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Published on December 24th, 2012


How Columbus Was Wrong

Most students of History know Christopher Columbus as a Genoese sailor and explorer who defied the research community and refused to accept the established truth that the world was flat. We in Popular Social Science have had a look at the debate surrounding Columbus’ voyage.

It is well known that Columbus stranded in the Bahamas in 1492. What is less known is that his trip was not hampered by a European belief that the world was flat. As a matter of fact, most serious scientists at the time knew that the world was roughly spherical. This had been known to the research community since around the first century AD.

The explorer and navigator Columbus made early expeditions to the Atlantic ocean and to Africa, before engaging on the famous journey from Spain with the Santa Maria, Pinta, and Niña.

Columbus knew that the world was not flat; however, he deeply miscalculated the distance from Europe to India, the latter which was the goal of his expedition. He has later become a symbol of progress, when the truth was that he made an error of calculation.

Naturally, the science community was skeptical, as they rightfully thougt he underestimated the distance to India. This is also the reason he initially had trouble raising finances for his voyage. Had it not been for the coincidence that America lay in the way, something Columbus did not know, his expedition would have run out of fresh water and food.

One could say that Columbus was lucky, as he profited from his error. Also, another European seaman had already made the trip to New Foundland some centuries earlier. However, Columbus’ discovery benefited all of us, as the great continent of America was now opened up for European settlers.


Further reading:
Hanman, James (2009). God’s Philosophers: How the Medieval World Laid the Foundations of Modern Science. Washington, DC: Icon Books.


Statue photo by Ken Zirkel



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