An excellent piece by Massimo Pigliucci saying why Neil deGrasse Tyson is wrong to say philosophy is timewasting bullshit that gets you hit by cars because you’re too busy asking yourself whether cars are real or not.
Neil made his latest disparaging remarks about philosophy as a guest on the Nerdist podcast , following a statement by one of the hosts, who said that he majored in philosophy. Neil’s comeback was: “That can really mess you up.” The host then added: “I always felt like maybe there was a little too much question asking in philosophy [of science]?” And here is the rest of the pertinent dialogue:
dGT: I agree.
interviewer: At a certain point it’s just futile.
dGT: Yeah, yeah, exactly, exactly. My concern here is that the philosophers believe they are actually asking deep questions about nature. And to the scientist it’s, what are you doing? Why are you concerning yourself with the meaning of meaning?
(another) interviewer: I think a healthy balance of both is good.
dGT: Well, I’m still worried even about a healthy balance. Yeah, if you are distracted by your questions so that you can’t move forward, you are not being a productive contributor to our understanding of the natural world. And so the scientist knows when the question “what is the sound of one hand clapping?” is a pointless delay in our progress.
[insert predictable joke by one interviewer, imitating the clapping of one hand]
dGT: How do you define clapping? All of a sudden it devolves into a discussion of the definition of words. And I’d rather keep the conversation about ideas. And when you do that don’t derail yourself on questions that you think are important because philosophy class tells you this.
Sigh. That really is…ungood. Childish.
Well, Neil, consider this your follow-up call, just as you requested. Not that you didn’t get several of those before. For instance, even fellow scientist and often philosophy-skeptic Jerry Coyne pointed out that you “blew it big time”  when you disinvited philosopher David Albert from an event you had organized at the American Museum of Natural History, and that originally included a discussion between Albert and physicist Lawrence Krauss (yet another frequent philosophy naysayer ). Moreover, when you so graciously came to the book launch for my Answers for Aristotle a couple of years ago, you spent most of the evening chatting with a number of graduate students from CUNY’s philosophy program, and they tried really hard to explain to you how philosophy works and why you had a number of misconceptions about it. To no avail, apparently.
So here we are again, time to set you straight once more. This, of course, is not just because I like you and because I think it is in general the right thing to do. It is mostly, frankly, because someone who regularly appears on The Daily Show and the Colbert Report, and has had the privilege of remaking Carl Sagan’s iconic Cosmos series — in short someone who is a public intellectual and advocate for science — really ought to do better than to take what amounts to anti-intellectual (and illiterate) positions about another field of scholarship. And I say this in all friendship, truly.
Quite so, about the positions. He has a big microphone; he should not use it to say ignorant and disparaging things about philosophy. We do not need less philosophy and philosophically-informed thinking in this country. No, that is not what we need.
Massimo then gives some bullet points by way of trying to clear things up for NdGT. A sample from one –
I suggest you actually look up some technical papers in philosophy of science  to see how a number of philosophers, scientists and mathematicians actually do collaborate to elucidate the conceptual and theoretical aspects of research on everything from evolutionary theory and species concepts to interpretations of quantum mechanics and the structure of superstring theory. Those papers, I maintain, do constitute a positive contribution of philosophy to the progress of science — at least if by science you mean an enterprise deeply rooted in the articulation of theory and its relationship with empirical evidence.
And then there’s the chair issue.
A common refrain I’ve heard from you (see direct quotes above) and others, is that scientific progress cannot be achieved by “mere armchair speculation.” And yet we give a whole category of Nobels to theoretical physicists, who use the deductive power of mathematics (yes, of course, informed by previously available empirical evidence) to do just that. Or — even better — take mathematics itself, a splendid example of how having one’s butt firmly planted on a chair (and nowhere near any laboratory) produces both interesting intellectual artifacts in their own right and an immense amount of very practical aid to science. No, I’m not saying that philosophy is just like mathematics or theoretical physics. I’m saying that one needs to do better than dismiss a field of inquiry on the grounds that it is not wedded to a laboratory setting, or that its practitioners like comfortable chairs.
Massimo showed the piece to NdGT, they had an email conversation about it, but no result. I find that disappointing.