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Digital Subscriptions > Skeptical Inquirer > May June 2018 > A Doctoral Dissertation on a Geocentric Flat Earth

A Doctoral Dissertation on a Geocentric Flat Earth

‘Zetetic’1 Astronomy at the University Level

On April 1, 2017, Professor Hafedh Ateb, a scientist who founded the Tunisian Astronomical Society, published a post on his Facebook page to denounce a forthcoming PhD thesis (Ateb 2017). Its subject? The geocentric universe with a flat and young Earth. It was not an April Fool’s joke.

With a bit of condescension, the astronomical (or more generally the scientific) community on this side of the Atlantic often thinks that geocentrism and young (or flat) Earth are typically American ideas. We generally ignore the regular Eurobarometers2 revealing that one third of Europeans prefer a geocentric model to a heliocentric one. We also choose to avoid seeing the multitude of YouTube videos in languages other than English explaining at length why the earth is flat or young. Indeed, few of us are doing outreach, and even fewer are tackling or simply encountering pseudosciences.

The Tunisian scandal was therefore totally unexpected, even more so because it did not involve a basketball player or some rapper but rather university people from a science faculty. Of course, some thought, “Well, you know, that’s the Middle East” (usually said, again, with a condescending tone). They forget that medieval astronomy was dominated by Arabic and/or Muslim thinkers, who made several important contributions to the field (for a review, see, e.g., Nazé 2018), and that Tunisia has good universities to this day (and many researchers abroad in prestigious institutions). A second look was thus merited.

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