Neil deGrasse Tyson Hides His Non-apology Apology

Wow. I didn’t expect a true apology from Tyson, as it is now clear to me that the man is a bullshitter. However, when the man said he needed to find the right place and time for his “apology,” for some reason, I did not expect that to mean he was trying to come up with a way to apologize in the least noticeable way possible. I overestimated his integrity.

Well, that’s what he did. Tyson first obscures the “apology” in a Facebook posting by giving it the title, “Partial Anatomy of My Public Talks.” Yes, that is the title. He talks about his “objectives” and then talks about his wardrobe. Yes, the man describes his wardrobe:

I own a half-dozen cosmically themed vests and another 100+ cosmically themed ties. Among them, I’m more likely to be seen in only two of the vests and about adozen of the ties, they being my favorites. In large theater performance venues, I often remove my shoes. I can move more nimbly on the stage, but I also do so as a matter of silent respect for the countless performers — singers, dancers, musicians – who have previously sanctified the stage with their artistic talents.

Then, he talks about the mechanics of his talk and tries to come up with excuse for not being able to back up the claims in his talks:

I do not speak from notes. So, depending on the time of day, the recent news cycle of current events, and the leanings, humor, and enthusiasm of the audience, I will be creating what I say on the spot. The scaffold is there. The words I use to clad it are unique to the moment. So when I get calls from hosts who ask, “Please send the talk in advance.” My reply is, “My talk is the talk. It does not exist before I give it.”

Then comes the “apology”

A Case Study: Quoting George W. Bush

For a talk I give on the rise and fall of science in human cultural history I occasionally paraphrase President George W. Bush from one of his speeches, remarking that our God is the God who named the stars, and immediately noting that 2/3 of all star-names in the night sky are Arabic. I use this fact to pivot from the present-day, back to a millennium ago, during the Golden Age of Islam, in which major advances in math, science, engineering, medicine, and navigation were achieved. The Bush reference is not written on my PowerPoint slides, which I keep sparse, but I remembered it from a speech he gave after September 11, 2001. And I presented it that way, as Bush’s attempt to distinguish “we” from ‘they.” When eager scrutinizers looked for the quote they could not find it, and promptly accused me of fabricating a Presidential sentence. Lawyers are good at this. They find something that you get wrong, and use it to cast doubt on everything else you say. Blogosphere headlines followed, with accusations of me being a compulsive liar and a fabricator.

What followed fascinated me greatly. As others had uncovered, the President indeed utter the following sentences:

In the words of the prophet Isaiah, “Lift your eyes and look to the heavens. Who created all these? He who brings out the starry hosts one by one and calls them each by name. Because of his great power and mighty strength, not one of them is missing.” The same creator who names the stars also knows the names of the seven souls we mourn today.

But I was wrong about when he said it. It appears in his speech after the Columbia Shuttle disaster, eighteen months after September 11th 2001. My bad. And I here publicly apologize to the President for casting his quote in the context of contrasting religions rather than as a poetic reference to the lost souls of Columbia. I have no excuse for this, other than both events– so close to one another — upset me greatly. In retrospect, I’m surprised I remembered any details from either of them.

Of course, very little changes in that particular talk. I will still mention Islamic Extremists flying planes into buildings in the 21st century. I will still contrast it with the Golden Age of Islam a millennium earlier. And I will still mention the President’s quote. But instead, I will be the one contrasting what actually happened in the world with what the Bible says: The Arabs named the stars, not Yahweh.

Wow. Just…..wow. What do you think? I gotta comment on that when I get a little more time.

Tyson ends by telling us he would rather be eating waffles or drinking milkshakes than giving his talks, but his mighty sense of social responsibility makes him choose the talks over waffles.

Like I said….the man is a bullshitter.

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28 Responses to Neil deGrasse Tyson Hides His Non-apology Apology

  1. Wow. Let’s see you do hundreds of media requests a year and see how perfect you are. What do you want from the guy, 10 pages of groveling apology followed by some self-flagellation in Times Square? It’s almost like you think he invaded a country on false pretenses, killing hundreds of thousands of them, thousands of us, blowing a few trillion dollars and leaving the country worse than it was when we started. Oh, sorry, no, that was the guy he was misquoting.

  2. Ilíon says:

    Wow. I didn’t expect a true apology from Tyson, as it is now clear to me that the man is a bullshitter. … I overestimated his integrity.

    *Every* ‘atheist’ (and his weasel-brother, the ‘agnostic’) is intellectually dishonest to some extent or other — one may be honestly mistaken over whether Christianity is true, but no man who denies the reality of the Creator does so from honest error.

    Thus, seeing that *all* God-denial is built upon deliberate intellectually dishonesty, as a man’s identity is increasingly tied into his God-denial, he will be increasingly intellectually dishonest. As see the post immediately above.

  3. GM says:

    My favorite part is the humblebrag about taking his shoes off to silently respect artists on a stage. It ain’t silent when you explain it to the internet.

  4. ccmnxc says:

    Wow. Let’s see you do hundreds of media requests a year and see how perfect you are.

    So…is this an excuse? Tyson talks a lot, therefore, there is a greater chance that he will bull**** than your average person, thus he gets to be excused? No, sorry, I don’t think that will work. If Mike blatantly lied in a talk, even if he did it regularly, he ought to apologize and accept the consequences that his credibility might take a hit.

    What do you want from the guy, 10 pages of groveling apology followed by some self-flagellation in Times Square?

    Speaking for myself, I wouldn’t say no if he offered. However, a much simpler paragraph explaining what he got wrong, apologizing, and promising to try to do better next time would suffice. A mini cyber-treatise in an attempt to excuse himself, however, will not.

    It’s almost like you think he invaded a country on false pretenses, killing hundreds of thousands of them, thousands of us, blowing a few trillion dollars and leaving the country worse than it was when we started. Oh, sorry, no, that was the guy he was misquoting.

    He could be (mis)quoting Hitler for all it mattered. It doesn’t absolve him of dishonesty. Now, could you please stop trying to throw in these red-herrings, lest you look like all the gnus rushing to defend Tyson via deflection.

  5. The Deuce says:

    Nick:

    Wow. Let’s see you do hundreds of media requests a year and see how perfect you are.

    Gosh, I hate it when I have to talk too much, and end up accidentally maliciously fabricating quotes for personal and political advantage and telling the same lies over and over again.

    I guess it must be easier for one bullshit artist to sympathize with another.

  6. The Deuce says:

    Mike:

    Wow. Just…..wow. What do you think? I gotta comment on that when I get a little more time.

    I doubt you can outdo Ace here: http://minx.cc:1080/?post=352225

    I expected that Tyson would give a typical nonpology, but I was wrong. Instead, he gave the most petty, juvenile, narcissistic, insecure, and anti-intellectual nonpology imaginable.

  7. Bilbo says:

    Bush: “Absence of evidence of WMDs is not evidence of absence….”

    No wait, wrong guy.

  8. Ilíon says:

    … In retrospect, I’m surprised I remembered any details from either of them.

    Just a few days ago, wasn’t he claiming to have an amazingly accurate memory for this sort of thing?

  9. Crude says:

    And so Nick Matzke shows up to carry Tyson’s water. If this was an ID proponent, we’d be getting another schtick:

    Wow. Just wow. This guy can’t even get a quote right when it’s from the (at the time) most powerful man in the free world and he’s there in attendance!? And these are the people who demand scientific trust and respect?

    Also, Nick?

    Oh, sorry, no, that was the guy he was misquoting.

    It’s not okay to misquote and misrepresent people you dislike, you hack.

  10. I’m just surprised at the emotion you guys are displaying. What, exactly, is the massive import of this? Tyson isn’t even one of the “New Atheists”, he’s mostly more chill about religion — see e.g. http://www.pandasthumb.org/archives/2006/11/neil_degrasse_t.html , where he kind of took it to the Gnus at their big “Beyond Belief” meeting where they tried to rally academia in general to their cause. And, if you really want to get emotional and start cussing over someone being misleading, George W. Bush deserves it a few jillion times more than Tyson.

    Also, re: public speaking and liking it — it’s not uncommon for scientists and other nerds to actually be pretty introverted in their fundamental personality, whether or not they are able to come out of their shell for public engagements. Plus, it can get a little boring talking about pluto and black holes and a few other things over and over.

  11. Bilbo says:

    Hey! Pluto’s a planet, damnit!

  12. Crude says:

    I’m just surprised at the emotion you guys are displaying.

    It’s not emotion, Nick. It’s amusement at the hypocrisy and frankly, ineptitude on the part of yet another scientific idol.

    Tyson isn’t even one of the “New Atheists”, he’s mostly more chill about religion

    Oh good, then you’d agree that “religion” and “New Atheism” isn’t animating criticisms about him, and is therefore irrelevant? Maybe we’re poking fun at him because, well… he could use some fun being poked at him. You don’t have to be in the Cult of Gnu to be pompous or hypocritical. It merely helps.

    And, if you really want to get emotional and start cussing over someone being misleading

    Stop freaking out, Nick. No one’s getting emotional, and calling him a ‘bullshitter’ is hardly much cussing. Really, if you’re going to be a hack abusing scientific authority, you’d think you’d learn more tricks than the whole ‘passive aggressive’ thing.

    As for Bush – who cares? I’ve never liked the man much. But I also realize that not liking someone doesn’t give you license to lie and/or make up quotes about what they said, and that when you’re exposed as having done that, you should probably straight up apologize.

    But really, thanks for showing up and providing another good reason why it’s important to call Tyson out for his various inaccuracies: because guys like you won’t do it, since you apparently think it’s okay to just make up stuff about someone if you dislike them enough.

    Rational, scientific thinking, no doubt.

  13. The Deuce says:

    Heh, Nick goes emo over the evils of arch-demon George W Bush in his dissembling attempt to justify Tyson’s dishonesty, then says everyone else is being emotional when they ridicule him for it.

  14. The Deuce says:

    Crude:

    It’s not okay to misquote and misrepresent people you dislike, you hack.

    That reminds me, aren’t we overdue for another rash of those “Why oh why does everyone still distrust we morally and intellectually superior seculars for no reason” pity-party articles in the major papers? Seems like it’s been a while.

  15. Hmm. Tyson makes a careless mistake with basically no consequences of any sort for him or anyone else, except perhaps a (teeny) bit of impact on the reputation of George W. Bush. Result: massive freakout across the right-wing blogosphere, and Christians cussing and defending cussing on a Christian blog. In discussing George W. Bush’s systematic, probably deliberate, mistaken claims about Iraq, which resulted in hundreds of thousands dead and trillions wasted, what’s the response? “Don’t be emo, man.” Interesting. It would be nice if there was a way we could quantify the right-wing blogosphere’s response to Tyson’s mistake, versus Bush’s mistakes.

  16. Also — googling around, it looks like everyone including Tyson and his critics is missing something. The Columbia disaster occurred on Feb. 1, 2003, and it just so happens that that was right in the middle of the huge political/media debate over whether or not there was going to be an invasion of Iraq. Bush’s state of the union was Jan. 28, 2003 — this was the one with the claim that “The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa.” Colin Powell’s UN speech was Feb. 5, 2003. Bush claimed Iraq had seven mobile germ warfare labs on Feb. 8, 2003. Joe Wilson’s claim on CNN that the Niger uranium documents were fake was March 8, 2003. The war started March 20, 2003.

    Numerous things are possible with that much going on. E.g. – Tyson mixes notes on two different topics, then years later mixes them together and accidentally fabricates a quote. Or, a similar thing happens in his head. Or, he sees something on TV, perhaps just a glance, where the main screen has some clip of the Bush speech on Columbia and the ticker is quoting someone else’s statement on muslims, he conflates the two, and that’s the beginning of the problem, later compounded by hazy memory. For added complexity, mix in the emotion involved in 9/11, the Columbia disaster, the Iraq War, the revelations about the lies told to start the Iraq war, and, perhaps, Tyson’s annoyance at the amount of money being spent in Iraq compared to the amount being spent on space throughout the decade. Tyson shouldn’t have made the mistake, he should have been faster to issue a correction, but it’s fairly possible to see how it could have happened, especially to someone who is super-busy but who doesn’t have anyone writing or reviewing his speeches (unlike, say, presidents).

  17. Ilion:

    “Just a few days ago, wasn’t he claiming to have an amazingly accurate memory for this sort of thing?”

    He was also claiming to have jotted the quotation down in his notebook right after hearing it.

  18. The Deuce says:

    He was also claiming to have jotted the quotation down in his notebook right after hearing it.

    Careless mistake. Could’ve happened to anyone. 😀

  19. Michael says:

    Nick:

    Also, re: public speaking and liking it — it’s not uncommon for scientists and other nerds to actually be pretty introverted in their fundamental personality, whether or not they are able to come out of their shell for public engagements. Plus, it can get a little boring talking about pluto and black holes and a few other things over and over.

    I’m not surprised that Tyson gets bored with talking about science. We see that with other atheists, such as Myers, Dawkins, Coyne, and Harris. But that’s not the point. Tyson tried to make it look like the only reason he gives his talks is because he has this noble sense of social responsibility. It has nothing to do with all the money he is making, right?

  20. Michael says:

    Numerous things are possible with that much going on. E.g. – Tyson mixes notes on two different topics, then years later mixes them together and accidentally fabricates a quote. Or, a similar thing happens in his head. Or, he sees something on TV, perhaps just a glance, where the main screen has some clip of the Bush speech on Columbia and the ticker is quoting someone else’s statement on muslims, he conflates the two, and that’s the beginning of the problem, later compounded by hazy memory. For added complexity, mix in the emotion involved in 9/11, the Columbia disaster, the Iraq War, the revelations about the lies told to start the Iraq war, and, perhaps, Tyson’s annoyance at the amount of money being spent in Iraq compared to the amount being spent on space throughout the decade. Tyson shouldn’t have made the mistake, he should have been faster to issue a correction, but it’s fairly possible to see how it could have happened, especially to someone who is super-busy but who doesn’t have anyone writing or reviewing his speeches (unlike, say, presidents).

    Oh, please. There is no need for this convoluted, desperate hand-waving. There is a much more parsimonious explanation – Tyson’s mind is enslaved to stereotypes about Christians. Recall something I tried to enlighten you about years ago – the human mind tends to see what is expects to see. Tyson was originally sure that he had personally heard that Bush quote. In fact, he says he has “explicit memory of those words being spoken by the President.” This is because his mind EXPECTS Bush to have said something like that because of his stereotypes. So he thinks he heard something he did not hear. And because his memory is indebted to stereotype, and his mind is enslaved to stereotype, that explains why he never felt the need to do some basic fact-checking. Thanks to his stereotypes, it all seemed like reality to the scientist.

    I warned ya about that reliance on stereotypes. Because of it, the Mighty Tyson was PWNed by some unknown blogger. Thanks to his reliance on stereotypes, four words now describe him – Fish In A Barrel

  21. Michael says:

    massive freakout across the right-wing blogosphere,

    I think you are projecting. Tyson is on idol of the Left and also one of your heroes. Someone on the right made an undeniable case that Tyson was not telling the truth and thus exposed hypocrisy on the Left. This all has caused you to freakout.

    and Christians cussing and defending cussing on a Christian blog.

    I did not know your ears were so sensitive. Have you never known a bullshitter in your life? I have. They tend to have very strong opinions that get backed up with embellishment and often just making up facts. If you challenge them on their facts, they act surprised and don’t like it. And even if they acknowledge their facts are bogus, they insist their point is still right. Tyson strikes me as a bullshitter, as he admits the actual facts aren’t that important.

  22. Michael says:

    Nick, this part from Wiki should help you:

    The bullshitter generally either knows the statements are likely false, exaggerated, and in other ways misleading or has no interest in their factual accuracy one way or the other.

  23. Crude says:

    The bullshitter generally either knows the statements are likely false, exaggerated, and in other ways misleading or has no interest in their factual accuracy one way or the other.

    Running through this thread alone, with Matzke concern trolling over ‘OMG Christians cussing!!!’, the exaggerated comments (we’re ‘getting so emotional’ here), the desperate attempts to change the topic, and the just as desperate attempts to spin things every which-way in a defense of Tyson/attack on people calling him out… it’s worth asking if Nick himself qualifies for the above description. 😉

  24. The Deuce says:

    it’s worth asking if Nick himself qualifies for the above description.

    I dunno. I guess it depends on whether it still counts when you’re a fanboi cultist and the main person you’re bullshitting is yourself.

  25. ccmnxc says:

    I’m just surprised at the emotion you guys are displaying. What, exactly, is the massive import of this?

    About the only negative emotion I’m feeling regarding this whole thing is at worst, some minor frustration and pity that people are going to the wall for this (as you say) relatively minor incident. If you want to accuse me of getting emotional based upon that, I suppose it won’t be worth trying to stop you.

    Tyson isn’t even one of the “New Atheists”, he’s mostly more chill about religion — see e.g. http://www.pandasthumb.org/archives/2006/11/neil_degrasse_t.html , where he kind of took it to the Gnus at their big “Beyond Belief” meeting where they tried to rally academia in general to their cause.

    Basically what Crude said, though I’d like to tack on the fact that Tyson has a cult of personality as big as any of the major New Atheists (Dawkins, Harris, et al.), and this cult seems more than happy to express some of the most notable tendencies of gnu atheist groupthink.

    And, if you really want to get emotional and start cussing over someone being misleading, George W. Bush deserves it a few jillion times more than Tyson.

    And Bush got it a “few jillion more” times. Him being the president, he had a much bigger spotlight and thus was subject to vastly more criticism than Tyson will ever be. Considering this is a relatively minor event mostly taking place in a small segment of the blogosphere, then I would say the proportionality is hardly massively unfair the way you are making it out to be. But in all this lies the more important point. It does not matter in the slightest who Tyson lied about. We’re hardly complaining that Tyson did wrong because he was unfair to George Bush. We are simply saying that Tyson lied (doesn’t matter who it was about) and thus ought to fess up for it and move on instead of doing this sad and clumsy ballet to try to avoid shouldering the burden of mistruths (Cue the point where you once again irrelevantly talk about how Bush did the same).

    Hmm. Tyson makes a careless mistake with basically no consequences of any sort for him or anyone else, except perhaps a (teeny) bit of impact on the reputation of George W. Bush. Result: massive freakout across the right-wing blogosphere, and Christians cussing and defending cussing on a Christian blog. In discussing George W. Bush’s systematic, probably deliberate, mistaken claims about Iraq, which resulted in hundreds of thousands dead and trillions wasted, what’s the response? “Don’t be emo, man.” Interesting. It would be nice if there was a way we could quantify the right-wing blogosphere’s response to Tyson’s mistake, versus Bush’s mistakes.

    Spare me. I’m hardly a fan of going into Iraq, but you seem to be consistently missing the point. We (or at least I) am not particularly bothered that Bush’s character was unjustly called into question in this particular instance, but there is a problem when a man as publicly committed to the truth as Tyson lies or is careless with his facts and fails to accept responsibility for it. I really don’t know why you are so hell-bent (forgive my cussing) on making this into a political issue.

    Numerous things are possible with that much going on. E.g. – Tyson mixes notes on two different topics, then years later mixes them together and accidentally fabricates a quote. Or, a similar thing happens in his head. Or, he sees something on TV, perhaps just a glance, where the main screen has some clip of the Bush speech on Columbia and the ticker is quoting someone else’s statement on muslims, he conflates the two, and that’s the beginning of the problem, later compounded by hazy memory. For added complexity, mix in the emotion involved in 9/11, the Columbia disaster, the Iraq War, the revelations about the lies told to start the Iraq war, and, perhaps, Tyson’s annoyance at the amount of money being spent in Iraq compared to the amount being spent on space throughout the decade.

    See mixing notes seems like one of those things (to me at least) where one can go “Oh sure, I guess that makes sense,” but then begins to wonder, how the heck does someone like Tyson mix notes in the first place (mixing papers together accidentally seems most plausible since I don’t know how one can mix, say, Word documents) and then fail to realize that they have gone completely off the rails of their presentation. I like Mikes explanation, saying basically that Tyson had a stereotype playing in his head. He could just have plausibly “synthesized” the info and come out with a fabricated quote.

    Tyson shouldn’t have made the mistake, he should have been faster to issue a correction, but it’s fairly possible to see how it could have happened, especially to someone who is super-busy but who doesn’t have anyone writing or reviewing his speeches (unlike, say, presidents).

    Aside from the quip that he didn’t really so much issue a correction as have someone else point it out to him, only to have him dance around the point, I think I’d basically agree. Depending on how Tyson came to use his misinformation, he might have greater or lesser degrees of culpability. However, regardless of how it came about, it does nothing to excuse his behavior after it was brought to light.

  26. Michael says:

    Nick: Wow. Let’s see you do hundreds of media requests a year and see how perfect you are. What do you want from the guy, 10 pages of groveling apology followed by some self-flagellation in Times Square? It’s almost like you think he invaded a country on false pretenses, killing hundreds of thousands of them, thousands of us, blowing a few trillion dollars and leaving the country worse than it was when we started. Oh, sorry, no, that was the guy he was misquoting.

    My, a 1-2 punch against a strawman, followed by a desperate attempt to change the subject.

    No, I do not expect Tyson to be perfect. I expect him to tell the truth and, given he postures as an Ambassador of Science, I expect him to practice what he preaches. Is it too much to ask to have him simply fact-check his truth claims?

    No, I do not expect “10 pages of groveling apology followed by some self-flagellation in Times Square.” That’s more straw. For starters, why did he choose to hide/bury his apology in some obscure Facebook posting that talks about his wardrobe?

  27. Michael says:

    I really don’t know why you are so hell-bent (forgive my cussing) on making this into a political issue.

    Because he desperately wants to change the topic. Matzke is a savvy guy who knows his PR. As such, he also knows just how toxic this is to Tyson and the movement that attaches itself to him. If this was truly some minor issue, Matzke, who has been missing from this blog for almost a year now, would not have showed up with kitchen and bathroom sink in hand.

  28. The Deuce says:

    Btw, while Nick’s (*ahem*) deep concern about Christians using swears and his desperate attempt to change the subject with irrelevant handwringing about Bushitler’s evil deeds are funny and eminently worthy of mocking, there are a couple serious take home lessons in this:

    1) Beneath the ludicrously convoluted rationalizations for Tyson’s behavior, Nick’s ultimate justification is “Bush is bad, so it’s okay to lie where he’s concerned.” That, ladies and gentlemen, is the moral worldview of the secular left in a nutshell, straight from the horse’s ass. You’re dealing with people for whom truth has no value and the ends justify the means when dealing with “bad” people. And everyone who doesn’t adhere to their narrative is an evil, ignorant bigot according to that narrative, so they can lie and dissemble without remorse in general. That’s why Nick has no problem with Tyson doing it, and why he has no problem doing it himself. So his and Tyson’s behavior are something to remember whenever you hear a secular leftist tell you about anything of political interest to themselves.

    2) Tyson’s misbehavior seems like a relatively minor thing to normal people, and we may puzzle over why he and his fanbois don’t just admit his error straightforwardly, promise to do better, and move on rather than doubling down with a risible nonpology and circling the wagons. But as Mike pointed out in the comment above this one, this little error of Tyson’s is a HUGE deal to the secular left, as evidenced by Nick coming in here after a year and utterly beclowning himself in pulling out every stop to try and get Tyson off the hook.

    Since the secular left has no regard for truth, they don’t support their narratives with careful reasoning and appeals to people’s observations of reality (if they did, Tyson’s errors would have little effect on their case). Instead, they rely on sophistry and collective social pressure to reinforce a group consensus around a narrative, and a large part of this consists of forming cults of personality around celebrity “experts” who are built up as infallible demigods. Their fanbois are encouraged to assent to the secular leftist narrative on the basis of their infallibility, and to consider themselves intellectually and morally superior (aka “pro-science”) just by virtue of hanging on to their every word.

    So while Tyson’s intellectual dishonesty in this case may seem minor to us, with very little bearing on the truth one way or another, for the secular left anything that undermines their heroes’ moral and intellectual perfection in the slightest represents an existential crisis that threatens to unravel their entire narrative, and must be fought bitterly with no concessions, no matter how ridiculous it makes them look. That’s why Tyson can’t give an honest apology and move on. There would be no moving on; the illusions about himself would be forever blown, his status as cult deity forever lost.

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