“Neil deGrasse Tyson: pedantry in space”

“You are trapped in the world of the popular TV astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, and you know this, because here the sunrise isn’t a sunrise at all. In fact, the earth is a sphere orbiting the sun, so the sun does not in any sense actually ‘rise’ — it’s just that you happen to be positioned right on the moving line, known as the ‘terminator’, that separates the illuminated portion of the planet from its dark side. And the birds singing aren’t really singing — actually, they’re just emitting a series of noises without any of the tonal qualities that distinguish singing from other vocal emissions. And the bed isn’t yours, because scientists have never been able to find any way of isolating ‘ownership’ in the physical composition of any object. You jump out of bed and start banging frantically at the walls…
Neil deGrasse Tyson is, supposedly, an educator and a populariser of science; it’s his job to excite people about the mysteries of the universe, communicate information, and correct popular misconceptions. This is a noble, arduous, and thankless job, which might be why he doesn’t do it. What he actually does is make the universe boring, tell people things that they already know, and dispel misconceptions that nobody actually holds…
A decent name for this tendency, for stars and spaceships recast as the instruments of a joyless and pedantic class spite, would be I Fucking Love Science. ‘Science’ here has very little to do with the scientific method itself; it means ontological physicalism, not believing in our Lord Jesus Christ, hating the spectrally stupid, and, more than anything, pretty pictures of nebulae and tree frogs. ‘Science’ comes to metonymically refer to the natural world, the object of science; it’s like describing a crime as ‘the police,’ or the ocean as ‘drinking.’…
Like when Neil DeGrasse Tyson quipped that ‘if ever there were a species for which sex hurt, it surely went extinct long ago.’ It’s a perfect Tyson fact, true because it’s basically tautologous, its scientific quality having everything to do with the idea that actual phenomena are just instantiations of abstract laws, and nothing to do with any scientific observation, such as listening to the yelps of cats fucking at night, or to women.”

This is excellently summarized in this cartoon (thanks Kevin, you probably forgot about emailing this to me 3 years ago)

I appreciate a lot about NDT but tbh something about this essay and this perspective really appeals to me… I mean, people who are interested in knowing all the facts would be supremely frustrated by a research career, which is a lot about bringing form and structure to uncertainties and remaining skeptical to what someone else claims is a “fact”.

I think science shows are great for what they are, but I can’t bring myself to watch a lot of them (or listen to most science podcasts) because there is something so constructed about them. I think a lot of people get their idea of science/scientists from these shows, but it’s really more like The Magic Schoolbus or something, where people are just living their lives and encountering science as part of it and doing it in groups and learning together. We don’t know everything, we don’t expect you to know everything either, and we don’t experience to world as a series of vectors.

NDT and shows like his are a style of science communication that hasn’t really been updated in like 50+ years — just better special effects. And that can be entertaining and enjoyable for some people, most definitely, but you really have to question whether it is doing the job it claims to be doing.

Related: “Science owes much to both Christianity and the Middle Ages