JAKARTA (THE JAKARTA POST/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - As the National Institute of Aeronautics and Space (LAPAN) is striving to achieve its goals to advance the country's technology and aeronautical field, it is facing an anachronistic problem that has been emerging recently: Flat Earth believers.
The group, which became a social media phenomenon last year, believes the Earth is flat instead of round. They often cite modern conspiracy theories, as well as literal, non-mainstream readings of the holy scriptures, as the basis of their statements.
Believers of the theory have been swarming LAPAN's social media accounts for months, including a Facebook group of which the institution head Thomas Djamaluddin is a member. Their only purpose: to challenge the simple fact that the Earth is spherical.
This has forced Thomas to purge the group of any users that push this archaic point of view, by deleting their comments and blocking them from the group.
"This attempt is meant to(keep) the discussion useful for others to learn (about aeronautics and space). The fairytale of a flat earth is a public duping attempt," Thomas wrote in the group on Oct. 9.
LAPAN spokesman Christianus Dewanto told The Jakarta Post on Tuesday (Oct 17) that he regretted the appearance of such challenging comments after LAPAN had welcomed flat-earthers to its offices for a discussion. "The discussion was intense," he said.
He referred to a meeting between Thomas and a representative from the Indonesian Flat Earth Society at LAPAN's offices in Jakarta late last year.
Thomas, who is an astronomy and astrophysics professor, discussed every subject under the sun with the flat-earth believer.
Among the topics discussed was the size of the sun, with the flat-earther arguing that the sun looks bigger in the morning. The professor stressed that the sun's size remains the same throughout the day; the apparent difference is created by the Earth's atmosphere refracting the light.
After the meeting, Thomas uploaded an 80-minute video containing the discussion on his blog.
Christianus said he understood this was all about mindset, and it would be a tough task to influence it. "We don't have a problem with that as we will provide them with scientific facts that are as clear as possible."
First expressed during the time of the Ancient Greeks, the flat-earth misconception has often reared its head over the centuries. The latest reappearance occurred last year when many people posted videos on YouTube, in which they claimed that the concept of a round Earth was part of a global conspiracy theory.
In Indonesia, the misconception has found its supporters, with a Facebook group named Indonesian Flat Earth Society having attracted more than 20,500 members, as of Tuesday.
However, media sociologist Ario Seto Hardjana from the University of Indonesia (UI) told the Post that it was an oversimplification to blame social media for the appearance of flat-earthers in Indonesia.
"This phenomenon could be the tip of the iceberg. There are several members of society who have yet to believe in science because of the inability of education institutions to teach the general public to be more rational."
The belief, Ario added, was catalysed by other members of society who had yet to exclude such baseless assumptions from the public discourse.
"We should be worried as this, among other similar things, could lead to a post-truth society phenomenon where scientific truth can be easily ignored."