Science in America

Neil deGrasse Tyson has a few words for you.

I agree with all of that. My concern is that we’re dealing with an industry — exemplified by creationism and climate change denial — that has built up a body of well-funded propaganda which allows their believers to rear up and say, Well, we are citizen scientists who have our own facts, and we say that the Earth is 6000 years old and global warming is just a natural cycle. They aren’t going to be impressed by published, verified facts about the natural world when they have something even more significant to them: validation of their biases, consilience with their holy book, resentment and paranoia about those damned ivory tower eggheads.

Tyson will reach the people who already support good science, and that’s important in sustaining resistance to ignorance. But I fear he will not change the minds of the dumbasses who currently hold the reins of power. All that we can do is work to throw them down. And that is a political solution to an existing situation in reality.


  1. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    Totally agree with the video, and with the last paragraph in the OP. Resist deliberate ignorance.

  2. michaelpowers says

    The very real problem is that many of the challenges we face are time sensitive. We either address these issues in an intelligent, thoughtful, timely manner, or a tipping point is reached, and we lose the ability to address them at all. There are many in power who are well aware of this. But their arrogance and greed is such that they have no care for the world once they leave it. They’re stalling for time. Long enough to get theirs. Because he who dies with the most wins.

  3. says

    It’s a mindset—and I use that word reluctantly, and only to avoid cognitive ableism—that relentlessly seeks certainty and simplicity rather than the nuanced complexity that characterizes reality and our limited understanding of it. I have lost all empathy for it.

  4. anchor says

    #3, Indeed. Also, it is apparent that our culture is infatuated with belief – a frame of mind that assumes that the issue involved is settled and belongs to the canon of established knowledge. The obsession with belief is a matter of taking sides, not a matter of attaining a provisional understanding that is open to refinement. Moreover, it’s disheartening when false skepticism is given greater weight than the kind of conceptual malleability required to accept new information.

  5. Dark Jaguar says

    We should certainly do what we can (within reason, put the sniper rifle down Frank!) to remove anti-intellectual people from power.

    I will disagree with the sentiment that we should just give up on changing minds though. From personal experience, I know even the most overtly religious right-wing young earth creationist can be changed. It’s just that it’s a gradual painstaking process that needs someone with at least SOME bit of rationality poking out you can latch onto and steadily pull at. (My own tactic is the incredibly slow-burn tactic of starting with a point we both agree on and then explaining a set of what I think are rational or scientific arguments for why it makes sense to think that thing, and then watching them say “yes, that all makes sense”. That’s the infection vector, and so long as I’m VERY careful not to actually get into an argument about a deeply held position, but just slowly peel back that shrink wrap of reason and expand on other things and just target outlying “something I didn’t think before but it isn’t important enough to me personally to not go ahead and listen” positions, eventually they might just come to abandon the more extreme stuff on their own. So far, it’s happened to a couple of friends and a couple of family members. This isn’t a good tactic for everyone, and there’s plenty of room for other tactics in our umbrella of approaches to this, but this is the one that’s worked for me and on the people I know, who tend to be on the gentler confrontation avoiding end of the scale. Spare me talk about how I “should have” gotten in their face and yelled about how wrong they were, because that would be honest or treat them like adults or whatever. In this case, the results speak for themselves. If I have to pander a little or hide my views a little for a few years, but the end result is another ally, I’m fine. Heck, sure you could judge them as being too “fragile” or “not a real ally if they require coddling to reach that point”, but even if I agreed with that assessment, I don’t think we can afford to be that picky.

    If your acquaintances LOVE a good argument and prefer shouting out their displeasure (which, I must admit, there is a certain charm to “I’m walking here!” approaches to life, even if it’s not for me), then this strategy isn’t for you. I’m just saying that for me, and the people I know, it’s shown results and I’m glad I did it. (I can’t rule out that a similar strategy was worked on me without my knowledge, but heck if that’s the case I’m glad they did it.)

    And no, I really don’t think this would be very effective on most of the politicians working against knowledge. They’re coming from a place where ignorance of the facts is hard to believe, and willful dishonesty to further their own petty, small, and temporal self interest, and far too many consider that a virtue with platitudes like “In the long run we’re all dead.”

  6. Scientismist says

    Outright denial of science is stronger now than it used to be, but it was there in the 50’s and 60’s when I was in school, and in the 70’s when I was in grad school, and in the 80’s when I was active in Humanist outreach. I was told by other humanists that humanism would regret hitching itself to science, with its emotionless aura of certainty masking its own embarrassing uncertainties. I got to meet a few “popularizers” of science in those days. Jacob Bronowski feared that science would be seen as a notebook of facts. I feared that it was being taught as a museum exhibit, stuffed and displayed for the public with the real guts removed and buried out back.

    I got the chance to talk to Carl Sagan about it once, for a minute or so, and asked what the chances were that science would ever be taught to the general public, not for the beauty and wonder of its findings, but as an amazing tool that reveals not just the truth as best we can know it, but also builds the logical reasoning to justify how we know what we think we know. He agreed that the philosophical underpinnings of science was a neglected subject, but said, “my plate is full.” I tried teaching a college extension course, and got seven students to sign up. They all said they loved it, but the college extension administration, as well as the museums in town that hosted public lectures and courses, thought that the philosophy of science just didn’t have enough public appeal.

    So the fact that the majority of the public now, post space-race, has even less of a grasp on what science is than did my high-school teachers in the 60’s, is not at all surprising to me. He tries, and does a pretty good job; but every public high school (and Betsy DeVos “charter school”) needs its own Neil deGrasse Tyson.

  7. thirdmill says

    The public relations problem is the notion of equality. People don’t understand it means legal equality — everyone should have the same laws — but it does not mean that the opinion of someone who dropped out of community college carries the same weight as the opinion of someone with a double PhD who studies a subject for a living. Yet if you tell someone that someone who actually knows what they’re talking about is entitled to more deference than someone who is just pulling stuff from their butt, they’ll say you’re an elitist and my opinion is just as good as anyone else’s. Sorry, but egalitarianism has its limits, and I say that as someone whose visceral default is to be egalitarian.

  8. dhabecker says

    So, I just suffered through 5 minutes of Fox’s Hannity as he tried to make the case that the “alt-left media refuses to tell the truth”. All he does is show clips from other news shows that may inflame his base, but do nothing to support his claim. Never does he say; see there, an obvious lie. One clip was of Maxine Waters calling for Trump to be impeached, a very true report, she did say it; no lies.
    We will see more of this alt-left crap as a come back to alt-right. And back at you, childishness.
    The millions who watch Fox will see Hannity’s report as proof of media bias, the same media who agree with science and therefore not to be believed.
    I don’t have an answer; such an onslaught of stupidity numbs the mind.

  9. rietpluim says

    One of the worst parts – other than the wrecking of the planet – is that the science deniers are never held accountable. They get away with it and they know it.

  10. emergence says

    Getting science deniers out of elected positions is only part of what needs to be done. What are we supposed to do about rich assholes who mislead the public and prop up politicians to protect their profits? What do we do about idealogues with an axe to grind who found entire organizations to attack science that disagrees with their worldviews? Most importantly, what do we do about the sea of illiterate, willfully ignorant shitwits that make up a good chunk of the public?

  11. unclefrogy says

    I absolutely agree it is mind set which tend to think of as attitude that is a major problem.
    One of the characteristics of that “mind set” is that desire for certainty which I think grows out of a defense against fear and a general mistrust of those who have more, or know more or are more powerful than they are which comes from well earned and ill-deserved experience. One on one I think the gradual method can have lasting and profound effect but it is very time consuming and difficult to do many times. I know it tries my patience much of the time but I do persist with people I like and I try to give them the respect they deserve as fallible human beings.
    One of the more important aspects of science today that differs from previous ages is the openness of science the ideas are much more freely available to any who are interested. Gone are the days when the lone genus scholar working mostly in private who keeps his discoveries to himself now even rubbish along with great discoveries get spread all over and to be freely tested and discussed.
    There may serious danger that The US may not continue to be a leader but I think others around the world do not share the same view as the Republican party as it has constituted itself today has and that science will proceed on any way, with or without the leadership of the US.
    uncle frogy

  12. Chuck Stanley says

    Yes this is a old problem but it is just worse now. Maybe it’s the Internet where everyone thinks their opinion is just as good as everyone else’s that’s causing this problem to get worse. I don’t know. In today’s information soaked world it is a lot more difficult to pick out the signal from the noise. It’s much easier to live in a bubble of filtered content where the only thing you have to pay attention to is stuff that confirms your existing beliefs. Back in the old days most of my information was already filtered through someone or some organization that had some standing that at least made it a little more likely that what I was hearing was reliable. Now I just subscribe to information that I already know is going to confirm what I already believe. It used to be a lot harder to do that. I don’t know how you solve that problem. I know all of this because I read it on the Internet.

  13. jrkrideau says

    Other than De Gasse Tyson’s apparently total lack of historical knowledge exhibited in the first 35 or so seconds, I tend to agree a fair bit with him.

    Unless I am very wrong, I am pretty sure that Eratosthenes, Archimedes, Galileo, Newton, Leibniz, Linnaeus, Darwin and Pavlov were not US citizens. Nor were Bessemer or Jacquard or Brunel. Nor Turing nor Banting & Best. Nor Marconi.

    Does no one teach history in the USA?

    Still I have heard it argued that one should leave the history of science to the historians of science not the scientists.

    @ 12 unclefroggy

    Gone are the days when the lone genus scholar working mostly in private who keeps his discoveries to himself now even rubbish along with great discoveries get spread all over and to be freely tested and discussed.

    Almost never existed. See David Wootton’s The Invention of Science: A New History of the Scientific Revolution for details. Generally over the ages, scientists seldom seemed to shut up. Wooton is an excellent writer, by the way.

    I think others around the world do not share the same view as the Republican party as it has constituted itself today has and that science will proceed on any way, with or without the leadership of the US.

    I live in Canada. I have already heard some gloating about some great graduate students we have diverted (rescued?) from the USA.

    I expect academic recruiters at our better universities are in bidding wars with other major research countries for top-notch young researchers from the USA, many of whom may not be US citizens.

  14. Pierce R. Butler says

    Best-case scenario: pro-science people & progressives generally out-maneuver and out-vote the teabaggers and Trump Chumps®, then set about healing the planet, righting the wrongs, and raising the kids right. And RSN: 2020 or bust!

    In USAstan, a population of hardcore wingnuts in the eight-digit (tens of millions) range will inevitably declare themselves The Real Resistance™ and keep up the same spiels we’ve heard from them since the John Birch Society (and earlier) – a constant friction sore on the body politic.

    I would not agree with further mangling the 1st Amendment by stifling trumpbaggers online or otherwise, but my reading of the history of revolutions (& of USA) makes me expect that or worse (not that I expect the 1st-paragraph scenario to start with).

    If not for the minor factor that nobody seems to have made such projects work very well, I might feel the urge to call for aiding False Noise addicts & their fellow travelers through well-staffed and humane re-education camps.

  15. Pierce R. Butler says

    Postscript to my #15: numerous other restored republics, such as the previous Axis nations, South Africa, most of Latin America, et alia, have managed to contain reactionary factions with varying degrees of success but relatively little violence. In my best-case scenario, we’d invite alumni of that process to come hold workshops across all 50 states & misc. territories.

    America® as we know it seems likely to bring up the tail end of the success curve, flourishing our Exceptionalism!!!* all the way. (And that’s in my happyface storyline where we have a success curve …)

    * aka Jesus & the 4th Amendment

  16. hotspurphd says

    Thank you all so much for your brilliantly informed discourse . This state of affairs can’t last can it? Surely reason and science will triumph, won’t it? . Surely trump and the republicans, in the next elections , will go down and be in the wilderness for a generation . Won’t they?

  17. slithey tove (twas brillig (stevem)) says

    That Pence clip shown in it was part of the key to solving the problem (yeah I know) We need to teach the distinction between casual usage of Theory and formal usage of Theory. Where the latter means a system that unites a lot of results with a single system, and casual uses theory to mean “a guess”
    Pence was using the casual form though I heard the formal use, so I first thought “yes, evolution is a THEORY” calling it a Fact reduces it to a single item, and not the body of knowledge “theory” represents. Theory of Gravity being prime example. Who would ever think it better to teach The Fact of Gravity?
    Harrumph ?

  18. jrkrideau says

    @ 19 slithey tove
    We regress to the 17thC and follow Newton et al. The Laws of Gravity, the Laws of Evolution, the Laws of Chemistry , the Laws of Rugby, (stike that last one, wrong blog)…

    And to return to my rant @ 14.
    Does not any science spokesperson know any history? I was Just listening to an interview with Bill Nye on CBC Radio’s Quirks & Quarks. He described how his grandfather went to war in WWI riding a horse and rode one all during the war. In the next twenty years or so, when WWII started everything was mechanized.

    Crap. Quite true in the British and US armies but the German army was heavily horse-powered (perhaps 80% of logistics for infantry divisions and a goodly portion of field artillery was horse-drawn and the USSR had significant numbers of horses in combat and logistical roles.

    I realize the rant is just my own prejudice but why screw-up something this simple?

  19. david73 says

    In addition to David Wooton’s “The Invention of Science” this is a beautifully written history:

    The Philosophical Breakfast Club– Laura J Snyder
    This is a wonderful read. Tracing the lives of four 19 century Cambridge friends, all polymaths, their
    joys and sorrows and their interaction with savants in Europe and the USA making a profound influence
    on the study of science today. from economics, mathematics, physics, chemistry, astronomy and also
    art, religion, photography. Dr. Snyder has told a colorful story with her deeply researched book.

  20. hotspurphd says

    18. chigau
    I would greatly appreciate it if you never ever comment on my posts again. I am really tired of your insults.