THIS is what the Science March should have been about, and who should have been its honorary chair

Below is a 5-minute video Neil deGrasse Tyson just posted on his Facebook page, saying that it contains perhaps “the most important words” he’d ever spoken. Although I’ve had my differences with Tyson, this video, outlining the benefits of science, calling out society for losing the ability to judge what is scientifically true, and criticizing those people who “rise to power” despite their ignorance of and contempt for science—yes, this video is eloquent and powerful. Tyson’s main example, at 1:14, is Mike Pence in Congress saying “Let us demand that educators around America teach evolution not as fact, but as theory.” What a maroon! (Pence is now, of course, America’s Vice President.) Tyson also alludes to GMOs, global warming, and vaccination.

Tyson’s message is this: today, more than any time in his lifetime, he sees people “standing in denial of science.” He briefly discusses the toolkit of science and how it produces truth, which it does “better than anything we’ve ever come up with as human beings.” Those truths, he adds, should be used to inform political conversations like that about global warming. What we decide to do based on those facts may be moral or philosophical or political choices, but science can inform them.

The message to me: science is not politics itself (it’s a toolkit for finding truth) but should be used to inform politics whenever possible. THAT, to me, should have been the overriding message of the Science March. Period—perhaps with a few examples of the type Tyson gave. And had that been the Science March message, I’d be out there in the streets behind Tyson—though I haven’t heard whether he is marching. Note that he said nothing about the problems with the nature of America’s scientific establishment or about identity politics.  I suppose there are those who would argue: “Wait a minute: he should have added say that science is bigoted, oppresses minorities, and has done bad stuff!” But there’s a reason he didn’t use this video to flagellate the field.

THIS is the guy who should have been the honorary chairman of the Science March.

Video and Tyson’s intro below:

h/t: Barry

112 Comments

  1. philfinn7
    Posted April 20, 2017 at 8:44 am | Permalink

    Did you mean ‘maroon’? Penultimate sentence in first para.

  2. Gasper Sciacca
    Posted April 20, 2017 at 8:47 am | Permalink

    Denial of science is the hubris of religion and political ignoramuses. Was there ever a more important message today.

    • Historian
      Posted April 20, 2017 at 9:37 am | Permalink

      Not all religious groups are anti-science, but certainly the religious right is. It is a major component of the Republican Party along with corporate interests that view the science of climate change as a major threat to their bottom line. Add to this mix the fact the scientific illiteracy of all too much of the populace and it is easy to understand why science denial is a major characteristic of the Republican Party. And this denial, particularly in the area of climate change, could mean in the not too distant future the end of life on this planet as we have known it. But since the Republican Party and its conservative leadership have been master manipulators of the masses, the future of science in this country as a primary tool for proposing solutions based on facts is in jeopardy. But, then again, perhaps faith in Jesus is more important.

      • eric
        Posted April 20, 2017 at 10:10 am | Permalink

        “[the Establishment Clause’s] first and most immediate purpose rested on the belief that a union of government and religion tends to destroy government and to degrade religion.”
        SCOTUS judge Hugo Black.

        I can think of few better examples of this than how Christian conservatives have changed the GOP and, at the same time, how the GOP has changed conservative Christianity.

    • Heather Hastie
      Posted April 20, 2017 at 12:36 pm | Permalink

      The US is the only democracy where climate change is not accepted by all major parties. Everywhere else, both right and left accept the reality and long ago moved onto arguing how to fix it.

      George W Bush was in Europe just before 9/11. Everywhere there were major protests about the failure of the US, as the biggest emitter of greenhouse gases, to sign onto the Kyoto Accord. The rest of the world was disgusted with the US. Then 9/11 happened and the protests stopped because it felt like kicking them when they were down.

      Finally the US joined the rest of the world when it became part of the Paris Accord. Now there is a Republican government. Trump can’t actually pull out before 2020, but he’s doing nothing to meet the obligations. In fact, he’s doing the opposite. The rest of the world is furious with him, especially countries like India that made a lot of sacrifices to be a part of the agreement.

      China is set to be the world leader on this issue, and has the moral high ground too. So much for making America great again.

      • Randy schenck
        Posted April 20, 2017 at 3:59 pm | Permalink

        Yes he is doing great things. The other day announced we are sending an armada to Korea, of course the “armada” he was talking about was a U.S. carrier task force, but armada sounds so much bigger and Spanish. And the ships were actually headed for Australia but so what, it was huge.

        • Pali
          Posted April 20, 2017 at 4:23 pm | Permalink

          Who knew the Pacific Ocean was so big?

          • Diane G.
            Posted April 22, 2017 at 12:52 am | Permalink

            😀

        • Heather Hastie
          Posted April 20, 2017 at 6:52 pm | Permalink

          The armada included submarines (which still doesn’t make it as big as the Spanish one of course), thereby exposing where the submarines were. He also talked about how much firepower they had. So much for national security!

          • Posted April 20, 2017 at 7:20 pm | Permalink

            Not really bothered with talking about how powerful our subs are. I could watch The Hunt For Red October and probably figure that out. It’s not like it a big secret. You can go to Wikipedia and look up “Ballistic missile submarine” and see lists of armament and lots of other information. I’d bet that Janes has plenty of info too.

            I’m also not very worried about saying they are in the area. The missiles they carry can reach thousand of miles (reportedly 10k KM). For reference, New Zealand is 10.2k KM from North Korea. So if they were with the Vinson in the north of Australia, they were in range of North Korea.

          • Filippo
            Posted April 20, 2017 at 7:53 pm | Permalink

            IIRC my U.S. Navy experience, any subs accompanying a carrier battle group are attack subs, equipped to attack enemy surface ships and subs with torpedoes.

            Ballistic nuclear missile “boomer” subs operate independently, nowhere near a carrier battle group.

            In any event, how does it benefit Trump and his political toadies to utter the first bloody word about where military/naval assets are located on the planet? Apparently it is too much to expect them to resist the urge to bloviate.

            • Heather Hastie
              Posted April 20, 2017 at 8:06 pm | Permalink

              Exactly!

              • Randy schenck
                Posted April 20, 2017 at 10:03 pm | Permalink

                I think part of the humor, if there was any in my comment, was to remind all of the flip in the flip/flopper Trump. He is the guy who rakes Obama over the coals for stating what he will do (when it makes no damn difference) and then what does he do. The only people scared at what Trump is blowing concerning Korea are, all the people in this country plus all the people in Japan and S. Korea. Because when a 5 year old is talking like a 5 year old, some of the adults in the room get nervous. I say, put his house in the middle of Seoul South Korea and see if he still wants to run his mouth and talk tough to the idiot up north.

            • Posted April 20, 2017 at 10:21 pm | Permalink

              Good point on the boomers but since he didn’t tell us which subs he supposedly sent, who is to say what he meant. My assumption would be that if you were threatening NK, you’d not be worrying about their navy anyway so while an attack sub might need to be there for guard duty, it’s probably going to have nothing to do. The boomer could have work though.

              Hey, this armchair admiral stuff is fun! I’m confident that I know at least as much as our CiC. More probably, since I could have identified what the nuclear triad is and that the subs are part of it.

        • Ken Kukec
          Posted April 20, 2017 at 9:09 pm | Permalink

          How’d the armada of 1588 work out for the Spanish in the English Channel?

          This one’s a damnfool expedition, too. It’s pure brinkmanship: daring Kim Jong-un to test a nuke. Then what’s Trump gonna do? Slink back to Australia? Not likely.

          To paraphrase Gene Hackman in Heist, Trump shouldn’t oughta point a carrier group at N. Korea unless he intends to use it. It’s insincere.

  3. rickflick
    Posted April 20, 2017 at 8:47 am | Permalink

    “When you have people who don’t know much about science, standing in denial of it, and rising to power, that is a recipe for the complete dismantling of our informed democracy”.

    • rickflick
      Posted April 20, 2017 at 8:58 am | Permalink

      I could make a poster out of this.

  4. Posted April 20, 2017 at 8:50 am | Permalink

    Not a big fan of Neil deGrasse Tyson. Part of it has to do with his calling himself an “agnostic”, and some of the comments he’s made in reference to atheism as Mrdeity discusses here in his most recent video.

    • Posted April 20, 2017 at 9:02 am | Permalink

      Yes, I’ve criticized that too, as you certainly must know, but when he says something sensible we should recognize it. Or are you demonizing him and criticizing him for all time because of what he said about atheism? That’s what the Regressive Left does. We have to recognize when somebody who has said other stuff we don’t like has actually said something good and useful.

      If you’re not blowing him off, why make this remark on this post?

      • rom
        Posted April 20, 2017 at 11:52 am | Permalink

        Nothing wrong with agnostics …
        http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/religion/9102740/Richard-Dawkins-I-cant-be-sure-God-does-not-exist.html

        • Diane G.
          Posted April 22, 2017 at 1:16 am | Permalink

          I agree. I’ve always hated it when the non-believing community starts arguing semantics. I’ve seen it for decades and it’s such a huge waste of time not to mention a great tool for creating dissension among those who really have much more in common than they differ and who should spend their time doing something far more productive for ‘the cause.’

          I love Mr. Deity, but his shtick is sometimes a bit overwrought for me. That said, I think it takes a variety of different voices to champion freethinking in order to reach the variety of personalities who need to get the message. Can’t we please be “Big Tent” about this?

          I think when science popularizers like NDT choose not to use the term atheism they are wisely choosing not to alienate right off the bat those who need to hear their message the most.

    • Posted April 20, 2017 at 10:55 am | Permalink

      He failed your purity test?

  5. Randy schenck
    Posted April 20, 2017 at 8:51 am | Permalink

    At about 3 minutes in Tyson nails it. This is Tyson at his best and he does it well.

  6. Posted April 20, 2017 at 8:52 am | Permalink

    I would really like this to be the centerpiece of the March coming up. Maybe its too late to do that, unfortunately.

  7. Posted April 20, 2017 at 9:03 am | Permalink

    Sub

  8. Merilee
    Posted April 20, 2017 at 9:06 am | Permalink

    Sub

  9. rationalmind
    Posted April 20, 2017 at 9:14 am | Permalink

    It does concern me every time I see certain scientists saying that GMOs must be good that they are falling into a trap of group think.

    Just because GMOs are a scientific development and some of the opponents are not particularly scientifically literate in their thinking does not make GMOs environmentally safe.

    This is essentially an argument from feeling and not one from reason. Only the evidence shows what is true and what is not.

    The evidence of the environmental harm of GMOs is, in my view, clear and unequivocal.

    Habitat destruction is the major cause of biodiversity. The evidence on this is clear and unequivocal.

    Mankind is fundamentally greedy and the problem of GMOs is so clear that it can be expressed in a single sentence.

    If you have a technology that ultimately allows you to destroy any ecosystem for agriculture, then no ecosystem and its biodiversity is safe from destruction.

    • Randy schenck
      Posted April 20, 2017 at 9:26 am | Permalink

      I suspect that the only thing wrong with anyone, scientist or otherwise, saying they are categorically for GMOs is that maybe they are not being specific enough. The general statement that genetically modified food is safe is a true statement. So, requiring labeling of all food as to GMO content is rather useless. However, if you are saying that the genetically modifying industry is just fine and good and needs no regulation that would be wrong and bad. It is a big subject where generalization can be simply wrong.

      • Posted April 20, 2017 at 5:37 pm | Permalink

        Yes, I think the problem is mainly about over-generalization, on both sides.

        I do find some sense in labeling GMOs, though I’d prefer labels that are more specific, namely WHAT GMO was used. I could care less about most of them, but I would like to use the power of my pocketbook to limit the use of certain GMOs which might have serious ecological effects if they escaped. Much like tuna labeling laws that indicated which tuna brands were “dolphin-safe”. This made no difference to our health but it let consumers vote with their wallets in favor of a certain outcome which they judged to be desirable.

        • Randy schenck
          Posted April 20, 2017 at 5:55 pm | Permalink

          Agree in general with your comments but if there is no scientific evidence of harm from GMO in products you eat, why does it make sense to require labeling? Let them vote with the wallet but let us make sense. Corn and beans are in nearly every food product so it would be far easier to label products without it.

          • Posted April 20, 2017 at 6:49 pm | Permalink

            “…if there is no scientific evidence of harm from GMO in products you eat, why does it make sense to require labeling?”

            Because, as I said, there may be other legitimate reasons for consumers to want to avoid contributing to their use.

            I agree that simply labeling “GMO” or “No GMOs” is not very informative. Labels should be more specific. But why oppose making the info available? It’s the job of science educators to explain to people the nuances of GMOs so that they make rational decisions based on those labels. Better to be over-informed than uninformed. I don’t see the downside of such labels, even if they are not terribly informative.

            • Posted April 20, 2017 at 7:02 pm | Permalink

              Because the purpose of labeling products as GMOs is just to scare or reinforce people into not buying them. It isn’t informational except as a scare tactic.

              • Posted April 20, 2017 at 7:23 pm | Permalink

                As I said, the information can be useful, even if suboptimal. If people misinterpret it, educate them. Opponents of labeling feed conspiracy theories and paranoia.

              • GBJames
                Posted April 21, 2017 at 7:11 am | Permalink

                Seems to me that the paranoia and conspiracy theorizing takes place on the anti-GMO side of things. What with Monsanto being the root of all evil and all.

                I don’t think I’ve ever seen a labeling advocate provide examples of genuinely useful labeling. Why aren’t labeling advocates satisfied with “GMO-free” on packaging? These labels are already widely in use.

              • Posted April 21, 2017 at 8:52 am | Permalink

                “Seems to me that the paranoia and conspiracy theorizing takes place on the anti-GMO side of things.”

                Of course. Opposition to labeling feeds that paranoia.

                “I don’t think I’ve ever seen a labeling advocate provide examples of genuinely useful labeling.”

                I just did. Others have also.

              • GBJames
                Posted April 21, 2017 at 9:46 am | Permalink

                I’m sorry, Lou, but I don’t think you provided an example of an informative GMO label. You simply advocated for something that was equivalent to “dolphin safe”. If I missed something in the stream of commentary I’d appreciate a pointer to it.

                And I simply don’t buy the idea that the paranoid and conspiracy thinking is the fault of labeling opponents. There is equivalent fear and paranoia regarding “non-organic” (aka “conventional”) products. The paranoia and fear is driven by those who benefit from it. One might use the label “Big Organic”.

                You’ve stated that you want to be able to vote with your pocketbook. That’s fine. I don’t see why you can’t do that right now by purchasing any number of products on the market labeled “Non-GMO”.

              • Posted April 21, 2017 at 10:17 am | Permalink

                “I’m sorry, Lou, but I don’t think you provided an example of an informative GMO label. You simply advocated for something that was equivalent to “dolphin safe”. If I missed something in the stream of commentary I’d appreciate a pointer to it.”

                I said that I favored labels identifying what kind of GMO was involved, right before the “dolphin-safe” sentence you referred to:
                “I do find some sense in labeling GMOs, though I’d prefer labels that are more specific, namely WHAT GMO was used. I could care less about most of them, but I would like to use the power of my pocketbook to limit the use of certain GMOs which might have serious ecological effects if they escaped.”

                Of course you may decide that this kind of label is not useful to you. It is useful to me and to at least some other ecologists with concerns about escaping GMOs.

                “I simply don’t buy the idea that the paranoid and conspiracy thinking is the fault of labeling opponents.”

                That’s not what I said. I said that label opponents are providing fodder for those who promote the paranoia and conspiracy theories. If someone is claiming that there is a conspiracy to hide GMO impacts, you don’t do much to dispel this by doing exactly what the conspiracy advocate is claiming.

              • GBJames
                Posted April 21, 2017 at 10:26 am | Permalink

                What does “what kind of GMO was involved” even mean?

                The central error that labeling advocates make is to represent “GMO” as an ingredient, or some collection of ingredients. It isn’t. GMO is a technology. A legitimate example of the kind of label you demand would include an actual example.

              • Posted April 21, 2017 at 11:37 am | Permalink

                “A legitimate example of the kind of label you demand would include an actual example.”

                I thought I explained it pretty clearly, twice, but I’ll try again. I want to know what the modification was. Round-up resistance? Bt toxin production? Vitamin production? That would be informative to me and to many others. You are of course welcome to dismiss this information as uninteresting to you. But why fight to keep us from having it?

              • GBJames
                Posted April 21, 2017 at 12:52 pm | Permalink

                Then I would think you’d be advocating for the same types of labels on other foods… eggplant bred to remove bitterness, for example.

                I still don’t understand why “Organic” and “Non-GMO” labels don’t provide you with what you need.

              • Posted April 21, 2017 at 2:23 pm | Permalink

                “I still don’t understand why “Organic” and “Non-GMO” labels don’t provide you with what you need.”

                There’s a cost involved (both to consumers and sellers)in boycotting an unnecessarily broad class of products. A consumer who wanted to avoid supporting Roundup-ready agricultural practices would have to avoid all food not labeled “Non-GMO”, yet many unlabeled foods don’t have GMOs. It would be in the best interest of the sellers and the consumers to have honest labels, and even better if they were more specific than just “Contains GMOs”.

              • Posted April 21, 2017 at 4:31 pm | Permalink

                + 1. I am living in Europe where most people are absolutely hysterical about GMO, and at the same time look at Americans from above.

              • Diane G.
                Posted April 22, 2017 at 1:33 am | Permalink

                Since we’re not likely to lose the demand for GMO labeling anytime soon, GB, why would you object to more informative labeling?

                Presumably any product that can claim to be GMO-free is already happily labeling itself that way. That leaves the rest of the market already under suspicion of being genetically modified in some way. Why would you care if these products were required to go a step further by including info along the lines Lou has mentioned so that those of us who see a potential ecological detriment to some of the modifications can choose not to support them?

              • Posted April 22, 2017 at 6:48 am | Permalink

                Diane, yes, that’s what I don’t understand about the anti-labeling people. GBJames ridiculed the proposal by saying I should equally advocate for labeling eggplant that has been bred to be less bitter. Apart from the false equivalence (less-bitter eggplant is a minor variation that has probably already arisen many times naturally, and this has not led to an ecologically invasive super-eggplant, and is extremely unlikely to do so in the future since it has LESS protection from pests that bitter eggplant), suppose for the sake of argument that lots of people DID want to be able to identify less-bitter eggplant varieties in stores, for whatever reason (reason could be taste, but could also be social, if perhaps less-bitter eggplant was known to be produced in third-world feudal farms that treated their workers poorly). If people wanted that information, why would anyone fight to keep it hidden? Would GBJames explain to them that preference for one or the other kind of eggplant is irrational, and would he fight the passage of laws to require labeling less-bitter eggplant?

              • GBJames
                Posted April 22, 2017 at 8:56 am | Permalink

                @Diane: I have no objection to labeling per se. What I do have objection to is labeling that is misleading and non-informative. I don’t think that Lou’s version of “useful labeling” is in fact useful. At root it is based on the fiction that GMOs are ingredients of some sort and that knowing which ingredients are in that taco shell will provide a useful guide to help people “vote” for a more healthy planet.

                If Lou is actually concerned about the hazards of (for example) glyphosate herbicides on the environment then the place for taking that fight is on the merits of the issue, not general-purpose GMO labeling. Lobby Congress, build the environmental movement by showing that this specific herbicide is a problem. Stop muddying the water with attacks on a technology that has already provided health and sustainability benefits to humanity. It is the anti-GMO fear-mongering that I object to.

              • Merilee
                Posted April 22, 2017 at 6:16 pm | Permalink

                I’m with you on this, Greg.

              • GBJames
                Posted April 22, 2017 at 9:19 am | Permalink

                @Lou: The point about eggplant is not that it is a hazardous “super plant” (in ecological terms, I’d call pretty much all domesticated plants “ecologically disastrous super plants” given the destruction that accompanies agriculture world-wide).

                The point is this: whether a genetic change in a domestic crop is introduced by random gene-changes and selection, or by purposeful gene changes and selection, makes no substantive health or environmental-consequence-based difference.

                The latter should be preferred since at least we know what changes have been made.

                The ability to create life-saving rice by giving the plants the ability to produce Vitamin A is a real benefit for humanity. I have no objection to labeling this kind of rice “Vitamin A enhanced”. I do object to forcing it to be labeled “GMO rice” for the same reason I would object to it being labeled “Frankenfood rice”.

              • Posted April 22, 2017 at 9:23 am | Permalink

                How is it not informative to know what GMOs went into a product? If I am concerned about, say, Bt escaping into the wild, how is it not helpful to know that Product X does produce Bt? And in this case, the inserted gene makes a product that IS an ingredient in what you eat; that is not a “fiction”.

                In the case of Round-up Ready GMO crops, until there is a policy change, why not let me know what products were produced that way? Or maybe I don’t want a ban, I just don’t personally want to eat crops with lots of Round-up residue, and I don’t mind if others do eat if if they do so knowingly? Or maybe I just don’t like my money to go to Monsanto. Even if my reasons are completely irrational in your mind, what gives you the right to decide that I can’t vote with my pocketbook on that issue?

              • Posted April 22, 2017 at 9:36 am | Permalink

                “Whether a genetic change in a domestic crop is introduced by random gene-changes and selection, or by purposeful gene changes and selection, makes no substantive health or environmental-consequence-based difference.”

                There is a difference, rooted in clear ecological theory. A new species suddenly introduced to an island or continent can have disastrous impacts on the native species, as I mentioned earlier. A species that slowly evolves traits gives the rest of the ecosystem time to coevolve with it. Cross-phylum genetic manipulation is not gradual change; it is effectively introducing a new potentially invasive species (or several species, if the gene gets out into wild relatives of crops, as it has with canola).

                I’ve repeatedly said that most GMOs are harmless; educate people on that issue rather than trying to obfuscate or hide it. Call GMO-altered vitamin-enhanced rice exactly that. Your efforts to censor this information just scare people more.

              • GBJames
                Posted April 22, 2017 at 9:59 am | Permalink

                We are in complete agreement here:

                “educate people on that issue rather than trying to obfuscate or hide it.”

                If GMO labeling did this I’d be on board. But education isn’t the agenda here, fear-mongering and paranoia are. If I was wrong then “Frankenfood” wouldn’t be a synonym for “GMO”.

                In any case, I’ll leave it there. I fear we are on the edge of a roolz violation.

              • Posted April 22, 2017 at 3:39 pm | Permalink

                Got to agree with you about the Rulz….I’ve said enough.

    • darrelle
      Posted April 20, 2017 at 9:31 am | Permalink

      You’ve stated an argument against irresponsible environmental practices and technology usage in general, but it doesn’t apply to GMOs any more than it applies to any other specific type of irresponsible environmental practices or applications of technology.

      Also a significant number of people that are anti-GMO make ludicrous claims to support their opposition, as opposed to your stated concerns, and I think comments like NdGT’s are a very appropriate response to them.

    • Posted April 20, 2017 at 9:37 am | Permalink

      I do not see scientists saying GMOs are good, only that there is no credible evidence of harmful health effects despite the alarmist claims from anti-GMO groups.

      I suppose the people who could be saved from famine might think they are good.

      • Posted April 21, 2017 at 4:34 pm | Permalink

        I am technically a scientist (though you won’t find breakthrough articles with my name in the authors’ list), and I say GMOs are good because they have decreased production costs or increased nutritional value.

        • Posted April 21, 2017 at 5:11 pm | Permalink

          That is not the only criterion for goodness, and you are making the same kinds of broad unjustified generalizations (“GMOs are good”) that the hysterical opponents make (“ALL GMOs are bad”).

        • Posted April 21, 2017 at 5:17 pm | Permalink

          What would you think of people who say “Nuclear power is bad” or “Nuclear power is good”? These are simplistic responses to complicated issues. You would recognize right away that someone who says either one of those things is not taking the issue seriously and does not know the field.

          • Posted April 21, 2017 at 5:34 pm | Permalink

            I am with the former, because of the health impact of radiation (though I admit that radioactive materials are indispensable for some uses, and nuclear power is justified in some circumstances).
            Once, a group of students was so enthusiastically advocating nuclear power stations that I asked them whether they would want any of their loved ones to work as an uranium miner. The answer was that we need not care about uranium miners, because they are Russian convicts.

            • Posted April 21, 2017 at 6:00 pm | Permalink

              Yes, that is more nuanced. Nuclear power improves productivity by making energy cheaper, at least in the short term, and reduces massive human suffering from global warming because it often replaces coal or oil generation, but it has huge risks that are difficult to quantify. GMOs are similarly complex, though on balance I think most are good. Some are potentially risky, especially for ecosystem health, and the risks are difficult to quantify. They need to be examined case by case, and objectively, with due skepticism of industry-funded studies, just as with nukes.

    • Dan
      Posted April 20, 2017 at 9:42 am | Permalink

      It is not clear an unequivocal to me. Your sentiments seem to be more anti-corporatist rather than anti-GMO. Maybe you should dial down the conspiracy thinking.

      • Posted April 20, 2017 at 12:55 pm | Permalink

        And I’m (long term) anticorporate and pro-GMO. I’m the latter for the reasons I am the former – getting power systems out of people’s lives where they aren’t (arguably) needed. What better way to do that than give people the ability to make the food they want?

    • eric
      Posted April 20, 2017 at 10:27 am | Permalink

      I think you mean that habitat destruction is the major cause of loss of biodiversity. Which I mostly agree with.

      Now, when it comes to humans genetically modifying other organisms…are you talking about the practice that started about 15,000 years ago, or the practice that started in 1973? I’m perfectly willing to concede that probably a lot of humanity’s destruction of natural habitats was (and still is) prompted by our desire to farm and herd domesticated (I.e., genetically modified) varieties of plans and animals instead of the native ones. But I’m very, very skeptical that you can lay the problem of habitat destruction at the feet of the science that’s been developed since the ’70s. We were doing it quite well long before then, and with or without Monsanto’s patented wheat people would be still cutting down rainforest for their short-term gain.

    • Posted April 20, 2017 at 2:30 pm | Permalink

      This discussion often brings out an arrogance and hubris in some scientists. This is part of the reason that many people become anti-science. Why make broad statements insinuating that opponents of GMOs are necessarily irrational and unscientific? Yes, there are lots of stupid reasons to oppose GMOs. But there are also legitimate reasons for thinking some GMOs are not ecologically safe. And it is certainly theoretically possible for genetically modified food to be dangerous to eat. Not because of the altered DNA itself but because the modifications were put there to make toxins to kill bugs, and the toxins could cause harm to those who eat them. Whether they do in fact cause harm in any particular case is a job for science to decide. Science has indeed decided that the the common modifications are safe, but that needs to be thoroughly and objectively tested in each case, and it is rational to be skeptical about some of these until lots of testing has been done.

      Some people, like one commenter above, imply that modern GMOs are no more likely to be dangerous or ecologically destabilizing than our paleolithic agrarian cross-breeding experiments. But readers of this site surely realize that the hallmark of evolutionary change is a slow modification of allele frequencies over time, with other species evolving in response at the same time. Our cross-breeding experiments were also made in very small steps. Making a GMO is not like that; it often involves cross-phylum transfers of whole, complex, fully-functioning genes. This process is quite rare in nature, at least among eukaryotes. At the very least, this poses a similar kind of ecological risk posed by introducing a foreign species into an ecosystem, a danger which all ecologists recognize and whose reality anyone can verify for themselves (in the US, see kuzu, buckthorne, the many tree-killing European or Asian beetles, etc). For example, the bt-producing gene could easily shift an ecological balance if it escaped into some weedy relative of a GMO crop.

      In short, people who really care about science should publicly correct the stupid arguments but should also refrain from making similarly-naive arguments in the other direction. I think it is unscientific to reject a priori the possibility that there might be real problems with some GMOs.

      • rationalmind
        Posted April 20, 2017 at 3:22 pm | Permalink

        Thank you for that intelligent reply.

        One of the issues with BT, and this is a classic example of the hubris of which you speak, is that nobody knows very much about its behaviour or ecology. It is known it is found in soil and that it is a pathogen but nobody has bothered studying what its true role or effects are in the ecosystem.

        Yet it is considered safe to distribute around both as a pesticide and as a part of a GMO.

        Resistance will inevitably occur and then organisms will become resistance to a natural pathogen whose potential natural pest controlling roles are unknown.

        All that is cared about with these GM foods is that there is a potential to increase yields and an opportunity to make money but there is an absence of care for the ecosystems.

        The other issue is what do we do when it becomes possibly, through the progress of technology, for any nut or immature teenager to do genetic hacking in their bedrooms?

        • mikeyc
          Posted April 20, 2017 at 4:51 pm | Permalink

          “One of the issues with BT, and this is a classic example of the hubris of which you speak, is that nobody knows very much about its behaviour or ecology. It is known it is found in soil and that it is a pathogen but nobody has bothered studying what its true role or effects are in the ecosystem.”

          You sure about that?

          “Field studies on the environmental fate of the Cry1Ab Bt‐toxin produced by transgenic maize (MON810) and its effect on bacterial communities in the maize rhizosphere.” Molecular Ecology 14.8 (2005): 2539-2551.

          “Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) toxin released from root exudates and biomass of Bt corn has no apparent effect on earthworms, nematodes, protozoa, bacteria, and fungi in soil.” Soil Biology and Biochemistry 33.9 (2001): 1225-1230.

          “Uptake of Bt‐toxin by herbivores feeding on transgenic maize and consequences for the predator Chrysoperla carnea.” Ecological Entomology 27.4 (2002): 441-447.

          “Effect of Bt-toxin (Cry1Ac) in transgenic cotton on the adult longevity of four heteropteran predators.” Environmental Entomology 31.6 (2002): 1197-1205.

          “Bt cotton and pesticide use in Argentina: Economic and environmental effects.” Environment and Development Economics 10.02 (2005): 179-200.

          Should I go on? There are dozens more……

          Respectfully, you should be more careful with your claims.

          • Posted April 20, 2017 at 5:05 pm | Permalink

            In relation to the enormous complexity of ecosystems and the number of potential interactions between species, the statement of commenter rationalmind would still be justified even if the list you just gave was a hundred times larger.

            • mikeyc
              Posted April 20, 2017 at 5:31 pm | Permalink

              Ok, so let me get this straight.

              It is your contention when rationalmind said; “…nobody has bothered studying what its true role or effects are in the ecosystem” what (s)he really meant was; “…nobody has bothered doing hundreds of times more work than what has already been done on its true role or effects are in the ecosystem”.

              What number, by your reckoning, would be enough studies?

              • Posted April 20, 2017 at 5:44 pm | Permalink

                I was actually supporting his/her comment that “nobody knows very much about its behaviour or ecology”. I would not have said “nobody has bothered studying…”

                You ask what would be enough studies. Enough for what? I don’t think we have a clear picture. There are thousands of species of plants and orders of magnitude more species of insects in the US. The studies are a drop in the bucket. But even so, some of them DO indicate there is a problem with Bt escaping into the wild.

            • Posted April 21, 2017 at 4:36 pm | Permalink

              By this criterion, we should never introduce any new technology.

              • Posted April 21, 2017 at 5:22 pm | Permalink

                I did not suggest we don’t introduce GMOs. I am speaking out against the hubris that some scientists show on such issues, as if we deeply understood their consequences. We do not, and so we should proceed cautiously and skeptically.

          • Posted April 20, 2017 at 5:26 pm | Permalink

            I should add that lack of detailed information is a problem in ecology generally, not just in relation to Bt. It is very hard, for example, to predict which plant or insect species would become invasive in a given habitat. We can identify some general traits that correlate well with invasiveness, but it hard to make accurate predictions in any particular case.

            Some of the arguments about GMOs remind me of the pesticide arguments we used to have in the 70s. Scientists in the industry often regarded all pesticides as safe (after all, they’d been thoroughly tested by the industry, we were told) and they ridiculed certain observant ecologists as alarmists and hippies,and denigrated them as unscientific or worse, “anti-science” (as if questioning technology were some kind of heresy). Indeed, some fears were exaggerated and some of their arguments were wrong, and there is no doubt that pesticides have been an important positive element in our ability to feed the world’s expanding population. But there was and is a cost in ecological and human health. Thanks to the public learning about these issues and applying political pressure, the pesticides of today are much safer than those of the 70s (and the industry kicked and screamed and obstructed at every step of the way to oppose the new controls), though there is still a cost.

            • Posted April 21, 2017 at 4:38 pm | Permalink

              To me, part of this kicking and screaming was justified. Rich countries got rid of malaria, became aware of the environmental effects of DDT and introduced a worldwide ban. In poor country, children are dying of malaria to this day. Maybe we could have waited for the global eradication of malaria before banning DDT.

              • Posted April 21, 2017 at 6:09 pm | Permalink

                Perhaps some of it was. But most of the kicking and screaming was motivated by profit margins. And the propaganda and disinformation from their campaigns echos to this day. Check up on that global “DDT ban” you mentioned. That is a typical pesticide industry “alternative fact” that has been widely corrected but keeps resurfacing.

                From the EPA website:
                “This treaty is known as the Stockholm Convention on POPs. The Convention includes a limited exemption for the use of DDT to control mosquitoes that transmit the microbe that causes malaria – a disease that still kills millions of people worldwide.

                In September 2006, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared its support for the indoor use of DDT in African countries where malaria remains a major health problem, citing that benefits of the pesticide outweigh the health and environmental risks. The WHO position is consistent with the Stockholm Convention on POPs, which bans DDT for all uses except for malaria control.

                DDT is one of 12 pesticides recommended by the WHO for indoor residual spray programs. It is up to individual countries to decide whether or not to use DDT.”

    • Posted April 20, 2017 at 4:25 pm | Permalink

      It does concern me every time I see certain scientists saying that vaccines must be good that they are falling into a trap of group think.

      Just because vaccines are a scientific development and some of the opponents are not particularly scientifically literate in their thinking does not make vaccines medically safe.

      This is essentially an argument from feeling and not one from reason. Only the evidence shows what is true and what is not.

      The evidence of the medical harm of vaccines is, in my view, clear and unequivocal.

      Viral mutation is the major cause of viral diversity. The evidence on this is clear and unequivocal.

      Big Pharma is fundamentally greedy and the problem of vaccinnes is so clear that it can be expressed in a single sentence.

      If you have a medical technology that ultimately allows you to kill any organism for the sake of healthy communities, then no organisms are safe from destruction.

      Same arguments, just switch the labels.

  10. mfdempsey1946
    Posted April 20, 2017 at 9:25 am | Permalink

    The distressing truth is that in the US there are millions — millions — who will never, never accept what Neil deGrasse Tyson is saying here, no matter how often it is said, no matter how clearly and eloquently he or anyone else says it, no matter what eloquent imagery and stirring music reinforce his vital message.

    It’s an example, in a different context, of the old Catholic expression: “invincible ignorance.”

    These people (and, dismayingly, they seem to be legion) are unreachable. Absolutely unreachable.

    This must be factored into the selection of any tactics for effectively dealing with the crisis that Tyson describes, including this potentially world-shattering crisis of willful mass ignorance.

    Time and energy must not be wasted on futile efforts to persuade those who are determined never to be persuaded.

    The difficulty lies distinguishing this benighted group from those who might be reachable.

    • eric
      Posted April 20, 2017 at 10:32 am | Permalink

      I am not so pessimistic. Even if you are right, we can still hope that in 10 or 20 years the social acceptance of science will improve…via the Max Plank method: “A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it.”

      • mfdempsey1946
        Posted April 20, 2017 at 10:56 am | Permalink

        OK.

        But in our “modern” world, can humanity afford to endure ten or twenty years of horrible policy-making, coupled with ten or twenty years of dismissing science and its predictions of major global problems as “hoaxes” or “chicken little” alarmism?

        Or, in an epoch of blindingly fast change, might ten or twenty years of benighted governance, especially in the US, be more than enough time for truly irreparable damage to be done worldwide?

        Even if the Trump creatures of today’s world and their deluded supporters finally die off or come to their senses?

        In other words, humanity may not have ten or twenty hears to wait for the Max Plank outcome to kick in.

      • Posted April 20, 2017 at 12:56 pm | Permalink

        As a matter of a fact, Planck may have been too pessimistic! (See _Science as a Process_, by D. Hull, where that claim is tested.)

    • Posted April 20, 2017 at 6:16 pm | Permalink

      the crisis that Tyson describes, including this potentially world-shattering crisis of willful mass ignorance.

      Maybe not worldwide, science denial at a critical mass seems largely to be a US phenomenon and shared by theocratic Islamic cultures.

      Not so in Europe, Australasia and other first world nations.

      • Posted April 21, 2017 at 4:41 pm | Permalink

        People in Europe (where I live) are up in arms against GMO, and in some countries also against vaccination. Particularly the MMR vaccine, after ex-Dr. Wakefield dropped his bomb that it allegedly causes autism.

  11. Posted April 20, 2017 at 9:33 am | Permalink

    “It does concern me every time I see certain scientists saying that GMOs must be good that they are falling into a trap of group think.”

    Actually there isn’t any more proof that GMOs have destroyed habitats any more than selective breeding has destroyed habitats.

    This is indeed “group think”; The conviction that GMOs must be harmful because some people think they might be.

    • Dan
      Posted April 20, 2017 at 9:45 am | Permalink

      Indeed, anti-GMO is strongly correlated with a certain segment of the environmentalist extremism, whose level of groupthink has made them act like a cult.

    • rationalmind
      Posted April 20, 2017 at 11:30 am | Permalink

      Not at all. There is indeed very good evidence of the harm caused by GMOs on a large scale.

      Selective breeding has limits Genetic modification doesn’t so no habitat is safe.

      If you want an example from the scientific literature here is one

      http://home.cc.umanitoba.ca/~frist/PLNT4600/biodiversity/icad196.pdf

      • GBJames
        Posted April 20, 2017 at 1:59 pm | Permalink

        Granting, for the sake of argument, that the “evidence is in” regarding milkweed/butterfly decline….

        That is a case against use of a particular form of pesticide/herbicide. It is not a case against GMO technology any more than it is a case against the use of bulldozers. It says nothing about the innumerable other uses of GMO tech to improve the lives of humans around the world. Shall we remove insulin from the lives of diabetics because it is produced using GMO technology?

        • mikeyc
          Posted April 20, 2017 at 5:55 pm | Permalink

          But the study addressed this; glyphosate is used because of the resistant GMO crops. They found a large decrease in milkweed in agricultural areas and this they attributed to glyphosate use (and by extension GMO resistance). It is interesting to note that they also found a decrease in milkweed in *non-agricultural* areas where glyphosate is not used. This they attribute to early population of disturbed areas by milkweed followed by replacement.

  12. Posted April 20, 2017 at 9:41 am | Permalink

    DeGrasse Tyson rocks!

    • Randy schenck
      Posted April 20, 2017 at 9:49 am | Permalink

      Or said another way – more interested in the age of rocks than any rock of ages.

  13. GBJames
    Posted April 20, 2017 at 10:11 am | Permalink

    I think Tyson is spot-on here. And that is why I what I will be marching for.

  14. jwthomas
    Posted April 20, 2017 at 10:15 am | Permalink

    Tweeted video @fyreflye1

  15. zoolady
    Posted April 20, 2017 at 10:18 am | Permalink

    This is why I’ll be marching on Saturday, regardless of who is ”honorary chair.”…we want to make a point to the general public and the conservatives who try to minimize scientific effort, progress and contributions.

    Frankly, I don’t think most people in the US care who’s ”honorary chair.” When we marched for women in January, I saw hundreds of thousands of people who were as diverse as the US population. I’m sure they all had their own reasons for marching and, frankly, nobody cared.

    Nobody cared which organizations waved their flags…..because flags were waved.

    Nobody cared which religious groups attended…because many religious groups attended.

    That SHOULD be the case this Saturday. Does anyone really care if some intentions vary from others? Does anyone really care if you or I take issue with some ”centerpieces?”

    In fact, the beautiful part of this march is its diversity of participation and intention.
    Sorry you won’t be there, but many thousands of us will march for you.

  16. John Switzer
    Posted April 20, 2017 at 10:23 am | Permalink

    I think you should march. I think I understand and respect all the negatives you have posted, and I see that the Woman’s March may have done little to alter the administration of government, but when will you get the opportunity to make a public statement like this again? Thank you for posting ND Tyson’s video.
    I think you should march.

    • Randy schenck
      Posted April 20, 2017 at 11:10 am | Permalink

      I think it is fine to agree or disagree and to explain the whys and why nots. But to say, I think you should — I don’t think so. Everyone gets to decide, everyone gets to make up their own mind.

    • Posted April 20, 2017 at 1:23 pm | Permalink

      I have thought about this long and hard, and really don’t appreciate your telling me what you think I should do.

      Did I ASK anybody if they thought I should march? I don’t think so.

  17. Posted April 20, 2017 at 10:33 am | Permalink

    This is more like it!

  18. Posted April 20, 2017 at 10:57 am | Permalink

    I ran across a Slate article titled “Scientists, Stop Thinking Explaining Science Will Fix Things” that seems to target Neil deGrasse Tyson’s recent video. The author claims to be an authority on “science communication.”

    I’m interested in hearing what others here think about the article.

    • mikeyc
      Posted April 20, 2017 at 11:20 am | Permalink

      I would agree the “deficit model” doesn’t seem to work well at all, though it bugs me that it is true. After all it is the very basis of education, whether it is formal schooling or any kind of training.

      I do agree with Requarth that scientists would be more effective at communicating the importance of science if they are better at explaining WHY science is important and avoid getting bogged down in endless refutations. That is *exactly* what Tyson does. And Bill Nye too, for that matter. It’s what Carl Sagan did.

      I agree with the author, and some of the folks here, who think the March For Science risks aligning scientists with the political left, at least in the minds of Trump supporters. That would not be a good thing. And I agree that it is unlikely to change any political course. But I’m still marching, regressives be damned. We all go or not go for personal reasons. Maybe it’s a bit self-indulgent but for me it is also one way to stay (or get) active in a political process I care about.

    • Diane G.
      Posted April 22, 2017 at 2:15 am | Permalink

      Love that Slate title!

      A decade or so ago a few local middle school biology teachers started including “Of Pandas and People” as a necessary part of their curriculum. This actually went unopposed for a few years until the children of a Michigan State biology professor reached that grade and the word got out.

      In response a most distinguished contingent of MSU science faculty (including Robert Pennock, who later testified at the Dover trial) drove down to a widely publicized school board meeting and presented all the best arguments for why creationism had no business in any biological curriculum, patiently explaining the overwhelming evidence for evolution.

      The local churches had rallied their troops and the meeting was packed with pro-church types. If you’ve ever watched an evolution/creationism debate, you will be familiar with the self-satisfied smiles (one might say smirks) that greeted this presentation as the deniers did everything but stick their fingers in their ears to express their complete disdain for the scientists.

      What finally saved the day was a concerted lobbying of the school board by those of us who were appalled by this development and especially the fact that enough members of said board were completely on the side of science. (Even so it took several weeks and the outcome was in doubt for quite some time.) Since then the climate in Michigan has gotten ever more evangelical and I shudder to think of how easy it would be for this sort of sly infiltration to crop up again and again.

  19. Reginald Selkirk
    Posted April 20, 2017 at 11:28 am | Permalink

    NdGT doesn’t recall any science denial from the 1960s and 1970s. And yet Creationism was around then, in the guise of “creation science.” Various pseudosciences were also prominent then, including UFOs, ESP and a variety of New Age BS.

    • mikeyc
      Posted April 20, 2017 at 12:26 pm | Permalink

      Creationism has always been, but of the others were those issues *political* then?

      I don’t think it could be missed that Tyson’s point was that this scientific illiteracy and denialism is today more prevalent in politics than ever before* and that can have disastrous consequences.

      *HIS point, not mine. For the most part I agree with the sentiment of your comment – that we have always been burdened with nonsense. But I also agree with Tyson that we are in a different place today.

      • Diane G.
        Posted April 22, 2017 at 2:27 am | Permalink

        Indeed. The 60’s & 70’s were a far more liberal time (as I’m sure you remember, RS). Even the Catholics cared more about the Viet Nam war than policing people’s bedrooms. (And IIANM, they were a fairly reliable constituency for the Democrats.) As you say, creationism has always been with us, but that was not one of its prominent eras. Meanwhile, science was getting a lot of props from the success of the space missions.

  20. Posted April 20, 2017 at 12:13 pm | Permalink

    Great video. Thanks for sharing. It is inspiring to see such a well-crafted message.

  21. Paul Dymnicki
    Posted April 20, 2017 at 1:30 pm | Permalink

    Thank a god there are people like Neil deGrasse Tyson and Jerry Coyne out there.

  22. rickflick
    Posted April 20, 2017 at 7:12 pm | Permalink

    Lawrence Krauss has an opinion piece on the March:

    https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/guest-blog/march-for-science-or-march-for-reality/

  23. Jim Smith
    Posted April 20, 2017 at 9:31 pm | Permalink

    Everything is a tool for the new left to be used as the new left see fit to further their causes. Everything. If it can’t be used by the left to further it’s causes then it has no reason for existence.

    Stalin taught the new left well.

  24. Dale Franzwa
    Posted April 20, 2017 at 11:45 pm | Permalink

    I agree with you Jerry. Originally, I thought I might like to march but seeing how regressive left politics has distorted the intended message I’ll pass and go to the opera instead (even though I’ve seen it before).

    • zoolady
      Posted April 21, 2017 at 12:32 am | Permalink

      Will the intended targets of the march (GOP/fundamental religious) power structure
      give a sh*t if the “regressive left” has “distorted the message?” Or could it be that the sheer numbers of marchers might possibly impress someone who needs to think about the messages/uses of science?

      Speaking candidly, I’ve grown very unenchanted by comments from the LA organizers who bicker about ”messages” and other (almost) elitist ideas of who’s marching and why. They wanted to make it about THEM…rather than people of diverse lives and agendas.

      Nevertheless, I will march in favor of science because it’s available to everyone…whatever political party….whatever religious persuasion…whatever spectrum of the political scale. And anyone in DC or some “fundie” loonish sect who wants to discredit science can see the hundreds of thousands of us who march in its favor and think about it.

      In my opinion, ANYONE who has a public persona and who’s free of fundie religious influence should seriously consider supporting science in the marches this weekend.

      You OWE it to those who have worked in labs or in classes or in garages/attics/libraries. You owe it to the children who already know the answers to our most pressing questions. All they need is education and support.

  25. ThyroidPlanet
    Posted April 21, 2017 at 5:55 am | Permalink

    I can already hear the “opposition’s” voice, “explaining” how “we just don’t know how things work”, etc…. there’s a built-in defense mechanism for Tyson’s words. It isn’t simply blown off. Just like religion, something is going on in politics that you can’t put a finger on, and can’t discuss without discussing yourself…

  26. Harrison
    Posted April 21, 2017 at 7:15 am | Permalink

    I have a small beef with Tyson in that he’s spent the past decade or so repeatedly (in his canned talks) minimizing the significance of Republican science denial. And now it’s simply become too great to ignore.

    • ThyroidPlanet
      Posted April 21, 2017 at 7:23 am | Permalink

      WE call it denial.

      THEY will deny the denial.

      That is an unproductive thing…. what to do? Dunno yet…

  27. rickflick
    Posted April 22, 2017 at 3:36 pm | Permalink

    I’ve just returned from the March in beautiful downtown Poughkeepsie, NY. The turnout was encouraging at about 1000 people. It was very upbeat and a fun time. A band played, children waved their posters with things like “Science is Cool!”. Young families with babies, middle aged, retirees. Passing cars honked their horns in approval. One guy in a pickup gave us the finger. Someone near me said, “That’s his I.Q.”.

    There was no evidence of a regressive left.

    • GBJames
      Posted April 22, 2017 at 5:57 pm | Permalink

      We had a very nice turnout on a lovely day in Milwaukee. Some great signs.

      • GBJames
        Posted April 22, 2017 at 5:59 pm | Permalink

        But my favorite…


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