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Neil deGrasse Tyson, Debunker

After rapper B.o.B. tweeted about his flat Earth theories, Tyson, an astrophysicist, tried to set him straight. But B.o.B. was having none of it, so he made a diss track, hitting back at Tyson, while touching on Hitler and kippahs, too. Yep.

Rachel Shukert
January 27, 2016
Cindy Ord/Getty Images for FOX
Neil deGrasse Tyson at the Paley Center for Media in New York City, June 4, 2014. Cindy Ord/Getty Images for FOX
Cindy Ord/Getty Images for FOX
Neil deGrasse Tyson at the Paley Center for Media in New York City, June 4, 2014. Cindy Ord/Getty Images for FOX

When you think about who is most likely to be called out in a rap battle diss track, America’s most beloved astrophysicist is probably not at the top of the list. But that’s precisely what has happened to Neil deGrasse Tyson, our leading public voice of scientific reason, when he ran afoul of Atlanta rapper B.o.B. recently.

It all started when B.o.B., a leading proponent of the Internet-fueled belief that the Earth is flat, tweeted the following observation:

The cities in the background are approx. 16miles apart… where is the curve ? please explain this

— B.o.B (@bobatl) January 25, 2016

B.o.B. didn’t stop there, either, as he called out New York’s skyline and NASA truth-hiding, too. (He even wrote “Once you go flat you never go back.”) So Tyson eventually chimed in; but B.o.B. didn’t take too kindly to the scientist’s characteristically level-headed attempt to disabuse any theories of the Flat Earth Society, whose members believe the contrary. (Tila Tequila, porn star, reality show contestant, and most-friended person in the history of MySpace is another celebrity member.) I mean, if the Earth isn’t flat, why don’t people in Australia walk upside down? The public deserves to know, Neil! (Oh, you just told us? Right.)

In general, when I hear about people believing the Earth is flat—and if you think it isn’t a question I’m waiting for Megyn Kelly to ask at the next G.O.P. debate, then you obviously don’t know me very well—all I can think about how awkward it must be for their kids when they do the Christopher Columbus unit at school. Do they—like Jewish and Muslim and Hindu kids during the singing of, say, denominational Christmas carols in the Winter Concert—feel they must recuse themselves or somehow betray their heritage? Do they try to argue with the teacher about the validity of material, parroting whatever idiot logic they’ve been indoctrinated in since birth, or do they sit silently, cheeks burning with shame, as they realize their parents are total morons? We can’t know. But I feel for them, wherever they are.

Anyway, as conspiracy theorists go, Flat Earthers like B.o.B. seem relatively harmless: Who could possibly believe them, except all the many thousands of Americans who also believe the Earth is 6000 years old, and that dinosaur fossils are simply a clever hoax probably orchestrated by Victorian showmen sometime in the mid-19th century? Well, harmless until you hear B.o.B.’s diss track, which, I think you’ll agree, has very little to do with whether there are sea serpents waiting for you when you finally fall off the end of the Korean peninsula:

Do your research on David Irving
Stalin was way worse than Hitler
That’s why the POTUS gotta wear a kippah.

Ummm… OK. First of all, none of that rhymes. Second, let’s examine these imperative statements, shall we? (The audio for the track has since been taken down, but you can find all the lyrics here.)

I have done my research on notorious Holocaust denier David Irving, and frankly, I find him unconvincing; although I can’t say a perverse part of me doesn’t admire the man’s tenacity to get his message across in the face of impossible (although lessening!) odds. As for Stalin being worse than Hitler—debatable! Stalin was certainly very, very bad, and the differences between him and old buddy ‘Dolf were mostly philosophical. And does POTUS have to wear a kippah? Well, President Obama certainly sports one at White House Seders and other Jewish-themed events but he hasn’t seemed to make a habit out of it. (Obama, it should be noted, has acted in stark contrast to his predecessors, should anybody still seriously entertain thoughts that he is somehow less than attached to the Jews than, say, Bush pere et fils, men whose father and grandfather, respectively, made a fortune by actually doing business with the Nazis.)

So, all in all, B.o.B.’s claims are unconvincing, except in one respect: It is a truth universally acknowledged—and if it isn’t, it really should be—that it is virtually impossible to subscribe to one conspiracy theory without subscribing to another, and another, until one has completely slipped down the wormhole to anti-Semitism, which, of course, is the oldest and most enduring conspiracy theory of all. It makes sense in a way: If you like a band, for example, you want to know who their influences are, and then their influences, and before you know it, you’re ordering a bunch of barely audible Delta blues albums off a far corner of Scratch a Flat Earther, you find a 9/11 Truther, and behind a 9/11 Truther, you get an Obama Birther, and so on and so forth, all the way to The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.

Let’s just hope Neil deGrasse Tyson doesn’t get tired of his position as Debunker-in-Chief anytime soon.

Rachel Shukert is the author of the memoirs Have You No Shame? and Everything Is Going To Be Great,and the novel Starstruck. She is the creator of the Netflix show The Baby-Sitters Club, and a writer on such series as GLOW and Supergirl. Her Twitter feed is @rachelshukert.