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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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Gluten-Free In France: Stepping Out Of The Shadows, Heading Upmarket

For those in the haute cuisine world of French food, a no-gluten diet (whether by choice or health requirements) has long been a virtual source of shame. But bakers, chefs and pastry makers are now taking the diet to whole new levels of taste and variety.

photo of a man carrying bread in a field

Paris-based entrepreneur Adriano Farano, in Sicily, where his company's wheat is grown

Adriano Farano's Instagram page
David Barroux

PARIS — The "gluten-free" aren’t hiding anymore.

Whether they avoid the grain protein by choice or by obligation — due to taste, allergies or an intolerance — many stick to a diet seen by the outside world as a little bit funny, or perhaps simply just bland.

For some, being gluten-free even came with some amount of self-consciousness: about being that person, the one who announced at the beginning of dinner that they wouldn’t be eating that bread, or that pasta, or that pastry — or about coming across as precious and complicated, or worse, as a killjoy for everyone else’s gustatory pleasure.

For those who feel that it is hard to speak up, it's often easier just to keep the gluten intolerance to themselves and eat only the vegetables at meals, abstaining from bread and dessert to avoid stomach cramps.

But the times, they are a-changin'. Living without gluten used to feel punitive; now it feels more like an option. The number of gluten-free products has exploded, in both quantity and quality, and there’s never been a better time to join the "no-glu" camp.

In supermarkets, bakeries and restaurants, there are increasingly varied alternatives to gluten. And demand is just as high — €1 billion per year in sales in France alone, according to Nielsen. The research consultancy found that 3% of French households were gluten-free in 2019. Now, that number is 4.4%, which is twice as high as the number of “strictly vegetarian” households.

According to market research firm Kantar, the frequency and number of purchases, as well as the average amount spent for gluten-free products, continues to increase — up 6% compared with 2019.

In this context, it’s hardly surprising that gluten-free alternatives are becoming increasingly chic.

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