These are exciting times for Neil DeGrasse Tyson.
The astrophysicist and Hayden Planetarium director has made media waves of late for his humorous critiques of the Oscar-winning film Gravity and, most recently, hosting his own TV show Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey.
But the master plan fuelling these moves is about something greater than the sum of their parts. It concerns an issue that's vital to our future as a society: the popularization and advancement of science.
According to Tyson, there’s a war going on that seeks to deny — or at least minimize — the importance of science. So in a recent interview on CNN's Reliable Sources, he delivered his powerful rebuttal. Check it out:
Damn. "Our civilization is built on the innovation of scientists and technologists and engineers," he says. "Without it, we will just regress back into the cave."
But he saved his most damning critique for climate change deniers and, more specifically, the media outlets that give them equal consideration with actual scientists: "I think the media has to sort of come out of this ethos," he says. "The ethos was, whatever story you give, you have to give the opposing view, and then you can be viewed as balanced ... [but] you don't talk about the spherical earth with NASA and then say let's give equal time to the flat-earthers."
Then comes the knockout punch: "Science is not there for you to cherry pick ... the good thing about science is that it's true whether you believe it or not."
While Tyson is correct, sadly there remain elements in society that seek to politicize, delegitimize and manipulate these scientific issues for their own gain.
Call it a "war on science." In 2005 Mother Jones interviewed Chris Mooney, the author The Republican War on Science. Mooney's argument focuses on how "disregard for scientists and the scientific method has grown and ripened with the modern conservative movement," starting as early as the 1950s. "From Barry Goldwater's anti-intellectualism, through Ronald Reagan's sympathy for creationism and Newt Gingrich's passion for science 'skeptics' ... Republicans have shown a marked preference for politically inspired fringe theories over the findings of long-established and world-renowned scientific bodies," reads the article.
But why is this so pronounced among conservative politicians? For Mooney, "catering to [right-wing] constituents" cannot be underestimated: "With the conservatives, you have industry, which is coming up against science all the time, and religious conservatives, who come out against science any time [it conflicts with] their moral view of the world," he says. "So, you combine all of those things — not liking government, distrusting universities, catering to your base ... I think what you get is exactly what you'd predict."
Collateral damage. The result has been increased opposition to methodically tested scientific theories, which otherwise might have been resoundingly embraced. Denial campaigns have been relatively successful in shaping public opinion as well, or at the very least, raising doubt:
Image Credit: Mother Jones
Despite what these graphs demonstrate, the evidence for the legitimacy of climate change remains overwhelming. One can only hope that scientists who've developed public platforms, like Neil DeGrasse Tyson and Bill Nye, continue using them to advocate for renewed public trust in the scientists and scientific methods that have gotten us this far as a society.
And hopefully they win. Otherwise, it's "back into the cave" for everybody.