On the eve of the “March for Science” (I had to look that up as I’m lost my quick reference guide to the various marches), Neil deGrasse Tyson posted a piece titled, “Science in America.” You can read it here, it’s not long. He also has a corresponding short video that compliments the post. For the most part, I agree with the content taken at face value. Science is the pursuit of determining the truths of our universe. But there is an underlying agenda in it and I ascribe to it to some degree.
Let me set the stage a bit. I’m an engineer* and I would argue (and my parents would likely agree) that I have been since I was very young. I took apart the toys I was given as presents, I built electronic kits, participated in numerous science fairs, pursued it as a career. I have been in and around science for the super-majority of my life. I believe in science and the scientific method and I have disdain for those that don’t or try to manipulate it in order to advance a personal or political position.
The underlying agenda Neil deGrasse Tyson has is about human-driven climate change. While not explicitly stating it in either piece, he clearly believes that it is settled science. I believe that, yes, the climate is changing. And yes, humans have some amount of influence on the climate. However, the degree of that is in question. He makes a reference to the scientific method in the video stating that scientists propose a hypothesis, test it, and publish the results. Then others try to recreate and verify or disprove it. To continue, when disproven, the scientist goes back and alters the hypothesis and lather, rinse, repeat. But in the realm of climate science, look at what has happened. In the late 1970s, climate scientists believed that the next ice age was on its way**…imminently. Fast forward and now the earth is going to burn up as temperatures increase. The initial IPCC predictions of temperature have been repeatedly revised lower. Various scientists have been unable to explain the “pause” in global warming. And now anyone who questions it is labeled a “skeptic”, “a denier” (which Tyson directly references), and is mocked and ignored. But some (not all) are people who have a legitimate doubt which is part of the scientific process that Tyson lays out. Shouldn’t the scientists be revisiting the hypotheses? Shouldn’t they consider other factors that currently are not part of the models as potential contributors? This movement has been politicized and it needs to stop but it won’t.
“This means scientific truths emerge by consensus — not of opinion, but of observations and measurements — rendering the research that falls outside of consensus the shakiest possible grounds on which to base policy.”
Let’s be clear – scientific truths emerge by consensus of people following the scientific process using observations and measurements. Note that much of the climate science are models and recent observations have not always aligned with the hypotheses.
“The creation of the NSF deserves some exposition. It was inspired by the 1945 report Science: The Endless Frontier. Written by Truman’s science advisor Vannevar Bush, the report compellingly argues for government-funded science as a driver of our wealth, our health, and our security. He further notes, “A nation which depends on others for its new basic scientific knowledge will be slow in its industrial progress and weak in its competitive position in world trade, regardless of its mechanical skill.” Bush also observed, “In 1939 millions of people were employed in industries which did not even exist at the close of the last war.” America in the 20th century would become the world’s largest economy, leading in every important category of innovation and production.”
It is my strong belief that the two World Wars and the Cold War propelled America to where it is today. The number of advancements in industrialization, technology, and organization that stem from those programs – which includes the Space Race as part of the Cold War – is huge. It didn’t just happen. And no, I’m not advocating that wars are the way to continue to improve (cold or real). But it was competition. In those cases competition of good versus evil – of liberty and freedom versus oppression and fascism. As someone who believes in free market economics and limited government, that is what I see as the future…get competition going in the commercial, private-sector space to drive economies.
Tyson continues, “Meanwhile, did you ever wonder who conducts science in America? From 1900 onwards, on average about 10% of Americans have been first-generation immigrants. Yet first-generation immigrants have won 33% of all American Nobel prizes in the sciences since the award began in 1900, representing thirty-five countries from six continents. So immigrants to America are three times more productive at winning Nobel prizes than population statistics would predict.”
How many were illegal immigrants? My guess is zero. I bet that these folks immigrated through legal means. I’m all for legal immigration – follow the laws in place – but no one should be equating the high percentage of Nobel prize winners or some other remarkable statistic about immigrant success to the country ignoring our own laws and handling illegal immigration.
He then dives into the funding cuts that have recently been in the news. Keep in mind that President Trump’s budget, just like President Obama’s, is a notional one but it carries little meaning as Congress is the entity to form the official federal spending plan. As an aside, it should be noted that our space program – a branch of science with a ton of R&D – has been trimmed repeatedly leaving us with no shuttle program and limited government capabilities. Although, the commercial sector is picking up with DigitalGlobe, Planet, SpaceX, etc.
“Do you prefer one branch of science over another because you think its discoveries will be more useful in coming years? Consider that in hospitals, every machine with an on/off switch that diagnoses your health without first cutting you open, is based on one or more principles of physics, discovered by physicists and chemists who had no specific interest in medicine. This includes the MRI, PET scans, CT Scans, EKGs, EEGs, ultrasound, and of course, good old fashioned X-rays. So if you defund one line of research in favor of another, you thwart the entire moving frontier of discovery. In the end, nature cross-pollinates all sciences, so perhaps we should too.”
Tyson should consider for a minute how the federal funding of R&D, which he praises President Bill Clinton for increasing, is allocated at the broad level: by politicians. Not scientists. Not engineers. Not entrepreneurs. Politicians and their staff with lobbyists chirping in their ears. So it is the government picking on branch of science over another. This only reinforces my belief in limited government where they don’t fund R&D efforts.
He concludes with: “To reclaim America’s greatness, anyone with business acumen could think of science investments within our various government agencies as the R&D of a corporation called the USA. Science is not a Liberal Conspiracy. It’s not even bi-partisan. Science is a fundamentally non-partisan enterprise that serves us all. Without it, watch America fade from relevance on the world stage, as we gasp for an era of scientifically enlightened governance to rise once again.”
Ok, a little nit-picking here – “to reclaim”? The government isn’t a “corporation” and doesn’t run like one. If it were it would have failed long ago as it cannot balance its books. Yes, science is not a Liberal Conspiracy, nor do all Conservatives believe it is. If our government is to be “scientifically enlightened” then why don’t we just rip the bandaid off of the whole abortion argument here and now. When does human life begin, Mr. Tyson? The Big Bang is when we believe that the universe as we know it started…not some arbitrary time after it. And as Tyson points out in the video, let’s accept the facts and then have the political discussion: should it be legal to end the life of a human in a mother’s womb and under what circumstances. It sounds crass, but heck, we want a scientifically enlightened government, right?
* ok, technical a Computer Scientist, but my Master’s degree is in engineering
** who doesn’t like Leonard”Spock” Nimoy’s “In Search Of…” series?