Friday, June 20, 2014

Have Conservatives abandoned science altogether?

Courtesy of Salon:  

The recent reboot of the show Cosmos on Fox further demonstrated how partisan the very idea of science and empiricism has become. The show, which features astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson taking over the host role from the original’s Carl Sagan, was aggressive in defending science, curiosity, and following the evidence from people who would rather rely on faith or authority, but it took no partisan positions. Nonetheless, it was immediately understood by Americans both left and right as a “liberal” show, merely for its strong insistence that facts should not be ignored in favor of wishful thinking. 

Even though the show was hosted on the Fox network channel, Fox News, the conservative cable channel, did not hold back in the slightest from attacking Tyson for perceived liberalism. In a shockingly racist segment, host Greg Gutfeld and guest Gavin McInnes dogged relentlessly on Tyson, insinuating that he can’t really be an astrophysicist and making fun of “white liberals” for being enthusiastic about Tyson and his work. It only grew uglier with McInnes claiming that Tyson deserved to be mistreated based on his race when he was young because he “fit the profile” by having “a huge afro.” 

While that was the ugliest example of race-baiting, overall conservative media had a tendency to treat Cosmos like its insistence on empiricism and rationality was inherently a culture war issue, so much so that many Christian conservative media outlets attacked every episode in the series with fervor. It wasn’t just when it came to Tyson’s acceptance of evolutionary theory, either. Christian conservatives threw a fit because the show told the story of how Giordano Bruno, a 16th century monk, was burned at the stake for free-thinking. Even though the story fit directly into the larger argument the show made about the dangers of repressing free inquiry, Jay Richards of the Discovery Institute felt that criticizing the church for torturing a man to death should be off-limits because the man in question was a monk, not a scientist. 

Or, even more hilariously, when Tyson mentioned in passing on the show that Christmas was established by the church not because it’s actually Jesus’s birthday but because the church needed a holiday to compete with the popular pagan Saturnalia, Richards completely exploded in rage and denial. “We learn that the holiday celebrated by a couple billion Christians is really a camouflaged take-over of Saturnalia, the High Holy Day when ancient Romans celebrated Saturn, the god of agriculture,” he whined. The only problem is that when Christmas was established, Christianity wasn’t a religion with two billion followers. It was an upstart faith and Saturnalia was, in fact, one of the hands-down most popular days of the year for the followers of the pagan faiths that had been dominate for thousands of years. None of this requires math to understand, but now the right has gone so anti-evidence that even boring old history is considered up for debate.

Part of what I loved about the new Cosmos is that it so fearlessly discussed facts that I knew were going to cause the Religious Right and conservatives to rend their clothing in response.

And it did so with such nonchalance, as if it were simply stating the obvious and suggesting that those who rejected the reality were simply afraid to let go of the comfort provided by fairy tales told to a child.

It also helped to illustrate just how deeply the divide is between those who rely on faith to navigate through life, and those who rely on reason.

A divide that may have been best characterized by the show's creator Ann Druyan. (The late Carl Sagan's widow):

During my all-too-brief phone conversation with Druyan, we also discussed her brilliant rereading of the story of the Garden of Eden, which she sees as the story of humanity’s escape from “a maximum-security prison with 24-hour surveillance.” Adam and Eve’s capital offense is that they seek knowledge and ask questions, precisely the qualities that define the human species. At least in that story, God appears to demand a subservient and doctrinaire incuriosity, and many of his followers continue to insist on that path to this day. 

The show simply HAD to be attacked by the conservatives who desperately need a populace that makes decisions based on fear and ignorance, rather than facts and intelligence.

Personally I hope the success of the show opens the door to a whole new era of similar programming that will help educate a populace whose public school system is right now under attack by those who cannot abide a well educated citizenry. 


  1. Boscoe2:59 PM

    Frankly, this is why I didn't watch the show. I just wanted to learn about cool astrophysics stuff, I wasn't interested in the history lessons being mixed in. Seemed like that was a separate topic that deserved it's own show and it felt frankly shoehorned into the format.

    The cosmos is wonderous-humans suck-the cosmos is wonderous-humans suck-the cosmos is wondrous etc. etc. etc... I got whiplash.

    1. Humans suck? I am a graduate degreed scientist and I learned about wonderful people who advanced our knowledge of not only our little bitty planet, but also the cosmos. Many of the most phenomenal discoveries were by people that I had never heard of.

      We are where we are today and know what we know about the cosmos because of the unquenchable curiosity of the human spirit. That's what I picked up from the show, not that humans suck.

    2. You can't explore one without the other.

      You cannot divorce the science from the history, culture and society behind it.

      If you didn't like Cosmos, then avoid James Burke's "Connections".

    3. Boscoe8:19 PM

      That's absurd, of course you can. Explain why you can't just tell me about what fuels the sun without also having to tell me about the sociopolitical backdrop of the time when scientists figured this information out? One is SCIENCE, the other is the HISTORY of science. There's no law of physics that says you can't tell one without the other.

      I watch nature documentaries all the time that manage to just tell me about nature without having to give me the history of the study of nature. You're as ego-bound as the creationists if you believe that there can be no explanation of nature without attaching the context of human history to it.

      Yeah people suck. The contrast of going from the limitless beauty of the universe to scientists on a tiny dust speck struggling desperately to learn about it under penalty of ridicule and even death = people suck. Underscoring that our struggle to understand the universe isn't just a struggle against the unknown, but just as much a struggle against legions of ignorant, terrified pissants trying to hold us all back = people suck.

      Unquenchable curiosity shouldn't be required just to get past the noise level of unevolved mouth breathers. That's just sad.

    4. Anonymous6:02 AM

      Boscoe, my guess is that you are too stupid to even understand astrophysics. Because if you weren't you would take a college course about it. Wanting to have "just" astrophysics on a primetime television show is a symptom of your social cluelessness - just like living in mommy's basement and being a male virgin at 30. My sympathies on your condition(s).

    5. Anonymous6:05 AM

      Again, Boscoe, you're clueless. Nature shows constantly show us nature in context, even with their editorial choices of what to feature, who to voiceover, the HOURS upon HOURS of boring footage left on the floor.

      Your posts show the fallacy, of (even NDGT's) the current emphasis of STEM divorced form STEAM.

  2. Anonymous4:18 PM

    Totally off topic and you don't even have to approve as a real comment. I just wanted to let you know that the current Rolling Stone with Melissa McCarthy on the cover has a really good article about Texas Politics, The Tea Party and our girl Wendy. They don't think she has a snowballs chance either although they don't come right out and say it.


  3. Anita Winecooler6:16 PM

    Their arrogance, racist, and ignorance knows no bounds. You don't like science? Fine, stomp your feet all you want, you're made from dirt and if you're female, you're made from rib, but leave people's ethnicity out of it. The man's an astrophysicist and backs up his argument with facts. The fact that he's intellectually superior and black isn't taking away any of your perceived white privilege.

    Give me "It is proven" over "It is written" anyday.

  4. You can't abandon what you never embraced to begin with.

  5. Anonymous7:08 PM

    When you're pandering to fundies, you must humor their belief in the literalness of the bible up one side and down the other, and when you're in the pocket of big business, you must vociferously deny climate change because once you admit it exists, then you have to do something about it, and doing something will cost your owners money that could better flow into your own pockets.

  6. Anonymous4:42 AM

    I have such respect for Neil DeGrasse Tyson and I simply loved the series, "Cosmos." He so clearly loves the subject and he explains the science and the history so well.

    About three or four years ago I started to check the website, "Astronomy Photo of the Day," every morning. I certainly do not understand what is shown there but I find it fascinating. My morning does not start until I click on "APOD."

    And to think that scientists are still learning from the Voyageur launched as far back as 1977 and that it is still traveling farther and farther and sending back information just astounds and thrills me. This is science and it is wonderful.

    However, knowing that politicians in Washington and all over the country are doing their best to denigrate science and to prevent this country from participating in actions that might slow climate change and actually help future generations sickens me. In honor of science, of the cosmos, and of education, let's fire as many of those politicians in November as we can. Our planet deserves better.

    1. Hi Beaglemom, did you know that one of the authors of APOD is a physics professor in the UP?

    2. Anonymous8:00 AM

      No, Nefer, but I'm glad to hear it. There must be some beautiful night skies in the forests and on the coastlines of the UP.

  7. Thank goodness, Tyson knows how to let off steam. He tweeted a series of "bar" puns a couple of days ago.


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