Flat Earth map drawn by Orlando Ferguson in 1893
Post Format

The Professor and the Flat Earth Society

I got a phone call from the Metropolitan Police yesterday morning. Hello, it’s the Metropolitan Police here, a woman said. We’ve just been speaking with Mama Professor, though she didn’t call her Mama Professor but I’m going to. She won’t mind.

The Metropolitan Police wanted to know if I was thinking of going to Cornwall. I was, I said. I had to rescue the Professor from the flat earthers, though I didn’t use those exact words. I said he was staying at his aunt’s place and I wanted to get him back to London before the school term started as I didn’t want him being home schooled by someone who gets their views from scripture rather than from evidence, and she really does think the Earth is flat.

The Professor was astonished after the conference of cousins there last summer when Doctor Noah showed YouTube videos that prove the Earth is in fact flat. We discussed how we might falsify Doctor Noah’s hypothesis. The Professor suggested sending him up in a rocket but I pointed out some practical difficulties with that idea, such as the fact that we haven’t got a rocket. We could ask Elon Musk, he suggested. We could, I agreed. Why don’t you write to him?

The Professor changed the subject and tried to come up with other ideas. You see dear Papa, he said, the thing is that they don’t think it because of evidence, they think it because that’s what it says in their holy book.

For the pillars of the earth are the Lord’s, And He placed the world upon them.

1 Samuel 2:8

So perhaps the best way to convince Doctor Noah would be to show him all those people who have the same holy book but who don’t read it so literally as to think that the world is really flat and held up by four, six or however many pillars. Most Jewish people don’t believe the Earth is flat, and neither do most Christians or Muslims.

Earthrise, taken by William Anders on 24th December 1968 from Apollo 8

You’d have to believe all the astronauts are liars, all the astronomers, airline pilots and cabin crew, competitors in the around the world yacht race, anyone who has anything to do with the manufacture of sat navs, Sky and other satellite TV companies… They’re all liars! They’ve convinced us the world is round in order to…? It’s never quite clear why these very disparate and quite numerous groups would all be engaged in this sort of coverup.

I told the police officer that I thought it was allowed for separated parents to transport children between households. Not when it’s that sort of distance, she said. That’s not a reasonable distance to travel.

It is if that’s the distance the Professor is from me. It would be unreasonable to travel any other distance. If I travelled a greater distance I’d go past him and if I travelled a lesser distance I’d fall short.

He’s been there almost three weeks now. He likes it there, and thinks he’s safe from the virus. He probably is safe, physically, and that’s all the police were really concerned about.

We have to keep everyone safe, she said. I know it’s tough but this is to protect all of us.

I’d drive down in my car, I said. I’d be completely isolated. I’d pick the Professor up and we’d drive back.

Suppose you broke down, she said. Then you’d be putting other people at risk, and suppose the Professor carries the virus back with him from Cornwall?

The law says you’re allowed to pick up a child. It doesn’t say anything about distance…

All I am saying, she said, is give the police a chance. I mean, if you were stopped in the Metropolitan Police area we wouldn’t regard it as an essential journey and you could receive an on the spot fine.

What about in other police areas? Are they all interpreting the law in this way?

You’d have to ask them.

Instead, I asked Child Law Advice and they said it would be an allowable journey, and they linked to the relevant bit of legislation which, under reasonable excuses for leaving home, includes:

in relation to children who do not live in the same household as their parents, or one of their parents, to continue existing arrangements for access to, and contact between, parents and children, and for the purposes of this paragraph, “parent” includes a person who is not a parent of the child, but who has parental responsibility for, or who has care of, the child;

So who wins, the law or the police? What if I’m legally entitled to travel to Cornwall but physically prevented from doing so? Like if I get pulled over, fined and told to turn back, though I suppose I could pay the fine and then continue driving towards Cornwall, and then maybe get another fine, but just factor that in as part of the cost of the journey. Unless they put up roadblocks and checkpoints, but that’s hard to imagine, though everything that’s happening now was pretty unimaginable a couple of months ago.

If different police forces are interpreting the law differently there ought to be a sat nav app that’ll direct you from A to B on a route that avoids any police districts that take a strict line on centrist dads driving long distances to pick up their sons.

Or why not just forget it? If the Professor is happy down there, leave him.

No. It’s not just the Flat Earth Society, there are other things, but for a child to lose weeks of education, maybe even a whole term, the final term of year 5, that could have a big impact. And if the schools open next term then he’s going to have to be brought back anyway, though if the schools have reopened then other restrictions may also have been lifted.

True, the coronavirus is having a big impact on everyone, but we need to weigh the harm done to children and balance that against the risks. To decide whether or not a drive down to Cornwall and back to pick up a child is justified you need to work out what the increased risk of spreading the virus is from that journey and then work out the cost of that risk and balance it against the cost incurred by the Professor if that journey is not made. Is his lost education a greater harm than potential harm due to the risks posed by making the journey now rather than later?

He may be happy there now, but if someone in either of our families were to get ill or die then he might want to be with his parents. The Professor is only 10.