahoma trying to get money for school supplies and so forth.

      2. Standardized testing IS a major part of the problem in the U.S. Teacher salaries and jobs are often tied to state test scores (I taught in Florida where failure to produce an adequate Value Added Measurement or VAM score can result in job termination at the end of the year.)which means that teachers, whether they want to or not, must focus on the most frequently tested standards and end up neglecting other material that helps tie things together. When that happens in reading and math it adversely affects student achievement in everything else. Elementary schools teach reading strategies, not reading and there is a big difference. Most of my 9th grade Biology students were several grade levels low in reading which affects everything else you try to teach them. Miller and Levine is a good textbook but, if the students can’t read it, you might as well use it as a doorstop. It is hard to teach quantitative science to students who (as an example) think that 0.25 is greater than 0.5 and who don’t understand elementary algebra. Because calculators are allowed on all state math exams students have no grasp of number manipulation or values. 30% of my freshmen last year multiplied 10 x 40 on a test, sans calculator, and got 4,000. I was told by administration to spend most of my time on those standards assessed every year on the state biology exam (like ecology) and speed through everything else (plants and a large slug of genetics). Teaching ecology is hard when students don’t have a clue what fungi are or what they do (not in the standards) or understand atomic structure, let alone basic biochemistry (one of those things we are told to speed through).
        I don’t need a state test to tell me where my students are. I have quizzes and tests plus daily observations to do that.
        I was lucky. I was one of the few not on an annually renewed contract so I just taught a good biology course and ignored the higher-ups but there aren’t many of us left willing to take that risk.
        How bad is it? The Florida End of Course exam in Biology was 56 questions long last year. Multiple choice, 4 distractors. Random guessing should produce a score of 14. Minimum passing score on Form A of the test was 12 correct answers.
        I’ll go now and stroke a cat.

        1. I should state for the record that teachers should not have their salaries or jobs dependent on test scores. There are a whole lot of reasons students do badly, and you highlighted one major one – if they can’t read to their age level, they can’t do the rest of the work. That’s not your fault. I also don’t think there should be constant testing in biology of the type you speak about. The testing that is done here is not about grading teachers, it’s about helping students – identifying the ones that need extra help and getting them that help.

          Funding is done differently here too. It’s individualized and depends on all sorts of things like parents’ wealth, whether a parent is in prison, whether the student has a single parent, the racial and cultural background, whether English is their first language, learning difficulties and all sorts of other things. Schools in poor areas get more funding than those in wealthy areas.

          There’s also a lot of focus on helping teachers to up-skill and give them a decent career/salary path without going into management. Ministers of Education are usually former teachers so that helps a bit.

          We’re far from perfect, but the value of teachers and education is recognized. Last figures available NZ spent 5.7% of GDP on education. US spent 4.8%. The OECD average is 4.8%. The significant difference is in non-tertiary education. We spend 4.1% on that and you spend 3.2%. The OECD average is 3.4%.

          I agree completely that what you have to deal with is wrong.

    3. In school, I learned that the Earth was round in the context of the story of Christopher Columbus’s “discovery” of the new world. (They left out the enslavement and abuse of the Native Americans … probably didn’t have room for that or didn’t want to offend any Italians, etc.)

      Presumably they also left out the fact that everybody already knew the Earth was round.

      The first time I was taught about Columbus, the canard was repeated i.e. that he believed the Earth to be proud but everybody else thought it was flat. The reason Columbus really found it hard to get funding for his expedition was that everybody thought the Earth was too big to practically sail Westwards to get to the Indies, not that he would fall off the edge. In fact, they were right. It’s only the good fortune of America existing that stopped him from starving to death.

    4. ‘My parents learned “casting out 9’s” in math, I did not.’

      And a good thing too, because there was little or no recycling in place, and the landfills were having to set aside special sections for burying all those nines, which can persist in the environment for thousands of years. If it weren’t for merchants now being required to reuse them in advertising, a significant portion of the world’s energy would be squandered shipping them to China or Ghana for disposal. Thanks to the casting out of nines becoming socially unacceptable, that energy can now be used for useful pursuits like mining bitcoins.

  3. Forget the calls to ‘put God back into schools’, put a globe in every classroom. Of course people are going to be dubious of a spherical world if the only maps they see are two-dimensional Google maps. A lesson or two on gravity wouldn’t go amiss either, so they can get an understanding of why Australians don’t fall off.

    1. Just like creationists say Evolution is just a theory, flat earthers say Gravity is just a theory.

    2. From my ten-plus years substitute teaching, at a very minimum half if not two-thirds of classrooms have a globe. I have not seen a media center (library) without at least one globe. Surely flat earth millennials recall seeing them, even if a teacher did not pin them in a classroom corner and mention the earth’s roundness or point out the globe to them. One would have to be pretty inattentive not to see that ball-shaped object. (Perhaps attaching candy or money or digital devices to it would attract more attention to it.) Of course, getting a mass pop culture-obsessed mind to contemplate its significance is a different matter.

  4. I think you mean “unsure” at the end of this sentence:

    When you divide it up by age, the youngest group, 18-24 years of age, show only 2/3 accepting the world is round, with 18% having some doubts (or being flat-Earthers) and 16% being sure.


    1. I think that is is partially due to the fact that the ‘not very religious’ group (17%) is smaller than the ‘not religious at all’ group (25%).

  5. As one might expect, flat-Earthers tend to be more religious than “evidentialists”. After all, if you believe in the delusions of faith, you can believe anything.

    I think it makes a real difference whether you’re a religious person who just believes in magic that exists alongside the world of evidence, and those who believe in magic that goes against the world of evidence (or magically fakes that evidence).

    I suspect that the 52% strongly religious believers in the flat earth are largely creationists. The similarities certainly are strong, the conspiracy of the evil spherical earthers and evolutionists, the evidence that doesn’t count (earth photos for flat earthers, homologies for creationists/IDists), typically a focus on attack of the hated “theory” and a lack of a real case for the woo (I’d give the flat earthers a small edge there, though, as they’re more likely to make a case for the flat earth–if quite cherry-picked), and basically a sense that they’re the better, more honest ones. Both are likely to appeal to Scripture as well, at least out of the hearing of most unbelievers. This guy says about the same things about the evil spherical earthers and the evolutionists.

    I kind of like the resurgence of flat earthism because of how similar they are to IDists/creationists. You know the flat earthers can’t get anywhere (we’ve got satellites orbiting earth for chrissake), and they’re really very like the creationists/IDists in nearly all ways. The IDists/creationists who reject flat earthism aren’t going to recognize the similarities, but some sitting on the creationist fence might.

    Glen Davidson

    1. If it hasn’t been pointed out elsewhere: the OT, and specifically Genesis, demand a flat-earth worldview. And square: the corners of the earth are corners. Up is heaven, down is hell…

  6. If the survey had asked if the earth was an oblate spheroid the results would have been even more depressing.

    Color me not surprised in the least. Kids, adults, educators, are more likely to know all the lyrics and sexualized dance gyrations to the latest Lady KaKa or Justin Timberpuddle song than even the most basic aspects of science, maths, history, or philosophy. I cannot imagine this to be that different no matter what time period one might survey. Change and growth don’t happen in the middle or lower ranks of society, but at the leading edge, the vanguard, the highly educated and intelligent (and no, I’m not among them). I’m not sure the masses are actually more educated than they’ve ever been, Flynn Effect be damned, they just know different things than their predecessors. My grandparents could repair a tractor and grow/preserve food, today’s grandparents can operate a computer and program a DVR. Both groups still think/thought bearded sky man fights the horny fire man in the ground for control of their non-existent souls, so while their skills may have changed, I don’t think their intelligence has altered much. To mangle a famous quote, “The mass of men and women lead lives of quiet stupidity.”

    1. If the survey had asked if the earth is an oblate spheroid, the millenial answer would have been “Huh?”

      Just kidding. Most millenials I meet seem pretty well-informed.

    2. “Kids, adults, educators, are more likely to know all the lyrics and sexualized dance gyrations to the latest Lady KaKa or Justin Timberpuddle song than even the most basic aspects of science, maths, history, or philosophy.”

      Educators are prevailed upon by notables (including Professor Neil de Grasse Tyson, per an interview in The Humanist magazine, circa 2009), to appeal to the mass pop culture predilections of students so as to “engage” them in STEM subjects. I.e., “Go to where they are.”

      Per The Education Trust report, “Are Math Assignments Measuring Up?”


      released during the last week:

      “Both curriculum and the design of instruction impact student attention, interest, motivation, and cognitive effort and must be considered in the design of assignments.

      Specifically, two key areas hold priority: choice and relevancy. Students should be given opportunities for choice in their tasks, with rigor maintained across all options. And assignments should be relevant by focusing on poignant topics, using real-world materials and experiences, and giving students the opportunity to make connections with their goals, interests, and values.”

      I subjectively conjecture that not a few students do not want to take math. Yet the Powers-That-Be require them to do so. No wonder teachers are harangued to take extraordinary measures to “engage” them.

      Surely there remain at least a few students for whom the intellectual satisfaction of understanding sometimes difficult math and science concepts is its own reward, and don’t require teachers and professors to do bells-and-whistles double-backward somersaults to “engage” them. Did Einstein, Weinberg, Pauling, Feynman, among a host of other academic luminaries, require such high maintenance tending to and cajoling?

  7. With such surveys, it is always useful to keep in mind that 15% of the population have IQ lower than 85, and 25% below 90.

    It may be strict interpretation of the word “always” which throws a few into the “uncertain” catagory.

    This would apply more to younger adults than older adults.

    They are young enough to still have substantial memories of early childhood when they either just more or less assumed the Earth was flat or never gave it much though. They might have a specific memory of having leaned that the earth is round. So “always” simply does not apply to them in any of the other options.

    I have no recollection of ever not understanding/believing the earth was a sphere, nor do I have any specific recollection of the moment that I learned that it is round.

      1. Not sure I follow the relevance.

        Yes, 50% will be below 100. I’m talking about the current scale as applied to the current population.

        My point here is that fully 25% of people are below 90. So any survey like this, if you have 10% or 15% of people saying the “stupid” thing or blatantly wrong answer… it does not indicate much to be concerned about.

        Given that very smart people often have trouble sorting out truth from bullshit, the below 90 are going to be easily confused by political propaganda, religious baloney, snake-oil quacks, paranoid conspiracy theories, misleading advertising, and so on.

        The below 90 are 25% of the population. It should not be surprising whenever at around half that number believe any particular stupid thing — especially if there are few people who can give off an authoritative air who espouse that particular stupid thing.

    1. Another variable is the increased attention given to flat-earthers these days. Most times people don’t even realize that there are people who think the earth is flat.

    2. At that age, I could see myself purposely giving the wrong answer to such a survey question. I’d probably answer most questions seriously, but I’d regard that as a fatuous question deserving a fatuous response.

  8. I’m less concerned about how many of the non-rounders are religious as I am with how many are Trump appointees.

  9. Isaac Asimov puts it nicely with a quote from The Relativity Of Wrong

    When people thought the Earth was flat, they were wrong. When people thought the Earth was spherical, they were wrong. But if you think that thinking the Earth is spherical is just as wrong as thinking the Earth is flat, then your view is wronger than both of them put together.

          1. I add my appreciation! Science explained by Asimov seeems so easy to understand, and he teaches us history on the way. This essay made me stand up and reach for Asimov’s writings on numbers but couldn’t find it. I suppose one of my grandchildren forgot to tell me having taken it away from the shelf, and do hope they will not forget to tell me they enjoyed it.

  10. My guess is that the bulk of the 1/3 that don’t believe the Earth is round are those that distrust authority to the point where they believe virtually everything they are being told is some kind of lie. They are permanent “victims” of government, intellectuals and the elites. They are the people that claimed both Trump AND Clinton were equally bad. There’s an element of laziness in this attitude as it allows them to sound cynically wise to their friends without actually knowing anything or having worry about the truth. Ironically, Trump gained from this attitude as those that think this way end up following whoever is most deemed to be “on their side”.

  11. It is just a meme among the young[ish] doing the rounds – some of them have thought about it while most of them are bandwagon jumping onto a trend. Also it’s now regarded as OK to lie in support of something if you belive ‘something’ to be a good thing. It’s all driven by social media of course [see r/conspiracy on Reddit – it’s fecking astounding – the quantity & variety] & inflated by troll bots – the new ‘wise men’ of the East – which ISN’T a conspiracy theory BTW.

    Then there’s ‘red pilling the normies’ aspect where you can be outcast for saying it’s all nonsense – the young are sensitive to rejection by their peers, thus not enough push-back against the tide of nonsense.

    Then there’s high profile idjits like Roseanne Barr, Oprah, undereducated [but rich] peeps in sport, music, film, TV & comedy… all tweeting bollocks incessantly

    Pizzagate [hating Hillary by trolling becomes a ‘real’ thing]
    Sandy Hook
    Flat Earth
    FEMA & black helicopters
    Vaccination as mind control vector
    Chem trails as mind control vector
    Suppressed cancer cure
    9/11 a CIA, Jewish, Illuminati, UN, US Government Op
    RFID chips
    CIA & AIDS
    Moon landing a hoax
    Roswell/Area 51 alien technology explains our computing advances etc
    Holocaust revisionism

    1. At the top of the list is ELECTRIC UNIVERSE [EU] ‘THEORY’ which is all over the comments sections of most YouTube Space/astronomy videos – they make fun of the other groups of loons on the same comments sections: flat Earthers & Moon Landing Truthers

      OUTLINE OF BELIEFS [from above link]
      Einstein postulates wrong
      General relativity (GR) is wrong
      Black Holes don’t exist
      Universe not expanding
      Electric force travels faster than the speed of light with near-infinite velocity
      Gravity has two poles like a bar magnet
      A plenum of neutrinos forms an all-pervasive aether
      Planets give birth to comets
      Stars shine because they’re anodes for galactic discharge currents
      Craters on Venus, Mars & the Moon caused by electrical discharges
      Same applies to the Valles Marineris [Mars] & the Grand Canyon
      The Sun is negatively charged, and the solar wind is positively charged — the two systems forming a giant capacitor

      1. Not too long ago I had a back and forth from someone online who was very excited to have discovered online pictures of mysterious objects on the moon. Many lunar craters have one or more boulders that had been thrown up from a meteor hit. They had rolled over the surface, leaving tracks, and of course many of them come to rest inside a crater. To him, these were clear signs of secret military installations on the moon. He also found a small community of ‘open minded’ people who thought the same thing, and anyway he was very excited about it. The government has secret bases on the moon! The regular media does not know, or they are part of the plot!

        I never did convince him, but at times I wonder if it is somehow more interesting to believe in that sort of stuff.

        1. I think so – to the ignorant. I assume he didn’t arrive at his idea independently & now he’s part of a small tribe who can feel ‘special’ together – revel in their outsider status versus the secretive World Order. The only intelligent, informed truthers I’ve come across are the JFK conspiritards. I left that one my list because it might be true to some degree… 🙂

          1. I was among that crowd in my early teens. Read lots of books, poured over pictures and watched over and over again a bootleg copy of the Zapruder film. Then I had to admit that the facts just did not comport with the conspiratorial descriptions, and that began my journey into skepticism. The whole process was very valuable.

        1. Not EU proponents being clever I assure you! Gravitational monopoles & magnetic monopoles have had a place in theoretical physics for decades. EU proponents are like ID creationists – they cherry pick riff on real science & real data for financial gain.

          EU ‘science’ has had 40 years to come up with a coherent EU picture & yet they don’t even have their own Newtonian equations of motion nor can they explain their claim that all materials [including those without an overall electron/positron charge] are influenced by their version of faster-than-light electric fields. The EU bible has drawings ripped from real science work & not one calculation.

  12. Another worthwhile theory is that Millenials like to make a joke. I know if some pollster outside a supermarket asked me if I believed the world was round, I might take it for a joke. The way to do this properly is to ask the question in a roundabout way or with sufficient motivation for the polled to be truthful.

    1. Another solution is to use a lie detector question; for example, ask them what colour grass is. If they say blue then it is a safe bet that they are deliberately lying.

    2. Yougov seems to be a poll site. And I am not sure what is most damaging, people who believes facts can be problematic, or people who believes they *should* be problematic.

      1. I don’t know much about YouGov but, like most things on the internet, they need to get people to come to their site. I’m sure they got a lot of attention from this flat earth poll.

    1. He gets a good dose of dealing with human primate youthful exuberance.

      What a great memory, looking forward to catching episodes of “Cosmos” at 10 p.m. Fridays on PBS during its initial run in 1980. (“Catch it now; when can you count on catching it later?” Well, now one can catch it most any time, eh?) Sagan did not have to “engage” me with pop culture references.

  13. If flat earthers can’t deal with the evidence, what happens when you tell them it’s spinning as well, that fact just cannot be considered otherwise they would go mad,
    oh right, pardon me, they are the one’s that are spinning.

  14. Perhaps the rising proportion of round earthers with increasing age is in part a result of natural selection. People who are unaware the earth is round probably harbor a number of perilous and at times fatal beliefs.

  15. Or haven’t they looked at the photos from space?

    The usual conspiracy theory goalpost move is to claim NASA/government doctoring, or fish eye zoom lenses.

    Zoom lenses are in fact used, so one has to be careful when interpreting photos, and find straight lines verifying that the photo is a good candidate for “see, Earth is round”.

  16. As is well known, if the Earth were flat, cats would have knocked everything off its edges by now. QED, I think.

  17. Of course its flat. The bit where I live looks completely flat. My kitchen table’s flat. The water in my bath looks pretty flat.
    If the world was a sphere, all the water would collect at the bottom and drip away. Haven’t you heard of gravity?

  18. An attack on a spherical earth is the ultimate attack on basic logic and critical thinking. Our cell phone GPSs and our airplane navigation all presuppose a spherical earth in the most basic way.

    It seems that the majority of round earthers are into being somewhat religious, which is I am guessing is what some social scientists call “soft” religion- one that doesn’t divide the world into the true believers and the bad people.

  19. Maybe it’s the ‘millennials’ that don’t travel who believe in a flat earth? – they’re frightened of falling off the edge?


  20. Heather pointed (on her site) to the now famous tweet by a flat Earther that they ‘come from all around the globe’.
    I suspect many of them know the Earth is a globe, and are probably just attention-seeking.

  21. How does one discount those respondents, who consider the question a joke and answer correspondingly?

    1. Yes, but how would you get there?

      There’s an ice wall all around, and if you fly over it you bump into the dome over the whole disk, and likely crash.

      No, it’s not a joke, it’s what a lot of them say.

      Glen Davidson

    2. No, no: The coin-earth (cylinder shaped) has most of the northern hemisphere being heads and most of the southern hemisphere being tails, and a thin strip straddling the equator all the way round the edge of the coin.

      Aussies etc. will perhaps object to being back on the tail. Better back on her tail so the kangaroo doesn’t apply her boot to your chin!

      Getting to the other side is no problem: just proceed due south from being a bit up in the northern hemisphere to about the same amount south of the equator. So no problem getting from one side to the other. Gravity takes care of that nicely.

      The circular edges of coin-earth are called the tropics of Cancer and Capricorn. They are closer to the equator than thought to be on the old mistaken spherical earth.

      I think???

  22. “…who have always believe in Pancake Earth…”

    Well, that was likely just a turn-of-phrase for ‘…in flat earth…’.

    But a pancake is more-or-less the same shape as a coin. So we’re back to my question from a week or two ago about how well even those, who accept the spherical earth (again, more-or-less spherical, but very close to a sphere to anyone with normal vision), would be able to counter the claim that the view from the space station just as well shows earth to be the shape of a cylinder (i.e.coin, or pancake, including the edge as not 1-dimensional, but 2-…).

    By the way, non-spherical really doesn’t need the subtlety of the pear-shape if you want to talk about an actual mathematical sphere. You just need to notice any little bump or hole on the surface for that. So that’s a perfectly good example to discuss the fact that almost anything a scientist says, trying not to belabour and write a thousand pages, can be nickel-and-dimed as being, strictly speaking, not true.

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