Flat Earth

Image source: commons.wikimedia.org

One of my articles in this blog has the title What can Science reveal? This is the quest of the Snark (quoting Philo M. Buck, 1942). I think, that the question what science can reveal is only one among several quests of the Snark. Another quest might be, how science reveals the world and how science can be threatened. Here, flat earth theory is a good example. That theory doesn’t not only aim at reverting scientific findings, but also at damaging science itself. I don’t know whether Dodgson/Carroll took any interest in that theory and the related debates, but its history helps me to improve my understanding of popular science debates and businesses in the Victorian society at around the time when Lewis Carrol wrote The Hunting of the Snark.

This week in the New Yorker, Alan Burdick wrote an article about Looking for Life on a Flat Earth, What a burgeoning movement says about science, solace, and how a theory becomes truth (2018-05-30). Very regrettably, Burdick failed to mention Christine Garwood‘s book Flat Earth: The History of an Infamous Idea (2008). That shouldn’t happen in a magazine like the New Yorker. Didn’t Burdick read that excellent book before he wrote his article?

Garwood shows why and how science can be threatened and is being threatened. This includes John Hampden‘s (1819-1891) discrediting of journalists 1870 (p. 76), who probably had quite similar reasons for media bashing as Donald Trump had and openly described them in February 2016. If you want to make a living as influencer, you need to control the presentation of knowledge. To understand that is as important today as it was in the 19th century. It is amazing how similar the 21st century anti-scientific populism is to what happened since “Parallax” started his flat earth business in the Victorian Britain. And he meant business.

William Hartston’s Clues

Creativity: 42 clues to what it all means
WILLIAM HARTSTON
[Independent] Monday 17 May 1993 23:02 BST

[…] Rev Charles Lutwidge Dodgson offers a more convincing explanation. […] He must have known about Thomas Cranmer’s 42 Articles […]

William Hartston probably wrote his article with his tongue in the cheek (which is the safest thing you can do when writing about Douglas Adams’ and about C. L. Dodgson’s (Lewis Carroll’s) “42”). It was about an article by

Ellis Hillman, 64, the founder of the Lewis Carroll Society (and president of the Flat Earth Society in his spare time)

in the journal Chapter One of the Alliance of Literary Societies.

But thanks to the creativity of Lewis Carroll and Henry Holiday there really might be textual and pictorial references to Thomas Cranmer and his 42 Articles in The Hunting of the Snark.


 
On the Flat Earth Society: William Hartston seems to have used Ellis Hillman’s presidency of the Flat Earth Society to ridicule Hillman. Hartston got it wrong. And when Hillman passed away in 1996, Illtyd Harrington’s orbituary in the Independent mentioned his support of the Flat Earth Society out of context as well.

What is the context? https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Samuel_Shenton, based on p. 274 in Christine Garwood, Flat Earth: The History of an Infamous Idea, 2008:

[…] But as [Samuel Shenton’s International Flat Earth Research Society] was dying [in 1969], he found the successor he had been looking for: Ellis Hillman, a lecturer and member of the Greater London Council, agreed to be president of the IFERS, with the encouragement of Patrick Moore. Lillian Shenton was suspicious of his motives (he was developing a post-graduate course on the development of ideas about the shape of the earth) and in the event he did little for the society. […]

Garwood wrote:

[…] Initially Hillman, who was frank about never having believed in the earth to be flat, was reluctant to accept Shenton’s offer and recalled contacting Patrick Moore to ask his advice. According to Hillman, Moore was encouraging: “For God’s sake, keep it going,” he allegedly exclaimed, “we must have heretical people in the world of astronomy.” Besides Moore’s enthusiasm, there was a second persuative factor: at the time Hillman was planning a postgraduate course on the development of ideas connected with the shape of the earth and he believed it would assist his academic research to accept Shenton’s offer. […]

Links: Douglas Adams and Lewis Carroll | Thomas Cranmer

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