Sunday, August 10, 2014

Neil deGrasse Tyson: smarter than the National Review

Actually, I wanted to post this video, or one like it, of Neil deGrasse Tyson and Bill Maher discussing the recent cover story about Tyson in the National Review, "Smarter than Thou."

Unfortunately, HBO seems to be pretty aggressive at keeping their material off YouTube, so the video clips don't last very long there.

It's a great clip, though, if it's still available. I'm not a huge fan of Bill Maher (only in some ways), and I think it's rather ironic that he's the one supporting science here, but he still gets things right, often enough. (Of course, he's made a career out of being provocative, and I'm wary of that business model in general.)

Anyway, the National Review cover story attacked Tyson for being "the fetish and totem of the extraordinarily puffed-up “nerd” culture that has of late started to bloom across the United States."

What they mean, of course, is anyone who understands and supports science.

Now, the whole "nerd" thing pisses me off anyway. Even Tyson seems to equate understanding science to dressing up in costume at a comics convention. Not that there's anything wrong with that, but it's very definitely a niche interest. And science should be mainstream.

The label, "nerd," has been lavishly embraced and promoted by the entertainment industry in order to sell stupid movies and TV shows to teenagers. Although National Review calls nerds "the cool kids," that's almost as dumb as most of their beliefs.

Smart people have indeed embraced the term, but the connotation was never "cool" or "popular." To my mind, it's as stupid - and as harmful - as the media portrayal of scientists as laughable, socially awkward misfits with zero common sense.

OK, I don't really have a problem with people who embrace the term and attempt to reinvent it. But as I say, science has nothing to do with comic books, although for some reason even Tyson immediately leaps to create an impression otherwise. (He also says "Democrat," rather than "Democratic" - just like the right-wing - which is like fingernails on a chalkboard to me.)

I guess I'm getting off the subject aren't I? As usual.  :)

So what is the right-wing's problem with Neil deGrasse Tyson? Bill Maher says it's because he's not just a scientist, but a black scientist - and one who's demonstrably smarter than they are. Well, I can't help but think that's a factor. Forget voting for Barack Obama; these people can't even accept our president as a "real" American.

As Washington Monthly says:
Considering National Review’s sordid race history, one can’t gainsay that point. Nor can one deny that the political right’s embrace of ignorance—what conservative writer Patrick Ruffini once called the “Joe-the-Plumberization of the GOP”—is also a motivating factor in this attack; as Peter Sinclair notes, Cooke’s demonization of Tyson is reminiscent “of recent remarks by Jeb Bush that scientists and those that believe in what science says, are ‘sanctimonious.’”

It's also a simple fact that "nerds" - i.e. scientifically literate people, not necessarily comics convention fans - tend to vote Democratic. Well, today's Republican Party is faith-based, not evidence-based.

The GOP is not just scientifically ignorant, it's proudly scientifically ignorant. It's actually become anti-science, because science tends to tell them things they don't want to hear. That's why only 6% of scientists these days (as of 2009, at least) self-identify as Republican, when it used to be a pretty even split between the political parties in America.

And then there's a more specific reason for attacking anyone prominent who accepts science. From Washington Monthly, again:
Of course, there’s another pretty influential motivating factor.

For years, National Review has been heavily dependent on advertising from the fossil fuel industry; I can still recall reading the publication in the 1990s and 2000s and being stunned by the number of coal, oil and natural-gas industry ads throughout the magazine. “Doesn’t McDonald’s advertise in National Review? Or VO5 shampoo?” I’d think to myself. Flip through recent editions of National Review and you’ll be graced by Chevron’s obnoxious “We Agree” ads. ...

Tyson is saying things that the fossil fuel industry doesn’t want to hear, like climate scientist Michael E. Mann before him. So naturally, those dependent on the fossil fuel industry have to butcher him.


Now, as I said, I don't like the "nerd" stuff. I don't think it does us any good, and understanding and appreciating science should not be restricted to a minority of any kind.

Hell, we've built modern civilization on science! We should all embrace it. At the very least, it should be mainstream!

Science is not just the present, it's the future. Faith is the past. The right-wing crazies who've taken control of the Republican Party want to drag us all back into the Dark Ages. I'll take reality over fantasy any day, even if the fantasy is more pleasant, because if we start with reality, we can get better.

I have some problems with Neil deGrasse Tyson (as I do with everyone, I suppose), but they pale into insignificance next to his inspiring videos, like the one above. And I have some issues with this article in Salon, too, but it sums things up for me:
Nerds love science fiction, in part because we love the promise of the future, a promise of Star Trek abundance and material prosperity for everyone. We look at the past, at centuries that included slavery and child labor and infant mortality and Inquisitions and the lack of female suffrage, and we think, we can do better than that. We can progress.

That’s why we like Neil DeGrasse Tyson. Because we believe that civilization is going somewhere, and that if the future isn’t better than the past, then we’re just wasting our time on this planet.

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