Pharyngula

Poor Superman

&t

So, the Bush administration is going to try and be pro-science. Here we go.

In October 2005, Mr. Deutsch sent an e-mail message to Flint Wild, a NASA contractor working on a set of Web presentations about Einstein for middle-school students. The message said the word “theory” needed to be added after every mention of the Big Bang.

The Big Bang is “not proven fact; it is opinion,” Mr. Deutsch wrote, adding, “It is not NASA’s place, nor should it be to make a declaration such as this about the existence of the universe that discounts intelligent design by a creator.”

It continued: “This is more than a science issue, it is a religious issue. And I would hate to think that young people would only be getting one-half of this debate from NASA. That would mean we had failed to properly educate the very people who rely on us for factual information the most.”

Deutsch is 24 years old, having just graduated with a bachelor’s degree in journalism a few years ago. As a reward for being a loyal Republican party apparatchik, he has been generously appointed to be a Political Officer enforcing doctrine over a bunch of high-falutin’ rocket scientists. Shades of Lysenko!

It must have been a heady feeling to have the power to dictate ideology to a lot of scientists with Ph.D.s.

I wonder if it now feels terrible to have one’s stupidity and ignorance a matter of public record (“theory” does not mean what he thinks it means), and to have so thoroughly overreached one’s intellectual capacity that it will be emblematic of the Republican corruption of science policy for years to come? Or perhaps (and perhaps more likely) Mr Deutsch is basking in the high regard of his know-nothing peers in this administration, who probably think smacking a scientist with a Bible is a clever retort.

If there were justice, Deutsch’s political career would be dead now, and he’d have to make a living selling aluminum siding in Topeka. I fear he’s just improved his standing in the Republican party.

. The rot runs deep.


There’s more at Bad Astronomy and Stranger Fruit.


Add Cosmic Variance to the list. I think you’re going to see a growing righteous fury among scientists on this.

Comments

  1. #1 Shem
    February 4, 2006

    I call dibs on “Flint Wild” as a porn name.

    And I honestly thought we were supposed to be JOKING about the possibility of Christianists redefining atomic theory, the theory of gravity, etc., as “only theories.”

  2. #2 mark
    February 4, 2006

    I’ve wrote a letter to Deutsch explaining to him that his stupidity is showing. Not sure what effect it will have, but as Colbert would say, he’s “on notice”.

  3. #3 mark
    February 4, 2006

    Doh! “written”

  4. #4 Harry Eagar
    February 4, 2006

    Were I the type who squirrels away those things, I could dredge out comparable leftwing freakozoid stuff from the Clinton administration. Not about the Big Bang, but similar in tone and nuttiness.

    To fantasize that a subjunior clerk in the press office with an overwrought notion of his own importance has been ‘appointed to be a Political Officer enforcing doctrine’ is lunacy nearly as raving as his.

  5. #5 PZ Myers
    February 4, 2006

    Yeah, right. And Democrats were paid off by Abramoff. Put up or shut up–otherwise, this is just more vague noise thrown out to make a smokescreen for Republicans.

  6. #6 mark
    February 4, 2006

    Harry, we misunderestimate the power of these people at our own peril.

    from the NY Times …
    http://chesapeakeclimate.org/news/news_detail.cfm?id=57

    Climate Expert Says NASA Tried to Silence Him

    relevant excerpt

    In one call, George Deutsch, a recently appointed public affairs officer at NASA headquarters, rejected a request from a producer at National Public Radio to interview Dr. Hansen, said Leslie McCarthy, a public affairs officer responsible for the Goddard Institute.

    Citing handwritten notes taken during the conversation, Ms. McCarthy said Mr. Deutsch called N.P.R. “the most liberal” media outlet in the country. She said that in that call and others, Mr. Deutsch said his job was “to make the president look good” and that as a White House appointee that might be Mr. Deutsch’s priority.

  7. #7 Josh
    February 4, 2006

    Also at Thoughts from Kansas, along with a discussion of other recent science abuses by the administration.

  8. #8 PZ Myers
    February 4, 2006

    Unfortunately, blogspot is doing its freaky thing again. Have you contacted the Seed Media Empire, Josh?

    You know, scientists ought to just drop everything and march on DC. I want to see a gang of angry nerds howling at the White House.

  9. #9 mark
    February 4, 2006

    Mr. Deutsch, professional idiot, is ONE of THREE Public Affairs Officers given by NASA’s contacts page. He ain’t the guy in charge of public access swimming pool sign-ups at NASA Ames. He’s one of the top three spokesmodels for a once proud organization. Every day that man keeps his job, the sum total knowledge of humanity is reduced.

  10. #10 386sx
    February 4, 2006

    I could dredge out comparable leftwing freakozoid stuff from the Clinton administration.

    Yeah good luck with that.

    Not about the Big Bang, but similar in tone and nuttiness.

    You mean obstinate religious fundamentalist lazy-head dogma? Good luck with that one too.

  11. #11 Mnemosyne
    February 4, 2006

    Were I the type who squirrels away those things, I could dredge out comparable leftwing freakozoid stuff from the Clinton administration. Not about the Big Bang, but similar in tone and nuttiness.

    Please do. We’ll wait right here while you find links for us.

    You understand that “Well, I think I read it somewhere at some point” or “I think Rush said something about it six years ago” isn’t actual proof, right?

    Put up or shut up.

  12. #12 Jeff Fecke
    February 4, 2006

    I could dredge out comparable leftwing freakozoid stuff from the Clinton administration.

    Yes, why I remember when the Surgeon General lost her job for suggesting that teenagers masturbate instead of having sex. Because no teenager has ever learned how to masturbate.

    Oh, wait–that was Jocelyn Elders, and she lost her job because the fundies hated her.

    Next?

  13. #13 tacitus
    February 4, 2006

    I’ve just finished watching a new BBC comedy series called “The Thick of It”. It’s a cross between an updated “Yes, Minister” and “The Office” and is a biting satire on the machinations of government, especially when it comes to its relationship with (read manipulation of) the press.

    Even though it’s set in the British government, this Deutsch affair could have easily been a plotline of one of the episodes. If you’re interested in politics, I would highly recommend it, though, be warned, you have to have a very strong stomach for the bad language (and I mean *very* strong).

    I don’t think it’s available yet in the USA, but there are ways to (ahem) obtain it.

  14. #14 craig
    February 4, 2006

    That’s such a handy response – it takes care of anything… whether you’re pointing out that this administration is corrupt, unethical, incorrect, dangerous or hypocritical, all they have to do is say “We’re not the first to be _________!”

  15. #15 bakho
    February 4, 2006

    Interestingly, one of the minor parties that joined the new Republican Party in the 1860s was called the “Know nothing” Party.

  16. #16 lurker
    February 4, 2006

    Absolute fairness requires acknowledging that NASA has always had a propagandistic aspect that Presidents since Kennedy have exploited — but usually by posing as friends of science, not enemies.

    What’s striking is the hostility of this administration to basic notions of time and change that organize much of biology and physics. Will the USGS have to start qualifying any statement about the age of the earth?

  17. #17 Ben
    February 4, 2006

    Huh? I was under the impression that religious nuts liked the Big Bang model because its’ singularity implied some anthropomorphic Genesis. Unless he’s advocating a YEC steady-state alternative, in which case my head just might explode right now.

  18. #18 Charlie
    February 4, 2006

    …could dredge out comparable leftwing freakozoid stuff from the Clinton administration.

    I hate to continue the attack on about such a thoughtless post that doesn’t deserve it, but even if these claims are true, the point seems to be that we should embrace a moral relativism. The “it’s ok to do it, the other side does it too!” attitude seems to be the hallmark of Republicans whenever their immorality is pointed out.

  19. #19 Edward Braun
    February 4, 2006

    To try to dredge up something positive from a Bush appointed idiot injecting the “only a theory” BS I would quote from the link to the reality based community.

    Of course “Big Bang theory” is correct, just as “theory of relativity” is correct. But that’s because “theory” doesn’t mean what the ignorami think it means.

    One thing from this emphasizes is the need to educate people outside of the sciences that theory and facts/observations are different categories of knowledge (I don’t know how to deal with the difficulty of teaching about theory-laden observations – it is a big step from thinking “theory=guess” to understanding the Quine-Duhem thesis). But the simple fact that the philosophy of science is a difficult subject doesn’t relieve the scientific community of the burden of teaching the public what “theory” really means – it makes it all the more imperative.

  20. #20 Dan S.
    February 5, 2006

    “Huh? I was under the impression that religious nuts liked the Big Bang model because its’ singularity implied some anthropomorphic Genesis.

    My reaction as well. Sounds like some generalized anti-science knee-jerkishness, complete with tag lines – “just a theory,” misapplication of the term “intelligent design”, etc.
    It’s meta-ignorance. Wow.

    “..could [bzzzt] dredge out comparable leftwing [static] freakozoid stuff from the Clinton [half-heard interference from rightwing talk radio broadcast] administration.”

    We really are all waiting. I don’t think we expect much, but at least give it a try.
    (I honestly can’t think of anything)

    ” Will the USGS have to start qualifying any statement about the age of the earth?”
    Probably by April. Maybe May. And Philly’s Ben Franklin celebration is going to run up against demands that unholy and unnatural lightning rods be destroyed, since they’re clearly meddling with God’s lightning . . .

  21. #21 bad Jim
    February 5, 2006

    I am perpetually amazed by the fact that so many people still haven’t learned that “X is just a theory” is not an argument but an demonstration of ignorance.

    Not only have they never studied science, but it seems they don’t follow the news, either.

  22. #22 dave
    February 5, 2006

    now – what would be funny, would be if, in response to the “Big Bang must be followed by ‘theory’” request, someone started expounding on branes, m-theory, and so on. There are scientific alternatives to the Big Bang theory, after all.

    Then, the guy would be even more dumb looking, and would hopefully regret opening that can of worms.

  23. #23 Socialist Swine
    February 5, 2006

    I think Mark’s idea of writing a letter to George Deutsch is a good one. According to NASA’s website you can get a hold of him at either:

    george.deutsch-1@nasa.gov

    or by phone (I would imagine this is his office line):

    (202) 358-1324

  24. #24 Christopher
    February 5, 2006

    Big bang opposition is, as far as I can tell, a pretty common phenomenon in Creationsit circles. There’s been an effort to conflate it with evolutionary theory, so that when you talk to the really ignorant types about why evolution is true they’ll go off on inadequacies in the Big Bang. It’s something I’ve encountered at least twice, and I really don’t go out of my way to talk to the astoundingly ignorant.

    Now, it is fairly shocking that a person who has apparently gone beyond ID to embrace creationism got a cushy position in NASA.

    It’s also fairly baffling in that it’s very hard to see how the Big Bang contradicts anything but the most literal and arbitrary (Seeing as how Genesis has two conflicting creation stories, and you have to randomly pick one or the other to be the “literal’ one) reading of the Bible. My understanding of the theory is that it does not and can not say anything about what preceded the bang.

  25. #25 Caio de Gaia
    February 5, 2006

    Many protestant groups in the USA object to the Big-Bang on the basis that the biblical account in the old testament implies that the Earth is only a few thousand years old (they even give a date for the creation). In fact I heard that in some universities students were allowed to skip cosmology classes because it went against their religious convictions.

    On the other hand I have nothing against putting the word theory before the big-bang. Even in the standard cosmological model current physics will not be able to explain the extreme conditions before we reach the singularity. So requiring “theory” wouldn’t be bad, just a bit pedantic. The important observational facts are: (1) the expanding universe, (2) the very old universe. I think that these are the things that guy and his buddies really are against. The attack is really on the old universe.

    The understanding of this subject is impressive, the general relativity description of the expanding universe fits the observations to a very large accuracy, even the small fluctuations seen in the background of cosmic radiation are explained. Most of the different models differ only on terms that give very small corrections. The mathematical formalism is also incredibly beautiful! (yes, I’m one of the nerds that would march if it really would be needed).

  26. #26 Sotek
    February 5, 2006

    Well, the Big Bang *does* contradict any “literalist” reading that produces an age of circa six thousand years.

    (Also, I’m pretty sure branes and m-theory aren’t actually alternatives to the Big Bang – they’re explanations OF it. I could be wrong, though.)

  27. #27 shaker
    February 5, 2006

    Gravity is “not proven fact; it is opinion,” Mr. Deutsch wrote, adding, “It is not NASA’s place, nor should it be to make a declaration such as this about the existence of a force that discounts intelligent pulling by a creator.” He also added, “If gravity was just some unintelligent force how does it know to pull by just the right amount depending on the size? I mean it is obvious that the there is intelligent pulling being done.”

  28. #28 Graculus
    February 5, 2006

    Apparently this creature is even dumber than we thoght

    http://blogs.salon.com/0002874/2006/02/04.html#a2120

    a collection of Deutsch-isms, including:

    -Satanists *could* have killed Laci Peterson
    -there were clear ties between iraq and al-Qaeda
    -torture is just a few bad apples
    -”widely reported” is the same thing as “ignored by the liberal media”.

    What a Deutschbag.

  29. #29 Caio de Gaia
    February 5, 2006

    Sotek, in essence you are right, all modern cosmological models incorporate the expansion of the universe and give similar ages for things like primordial nucleosynthesis. Most of the differences among models have to do with the rate of expansion and the amount and nature of the dark matter. There were non-bang models like Fred Hoyle’s constant creation universe that assumed a universe of infinite age but those could not explain the cosmic microwave background. The issue here is the age, these people don’t want their kids to listen that the universe is in fact many billion years old, not a few thousand.

    What is strange is that contrary to many other religions the christian old testament does in fact pay very little attention to the cosmogony (a few lines) and to the creation of men (likewise), and these guys make such a deal out of it.

  30. #30 Ontario Wanderer
    February 5, 2006

    I am almost speechless. How can it be, in 2006, that such opinions as belief in a god can still exist? The existence of a Bush in the White House is enough to refute anyone’s belief in intelligent design.

    Note from an ex-Kansan and ex-American who is happily living in Canada…well, a bit less happy now that we too have conservatives heading up our minority government.

  31. #31 Martin Brazeau
    February 5, 2006

    If they’re going to call it a ‘debate’, then how can they be so arrogant as to call their side ‘half’ of the debate. That’s just plain stupid.

  32. #32 Mike the Mad Biologist
    February 5, 2006

    PZ,

    add this Mad Biologist to the list of angry scientists. I read this yesterday morning and nearly blew a gasket (and Blogger being fubar just made me Madder, and Madder…)

  33. #33 An Angry Old Broad
    February 5, 2006

    I grew up in a fundie household,today my parents have disowned me and my kids over their religion and politics(so much for “family values”,eh?).

    But,when I was a kid,even with all the religion being stuffed into my head,there was no conflict between science and the bible(at the time,in my kid brain,I thought of science as a way for humans to figure out all that God created,after all,he gave us brains for that sort of thing).Science was my favorite subject in school,and I was actually encouraged to pursue it at the time.Back in those days(I graduated HS in 1978),the big fundie push was for prayer in school more than anything.

    My youngest kid is in middle school now,and so far,the schools haven’t bent to the fundies.Oh,they’ve tried with the disclaimer stickers on the science books(it lasted one year,alot of parents were pissed enough to get them removed)and they’re still trying.But the fight is on,and in the meantime,I do my best to keep this nonsense away from my kid’s schooling by filling in the gaps myself.

    And please,how much longer can the right wing use “but Clinton did it too!”as a lame excuse for EVERYTHING they do wrong? My kids tried that nonsense alot growing up(but Mom,everyone else does it!”)and all it got them was either a “no”from me,or they got grounded if they kept pushing me.

  34. #34 ben
    February 5, 2006

    If they’re going to call it a ‘debate’, then how can they be so arrogant as to call their side ‘half’ of the debate. That’s just plain stupid.

    The thinking seems to be, “there are two sides two every debate, until proven otherwise the probability of either “side” being correct is .5, science admits that nothing can be conclusively “proven,” therefore our religious argument is just as scientifically valid as your scientific one, no matter how stupid or fallacious ours may be.”

  35. #35 Spotted Quoll
    February 5, 2006

    So, a 24 (!) year old journo grad, fundie, political hack is the arbiter of what is and isn’t science? Sounds about par for the course for BushCo.

    This is about as worrying as it gets. If Deutsch and his ilk get their insane way, the human race are doomed.

    Armageddon with lashings of eternal damnation for all.

    Atheist me has always tried to be tolerant of an individual’s religious beliefs, and up till now I have generally succeeded, but I am starting to get seriously narky at fundies of all complexions. They are endangering human existence and methinks chance to stop them is rapidly slipping through our fingers.

    I wonder if Deutsch et al think that scientific ideas of gravity are also just as subject to ideology and theology? Would he be prepared to volunteer for the walking-off-the-edge-of-a-cliff experiment to conclusively demonstrate that gravity is just a heathen liberal communist lie to prevent the true believers from ascending to Heaven when the rapture comes? Book me a ringside seat for that show. I’ll pay for beer and nuts all round. But don’t expect me to help clean up the mess they leave behind. I’ll be too busy laughing my pagan animalistic rear end off at the quirky and apparently unending supply of failures of neurological evolution.

  36. #36 ema
    February 5, 2006

    So, the Bush administration is going to try and be pro-science.

    Let’s see: evolution–check. Abx/Plan B/sex ed and manimals–check, and check. Currently working on the Big Bang.

  37. #37 Dark Matter
    February 5, 2006

    First they came for the human heredity and intelligence scientists,
    and I didn’t speak up,
    because I wasn’t doing human heredity and intelligence research.
    Then they came for the environmental and global warming scientists,
    and I didn’t speak up,
    because I wasn’t doing environmental and global warming research.
    Then they came for the evolution and developmental biology scientists,
    and I didn’t speak up,
    because I wasn’t doing evolution and devlopmental biology research.
    Then they came for the astronomy and cosmology scientists,
    and by that time there was no one
    left to speak up for us.

  38. #38 Bayesian Bouffant, FCD
    February 5, 2006

    Huh? I was under the impression that religious nuts liked the Big Bang model because its’ singularity implied some anthropomorphic Genesis. Unless he’s advocating a YEC steady-state alternative, in which case my head just might explode right now.

    KA-BOOM! Hey guys, what was that?

    Were I the type who squirrels away those things, I could dredge out comparable leftwing freakozoid stuff from the Clinton administration…

    When i was a child, the ‘everyone else has done it’ excuse wasn’t worth very much mileage with my parents. Maybe your parents were different.

  39. #39 Torbjorn Larsson
    February 5, 2006

    “I was under the impression that religious nuts liked the Big Bang model because its’ singularity implied some anthropomorphic Genesis.”

    About that there is in the Cosmic Variance thread a link to http://public.lanl.gov/alp/plasma/people/alfven.html . It says something about personal motivations in the guy who found that General Relativity (GR) has such natural cosmological solutions. (Einstein himself was initially trying to find static solutions, evidently a much harder problem. Too, I don’t think there are any stable ones.) “To Alfvn, the Big Bang was a myth – a myth devised to explain creation. “I was there when Abbe Georges Lemaitre first proposed this theory,” he recalled. Lemaitre was, at the time, both a member of the Catholic hierarchy and an accomplished scientist. He said in private that this theory was a way to reconcile science with St. Thomas Aquinas’ theological dictum of creatio ex nihilo or creation out of nothing.”

    About the problems to resolve the first time after Big Bang, this is like problems of abiogenesis. There are several hypotheses but few or no observations. But we know each theory (big bang, evolution) is found correct after that initial time no matter that. The recent WMAP and COBE observatories clinched the BB case as certain and pinned down the age of the universe, only crackpots are arguing now.

    In fact, underlying theories of GR and RV-NS each naturally results in those beviours, which makes it even harder to consider alternatives. There is an excellent discussion on BB theory and facts at http://map.gsfc.nasa.gov/ . I guess Deutsch isn’t terribly clued in on what NASA has been doing before him. :-)

  40. #40 caerbannog
    February 5, 2006


    But the simple fact that the philosophy of science is a difficult subject doesn’t relieve the scientific community of the burden of teaching the public what “theory” really means – it makes it all the more imperative.

    Of course, much of the public gets its “information” from the likes of Bill O’Reilly, Sean Hannity, Rush and David Limbaugh, Rick Roberts (local San Diego hate-monger), Mike Savage, Anne Coulter, Joe Scarborough, Pat Robertson, etc… etc…

    How many of these folks have *ever* given scientists a fair hearing on their radio/tv shows? Frankly, for scientists even to have a *prayer* of reaching the general public, the Fairness Doctrine will have to be resurrected.

  41. #41 BronzeDog
    February 5, 2006

    “…only half the debate.”

    Double standards make brain bleed. That why me talk like cave man.

  42. #42 BlueIndependent
    February 5, 2006

    This is yet another example of a Republican party that is wholly scared of the world, and unwilling to understand the reasons why the US is starting to lose to the rest of the world. We were already sinking, now let’s add religion to our self-immolation to complete the process.

    What we as more open-minded people need to understand is that the religious right took a page out of the liberal handbook and started taking their issues into the courtroom. They felt, and continue to feel, rather incorrectly, that liberals in past decades used the courtroom to impose what they saw as a fraudulent “new world order” of sorts.

    So the religious right decided to support (or rather force into office) their own judges, their own lawyers, their own leaders. Basically, we are seeing a system based on untestable, unprovable faith-based “facts” imposed on the rest of us, who would rather use empirical, real evidence than wait for individual omens from something we cannot see. It’s even more galling when you add the notion that even religious people admit God cannot be understood. Why then are they trying to make everyone understand that which is not understandable?

    We are witnessing the withering of society based on a philosophy that favors roteness of mind, not dynamism. This is, most obviously, not a good thing, and history will leave this country, as it has left other similarly-minded countries, in the dust, no matter how many times one asks God to bless us.

    As someone brought up in the Roman Catholic tradition, I find myself having to conduct a social war of debate on people I once sat in pews with. I am afraid they have become quite cowardly, and are far more insecure in their beliefs than they ever used to be. They do not think very highly of God if they feel He/She/It must be defended at every turn, and inserted into every conversation to deem it valid. And to think they would also argue that God reveals himself through his righteousness, not via force. Christians at every level seem to have forgtten this essential piece of the puzzle.

  43. #43 Bayesian Bouffant, FCD
    February 5, 2006

    The Bush administration needs to take action on this immediately! Look for them to start a witch hunt to uncover and punish the person who leaked the Deutsch memos…

  44. #44 Bayesian Bouffant, FCD
    February 5, 2006

    It’s even more galling when you add the notion that even religious people admit God cannot be understood.

    This generalization is too broad. the ‘God of the philosophers’ is distant and unknowable. The ‘God of the Fundies’ tells us exactly what he wants in the Bible (preferably the Old Testament if you’re in a bad mood).

  45. #45 Bob Munck
    February 5, 2006

    Isn’t the existence of George Deutsch’s brain only a theory? No one has ever seen it, as far as I know, and there certainly aren’t any external manifestations that would lead you to believe that it exists. The same might be said of Harry Eagar.

  46. #46 Harry Eagar
    February 5, 2006

    I am not defending the kid. I’m just mocking the Professor’s conspiracy theory that a Big Bad Fascist Government has taken over.

    Why can’t an ignorant, arrogant kid just be an ignorant, arrogant kid? Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.

    If you want examples of similar behavior on the left, go where people do squirrel those kinds of nuts away. Volokh Conspiracy, for example.

  47. #47 Coragyps
    February 5, 2006

    Read “The Republican war on Science,” Mr Eagar. If this particular bozo were ignorant and arrogant in isolation, you might be right. But he’s part of a growing pattern.

  48. #48 Ethan
    February 5, 2006

    Harry,

    I think there are some legitimate examples of science abuse on the left. The
    Volokh Conspiracy wouldn’t be my idea of a good reference, because they’re not
    terribly reliable. However, the point is not that no one has ever abused science
    before. The point is that this administration is qualitatively worse than any
    of its predecessors, Democratic or Republican. It’s the culmination of a long
    evolution within the Republican party in which science has been suppressed in
    favor of purely political considerations.

    Also, the reason why we’re all so quick to believe that an ignorant arrogant kid
    is not just an ignorant arrogant kid is because his actions are a reasonable extension
    of commonplace actions by this administration.

    I’m sorry if this offends you as Republican, or a conservative, but there is damn
    little about the current administration that is conservative, and its idea of science
    has nothing to do with what Republicans were like when I was a kid. You shouldn’t
    be making excuses for this idiocy. You should be trying to take your party away
    from the lunatics.

  49. #49 -
    February 5, 2006

    Why can’t an ignorant, arrogant kid just be an ignorant, arrogant kid?

    because an ignorant, arrogant president keeps giving that kid, and other kids just like him, political appointments to positions of real power – not all of them just largely-harmless PR sinecures – where their ignorance and arrogance does real harm.

  50. #50 Harry Eagar
    February 5, 2006

    Ethan, I am neither a Republican nor a conservative. I am a Liberal (capital L, 19th century style, only moderate overlap with the small l liberalism represented by Professor Myers).

    And if you think the antiscience ideologues in this Republican administration are qualitatively different from the ones in Democratic administrations, I can only conclude that you never have to deal with the EPA.

  51. #51 Ed Darrell
    February 5, 2006

    Harry, other skeptics,

    We have laws against what Mr. Deutsch did. What he is engaged in is called “academic fraud,” and it’s a crime to do it with public money.

    When I supervised the efforts of much more senior flacks than Mr. Deutsch in the Reagan administration, we understood the stakes. The rules were clear: No monkeying with conclusions of research. None. There were occasional orders to bury a project by not doing a press release calling extra attention to it, but the rules were clear, both from our government regulations and from the ethics rules of journalists and researchers that the research was not to be mis-stated, not to be censored.

    I had previously thought the Reagan years a low-water mark in political skullduggery of this sort.

    The head of NASA has issued a reminder of the rules. However Deutsch got his job, White House connections or no, he is answerable to his superiors at NASA. Now they have been alerted, and the head guy has spoken.

    I would still be more comfortable were the NASA inspector general to investigate. It seems to me as an lawyer and as a former government official that laws have been violated. It’s time to prosecute.

  52. #52 Ed Darrell
    February 5, 2006

    You know, for his protection, Deutsch needs to be moved out of there. How can he be an effective spokesman for NASA now?

  53. #53 Calton Bolick
    February 5, 2006

    Ethan, I am neither a Republican nor a conservative. I am a Liberal (capital L, 19th century style, only moderate overlap with the small l liberalism represented by Professor Myers).

    The last time I heard this phony distinction was from a libertarian of conservative bent, in an attempt to make his attempts at phony equivalency — like yours — look objective.

    And as for your own handwaving attemps at suggesting some sort of equivalency — well, put up or shut, as has been put to you several times. Go for it.

  54. #54 Jim Flannery
    February 5, 2006

    Maybe we should ask the government to start using the word “Theory” in a few other places where things are “opinion” and not “proven facts” … “Osama Bin Laden Theory” … “Freedom Theory” …

  55. #55 ekzept
    February 5, 2006

    i don’t think this approach to dealing with unpleasant evidence is specific to science at all, at least i don’t think so now. if BushCo and their Congressional henchvolk sense anyone in the civil service is putting out reports or opinions which they believe contrary to their interests, they send appropriately vested PR people against ‘em. shades of this practice first arose when Republicans abolished the Office of Science and Technology in 1994 (Newt Gingrich, folks) for being “too political”. how convenient it is to erase evidence of reality when it conflicts with policy.
    right or wrong, physicists build weapons. big weapons. and while there remain physicists who still work for folks like BushCo and the “military industrial complex”, that institution’s treatment of them hasn’t gone unnoticed.

    there is among talented physics — and mathematics — students an aversion to having anything at all to do with the DOE’s weapons establishment, or the National Security Agency, despite their scholarships, at least once they are old enough to form their own opinions. so the source of ideas is drying up. thanks to the hardheaded, hardnosed politicos, and spooks.

    this may not be good for the country but, then, ultimately these people don’t care about the United States, only their special image of what it should be.

    i’d say those in government are fools if they similarly offend people in biochemistry and biology. bioweapons remain a huge possibility and threat in the near future.

  56. #56 ekzept
    February 5, 2006

    BTW, the technique BushCo and Republicans are using against these folks in government is simply their device for doing an end run around the Pendleton Civil Service Reform Act. they’d prefer things were as they were before the Act was passed.

    indeed, if Congress weren’t in control of a bunch of morally degenerate thugs, i’d expect it to pass reforms to that Act extending its powers and imposing limits on political influence.

  57. #57 ekzept
    February 5, 2006

    indeed, if Congress weren’t in control of a bunch of morally degenerate thugs, i’d expect it to pass reforms to that Act extending its powers and imposing limits on political influence.

    well, there’s a sense in which that is true, but this reads better:

    indeed, if Congress weren’t controlled by a bunch of morally degenerate thugs, i’d expect it to pass reforms to that Act extending its powers and imposing limits on political influence.

    sorry.

  58. #58 Jim Hu
    February 5, 2006

    “A 2003 journalism graduate of Texas A&M”

    Perhaps he reflects why we decided to abolish that major.

  59. #59 Seixon
    February 6, 2006

    A Bush appointee tells a NASA web designer to refer to a scientific theory as a theory, on a web site that already referred to it as a theory, due to the fact that it is a theory, something NASA was apparently aware of during the Clinton administration when it was also writing that it was a theory.

    Did I miss anything?

    If I didn’t, what is all the fuss about?

    The New York Times probably had this headline ready to go: “Bush Appointee Pressured NASA To Call Theory A Theory”

    Well, that is, until the editor saw how incredibly stupid that would be. Something it seems the lefty blogosphere hasn’t. Yet.

    Pick your battles folks, pick your battles. Wisely, that is.

  60. #60 Ben
    February 6, 2006

    Did I miss anything?

    Yep. Something really basic, actually. And it has a lot to do with the epistemology of science. I could tell you, but a) if you can’t figure it out for yourself, it’s probably far too subtle a point, and b) I’m too sick to death of explaining it to ignoramuses for the umpteenth fucking time.

  61. #61 Seixon
    February 6, 2006

    Epistemology of science?

    I am perfectly well aware what the term “theory” means in the context of science. So if you felt you needed to lecture me on that, you are barking up the wrong tree.

    Which basically means that I didn’t miss anything.

    Liberals whining about a Bushie wanting a theory to be called a theory when it was already being called a theory.

    Yawn.

    Wake me up when the War on Science actually starts. You know, when they try to quash Big Bang altogether. For example. Now THAT would be a scandal! What you’ve got here is a dud.

    Now you may resume placing me into the conservative religious box that you already started placing me in for daring to say the obvious. However, there are those of us who see through the partisan fog of war and know how to choose their battles wisely. Reading the New York Times seems to impair this ability.

  62. #62 DeafScribe
    February 6, 2006

    You might have a point were this an isolated incident; but it’s not. It’s consistent with a broader pattern, one that clearly illuminates an anti-science administration. Remember when BushCo supported Creationist books at the Grand Canyon gift shop in the name of “balance”?

    The alarm for the War on Science went off long ago. Hitting the snooze button won’t make it go away.

  63. #63 Steve LaBonne
    February 6, 2006

    Harry, as PZ said, either come up with an actual example of anything like this kind of overt attempt to censor scientists in the Clinton administration, or accept being summarily judged as a buffoon who pulls unsupportable claims out of his posterior. Hint: whether or not you like the EPA is totally irrelevant (we wouldn’t expect you, as a Looneytarian, to like any regulatory agency.)

  64. #64 Jim Hu
    February 6, 2006

    Seixon,

    Read the linked NYT article:

    The Big Bang is “not proven fact; it is opinion,” Mr. Deutsch wrote, adding, “It is not NASA’s place, nor should it be to make a declaration such as this about the existence of the universe that discounts intelligent design by a creator.”

    It continued: “This is more than a science issue, it is a religious issue. And I would hate to think that young people would only be getting one-half of this debate from NASA. That would mean we had failed to properly educate the very people who rely on us for factual information the most.”

  65. #65 Ethan
    February 6, 2006

    And if you think the antiscience ideologues in this Republican administration are qualitatively different from the ones in Democratic administrations, I can only conclude that you never have to deal with the EPA.

    I have never had to deal with the EPA. On the other hand, I’m not about to take
    the claim that they were habitually abusing science seriously unless you would care
    to provide some specific examples. I have read enough to know that such accusations
    are not necessarily accurate. Most of the examples I have previously been shown have
    been rather dubious. Typically they involve the EPA taking indications of possible
    environmental problems very seriously, to the irritation of people whose business
    is thereby hindered. I can sympathize with their dilemma without seeing this as
    abuse of science.

  66. #66 Edward Braun
    February 6, 2006

    Harry Eagar – the big problem people here seem to be having with your assertions is that you make statements like…

    And if you think the antiscience ideologues in this Republican administration are qualitatively different from the ones in Democratic administrations, I can only conclude that you never have to deal with the EPA.

    …but fail to back them up either with statistics or specific examples.

    Your failure to do so is actually quite surprising (and telling with respect to the case you are trying to make) since traditional “pro-environmental” viewpoints are actually more debatable. I say this because issues like placing limits on chemical exposure are inherently cost-benefit analyses. After all, we know that a number of chemicals commonly used by industry (e.g., atrazine) definitely have deleterious effects on fauna (and humans) at certain doses. But they also have benefits (e.g., continuing the atrazine example, it is an effective herbicide). So policy decisions regarding use become a complex cost/benefit analysis. The model one chooses to infer the benefits of reduction is very important – e.g., should we assume a linear decrease, a threshold below which biolological activity is negligible, etc. In other words – it is applied science (and difficult applied science at that). Add to that the simple fact that some costs and benefits are difficult to quantify, and I could easily see an agency like the EPA making an error in optimizing the balance between costs and benefits. Like any beaurocracy, I suspect they would not want to budge in light of anything other than overwhealming evidence.

    But I would like to hear about a situation in the EPA comparable to this NASA situation, where a policy is being articulated that is simply contrary to what the vast majority of the scientific community believes to be correct, that policy being based upon no science whatsoever.

    The bad thing about the Bush admin. is that it actually make me think back to my youth and realize that Nixon wasn’t that bad by comparison (after all, the EPA began during his watch). Hell, judged by today’s standards (and leaving aside the simple fact that he was a paranoid megalomaniac with limited personal integrity) Nixon was a flaming lefty!Unfortunately that has more to say about where our country is now than it has to say about how Nixon was. If Neil Young had seen the future he might have sang, “Tin soldiers and Nixon’s comin’ – we’re finally on our own… and it’s only gettin’ worse from here.” (if he had seen the future he I also suspect that there are a few albums from the ’80s that he might not have recorded)

  67. #67 Paul Riddell
    February 6, 2006

    Just out of curiosity, when will defective college students be held under the same lemon laws that regulate defective cars and microwaves? (Sorry: I really like Texas A&M, and I almost got a veterinary medicine degree there, but going to A&M to study journalism is like going to Caltech to study dance.)

  68. #68 Seixon
    February 6, 2006

    Jim Hu,

    Did you read my piece? Did you read where a NASA scientist under the Clinton era also talked about how this was a religious issue?

    It seems that if the science behind the Big Bang is so obviously superior to whatever these religious dolts come up with, you should all sleep peacably in your beds even if they want to have ID on the plate beside it.

    When it comes down to it, Deutsch never made NASA talk about intelligent design on their web pages, and he certainly didn’t seek to remove Big Bang from them either.

    You guys are getting your panties in a bunch over nothing and you look ridiculous. Save it for another battle, seriously. This has got to be the largest tempest in a teapot so far in the month of February, aside from the whole Mohammed cartoon nonsense.

  69. #69 Torbjorn Larsson
    February 6, 2006

    Seixon,

    You obviously don’t understand the difference between observational facts and proposed theories, colloquial and scientific theories, and unverified and verified theories. It’s not surprising that you believe this discussion is about nothing.

    From your article: “Well, upon reflection, what he said is actually true. Big Bang is not a proven fact.” What we are saying here is that that is plain wrong. Recent observations (WMAP, COBE) has made BB the verified correct theory by means of numerous verification and failed falsification. We know for certain BB happened. Only crackpots such as you or Deutsch are arguing otherwise.

    Your idea that earlier mistakes bear on current ones doesn’t interest. The point is that science is abused _now_.

  70. #70 Seixon
    February 6, 2006

    Torbjorn, it seems that you have some reading to do. Big Bang is not a proven fact. That’s a matter of fact. Crackpots as myself? Look, I happen to think Big Bang is probably right, just as the Theory of Relativity probably is, and the Theory of Gravitation probably is.

    You seem to want to throw away the scientific classifications of theories, theorems and “facts” because you want it to be a fact.

    As I told someone else, an opinion or a theory can nonetheless be 100% correct. That doesn’t mean you can call it a fact – namely because it cannot be proven conclusively, just as Einstein’s theories.

    So forgive me for actually sticking to the facts here, that Big Bang is not a proven fact, but a very well supported theory.

    Now I think I see what the whole outrage has been about. Yet again liberals want to call things they are not, because they believe in them too passionately. Sorry, in science, there is a standard to be met to call something a scientific fact. That standard has not been attained for Big Bang, just like it hasn’t been attained for many of the fundamental building blocks of science. That doesn’t make them any less valid.

    Geez.

    (I find it particularly revealing that me, an atheist with strong belief in science, is being called a “crackpot” for once again stating the obvious)

  71. #71 PZ Myers
    February 6, 2006

    Please. Exactly what is that standard?

    What theories have achieved that status?

  72. #72 Harry Eagar
    February 6, 2006

    Ed, I was not aware that academic fraud was a crime. Never heard of anybody prosecuted for it.

    I am puzzled by a demand for statistics on EPA misbehavior, since 1) I have no idea how you would quantify that; and 2) I didn’t say X percentage of EPA work was scientific claptrap.

    Unfortunately for what I did say, my personal experiences with the EPA were local and had nothing to do with atrazine. (Dog knows where that came from!)

    But I can quantify the silliness in dollars. Some years ago, I calculated that in my whole working lifetime I’m likely to pay around $500K to the US government in income taxes.

    I’d like to get $500K worth of something back, thanks.

    Yet in my little county, with a population of fewer than 150,000 people, we had EPA spend $500K investigating a nonexistent algal bloom. (My wife, an expert on this, which I am not, inspected the area and confirmed that there was no bloom.)

    Right now, EPA is spending another $500K investigating an imaginary itch, allegedly caused by drinking water. I know it’s an imaginary itch because I sat at a meeting for over 3 hours with 100 of the people claiming to be most affected, and I never saw any of them scratch.

    How many encounters with EPA junk science does one pore ol’ redneck have to have before he starts drawing conclusions?

    We haven’t seen the conclusions of the itch study yet, but the results of the algal bloom study were tortured into concluding the opposite of what the data revealed.

    At the direction of some sinister (in both senses of the word) Clinton apparatchik? No, I don’t think so.

    Just as I really don’t think this jerk kid was appointed to be a ‘Political Officer.’

  73. #73 Seixon
    February 7, 2006

    PZ,

    What is the standard? Don’t ask me, I’m not a scientist. If a theory has achieved that status, then it is no longer a theory. Isn’t it then a scientific law? The thing is, as I think others have commented, Big Bang can never achieve that status simply because it can never be observed, since it happened billions of years ago.

    There’s a reason why it is called a theory, I find it hilarious that I have to actually repeat that a thousand times.

  74. #74 Paul W.
    February 7, 2006

    What is the standard? Don’t ask me, I’m not a scientist.

    Then be careful about sounding like you have any grasp of the term “theory,” which has several interrelated senses, several of them fairly fuzzy or arbitrary.

    If a theory has achieved that status, then it is no longer a theory. Isn’t it then a scientific law?

    Generally, no. Newton got to name Laws, but when he turned out to be kinda wrong, we mostly stopped naming things Laws. Since then, we generally don’t “promote” anything to the status of “Law,” just in case we’re kinda wrong. We just have theories now, but some of them are way, way better established than others. They’re what, in the vernacular, you’d call facts.

    For example, quantum mechanics is the best-tested theory ever—with literally millions of (mostly automated) experiments under its belt, and still performing like a champ. It’s a far better-tested theory than most things that we call laws, including Newton’s Laws, but we don’t “promote it” to not-just-a-theory status. We mostly just don’t do that anymore.

    There are certain exceptions to this, often for more or less mathematical theories, where you can logically/mathematically prove that under certain assumptions, and given certain conditions, certain other relationships will always hold. (Whether those assumptions are true or those conditions are common may be a very different matter; you can have a law of something that turns out not to actually occur in nature—or not exactly, like the “Law of supply and demand.” The law always holds under certain idealizations of certain kinds of markets, but real markets are always different in this or that way, and sometimes the law doesn’t hold, empirically.)

    There are other exceptions, too. Sometimes somebody calls an empirically observed regularity a “Law,” without actually having a theory of why the regularity is there, or any real evidence that it must always hold.

    And sometimes people hypothesize that there is “a Law of X” that “goes like this…” and the name sticks. A hypothesis becomes a law by a simple accident of naming.

    Often the difference between a theory and a law is the difference between a sofa and a couch—it’s just what somebody decided to call it, or not call it, for some reason, at some point, and it never got changed.

    The thing is, as I think others have commented, Big Bang can never achieve that status simply because it can never be observed, since it happened billions of years ago.

    No, that’s just not it. (You might be confusing this with “interpretations” of quantum mechanics, which are alternative explanations that don’t seem to be testable.)

    There’s a reason why it is called a theory, I find it hilarious that I have to actually repeat that a thousand times.

    I find it hilarious that you do this, too. You seem to expect scientists to fill in your blanks for you, on the assumption that you’re basically right.

    Sorry, can’t help you with that.

  75. #75 Torbjorn Larsson
    February 7, 2006

    “Big Bang is not a proven fact, but a very well supported theory.”

    That would make you not crackpot, but confused about scientific terminology and method. PZ and Paul were kind enough to make an excellent job of trying to set you straight on that. I especially liked the nice treatment of “Laws”.

    I will add that after WMAP and COBE it’s conclusive that no other explanation can exist and be reconciliated with data and known physics. This is why we say that BB happened – there is no other explanation. Except for confused people.

    Of course, if the data sets (expansion, BB nucleosynthesis, WMAP and COBE data on cosmic microwave background) are wrong because our physics theories are wrong, BB may be false. But no one believes that, it’s not a realistic position. Except for crackpot people.

  76. #76 Torbjorn Larsson
    February 7, 2006

    That should be “the interpretation of the data sets”. It’s even more unlikely the data sets themselves are wrong due to misunderstood physics.

  77. #77 PZ Myers
    February 7, 2006

    What is the standard? Don’t ask me, I’m not a scientist. If a theory has achieved that status, then it is no longer a theory. Isn’t it then a scientific law?

    If I told you that there is no such standard, it is entirely an imaginary construct of your brain, and that it is also false that there is a hypothesis-theory-law hierarchy with ideas marching up it, is there any chance that you might snap out of it and realize that everything you’ve been babbling about is completely wrong?

  78. #78 Torbjorn Larsson
    February 7, 2006

    Umm, okay, I especially like PZ’s treatment too, now. :-) Scientists who are still doing it are usually more reliable (and apt!) sources than us “been there, done that” bloggers.

  79. #79 Torbjorn Larsson
    February 7, 2006

    That should have been “Scientists, who are still doing it,” since there are no other kinds. That spelunk iss teribble haad voik.

  80. #80 Steve LaBonne
    February 7, 2006

    So Harry is still blathering away while almost in so many words admitting that he was indeed full of shit- he can’t come up with a single Clinton Administration example of political apparatchiks overruling or attempting to silence scientists. Instead, he merely reveals that he would like to be one of the Bush apparatchiks with the power to silence anything he’s pleased to regard, based on what I’m sure is his personal expertise (yeah, right) as “silly science”.
    What a typical Libertoony.

  81. #81 Harry Eagar
    February 7, 2006

    Uh, Steve, the example is of people ignoring scientific data because it does not match political desires. The arrow points the other way because these were LIBERALS, but it’s still an arrow.

  82. #82 Steve LaBonne
    February 7, 2006

    Sorry, Harry, you promised to provide Clinton examples comparable to the Bush outrages complained of around here. You struck out because there aren’t any. You’d do better to admit you misspoke than to continue weaseling. But that would be radically out of character, of course.

  83. #83 John Smith
    February 7, 2006

    BREAKING NEWS: George Deutsch Did Not Graduate From Texas A & M University !!!!

    THIS TWIT IS A HIGH-SCHOOL DROPOUT!!!!!!

    WHY IS HE STILL HOLDING THAT JOB?!!!!!!!

  84. #84 Zamia
    February 12, 2006

    Harry, I was at NASA for 36 years, Eisenhower->Clinton and never did a young jerk dictate to NASA scientists. Or be installed to be sure that NASA statements were politically correct. PAO officers were professionals, hired through the civil service merit system, which checked things like college degrees, and only took the best one of several applicants. These were never patronage jobs. Only the Administrator and a couple of Associates changed with a change in President, and not always even them. Clinton retained Goldin, a first Bush appointee.
    In the last year or two the Goddard Space Flight Center web page disappeared: all center web sites were removed to Headquarters. The quality and amount of the research reports declined suddenly. They were replaced by paeans to “Bush vision” instead of real information. This is more than the doing of one punk kid who was rewarded for licking stamps or whatever for Bush.
    The (new) Administrator Griffith, has sent out a strong memo and is going to review public affairs policy: I hope the field centers are allowed to put up their own web pages again.

  85. #85 Zamia
    February 12, 2006

    John,
    He has resigned already, although he complains that he had told “NASA” that he hadn’t got his degree. He had written his resume before he left college and didn’t get around to updating it. Ain’t that a great explanation!
    If this “only politically correct” science news is going on a NASA, one of the least political agencies there is, what is happening at other agencies?

  86. #86 Pozycjonowanie
    November 30, 2006

    Now you may resume placing me into the conservative religious box that you already started placing me in for daring to say the obvious. However, there are those of us who see through the partisan fog of war and know how to choose their battles wisely. Reading the New York Times seems to impair this ability.

    Enjoyed browsing through the site. Keep up the good work. Greetings

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  93. #93 proxy
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    Often the difference between a theory and a law is the difference between a sofa and a couch—it’s just what somebody decided to call it, or not call it, for some reason, at some point, and it never got changed

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