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.'"

At the University of Sfax — Photo: Facebook page

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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