UPDATE: I forgot that I had an earlier post showing Kaku embarrassing himself about his own field, also on The Big Thunk. Go here to see the fun.
A schnorrer knocked on the door of the rich man’s house at 6:30 in the morning.
The rich man cried “How dare you wake me up so early?”
“Listen,” said the schnorrer, “I don’t tell you how to run your business. Don’t tell me how to run mine.”
So I don’t make videos pontificating about the meaning of quantum mechanics, but Michio Kaku, a former physicist and now science popularizer, has the chutzpah to make videos about evolution, and to pronounce on whether evolution is happening in Homo sapiens right now. Here’s his mind-boggling take from The Big Thunk, in which he confidently proclaims that our species has stopped evolving.
How many misstatements can you find in this video? Besides the crazy idea that continents evolve, and that the large brains of humans evolved to help them “live in the forest” (we got big brains long after we came down from the trees to live on the savannah), he says that evolution happens “every time two people mate” and “in our immune systems”—but doesn’t say what the hell he’s talking about. Our immune systems do respond to the incursion of antigens, but that’s not evolutionary change, i.e., not change that is inherited.
But of course we do have evidence that humans are indeed evolving “on the gross level”. As I’ve written before, we have evidence for humans evolving in “real time” (over two generations) for some traits, and for evolution in the last 10,000 years for many others (see here, here, here, here, and here.) And this is despite the fact that because of transportation, humans are mixing their genes among locations, slowing down any adaptation to local environments. Further, there may be global evolution of our species that we simply can’t detect because the genes have effects too small to be seen in one or a few human lifetimes (a gene increasing the reproductive output by 0.01%, for example, would sweep through our species but be undetectable in real-time studies.)
Kaku always rubs me the wrong way. Like Bill Nye, he always seems to be communicating a faux excitement (and, like Nye, sometimes he doesn’t get his biology straight)—as if he’s trying to get famous instead of communicating. Neil deGrasse Tyson has a bit of that, too, but I think Tyson really is excited by his subjects as well. For me, Carl Sagan will always be the premier science communicator, because I always sensed true wonder rather than careerism when I heard him. (I get the same impression from David Attenborough.)
Who do you think are the best science communicators, and by that I mean people who know their onions, are engrossing, and are not flawed by visible ambition?
After listening to this travesty, Larry asked this question:
Is there something peculiar about physicists? Does anyone know of any biologists who make YouTube videos about quantum mechanics or black holes? If not, is that because biologists are too stupid … or too smart?
I think it’s the latter. And I won’t be making videos on cosmology for The Big Thunk.