Neil deGrasse Tyson said what?!

I love the work Neil deGrasse Tyson, Doctor of Astrophysics and the Director of the Hayden Planetarium, does popularizing Science. I agree 100% with him that raising the profile of Science and making it more accessible to the masses is needed in our society and I think he does a fantastic job of this. His NOVA scienceNow show and many public appearances do a great deal to advance the cause of science in our society, and for that I am extremely grateful to him. Indeed, I’ll go so far as to hail him as the heir apparent to Carl Sagan. They are big shoes to fill, but I think he can do it. In short, I’m a big admirer of him, but…

Here’s is a recent interview he did on the Colbert Report on June 29th, 2009. In this interview he defends the Bush Administration as not being as anti-science as many people have claimed it was. The whole interview is worth watching but you can jump to 4 minutes in for this part.

The Colbert Report Mon – Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Neil deGrasse Tyson
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I have to disagree most emphatically with him on this. I think that the Bush Administration, and Republicans in general since Reagan for that matter, have had a terrible record regarding the support of Science. Their consistent denial of climate change comes immediately to mind. Destroying ecosystems indiscriminately in order to access petroleum is one of the Republican party planks. Ever hear of “Drill Baby, Drill!”? It’s one of their campaign slogans for crissake! For a thorough treatment of this subject I recommend “The Republican War on Science” by Chris Mooney. Also, don’t forget that Bush moved to quash stem-cell research, one of the most promising areas of medical science, on the basis of his religious convictions.

Dr. Tyson puts an emphasis on the fact that President Bush put science in his speeches, and therefore created some amount of science awareness that wouldn’t otherwise have occurred. In the same sentence he downplays the importance of whether or not President Bush actually acted on the science in question. This is the point at which I diverge from Tyson. I believe that it matters very very much whether or not he acts on the science.

Talking about something but then not taking any action regarding it is called “paying lip service”. Talking about something and then actively working to undermine it is called “hypocrisy”. The former would be bad enough but it is the latter of which I accuse the Bush Administration. Suppressing reports from Federal Government agencies (NASA, NOAA) regarding climate change, and even going so far as to change the conclusions from “climate change is happening and humans are responsible” to “we’re not sure climate change is even occurring” has got to be considered undermining Science. There are countless other examples. Every science-related Federal Government agency had their budget reduced or was otherwise meddled with during the Bush Administration as far as I can tell.

I think President Bush did great harm to Science by teaching people that it doesn’t really matter. He may have raised it’s profile, but it was only so he could then dash it to the ground. In his defense he did add many many acres to wildlife refuges and national forests… but only in areas that didn’t have any oil. His administration consistently pushed the idea of drilling in the Alaskan National Wildlife Refuge and making many other concessions to petroleum companies at the expense of the health of the planet.

I respectfully urge Dr. Tyson to reevaluate his position on this because I believe that the Bush Administration deserves to be vilified for undermining Science, and that it is dangerous for pro-Science personalities, such as himself, to give tacit approval of the kinds of behavior that they engaged in. As rational people, interested in the welfare of the entire planet and the advancement of human knowledge, we cannot accept, and must vehemently speak out against, dismissing scientific evidence in order to protect or further the cause of particular industries or religions. In this way the Bush Administration repeatedly showed themselves to be enemies of Science, and as the unofficial spokesperson for said “rational people” I expect Dr. Tyson to say so!