Monday, April 11, 2016

Neil deGrasse Tyson

Note: This isn't the original video I embedded here. That one quickly disappeared from YouTube. I would have deleted this entire post, as it contained little but that video, except that I'd already received comments by then.

I couldn't find the same video, but after searching a bit, I found one that includes the part criticized below. (That segment starts at 13:25 and ends at 24:18.) Apparently, as Tyson himself acknowledges, he was wrong when he paraphrased George W. Bush - not about Bush saying it, but about when. But Tyson's overall point still seems valid. Well, you can decide for yourself about that.

Note that this is part of a Neil deGrasse Tyson playlist, so there's plenty more where this came from. Now, here are my original comments:

I'm pretty sure I've posted part of this talk before, but Neil deGrasse Tyson does such a good job, it's worth repeating. (His point about the Arabic names of stars is particularly good.)

I'm not sure where or when this talk took place. This isn't the original video, and there's nothing about that in the description. It is good, though, isn't it?


Hollister David said...

Garthright, you can't believe everything you see on the internet. Tyson's segment on Bush? Fiction. And Tyson has admitted as much.

And the part about Hamid al-Ghazali saying math is the work of the devil? Also fiction, so far as I know. Tyson has been asked to produce the passage but he has failed to do so.

Tyson's errors are numerous. See Fact Checking Neil deGrasse Tyson as well as Tyson, incompetent ass

WCG said...

Thanks for the comment. As far as not believing everything I see on the internet, I agree with you. (In fact, I always keep it in mind when I read comments here, too.)

Re. Tyson's remarks about George W. Bush, it certainly seemed plausible. Bush often sounded like he'd been elected pope, not president.

But yes, Tyson admitted that he'd been wrong about when Bush said it - not immediately after 9/11, but 18 months later, after the Columbia disaster.

That makes a difference - a considerable difference. It was definitely a mistake. But as someone who's made mistakes before, myself, I don't find it particularly damning.

A quick search online finds many Muslims, in particular, defending Hamid al-Ghazali. I also find quotes such as, "This is a serious evil, and for this reason those who study mathematics should be checked from going too far in their researches. ... [It] casts over religion its malign influence."

I have no idea, myself, what al-Ghazali said or didn't say. But Tyson's point in all of this seems quite valid, don't you think? After all, these were relatively small details in quite a long talk.

The Islamic Golden Age ended and never occurred again. The first part of that isn't surprising. Golden Ages do end. But why did the Islamic world never recover? A big part of that is almost certainly because of religion.

I don't know how much or how little al-Ghazali's teachings had to do with that. I'm not a historian. But when a blogger calls Neil deGrasse Tyson an "incompetent ass," I have to suspect that there's something else going on there.

Tyson should be fact-checked. If he's wrong, that should be pointed out. But these seem to be relatively minor details, picked out of a vast amount of material. After all, Tyson makes his living speaking. (And some of the other examples in those blog posts are just laughable.)

If those are the only mistakes Tyson has made, he's been incredibly accurate, don't you think? I fail to see why anyone should get angry about it.

Hollister David said...

Yeah, it sounds plausible if you're predisposed to two dimensional stereotypes. But of course all Republicans are xenophobic bigots who hate Arabs as well as another folks who aren't WASPS.

Bush's actual post 9-11 speech was a level headed call for tolerance and inclusion. The anti-Arab xenophobic rant Tyson puts in his mouth is a particularly stinky fiction.

I've heard Tyson's defenders point out Bush said something similar in the Space Shuttle Eulogy. Which completely misses the point. By mangling the context, Tyson completely changes Bush's message. Some defenders even go so far as saying "Look I found the Space Shuttle eulogy! It took 3 minutes! Sean Davis need look no more!" Totally clueless that Sean Davis noted the Eulogy in his original article. Hint: Bush's eulogy was in no way, shape or form as slam against Islam.

"This is a serious evil, and for this reason those who study mathematics should be checked from going too far in their researches. ... [It] casts over religion its malign influence."

Can you provide the source? I'd like to see the context. I may have to delete the Ghazali part from my list of Tyson's flubs.

"If those are the only mistakes Tyson has made, he's been incredibly accurate, don't you think? I fail to see why anyone should get angry about it."

But of course those aren't Tyson's only mistakes. I haven't read all his writings or watched all his vids. Only a small fraction. And there are more errors I know of but haven't had time to include in the list. But the list will get longer as time goes on.

And I find it appalling you see no reason for anger. How would you feel if someone falsely accused you of racism?

WCG said...

...all Republicans are xenophobic bigots

I'm not sure where you got that. Obviously, that's not true, not for all Republicans. (Even Donald Trump is not supported by a majority of Republicans, let alone all of them.)

Of course, today's Republican Party was built on their notorious 'Southern strategy' of deliberately wooing white racists, and party leaders have (successfully) used racism, religious bigotry, and xenophobia for political advantage ever since.

Republican Party leaders deliberately filled the GOP with bigots. That's a fact. Still, I'd never say that everyone in the party is a bigot (certainly not a self-described bigot).

Personally, I have to think that you couldn't really care about bigotry and still be a Republican. But who knows? Republicans tend to be faith-based, rather than evidence-based, and such people find it even easier than the rest of us to believe what they want to believe.

The anti-Arab xenophobic rant Tyson puts in his mouth

Damn, this video isn't working now (one of the problems with embedding YouTube videos here), so I can't check it, but that was not my impression of what Tyson said, not at all.

Bush was tolerant and inclusive - surprisingly so, if you look at Donald Trump and Ted Cruz today. Well, tolerant for a Christian pope, at least. He still pushed his religion every chance he got.

And from what I recall, that was Tyson's point. As we already agreed - as Tyson admits - he got the timing wrong, but Bush still claimed that his god "names the stars."

As I understood it, Tyson's point was not about Bush being "anti-Arab [and] xenophobic," but about how religion can affect our thinking. (It's not a coincidence that the Republican Party has become anti-science these days. There's some of that in both parties, but not nearly to the same extent.)

Bush's eulogy was in no way, shape or form as slam against Islam

I don't know who claimed that it was. You seem to be arguing about what someone else said somewhere else.

Can you provide the source?

Unfortunately, no. I just did a Google search. As I noted, that was an excerpt from one of the quotes I found that was attributed to Hamid al-Ghazali, but there was no source given for the quote there, either.

I thought I made it clear that "I have no idea, myself, what al-Ghazali said or didn't say." I just don't care enough about it to do more than that. It's not that important to me. (Obviously, I don't have an infinite amount of time.)

How would you feel if someone falsely accused you of racism?

I would ask them for details. Why would they say that? Maybe I was being racist - unintentionally, of course. But I'd certainly want to know if I gave the wrong impression. I don't know why I'd get angry, though.

Why? Did someone accuse you of racism? I don't get the connection here.

You do seem to have a stick up your butt when it comes to Neil deGrasse Tyson. I don't know why, but he's something of a celebrity, so maybe he's a natural target for criticism.

Certainly, if he makes mistakes, there's nothing wrong with pointing that out. But it's not as though we don't all make mistakes.

You haven't listed anything that seems at all critical to me, and Tyson admitted that he'd made a mistake about Bush. So what else are you demanding?

And what makes you angry? I still see no reason for anger.

Hollister David said...

For reference Here's the video: Tyson on George Bush and Star Names

I remember 9-11. I was bracing myself for Bush's response. I was expecting Bush to seize the opportunity to sow division. Was he going to demonize Muslims and wave the flag?

But I was pleasantly surprised. Bush called Islam the religion of peace and pointed out there are many good Muslim people and they contribute a lot to our country and the world. The speech he gave a week after 9-11 was a level call for tolerance and inclusion.

But Tyson remembered a speech along the lines what I had feared. He remembers Bush attempting to distinguish we from they. He thought Bush was making a general slam against Arabs. Or else what's the point of his Arabic star names routine? According to Tyson, Arabic star names confounds Bush's point.

It's a well worn stereotype that Republicans automatically dislike dark skinned foreigners. Tyson's fiction of Bush slamming Arabs gets a nice boost from this prejudice.

There is definitely a lot of bull from so called conservatives. It's one of my habits to stick in a Snopes link when I see an idiotic birther meme. But so called liberals are also capable of self delusion and stupidity. These folks decrying xenophobia are just a different brand of xenophobe. Many self proclaimed skeptics are in truth credulous idiots -- Just like the birthers they're willing to swallow falsehood if it supports their world view.

WCG said...

You know, I think you're giving Bush too much credit. You're comparing him to Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, and the Republican Party of today.

But fifteen years ago, freedom of religion was still mainstream even in the Republican Party. Tolerance of different faiths was just... America.

Oh, don't get me wrong. Plenty of Republicans today object to Donald Trump. And in 2001, plenty of Republicans were religious bigots. But the Republican Party has gone a long way down the xenophobia road in the past fifteen years.

In 2001, I didn't find Bush's comments surprising at all, not in the sense you're talking about. This was America. Of course we didn't discriminate based on religion (just like of course we didn't torture prisoners of war).

What I mainly objected to was Bush pushing religion every chance he got. He acted more like pope than president. And what I took from Tyson's talk was basically the effect of religion on government and how history can show change in surprising ways.

Tyson's talk wasn't about Bush. That was a very minor part of it. I don't see why you're so obsessed with that. Tyson got one anecdote wrong - wrong by some months. He admits that. What's the problem?

But xenophobia? Hell yes, the Republican Party base is xenophobic! Today's Republican Party was built on their notorious 'Southern strategy' of deliberately wooing white racists.

It worked great. They took the entire South - all those racist Dixiecrats - from the Democrats, and they attracted many northern racists, too. (Later, Lee Atwater candidly explained how they used racism in the Reagan Administration to woo working class white people.)

And ever since, the Republican Party has used racism, sexism, religious bigotry, and xenophobia, to varying degrees. Lee Atwater also explained how they had to be subtle about it, since being too blatant would turn off other voters. (Of course, don't get me wrong. Individual politicians are still individuals. I don't mean to over-generalize.)

Bush actually looks fairly good compared to today's Republicans, but that's just because the party has gotten worse and worse. And that's because of the people Republican Party leaders deliberately wooed into the party.

Hollister David said...

Hollister David said...
"Tyson's talk wasn't about Bush."

One segment sure was. In many presentations he even projects titles of the talks. This one is titled "George W. Bush"

"That was a very minor part of it. I don't see why you're so obsessed with that. Tyson got one anecdote wrong - wrong by some months."

So in your mind Tyson's biggest error was when Bush quoted scripture?

That's a horrible misrepresentation.

Yes, Bush did quote scripture more than two years later. As part of the eulogy for the Space Shuttle Columbia astronauts. NOT 9-11.

Again, the eulogy wasn't an attempt to distinguish we from they, nor was it a slam against Arabs delivered in a climate of intense anger. Context matters.

The time difference is a very minor error compared the stunningly false change of context that completely changes Bush's message.

Here's a few more observations on the longer version of Tyson's talk: He uses some Big Bang slides when he's arguing religious belief shuts down scientific productivity. It was a Catholic priest who formulated the Big Bang Theory -- Msgr. Georges LamaƮtre.

He wants to make Hamid al Ghazali the scapegoat for the fall of Islam. But nobody can produce the passage he attributes to Ghazali.

He states Newton would have gone on to do Laplace's n-body mechanics had he not been hindered by religious beliefs. This hypothesis is not testable. I can just as easily imagine an alternate history where a less devout Newton spends his spare time in bars chasing girls like a normal college student. In this parallel world Newton accomplishes zip, zero, nada. Idle speculation? Sure. Neither alternate history proves anything.

Tyson likes to make knuckle dragging Christians the scapegoat for U.S. decline in science and math. But there are plenty of innumerate and scientifically illiterate folks among the IFLS crowd. As evidenced by the fact they put a sloppy scholar like Tyson on a pedestal.

Bill Garthright said...

Whatever. I don't know why you've got a bee in your bonnet about Neil deGrasse Tyson. He's a popularizer of science and scientific thinking, and America needs that.

Tyson gives talks all the time. If he has gotten some details wrong, occasionally, what else would you expect? He admitted that he'd been wrong about that Bush quote. What more do you want?

I've heard Bill Nye make mistakes, too. It happens. No one is infallible.

And no one - certainly not Tyson - disputes that religious people can be scientists. You miss the point. (I hope that Newton did spend time in bars chasing girls when he was young. Do Christians not like girls - or boys? If that were true, there would be a lot fewer of them!)

The problem is faith-based thinking. Faith-based thinking is antithetical to science. If a scientist can compartmentalize his thinking, keeping his religious faith completely separate from his scientific research, fine.

People aren't exactly perfectly rational creatures, and Christian scientists can think that 'God' moves in the world, while ignoring that completely within their own field of research.

But faith-based thinking is proving disastrous to our country and our world. One of our two main political parties doesn't 'believe' in science these days - not unless they want to believe it - and they're becoming anti-education, too. Republicans have become completely faith-based (and there's too much of that among Democrats, as well).

So I welcome Tyson's work as a popularizer of science. If he's a 'sloppy researcher' as a scientist in his own field (and you haven't demonstrated that), I don't know and don't care. I'm not a scientist myself, so I'll let his peers worry about that.