Neil deGrasse Tyson posted a video about science and he considers it the most important words he has ever spoken.
He begins by asking, “How did America rise up from a back woods country to be one of the greatest nations the world has ever known?”
His answer is “science.” As he notes,
We pioneered industries and all this required the greatest innovations in science and technology in the world. And so science is a fundamental part of the country that we are.
All of this is true, but he omits crucial context. Science did not function as some type of magic wand in a vacuum. On the contrary, other factors were involved that allowed American society to untap the great potential of science. Such other factors include capitalism and a culture that prizes individualism and freedom. Without capitalism, individualism, and freedom, I’m not convinced America would have pioneered industries. And I find this relevant because a significant portion of the “pro-science” community happen to be anti-capitalist collectivists.
Then Tyson starts with the fear-mongering. He says people have “lost the ability” to judge what is true and what is not. And these people represent a threat to our democracy.
But is it true people have “lost” their ability to judge what is true and have embraced an anti-science stand? What possible novel developments is he talking about?
He then shows video of VP Pence when he was a congressman arguing that we should teach evolution as a theory, not a fact. Then there’s a news clip about more and more parents not getting their children vaccinated, followed by a clip about voters approving a ban on GMOs. Finally, a clip about people denying global warming.
Tyson then comments this is not the country he remembers growing up in. We’ve had problems before, but not all this science denial:
“But I don’t remember any time when people were standing in any denial of what science was.”
Then he goes on this rift about what science is and how we can’t deny it.
The problem is that Tyson works himself up because of his own ignorance and his own intellectually inbred talking points.
First, he confuses the process of science with the discoveries of science. He treats science as if it is a Truth Detector and makes no mention of the provisional nature of scientific discovery.
Second, if he is concerned about the growing number of people out there who deny the existence of objective truth and deny that science itself can be objective, he should at least mention the post-modernist movement and its role in this growing trend (along with its involvement in the March for Science).
Third, and most significant, his sense of history is laughably flawed. Given that his memory has been proven to be remarkably unrealiable concerning various other claims he has made, it would not be prudent to rely on it.
Let’s start with Pence’s comments. Tyson seems to be completely unaware that the type of arguments Pence was making have long been part of American history as we rose up from a back woods country to be one of the greatest nations the world has ever known. Hasn’t Tyson ever heard of the Scopes trial? While America was pioneering industries, many states had outlawed the teaching of evolution. Such bans remained in place until 1968 (one year before Armstrong walked on the moon). When the bans were removed, creationists introduced creationism in the public school curricula and that wasn’t banned by the Supreme Court until 1987. So there is nothing new here.
Tyson has clearly lost the ability to judge what is true and what is not. Trying to paint creationism in the schools as some type of new, dangerous threat is paranoid nonsense. The creationist/evolution school debates have long been part of American history and did not prevent America from rising up from a back woods country to become one of the greatest nations the world has ever known.
What about the anti-vaccine movement? Again, Tyson has lost the ability to judge what is true. There is nothing new about this old movement.
Although the time periods have changed, the emotions and deep-rooted beliefs—whether philosophical, political, or spiritual—that underlie vaccine opposition have remained relatively consistent since Edward Jenner introduced vaccination.
The reasons for opposing vaccinations are varied. For example, Bill Maher, a recipient of the Richard Dawkins award, has long been a vaccine and modern medicine skeptic. I would imagine the long existing anti-vaccine crowd has only become more widely known because of the internet.
What about the anti-GMO movement? That’s fairly new, but only because GMO’s are fairly new. The irony here is that several organizations that are opposed to GMOs are partners with the March for Science. Has Tyson used his celebrity scientist status to critique this?
Finally, there is global warming. But before getting to that, notice what’s NOT in Tyson’s laundry list of complaints: the animal rights extremists and their history of trying to shut down biological and medical research that involves the use of animals. Of course, I am not surprised that Tyson ignores this issue given his history of promoting PETA, a very well-funded antiscience organization that recently led a campaign that likens scientists to murderers.