“Once science has been established, once a scientific truth emerges from a consensus of experiments and observations, it is the way of the world,” Tyson told Colbert. “What I’m saying is, when different experiments give you the same result, it is no longer subject to your opinion. That’s the good thing about science: It’s true whether or not you believe in it. That’s why it works.”
Quick: name the last (or any) game changing experiment in astrophysics. You know, one the results of which proved that the work of astrophysicists is true whether we believe in it or not.
You know, I have a lot of sympathy with what Dr. deGrasse Tyson is trying to say here. We all hate spurious attacks on and dismissals of science. But there’s an unbridgeable chasm between claiming that science is the privileged approach to understanding the material world, the one that gives us the best and most useful, if necessarily contingent, knowledge, on the one hand, and claiming that “once a scientific truth emerges from a consensus of experiments and observations, it is the way of the world”. Ya know?
I’m still waiting for the TV series that goes one by one through various consensuses formed and discarded over the years, explaining carefully how the scientists with a dog in the fight only very reluctantly came around to the new ‘consensus’ – or, more likely, did their best to assassinate the character of their opponents until their dying breath, never abandoning their beloved theory.
Even more so, it would be nice to see a series on the sometimes subtle but often glaring differences in the degree of loyalty honest men owe to science. Clearly, I should have more confidence and owe more loyalty to the claim that water boils at 100 C under normal conditions – something I can roughly confirm experimentally myself – with the claim that various human species arose in Africa – no reason to doubt it, but it’s based on a pile of bones and artifacts that could fit on one large table, and lots and lots of less than certain theories and methods, and so has a lot of room for doubt. Then there’s the Big Bang – while it’s a tidy theory and may well be substantially true on some level, it’s not exactly a fact no matter how strong the consensus. Not to mention claims that science has shown that sexual repression is the root of all psychiatric issues or that when your brain light us a certain way in an MRI, you’re certainly a psychopath. All of these claims are viewed as ‘scientific’ by a least a large number of people, and the people making them have all at least figuratively donned the sacred lab coat of Science! when these claims were made. How is an honest layman to judge?
A truly cosmic TV series might just help explain all this. But that would lead people to think, instead of to automatically accept whatever dudes in lab coats are selling. And we can’t have that.
UPDATE: It seems that, as sadly expected, the Dr. Tyson’s new Cosmos series played fast and loose with the truth, in the sense of outright lies and fraud. One of those great ironies: Science great appeal, made above by Tyson himself, is to our desire for truth. Yet, its most public proponents seem to give not one whit about the truth if it doesn’t serve their purposes. So, what, exactly, are they appealing to, when they try to convince us to be more scientifilicious?