The theory that the earth is flat reached a new audience recently, thanks to a viral video by controversial YouTube star Logan Paul.
Paul, who is popular with middle school and high school students, released a trailer for an upcoming documentary in which he attends a flat earth convention and interviews participants. While his ultimate conclusion is not revealed in the trailer, he is shown telling a cheering audience, "My name is Logan Paul and I think I'm coming out of the flat earth closet."
The video, has more than 1.2 million views.
"A lot of kids look up to popular people like (Paul), so it could have an effect," said Owen Cooney, 13, of Chicago's Beverly neighborhood.
The trailer, which is a little more than 2 minutes long, takes a light tone and highlights some quirky claims, with a young woman arguing, "People like to think that (the earth) is round, because the shape of your eyes is round." Paul is seen flirting with a flat-earther, arguing with a friend who dismisses flat-earth theory and staring into the camera with a crestfallen expression: "I just don't know what to believe anymore," he says.
There's no support for flat earth theory among mainstream scientists, according to Seth Jacobson, an assistant professor of earth and planetary science at Northwestern University.
"I know of no one (in science) who is a flat-earther," he said. "It's not a thing."
Jacobson said that there are many different ways to show the earth is round: You can get on a plane or ship and travel all the way around the globe. You can go to Lake Michigan and watch a ship sail out to the horizon and then dip below the horizon bit by bit; that wouldn't happen if the earth was flat, Jacobson said.
Or you can just look at photographs of the earth as seen from space: a big blue marble set against a sea of black.
"That's the ultimate piece of evidence, right?" said Jacobson. "We now have not just indirect arguments for the curvature of the earth, but we have direct arguments: We've taken a photograph."
Flat Earth Chicago Meetup organizer Steve Alicea countered that there aren't plane flights that circle the earth completely in the north-south direction, flying over both the North Pole and the South Pole. "Why doesn't that exist?" he said. If you look at a flat earth map, he added, existing flights are actually more direct than they are on a standard round earth map.
Alicea, who is known as RealmWalker on YouTube, expressed skepticism about NASA, and questioned photographic images of the earth taken from space.
"It could be legitimate imagery, but it could just as well be fake," he said, adding there's no way for ordinary civilians to know for themselves that the earth is a ball. "They keep saying we're going to go to space one day and see it for ourselves, but that date has been pushed back and pushed back and you can say funding (is the reason) all day," he said. "Reality is saying, 'Hey, if it were true it would have been proven by now.'"
Paul, 23, who built a career on humor, high jinks and sunny good looks, was widely criticized in early 2018 for a YouTube video showing what appeared to be a dead body. The video was filmed in a Japanese forest known as a place where people go to commit suicide. He later apologized.
The trailer for his flat earth documentary, "The Flat Earth: To The Edge And Back," scheduled to be released March 20, is getting skeptical and belittling online responses such as, "Logan, this has GOT to be a joke."
Cooney, the 13-year-old in Beverly, said that Logan Paul and his brother Jake were "super-famous" last year, but now kids at his school have moved on to "Fortnite" streamers. Cooney's younger brother, Colin, 11, who likes science and wants to be a vet when he grows up, said he found the Logan Paul video unconvincing.
"I'll believe scientists, who are much, much smarter, over Logan Paul," he said.
His mother, Colleen, 44, a marketing consultant, said she's not concerned that the video will unduly influence her kids.
"In all the ways that my kids have interacted with (Logan Paul) and his brother, this is probably the least dumb thing he's come out and talked to people about," she said, laughing.
"At least he's talking to scientists - there's some educational aspect to it."