Critics of evolution will damage the economy of Texas and the nation, Tyson says

I had work to do, and I missed it.

Neil deGrasse Tyson casts spells over the audience at the University of Texas at Arlington, on February 17, 2009 - UT-Arlington photo

Neil deGrasse Tyson casts spells over the audience at the University of Texas at Arlington, on February 17, 2009 - UT-Arlington photo

America’s living-room astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson came to Texas.  Last Tuesday he spent a day trying to inspire college kids to study physics,  or to stick with physics, and then he spent the evening with 3,000 close friends in an auditorium at the University of Texas-Arlington, talking about how much fun physics is, and how the use of real science and reason could improve our lives.

According to the on-line press release from the University Tyson covered a lot of topics, deftly and smartly:

The greatest scientist of all time was Isaac Newton. “Hands down. Darwin and those other guys pale by comparison. Newton is the reason we have seat belts, because he proved objects in motion stay in motion. If you ask people in cars who are not wearing seat belts if they ever took a college class in physics they say no, every single time.”

About using math illiteracy to distort truth, Tyson said he was called for jury duty and the defendant was charged with possession of 6,000 milligrams of a controlled substance.

“Why would you say that? Six thousand milligrams is 6 grams, about the weight of a dime,” he said. When a newspaper headline proclaims half of the children at a school are below average on a test, he said, no one stops to think that’s what average means.”

On the importance the media places on celebrity news, Tyson showed a newspaper cover with a near full-page cover story on entertainer Michael Jackson and two important news stories teased in small boxes above the fold. Tyson said the country suffers from a “warped sense of what is important.”

Great scientific discoveries have not come about because people are interested in science, Tyson said. Just like the voyage of Columbus, funded by Queen Isabella of Spain, discovery is spurred by wars, cold wars and economic gain, he said. The only other inspiration for counties to spend lots of money is to celebrate royalty or deities, like with the Pyramids or the great cathedrals in Italy.

“We live in a country where people are afraid of the number 13. It’s delusional,” Tyson said, pointing to a book titled, “How to Protect Yourself from Alien Invasion” and the hysteria a few years ago with the Mars Hoax, with lots of science fiction circulating because Mars came closer to Earth than it had in 60,000 years. The widely circulated reports overlooked the fact that Mars was just a few inches closer and that was completely insignificant, Tyson said.

And then, according to the blog Politex, from the Fort Worth Star-Telegram (one of America’s legendary newspapers now facing the crises that seems to afflict all our better news organizations) someone asked him about creationism:

During the Q&A, an audience member asked Tyson about conservative members of the state Board of Education who want to teach the “weaknesses” of the theory of evolution in Texas high school classrooms.

“I think they should stay in the Sunday school,” Tyson said. Calling intelligent design theory a “philosophy of ignorance,” he argued that a lack of appreciation for basic scienctific principles will hurt America’s scientific output, which has been the largest economic engine in the country’s history.

“If nonscience works its way into the science classroom, it marks…the beginning of the end of the economic strength this country has known,” Tyson said.

Tyson, who spent time in Washington, D.C. after being appointed to committees by then-President George W. Bush, went on to say that he always knew a Republican judge in Pennsylvania would ultimately side with evolution backers in the high-profile Dover education case in 2005. The judge understood that respecting science is good for the US economy, Tyson said.

“What I learned from my tours of duty in Washington is no Republican wants to die poor,” Tyson said.

He’s right about Republicans ( said the former employee of Orrin Hatch/William Bennett/Lamar Alexander).  I hope it’s true for Texas Republicans, especially those on the Texas State Board of Education.

Tip of the old scrub brush to Ediacaran, on the Fort Worth side of the Metroplex.  Another tip to Physics Today from the American Institute of Physics.

15 Responses to Critics of evolution will damage the economy of Texas and the nation, Tyson says

  1. […] Critics of evolution will damage the economy of Texas and the Nation, Tyson says […]


  2. […] at DaveAwayFromHome may have put it best, quoting from Tyson’s recent appearance at the University of  Texas-Arlington (image from Dave’s site, too): “When a newspaper headline proclaims half of the […]


  3. Nick Kelsier says:

    What I would like is for the Creationists/IDers to list the ways that Creationism/Intelligent Design has given the United States wealth and/or a technological edge.

    And that batty Creationism museum doesn’t count unless proving P.T. Barnum right about suckers being born every minute is somehow a good thing.


  4. Ed Darrell says:

    “Darwinism,” if we must use an outmoded and somewhat inaccurate term, accurately describes what happens to living things. It’s an accurate, eminently useful theory.

    Consequently, it deserves to be treated as dogma.

    However, I’ve never found a scientist who regards it as dogma. Instead, they question it and probe it and test it, trying to disprove it — partly in quest of those ever-elusive Nobel Prizes (which go to those who find errors in previously held ideas).

    When science states fact, religion looks foolish to dogmatically call science inaccurate. The dogma problem here is not on the side of science.


  5. “This most beautiful system (The Universe) could only proceed from the dominion of an intelligent and powerful Being.” – Sir Isaac Newton (1642-1727)

    Science is not Truth. It is knowledge. Religion purports Truth. Religion is not Science. The best thing about science is that existing theories are modified & new theories supplant old ones. Or should. When not, it is dogma.

    The complaint of many is that Darwinism is Dogma, and should be corrected.


  6. Ray says:

    “I would point out that the discovery of a little thing called penicillin was not intended.” – Nick Kelsier

    This raises another interesting aspect of this: How much of what science has discovered came about by accident through research in related areas? I’m willing to bet that quite a few new discoveries were made through serendipity.

    See? Science for the sake of science IS productive!


  7. Ray says:

    The oil industry hires paleontologists, mostly micropaleontologists with some invertebrate paleos. Their job is mostly paleoenvionmental interpretation. I suspect other energy and resource industries do the same.

    But most professional paleos are academic and I guess that would be considered doing science for the sake of science. Even if they’re getting grants from industry they might be using industry to further their own love of science. Great work if you can get it.


  8. Nick Kelsier says:

    I would point out that the discovery of a little thing called penicillin was not intended.


  9. Ed Darrell says:

    Paleontology raises a good point — is there any industry that uses practical paleontology as a foundation for business? I mean, other than paleontology tools, and children’s books, and museums.

    Heck, Ray, you’re on to something: What is the Smithsonian Institution but a closet and display case for non-war-, non-commerce-related stuff?


  10. Ray says:

    Darwin’s voyage was made for those reasons but all of his “extracurricular” work relating to evolution, and his later work, including barnacles and orchids, were certainly apart from the goals of that voyage and were thus, purely for the sake of knowledge.

    That history lesson sounds interesting. I would start by thinking about scientists that are not connected to or driven by industry, i.e. doing work that a fiscal conservative might call “irrelevant” and object to giving out grants for it. So some astronomers would seem to fit the bill as would some paleontologists. I think many of those folks definitely just do science for the sake of science.


  11. Ed Darrell says:

    I wondered about that example, too, Ray. Great point on Newton, though I think the spread of his work on the effects of gravity was driven a lot by ballistics work, which was undertaken to improve the aim of cannons.

    And in Darwin’s case, the 5-year voyage that provided the grist and substance for almost all of his later work was a mapping and exploration voyage for the British Navy, partly to find new stuff to exploit in the world, and partly to make better charts to keep the British on top of the world as a naval power.

    I think there’s a great case to be made that Tom Edison wasn’t purely driven by economic interests, too. And probably a few others. But doesn’t Tyson’s generally accurate?

    Newton’s a great case to study. Surely he was not driven by the desire to improve weaponry. But what about Copernicus and Kepler — weren’t they driven by their patrons’ wishes to get the calendar of feasts for the church to be more accurate?

    I’m thinking of a history lesson plan here: Can we make a list of discoveries made just for the pure joy of finding stuff, and not as a result of economic or military enterprise?


  12. Ray says:

    “‘Great scientific discoveries have not come about because people are interested in science’, Tyson said.”

    I’d have to disagree with this, although I accept his main point that neccesity is [usually] the mother of invention. An example to the contrary? How about Darwin? He was driven by a quest for knowledge and understanding, not economic gain or advances in war technologies. And Newton was driven by his religion.


  13. Bryan says:

    I didn’t get the opportunity to hear his lecture, but I heard him interviewed on KERA’s Think radio program. It was a great interview. The podcast is available here.


  14. […] deGrasse Tyson addressed an audience at the Universtiy of Texas and talked up science. He had some interesting things to say: (via Millard Fillmore’s Bathtub) Tyson, who spent time in Washington, D.C. after being […]


  15. […] Critics of expansion will repairs the manage to buy of Texas and the … […]


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