"Behind the Curve" is a documentary about the Flat Earther movement, and the psychology of how we can believe irrational things in the face of overwhelming evidence. It hit Netflix a few weeks ago, and is also available on iTunes, Amazon, and Google Play. The final scene of the film was the top post on Reddit about two weeks ago, which many people seemed to find "interesting."

Behind the Curve Trailer

It felt appropriate to come back here for an AMA, as the idea for the movie came from reading an AskReddit thread almost two years ago, where a bunch of people were chiming in that they knew Flat Earthers in real life. We were surprised to learn that people believed this for real, so we dug deeper into how and why.

We are the filmmakers behind the doc, here to answer your questions!

Daniel J. Clark - Director / Producer

Caroline Clark - Producer

Nick Andert - Producer / Editor

And to preempt everyone's first question -- no, none of us are Flat Earthers!

PROOF: https://imgur.com/xlGewzU

EDIT: Thanks everyone!

Comments: 1971 • Responses: 41  • Date: 

acerbusbellum2068 karma

I watched the doc just last week and really enjoyed it.

I particularly liked the time you gave to members of the scientific community to talk about how science may have failed these people, rather than just lambasting them as idiots.

It seems that facts established by the scientific method won't convince these kinds of people, so what do you think the scientific community could do to engage more with the growing anti-intellectual movements (flat earth, anti-vax, climate change denial etc) to avoid them feeling isolated and grouping together around damaging ideas?

Delta-vProductions1687 karma

This gets to the heart of it. A lot of people have rightly pointed out that arguing with Flat Earthers is pointless, because they’re so entrenched that no evidence will move them. To an extent, that’s true for many of them, and it’s especially true for a lot of the ones you encounter online who are trying to get into debates about the shape of the Earth. For them, they’re starting from a place of ‘Argument is War,’ as Per Espen put it in the film, so engaging with them might not be particularly worthwhile (although it is worthwhile for people to see that science has answers to their questions, so someone susceptible to those beliefs doesn’t see a bunch of unanswered questions and fall for the ‘science has no answers’ trap).

However, there’s something to be said for respectfully engaging with people in a positive way, especially in real life, because it shows them that the people with opposing arguments are operating in good faith, and opens their minds to accepting evidence from them. One of the biggest issues with conspiracy theorists in general is the tendency to ‘other’ people that they don’t know, and apply malicious motivations to them, which allows them to dismiss any evidence coming from them out of hand.

Spiros, from the film, has now gone on two hangouts with a group of Flat Earthers, and they’ve all been very friendly with each other, and we hear they may even do some experiments together. They see now that a high level scientist isn’t just a nameless enemy, but someone who respects them as people, and they’re open to listening to him.

So you’re probably not going to change a Flat Earther’s mind in a single argument online, but continued respectful engagement from people on ‘the other side’ will hopefully open their minds over time and make them more likely to accept the evidence.

prescription_advil1527 karma

Why do flat earthers perform experiments if they won't accept the results?

Delta-vProductions1955 karma

Honestly? The ones who do actually believe it'll give them a flat result. But they're not in a place to let their beliefs be falsifiable, so instead of switching views you get mental gymnastics. They don't tend to set up experiments with a firm acknowledgement of 'if I get X result, that means the Earth isn't flat.'

ImpenDoom942 karma

Has there ever been a compelling argument from a flat earther? If so, what was it?

Delta-vProductions2564 karma

Some of the questions Flat Earthers raise are certainly interesting, because the science behind them isn’t immediately intuitive — however, when you look into it, the real answer makes perfect sense. For example, a common Flat Earth talking point is that the rotation of the Earth should cause us to ‘fly off the globe,’ like water off of a spinning tennis ball. In reality, there is a force exerted from the rotation of the Earth, which actually makes things weigh slightly less at the equator than the poles, but that force is so much weaker than gravity that that small weight difference is the only effect. The way Hannalore put it in her interview, in an answer that got cut, is “when you take a really big number, and subtract a really small number… it’s still a really big number.”

So we would say their most “compelling arguments” are actually gateways to learning about some interesting science.

udel14794 karma

Towards the end of the documentary Mark Sargent mentioned that he felt he could never leave the Flat Earther movement. Did any of you also get the vibe that he has his doubts but felt obligated to remain a leading figure in the community?

Delta-vProductions996 karma

We do. We think he gets such a huge amount of validation from this that he has a mental block from acknowledging any countervailing evidence. We think it's really easy for people in general to lie to themselves, and he has plenty of motivation to do so.

TeacherCNB771 karma

I teach social science to 16-18 year olds, and I put a lot of effort into teaching them critical thinking. I recommended your documentary last week, after a lesson about conspiracy theories and how it can lead to hatred and violence, after one of them asked me how they could tell the difference between critical thinking and conspiracies. Your film gives such a beautifully clear picture of this difference, focussing on the scientific method. What do you think we need to do MORE or LESS of in the educational system to nurture curiosity and creativity, at the same time as respect for science and established truths? Edit: OMG Gold! I shall cherish it forever, thank you!

Delta-vProductions546 karma

This is a great question. We think part of the problem is making it ok to admit you're wrong, or that you don't know something. That's an incredibly difficult thing for anyone to do.

We think inoculating people against the Dunning Kruger effect by making it clear just how vast and complicated many concepts are could certainly help. It's important for people to have respect for how much time and work experts have put in to learn about their various subjects.

Another thing that's super important is internet and media literacy. Because the internet's enabled confirmation bias to a massive degree, it's very easy to seek out and find confirming information and not critically consider the source.

danccbc757 karma

Did any of the participants in the doc change their beliefs after filming?

Delta-vProductions1367 karma

No one we filmed has changed their minds. Hard to say if it’s had much of an effect on other Flat Earthers. The general talking point in the community has become that we’re a “controlled opposition hit piece,” and that the experimental results featured in the film thus can’t be trusted. The Flat Earthers we filmed know that we’re just normal people, but they still have found ways to explain away the experimental results.

dorky4eva325 karma

I found the documentary fascinating. The way the guy at the end explained away the failed experiment was awesome. Did he ever come around and think maybe the earth was round?

Delta-vProductions347 karma

He did not, and in fact maintains that it was simply "one observation among many."

Trout_Tickler301 karma

Have you heard about moon truthers and australia deniers? Could be two more documentaries there ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

(Credit goes to me ty)

Delta-vProductions704 karma

I mean, we've never been to Australia...

Sounds pretty fake.

reddcell282 karma

Mark Sargeant seemed pretty tame, the guy who bounced golf balls on hammers seemed a little less tame, but were there any WAY OUT THERE personalities interviewed for this? I'd like to hear a story about them!

Delta-vProductions404 karma

Anyone we spent a significant amount of time with is in the movie. We met some interesting people at the meetups and convention, not all of whom made the cut. There was one gentlemen who played for us his flute 'tuned to the frequency of the sun,' another who was adamant that you didn't legally need a license plate to drive... there's a bunch online spreading some fun conspiracies about us. Our favorite one is that we had the default squarespace favicon on our website for awhile, and that is apparently the 'Black Cube of Satan,' making us Satanists.

battlegoat42266 karma

Did your crew point out the “Press to Start” button at the NASA center after filming? That scene got a good laugh out of me.

Delta-vProductions289 karma

Daniel -- I was alone on that shoot, and I did not point it out. Here you can see it from the other angle!

ElectricFeeeling224 karma

I watched the movie a week or so ago, when that clip from the end showed up on Reddit. I'm curious about the interview process with most of the highlighted personalities. How much of their input was prompted by questions, and how much did they just talk about and offer up on their own?

Delta-vProductions546 karma

For most of them (Mark especially), when you ask them a question, they'll speak for a long time on a lot of different topics. They usually have things they are eager to talk about.

"Do you know they made up dinosaurs," for example -- 100% unprompted.

Flupsy195 karma

What’s your favourite piece of footage that you just couldn’t use?

Delta-vProductions330 karma

Caroline -- I love the 'water-less shampoo' bit in this deleted scene -- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AwtH9ZnE3MM

Nick -- There's a deleted scene in our iTunes Extras where Chris is showing us around his insane apartment, and he talks about a device he made to 'dissipate chemtrails.' Plus, there's part of the Nathan interview where he goes on about how many 666s there are in scientific constants, which was... whew.

Daniel -- In Salem there's a World War II monument that is an Azimuthal Equidistant projection of the earth, which is what flat earth maps usually are, and Mark couldn't believe that it was there, and was certain that I knew about it and led him to it (I didn't).

tlinder164 karma

The water-less shampoo guy couldn't believe NASA didn't want his product so nothing they say can be trusted, sounds a biiiiit narcissistic. Maybe the product doesn't travel well, maybe NASA already has a cheaper product, maybe they don't need shampoo in space, maybe the product was just bad.

EDIT: Spelling

Delta-vProductions292 karma

It's also probably not a great idea to send powders through the mail to NASA.

kahow110710 karma

Why did you guys cut so much of this? Was there a time limit/did you not want to make it too long, or did it just not make the cut due to lack of interest?

It sounds like there’s a ton of really good stuff that you guys didn’t include.

Delta-vProductions21 karma

We could've made a four hour film out of all the stuff we got, but we wanted to keep it tight and on point. With docs especially, once you get over 90 minutes it gets harder to get people to tune in.

Carrollmusician184 karma

Any moments where the frustration of such ignorance almost broke you riding the process of making the film? Or any subjects you had to walk away from?

Delta-vProductions395 karma

Caroline -- We chose the topic of "flat earth" because it was a more palatable window into conspiratorial thinking than some other conspiracies, which would allow us to have a conversation about the psychology of conspiracies with a broad audience. At the end of the day, however, a lot of flat earthers believe in other, more harmful conspiracies. Saying the earth is flat doesn't necessarily hurt anyone, but saying a mass shooting didn't happen or saying that vaccines are harmful is harmful for a myriad of reasons. It was really hard to listen to these sorts of conversations without engaging with our subjects on camera.

Nick -- It was definitely hard to listen to them discussing Vegas shooting conspiracies, because one of my friends was actually there (she's fine).

Daniel -- On almost every shoot. Sometimes after shoots I would call Nick and Caroline to just talk through everything I heard.

DoserMcMoMo174 karma

Did you enjoy your interactions with the flat-earthers you spoke to? Do they seem like regular people outside of this belief?

Delta-vProductions550 karma

The people we interviewed in the film were generally very friendly and open to us. We talked about a ton of things other than conspiracies and flat earth (movies, music, food, etc.). It's easy to connect with people if you're respectful. And when not talking about flat earth, you wouldn't know most were flat earthers. When we DID talk about flat earth or conspiracies, that was usually on-camera and it was less of a conversation.

Special mention: Mark's mom, Patti is extremely kind and generous and always baked us cookies, scones or offered us dinner. She's wonderful.

jkeyes525180 karma

Was there any additional follow up on Hammer-ball guy’s ‘brain coach’?

Delta-vProductions261 karma

No. Shit. Now we have regrets.

cheesemonger95144 karma

I would have had a tough time listening to Patricia talk about conspiracies about her, and not interrupt to point out her hypocrisy.

Did any of you ever have an accidental outburst when listening to something difficult to hear? To a lesser extent, was there ever heated debate off-camera?

Delta-vProductions191 karma

Daniel -- I once burst out that "gravity isn't a theory" because it was a long day and I was really tired...

jritenburgh109 karma

Why do you think people should watch this documentary?

Delta-vProductions276 karma

One of the big reasons we made the doc is because we felt Flat Earth was a good case study in the growing trend of science denialism and conspiratorial thinking. It’s easy to dig into the thought processes underlying these trends by looking at how Flat Earthers come to and justify their beliefs. And we think a lot of people on the science communication side could engage conspiracy theorists and science deniers in a more effective way. There’s a lot of smugness that tends to entrench people in their beliefs, which is not helping to mitigate the problem.

djchuckles100 karma

How often, during filming, did you each look at each other and say “what the fuck?”

Delta-vProductions248 karma

Every day, djchuckles. Every day.

Nonagizz92 karma

did you find yourself falling into their beliefs at all? Were they spending a lot of time trying to convince you guys what they knew was true? Rather than just convincing the viewers who’d watch it. At any points did they feel like what you were doing was maybe “making fun” of them? I loved the documentary it was great!

Delta-vProductions134 karma

Daniel -- I never felt myself believing what they believed, but the idea of believing in flat earth started to feel normal to me during shoots. When you immerse yourself in a community like this, it's very easy to feel like this thinking is very normal, but often as I was driving away from a shoot, it would come over me like a wave that these people truly believe the Earth is a flat plane and it was a very strange feeling.

People would come me to us during filming and when I told them I wasn't a flat earther, they would simply say "you will be soon," or they'd ask what reasons I had for not believing in FE. They were usually very kind about it and rarely did I ever feel cornered. I was always very respectful, but would be honest of my feelings if they pressed me on the issue.

jmn_lab84 karma

  1. How was the documentary received in the FE community? - Do they think it is an honest portrayal or have they accused you of misrepresenting them?

  2. Related to the second part of the first question: If they feel misrepresented, are you afraid that this could cause a bigger rift between FE and others? (I am aware that you are trying to promote more understanding in the documentary, but I can imagine it could be viewed differently from another perspective).

  3. Did you ever have mixed feelings about what to show? I imagine that the person with the gyro (can't recall his name) got very upset when you showed the conversation about the experiment not working and he thought it was private. (Personally I think this is the best... We need to hear the honest statements like this... politicians would be so much easier to get a read on).

Delta-vProductions154 karma

  1. We've been accused of 'not including flat earth proofs,' because, well... we were never shown a single proof that we judged to have merit, and the film was more about the psychology of belief anyway. But, as you can imagine, this led to anger amongst lots of flat earthers. Similarly, those doing the experiments feel that we misrepresented the outcome of the experiments, because they still hold that the earth is flat and that the results can be explained away, while we hold the opposite view.

  2. That's a great question. Many also think the documentary is a 'controlled opposition hit piece,' so suffice to say that they'll probably never be receptive to us again, but that doesn't mean that they can't be receptive to others that engage respectfully with them. As mentioned in another answer, Spiros has been engaging positively with them since the release, and that's despite the fact that he was in the film.

  3. In that particular moment Bob knew he was mic'd up. He thought that they'd have the gyro 'figured out' by the time of the release. In fact, he thinks he does have it figured out (he has an explanation involving the aether, which has been experimentally disproven to exist). There are things we decided not to show in the film, because they felt exploitative and not in service to any particular larger point. We had no desire to humiliate people, but it was important to us to deliver an honest portrayal.

BlackRelish1283 karma

Is the earth flat?

Delta-vProductions130 karma

No.

coreybb74 karma

What were the first steps you took to make this documentary? How did it go from idea to actual execution?

Delta-vProductions137 karma

Nick -- I saw a reddit thread and discovered people actually believed it. We'd been looking to do our first film on our own for awhile, and this seemed like a great subject. After discovering that a conference was happening, we found a lot of our subjects by looking at their speaker list and determining who seemed influential and interesting. Mark was at the top of the list immediately. His number was publicly available, so we called him and he was on board.

We knew we wanted critical analysis in the film too, so we reached out first to Dr. Joe Pierre because he had written a column on the psychology of flat earth beliefs. Our first shoot was his interview, because we figured that perspective would be valuable before we went on shoots with flat earthers. Soon after, Daniel went to Whidbey for three days to shoot with Mark, and we felt that we had a good movie on our hands.

jpaek169 karma

Did most of these people also believe in multiple conspiracy theories? As in, is this just conspiracy theorists just latching on to a new topic, or are they just mostly only flat earthers?

(off to go watch it on Amazon now!)

Delta-vProductions126 karma

Flat Earth is sort of the bottom of the conspiracy rabbit hole. To even be in a place to entertain it, you have to have accepted so many other conspiracies. If you bounce a conspiracy off of them, they probably believe it. Or at least, they're not willing to immediately discount any conspiracy as obviously false.

dancing_raptor_jesus62 karma

Did you ever ask the Flat-Earthers who 'they' was and what 'they' got out of it? One of the biggest sticking points to me about conspiracy theorists is that the benefit to 'they' is never explained :/

Delta-vProductions106 karma

It really differs for each and every one of them. Mark's view, which he expresses in the film, is that scientists would 'lose their power' if they admitted that they'd been wrong for so long.

The most cogent explanation probably comes from the Infinite Plane crowd, who think there are utopian continents on the other side of the ice wall reserved for the rich and powerful.

'Most cogent' is a relative term in this case, of course.

wtysonc59 karma

Did you meet anyone you guys would consider as someone likely suffering from mental health issues?

Delta-vProductions143 karma

There are definitely people in the movement that have an inordinate amount of paranoia, which feeds conspiratorial beliefs... but on the whole, the vast majority of people who are into flat earth don't come off as having mental health problems. Rather, they're people who tend to value subjective experience and intuition over objective evidence, which is something that's widespread.

Our brains like to think of flat earthers as "uneducated" or "crazy" because it makes us feel better about ourselves. "I'm not like them because I went to college/get my information from X source and not Y source/etc." We want to think we're not susceptible to this kind of thinking, but in reality, all of us are.

Googleymyoogley53 karma

Im under the assumption most flat earthers are poorly educated. Is this true?

And if so, Was there ever the case that there was a well educated person believing the earth is flat?

Delta-vProductions45 karma

We get this question a lot, possibly because it's comforting to think of flat earthers as uneducated, as different than us. While it seems intuitive, it's not as simple as that. In fact, research has shown that people who are more educated can then use their reasoning abilities to explain away evidence.

We recently met Asheley R. Landrum, Assistant Professor at Texas Tech, who is performing research about science curiosity. Her grad students were at the Flat Earth Conference in 2017 (the same one in "Behind the Curve") asking questions to flat earthers about how they found the conspiracy and who their sources are. You can read more about her research here.

GeithKan51 karma

What was the most interesting thing you found out about their community, beliefs or just them in general when you were interacting with them?

Delta-vProductions79 karma

We expected all flat earthers to be very religious, and that their flat earth beliefs would stem from that. It turned out that, while that was certainly common, the biggest predictor of flat earth beliefs was conspiratorial thinking. A lot of the main people we interviewed were not particularly religious, but very conspiratorial.

A_Feathered_Raptor39 karma

How did you get the people to be in your documentary? Did they know this was about the psychology of flat-earth conspiracy theorist?

Delta-vProductions77 karma

We were clear that we were not flat earthers, and that we were making a movie about the people in the flat earth movement, as opposed to the question of whether the earth was flat or not. We did not tell them that we were interviewing scientists and psychologists too.

Most of them were very willing to talk to us right away. They feel that any opportunity to discuss flat earth is a net-plus.

jboy114237 karma

By making the doc and sharing these views to the masses, do you feel you risk legitimizing these people and their positions?

Delta-vProductions46 karma

It's certainly a question we struggled with. However, we feel critical analysis of these trends is important in order for us to learn how they come about and how we can address them. If no one on the other side ever talked about flat earthers, or the many harmful conspiracies like Anti-vaxxing that are becoming prevalent, they would still spread on their own accord. We were careful not to give undue legitimacy to their beliefs in the film, making sure it was understood several times throughout that there are easy answers to the questions flat earthers raise (like with Hannlore and the planes, or Stephen with inertial frames of reference).

Cardlinger32 karma

Hi folks! Was wondering out loud today with Mrs Cardlinger: did any of the flat earthers you interviewed think the other planets in the solar system are also flat? Or that they don't exist as planets (they're "illusions in the sky"), or...something else?

I couldn't conceive they'd think other planets were spheroid but Earth was the exception to the rule...

Was a fun watch - thanks!

Delta-vProductions42 karma

None of them see them as other planets but rather have some other explanation. Mark believes they're a projection on a dome. We're honestly not sure what precisely other people think... none of us can recall hearing an explanation from someone who doesn't buy into the 'projection' theory.

Krngreggo26 karma

Did the Flat Earther ever answer the kid's question "how tall is the dome?" And was that kid a flat earther or just brought along by flat earther parents?

Delta-vProductions39 karma

Haha, he actually did, yes -- it was cut out just because the flow was better to go straight from him asking how old the kid was into the climax. What he said was, "go outside and look at Chris Pontius's models -- basically that." So it wasn't a very detailed answer.

joe0jm18 karma

Do you believe most Flat Earthers are serious or just being Ironic / trolling?

Delta-vProductions24 karma

Daniel -- I didn't meet a single flat earther that seemed to be faking it.

Jacobwages15 karma

After watching your documentary I have concluded flat earthers are not idiots, not unsuccessful, and they typically don't "live in their mom's basement." I also discovered flat earthers are not dog people. Does that hold true among all the flat earthers you interviewed?

Delta-vProductions32 karma

Nick -- Bob and Jeran both actually have dogs! The excess of cat shots is more a function of how much Daniel and I love cats. (Caroline is also... 'ok' with cats!) I mean, if a cat was doing something funny, it's not like I was going to leave that out...

Plus Mark's cat Bitsy is the greatest cat on this round earth.

bavarianboy15 karma

How much of a threat do groups such as the flat earthers pose? are they harmless eccentrics or should we view their complete denial of science more seriously?

Delta-vProductions15 karma

They're more symptomatic of a larger denial of science than anything. Someone believing in flat earth on its own isn't necessarily harmful to society, but anti-vaxxers and climate change denial, on the other hand, are incredibly harmful, and these belief systems often overlap.

EveryTrueSon14 karma

Did you come up with the name of the project before filming?

Delta-vProductions12 karma

Nope, while filming.

TheOuts1der14 karma

How did you choose the the science folks to be part of the doc? Like I recognize a handful of their names, but Hannalore and the male physicist with the accent were new to me. Is there an active anti-flat earth community or did you just pick individuals who could speak popsci but who had real credentials?

Delta-vProductions37 karma

Dr. Pierre had written a column on the psychology of flat earthers.

Hannalore had experience in science communication from giving a talk at an Astronomy on Tap.

We were a fan of Tim's writing beforehand, and he was wonderful in a film our friend made called The Mars Generation, so we thought he'd be a great addition.

Stephen Hagberg was the high school science teacher of one of our colleagues.

Per Espen Stoknes had written a book which is one of the definitive texts on the psychology of climate change denial.

Spiros was recommended to us by a colleague who had worked with him before on another project (I forget exactly which).

And Scott Kelly of course is Scott Kelly.

Muthafuckaaaaa13 karma

What's your favourite sandwich?

Would you make it on Flatbread or normal bread

Delta-vProductions21 karma

Daniel -- Growing up in Philly, it's always Italian hoagie. On a roll.

Caroline -- Flatbread over a sandwich any day.

Nick -- Reuben or Cubano. I'm agnostic on the bread.

TediousSign10 karma

Did you ever try to arrange a meeting between Mark/What's-her-name and the physicists you spoke to?

Delta-vProductions17 karma

It felt too contrived to us to organize that. We wanted to film this as a verite doc, and not interfere too much with anything that was happening.

commandershepuurd6 karma

Fantastic documentary. I have a more boring, pre-production question! I'm a Media Production student with a love of documentary.

How did you go about getting the film on Netflix? Was it pitched to them and funded with them, or did you just go and make it and approach them afterwards?

Delta-vProductions17 karma

We made the film in a very scrappy, self-funded way, with no distribution. We ended up getting interest from sales agents, and they shopped the film around. We were very fortunate that Netflix was interested in licensing it on their platform.