On Wednesday, Neil deGrasse Tyson, the astrophysicist who spends his day tweeting inane stupidities when he’s not expressing Deep Thoughts™ about the glories of SCIENCE!, released a video on Facebook. He called this video “the most important words I have ever spoken.”
The five-minute video, which has approximately 17 million views in two days, contains footage of the planet with a voice-over from deGrasse Tyson. He begins:
How did America rise up from a backwoods country to be one of the greatest nations the world has ever known? We pioneered industries. And all of 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.
This is fair, although it ignores what separated American science from, say, the science of Europe: a free market system that encourages innovation and research, a small government conception of liberty that drives a powerful economy capable of entrepreneurship. There is a reason the United States has led the world in patents for decades. Since deGrasse Tyson is an advocate of larger, more powerful government, he simply assumes that America’s pursuit of science is unique for some unspecified reason.
But, in this, the 21st century, when it comes time to make decisions about science, it seems to me that people have lost the ability to judge what is true and what is not, what is reliable and what is not, what should you believe, 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 a favorite bugaboo of Tyson’s: the notion that there is a broad cadre of Americans denying science. But he only truly means one side: the Right. That’s why he shows a clip of then-Rep. Mike Pence (R-IN) stating on the floor of Congress, “Let us demand that educators around America teach evolution not as fact, but as theory.”
Now, I believe in evolution the same way deGrasse Tyson does. But Pence is not wrong in the sense that it is a scientific theory, as all theories are, from gravity to relativity. The idea that the government must force a cramdown in terms of schooling because deGrasse Tyson and I agree about evolution ignores that a functioning democracy demands the consent of the governed. We can both argue that schools should teach evolution exclusively in science class and leave creationism for Bible class, but we should not be looking to government to force schools to do so in violation of the rights of parents.
But this is the problem with deGrasse Tyson generally: he’s not interested in “informed democracy,” which would require debate and convincing. Once he believes something has been established as scientific fact, he then believes government has a role in forcing it down the throats of citizens. That’s why he once proposed creating a country called “Rationalia,” where citizens would vote only based on the mystical god of Reason. Presumably deGrasse Tyson would be king there.
The video next compares vaccination denial with critics of climate change science. And that’s his real point here. He’s not concerned about science denial by the Left on issues ranging from abortion to resource scarcity to transgenderism. He’s interested in climate change.
More deGrasse Tyson:
That’s not the country I remember growing up in. Not that we didn’t have challenges. I’m old enough to remember the 1960s and 1970s. We had a hot war and a cold war and a civil rights movement, and all of this was going on, but I don’t remember any time when people were standing in denial of what science was.
This is fundamentally untrue as well. There have always been people denying what science says – on abortion, most obviously – but there has also been an open and welcoming debate about scientific conclusions. In the 1970s, there’s little doubt that deGrasse Tyson would have endorsed Paul Ehrlich’s arguments about coming mass starvation, but none of that ended up being true. Were those who doubted Ehrlich denialists?
But deGrasse Tyson’s goal here is obvious: to conflate his political views with scientific truths, then bash those who deny his political solutions. He says:
One of the great things about science is that it is an entire exercise in finding what is true. You have a hypothesis, you test it, you get a result, a rival of mine double checks it, because they think I might be wrong, they perform an even better experiment than I did and they find out hey, ‘This experiment matches. Oh my gosh. We’re on to something here.’ And out of this rises a new, emergent truth. It does it better than anything else we have ever come up with as human beings. 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. When you have an established, emergent scientific truth, it is true whether or not you believe in it, and the sooner you understand that, the faster we can get on with the political conversations about how to solve the problems that face us.
This is all largely correct, of course (although the peer review system is deeply flawed in a number of obvious ways, particularly in the scientific community’s lack of interest in replicating experimental results). But we’re not talking about E=MC2 here. We’re talking about whether global government should regulate industry in order to prevent poorly-modeled climate change with high levels of uncertainty about climate sensitivity. As Oren Cass of The Manhattan Institute writes in Foreign Policy magazine:
The well-established scientific consensus that human activity is causing the climate to change does not extend to judgments about severity. The most comprehensive and often-cited efforts to synthesize the disparate range of projections — for instance, the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and the Obama administration’s estimate of the “Social Cost of Carbon” — consistently project real but manageable costs over the century to come.
Cass explains further:
On scientific questions, the gold-standard summary is the Assessment Report created every few years by thousands of scientists under the auspices of the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). By averaging widely varying projections and assuming no aggressive efforts to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions, they estimate an increase of three to four degrees Celcius (five to seven degrees Fahrenheit) by the year 2100. The associated rise in sea levels over the course of the twenty-first century, according to the IPCC, is 0.6 meters (two feet) ... Even stipulating that adaptations will displace hundreds of millions of people, that displacement will not happen all at once. Spread over decades, such a disruption would look little different from the status quo.
But deGrasse Tyson doesn’t want an honest debate about the impact of global warming and climate change – he wants catastrophic thinking to drive decision-making. As he says:
So once you understand that humans are warming the planet, you can then have a conversation about that, you can say, ‘Well, should we, are there carbon credits … do we put a tariff on … do we fund, do we subsidize?’ Those have political answers. And every minute one is in denial, you are delaying the political solution that should have been established years ago. As a voter, as a citizen, scientific issues will come before you, and isn’t it worth it to say, ‘Alright, let me at least become scientifically literate so I can think about these issues and act intelligently upon them.’ Recognize what science is and allow it to be what it can and should be in the service of civilization. It’s in our hands.
Somehow, I doubt that deGrasse Tyson would respect Cass’s proposed solutions – solutions such as removing regulations on fracking, which generates natural gas to replace carbon emitting coal. Instead, he’d likely term Cass a “denialist.” That demonstrates just how much the Left conflates leftism with science, and then deems their solutions irrefutable. Science has never told us what is right and wrong. It only tells us what is and is not. DeGrasse Tyson purposefully confuses the two.