Neil deGrasse Tyson and B.o.B square up over round earth

A rundown of the wildest Twitter beef of 2016

Graphic by Bram Keast

Conspiracy theories are nothing new. Conspiracy theories that escalate into Twitter beef and rap battles, however, are a sign of new and changing times.

Rapper B.o.B, who you may remember from the breakout 2010 single “Airplanes,” recently threw himself back into relevance when he sent out a flurry of tweets on Jan. 25 claiming that he believed that the Earth is actually flat.

His explanations included that the Earth’s curve wasn’t visible to him from over 16 miles, and that GoPro cameras sent above the earth were using “curved lenses” to falsify the appearance of a round planet.

Neil deGrasse Tyson, a well-known science communicator and director of the Hayden Planetarium in New York, intervened in a few short tweets.

A few were educational – Tyson mentioned that while the Earth’s curve does block visibility, most buildings are tall enough that they pass the curve, and we can see them from miles away – and a few reminded readers that conspiracy theories can be harmful when influential people hold them.

“Flat Earth is a problem only when people in charge think that way. No law stops you from regressively basking in it,” Tyson tweeted to B.o.B at the end of their short online exchange.

B.oB was not convinced. After the Twitter conversation died down, he took to the recording studio and released a diss track titled “Flatline (feat. Neil Tyson).” Yes, you read that right.

The track, which has since been deleted from music sharing website Soundcloud, included lyrics such as “why is NASA part of the Department of Defense?,” and “feeding kids masonry, bruh, be careful what you read.”

Tyson would not be silenced.

Soon after “Flatline” was released, Tyson responded with his own track, with the help of his rapper nephew Stephen J. Tyson. Titled “Flat to Fact,” the track uses the beat from Drake’s song “Back to Back” and drops some hard truths.

Stephen J. Tyson mixed facts (“What about the change of seasons?/The planet spins around the sun, do you need more reasons?”) and typical rap-beef status boasting (“I’m in the Hayden Planetarium getting shoulder rubs”), and many of us believed this beef was over. Neil deGrasse Tyson, with the help of his nephew, had won by a landslide.

The short feud ended on Jan. 27, when Tyson made a surprise cameo on The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore, where he walked onstage eating a sandwich. He put down the sandwich, picked up a mic, and finished the discussion once and for all.

“Small sections of large, curved surfaces will always look flat to little creatures who crawl upon it,” Tyson said, before adding, “and by the way, this is called gravity” and dropping the mic.

As the dust settles, it’s up to us to decide what to take away from it. Is it a sign of our ignorance that “flat-earthers” continue to gain traction in our society, or was this feud an opportunity for Twitter users to learn something new?

Tyson has over four million Twitter followers. If even one of them gained some knowledge on our planet as a result of this, then this might have been the most positive Internet beef of all time.