Is The World Flat Again? How An Old Debate Was Revived In Tunisia

A Tunisian doctoral student has joined several poorly informed American celebrities in reopening the question of whether the Earth is flat or round.

Falling flat
Falling flat

In our age of endless debates and alternative facts, at least we thought this question was long settled. Everyone from Ferdinand Magellan to Apollo astronauts had provided the proof that our world — messy as it might be — is round. Not flat. Right?

Well, at the highest levels of Tunisian academia, one doctoral student has reopened the question. Since 2011, the aspiring PhD at the Faculty of Sciences at the University of Sfax has been working on a thesis in geology entitled: "The flat, Geocentric Model of the Earth, Arguments and Impact of Climate and Paleoclimactic Studies."

In short, her thesis was that the Earth is flat. She has gone to great lengths to refute the theories of Newton, Kepler and Einstein, whose work apparently had serious flaws that others have failed to see over the past several centuries. The doctoral student puts forth a new vision of kinetics that, instead, conforms to the verses of the Koran.

Just a rough draft?

She was quoted in the French-language magazine Jeune Afrique as having written that ""all the data and the physical, religious arguments have made it possible to demonstrate the central position, the fixation and the flattening of the surface of the Earth, the revolution of the Sun and the Moon around it." She then argued that "the stars … have three roles: to be scenery in the sky; to stone the devils and as signs to guide the creatures in the darkness of the Earth.""

Her proof is hopefully better than that of former NBA superstar and current TV commentator Shaquille O'Neal who voiced his own astronomical observations earlier this year. "When I'm in my plane, and we're getting ready to land, and I open up the window, and I'm looking at all the land that we're flying over; the Earth seems to be flat."

At least when criticized, "Shaq" admitted he was joking. The professor overseeing the student's thesis retorted: "It's just a rough draft."

The student's work could provide scientific backing to a league of "flat-Earthers' on social media and celebrities who double as science experts. The rapper B.o.B, debated the question with astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson last year, and TV personality Tila Tequila ranted about the subject on YouTube before she moved onto becoming a full-time Nazi. Oh, and then there's the Flat Earth Society on Facebook who dub themselves "flatists' and devote their time to "flatist" literature, books often overlooked by most academic institutions. The Facebook page boasts more than 60,000 likes — ironic or not.

But in Tunisia, the spectacle of a graduate student opening up the issue has caused a true stir. Critics say that the woman's theories are an embarrassment to the Tunisian education system. "How could such a work be accepted in the doctoral school since 2011?," University of Tunis professor Faouzia Charfi told Jeune Afrique. "How can we accept that the University is not the space of knowledge, of scientific rigor, but that of the negation of science? That where science is refused because it is not in conformity with Islam?"

Another hint to her professors that the work was problematic was the grammatical and syntactical mistakes that pop up throughout the paper. For both those devoted to science or faith, all can agree on the sacred duty to use spell check.

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Debt Trap: Why South Korean Economics Explains Squid Game

Crunching the numbers of South Korea's personal and household debt offers a glimpse into what drives the win-or-die plot of the Netflix hit produced in the Asian country.

In the Netflix series, losers of the game face death

Yip Wing Sum


SEOUL — The South Korean series Squid Game has become the most viewed series on Netflix, watched by over 111 million viewers and counting. It has also generated a wave of debate online and off about its provocative message about contemporary life.

The plot follows the story of a desperate man in debt, who receives a mysterious invitation to play a game in which the contestants gamble their lives on six childhood games, with the winner awarded a prize of 45.6 billion won ($38 million)... while the losers face death.

It's a plot that many have noted is not quite as surreal as it sounds, a reflection of the reality of Korean society today mired in personal debt.

Seoul housing prices top London and New York

In the polished streets of downtown Seoul, one sees endless cards and coupons advertising loans scattered on the ground. Since the outbreak of the pandemic, as the demand for loans in South Korea has exploded, lax lending policies have led to a rapid increase in personal debt.

According to the South Korean Central Bank's "Monetary Credit Policy Report," household debt reached 105% of GDP in the first quarter of this year, equivalent to approximately $1.5 trillion at the end of March, with a major share tied up in home mortgages.

Average home loans are equivalent to 270% of annual income.

One reason behind the debts is the soaring housing prices. In Seoul, home to nearly half of the country's population, housing prices are now among the highest in the world. The price to income ratio (PIR), which weighs the average price of a home to the average annual household income, is 12.04 in Seoul, compared to 8.4 in San Francisco, 8.2 in London and 5.4 in New York.

According to the Korea Real Estate Commission, 42.1% of all home purchases in January 2021 were by young Koreans in their 20s and 30s. For those in their 30s, the average amount borrowed is equivalent to 270% of their annual income.

Playing the stock market

At the same time, the South Korean stock market is booming. The increased demand to buy stocks has led to an increase in other loans such as credit. The ratio for Korean shareholders conducting credit financing, i.e. borrowing from securities companies to secure stock holdings, had reached 21.4 trillion won ($17.7 billion), further increasing the indebtedness of households.

A 30-year-old Seoul office worker who bought stocks through various forms of borrowing was interviewed by Reuters this year, and said he was "very foolish not to take advantage of the rebound."

In addition to his 100 million won ($84,000) overdraft account, he also took out a 100 million won loan against his house in Seoul, and a 50 million won stock pledge. All of these demands on the stock market have further exacerbated the problem of household debt.

42.1% of all home purchases in January 2021 were by young Koreans in their 20s and 30s

Simon Shin/SOPA Images/ZUMA

Game of survival

In response to the accumulating financial risks, the Bank of Korea has restricted the release of loans and has announced its first interest rate hike in three years at the end of August.

But experts believe that even if banks cut loans or raise interest rates, those who need money will look for other ways to borrow, often turning to more costly institutions and mechanisms.

This all risks leading to what one can call a "debt trap," one loan piling on top of another. That brings us back to the plot of Squid Game, "Either you live or I do." South Korean society has turned into a game of survival.

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