It’s unfortunate that such an eminently likable and engaging a man as Neil deGrasse Tyson should be one of the driving problems in science today.
He’s someone who could unite and enforce scientific legitimacy in areas that have been politicized by too many, but instead he himself has become maybe the most influential political polemicist driving the division.
Tyson, an astrophysicist by training and showman by vocation, recently released a Facebook video with the written intro:
“I offer this four-minute video on ‘Science in America’ containing what may be the most important words I have ever spoken.”
And then he launches with a professionally, slickly made video that just gets so much wrong.
When scientists ignore history
With grey storminess as the visual background, Tyson asks in full dramatic baritone voice: “How did America rise up from a backwoods country to be one of the greatest nations the world has ever known?”
Now most people — at least when American history was well taught in the schools — would answer that question with a few historical truths centering around the concept of individual liberty. Freedom of speech, religion, the press. Individual rights. Very limited government. And property rights that extend to patents, critically important to scientific research.
But not Tyson. There are shots of black and white 1800s industry moving forward to rockets blasting off and the brilliantly lit Manhattan skyline of today. More dramatic music. It’s almost like it is playing on the visceral over the intellectual.
“We pioneered industries. And all of this required the greatest innovations in science and technology in the world.”
True enough! So how did that come about? Why did such an explosion of innovation happen on the world stage centering from this backwoods country? What was different about America from the rest of the world that laid the foundations for this scientific and technological revolution that is ongoing?
On this point, the scientist in Tyson retreats into hiding.
“And so, science…is a fundamental part of the country that we are.”
Science? Jefferson, Hamilton, Washington, Adams, Hancock were all fighting for…science? Yes, it sounds absurd. But watch the video with an understanding of our history and the video is absurd. It has also been seen 24 million times so far on Facebook alone, with hundreds of thousands of likes and shares.
Dishonest history is not science
Tyson jumps in with science being the key to why America is so prosperous without giving so much as a glance backward as to how this came about. It’s surprisingly unscientific. The scientific method would include honest research about why modern science arose so powerfully in western nations, and specifically America, but not the rest of the world.
But he does not do that. And the video becomes more political screed than enlightenment on science. Science defines very little about a nation. Science flourishing is an outflow of the things that define a nation. For America, that is our freedoms — freedoms that are not universal to the brotherhood of nations.
The formula goes more like this: A nation’s dominant religion defines it morals defines its laws and those allow science to flourish or not. Tyson jumps in with the flourishing of science, which is equivalent to ignoring maybe the most basic scientific question: Why does this act this way?
Without the individual liberty principles on which this nation was established — totally independent of science — science is virtually nonexistent. If you look at countries around the globe that are secular or Muslim tyrannical — so, largely not very free — precious few scientific advancements come. Even huge countries such as China and Russia move forward primarily with stolen or copied technology from the United States.
America remains at the core of global innovations. But to Tyson, that means only that America is all about innovations. He is either deplorably lacking curiosity as to “why” — odd for a scientist — or he ignores that reality for a different reason.
Profound ignorance impels profound politicization
Tyson continues: “But, in this, the 21st century, when it comes time to make decisions about science, it seems to me people have lost the ability to judge what is true and what is not. What is reliable and what is not. What you should believe, and what should you not believe.
“And when you have people who don’t know much about science standing in denial of it and rising to power, that is a recipe for the complete dismantling of our informed democracy.”
This is where he begins to put science on the exalted level of a religion. He thinks being ignorant of science will cause the complete dismantling of informed democracy. Interestingly, he does not see college campus speech codes, or hate speech laws, or attempts to shut down talk radio by government, or government-run media such as NPR and PBS, or continual infringements on the First Amendment as threats to an informed democracy, but ignorance about…science.
I apologize, but this itself is profoundly ignorant about history and human nature. That tens of millions of people lap it up claiming that those who don’t are the ignorant hicks is a real problem.
Tyson goes on to rip anyone questioning evolution by wanting to use the term “theory,” and also anyone questioning the level of anthropogenic climate change. These are actually free speech issues — one of the cornerstones that caused the innovations Tyson so rightly admires. But instead of appreciating the value of free speech, he seems to see those as threats.
It’s quite astounding really.
The inevitable straw men arrive
“That’s not the country I remember growing up in…I don’t remember anytime where people were standing in denial of what science was.”
Again, his lack of curiosity is quite curious for a scientist. Does he not wonder what changed? Was it the American people? Or was it a few branches of science that became politicized in service to a political agenda? Or was it something else. He appears disinterested in those question. It’s just, science!
And then he gets mad. Really, almost literally spitting mad. “This is science! It’s not something to toy with! It’s not something to say, I choose not to believe E = mc2. You don’t have that option!”
1) Yes, people do have that option because of the freedoms in this country that set the foundations for the scientific revolution (you’d just be foolish to actually do so) and
2) Nobody is saying that. No one disputes E = mc2 or gravity or other proven truths. The argument is bogus and typical of the straw men thrown up when criticisms cannot be overcome.
But now we get to where all this was always headed, “solving the problems that face us.”
Cue belching smokestacks.
Precisely why people are suspicious
Yup. Climate change. This is all about the climate change agenda. That’s what the March for Science falderal was all about, which is what this video was timed with.
Notice, the march did not point out that science has made very clear that a baby in the womb is human in all ways we measure human lives, from the earliest weeks, such as brainwaves and heartbeats and feeling pain. There have been great strides on that front. But the science is denied.
Nor did the march talk about a Y-chromosome man with the full male genital package thinking he is a woman “trapped” in a man’s body as a complete denial of science. The science on it until it rose on the gay agenda was long settled that it is a psychological condition to be treated — not celebrated and given special minority rights under the law.
The march didn’t mention those things, and neither does Tyson. Because this really is not about science, which is inconvenient to the liberal agenda on those issues. This is about a political agenda that is determined to make everyone believe that the global warming we are seeing is not part of ongoing global cycles but is being driven by man.
One problem is that the climate data has been corrupted by climatologists with a political agenda as revealed in a series of scandals and a recent Obama official. A second problem is that the models used to project the level of warming have been proven to be deeply flawed. So independent thinkers naturally have a lot of questions about the veracity claims about the future.
Tyson concludes with saying once everyone agrees with him that man is destroying the earth — something “science” claimed a few times in the 20th century and was wrong about — then we can finally talk about the political solutions, such as carbon credits, tariffs on items, funding this, subsidizing that.
Notice, every solution that pops in his mind involves the government taking more money, spending more money and increasing regulations — moves that will hurt the economy and therefore working Americans the most. Those are the politically liberal mind’s solutions to problems.
And that’s what Tyson’s video is all about. Worldview and politics. Not the systematic study of the physical world through observation and experiment, testing and retesting hypotheses, aka science. But politics.
In that, Tyson does a grave disservice to science.
EDITORS NOTE: This column originally appeared in The Revolutionary Act.