Renowned astrophysicist and TV personality Neil deGrasse Tyson recently posted a video on his Facebook page with a dire and urgent message for Americans — a warning that our ‘informed democracy’ is being threatened by science deniers in power.
As an introduction for the video, Tyson wrote: ‘Dear Facebook Universe: I offer this four-minute video on “Science in America” containing what may be the most important words I have ever spoken. As always, but especially these days, keep looking up.’
The video starts off describing how the U.S. rose from being a ‘backwoods country’ to ‘one of the greatest nations the world has ever known’, and it’s mostly because of science being a ‘fundamental part of the country that we are’.
But that was then.
Now, when decisions about science have to be made, Tyson says ‘people have lost the ability to judge what is true and what is not; what is reliable, what is not reliable; what should you believe, what you should not believe’.
The video touches on climate change, vaccine skeptics, and evolution — with a clip of Vice President Mike Pence (then a congressman) demanding educators in America to teach evolution as a theory and not as a fact.
Tyson lauds science as ‘an entire exercise in finding what is true’, arriving at an ’emergent truth’ only upon testing, counter-experimenting and peer-reviewing studies and research. He adds that science isn’t ‘something to toy with’ and that you can’t choose not to believe what has been proven as a scientific fact, for instance, Einstein’s theory of special relativity (E=mc2), or evolution. Whether you want to believe it or not, it’s simply true.
This is where the danger lies. When it comes to issues that affect thousands, millions and even billions, such as global warming and climate change, Tyson points out that for every minute a person in power or authority is in denial, he/she is ‘delaying the political solution that should have been established years ago’.
Tyson, along with many other scientists, have become clearly frustrated with the Trump administration’s anti-science agenda, with moves like cutting or eliminating funding from institutions like the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E); rolling back Obama’s climate protection policies; removing references to climate change in federal websites (as if making the information invisible will make the problem go away); appointing a known climate denier to head the EPA; and its unwillingness to confirm whether the U.S. will reverse or uphold its decision to become part of the Paris Agreement.
Since Trump’s election as president, Tyson has been campaigning to ‘Make America Smart Again’, warning how an ‘intelligence boost’ would be needed if all the proposed anti-science budget cuts passed. And just last Saturday, an unprecedented Earth Day March for Science protest was held — the title of the protest speaks for itself.
We may not all be as intelligent as the scientists who participated in that protest. But at the very least, we should make it a point to understand and accept when we should be subjective and when we should be objective. In other words, there are some things we can choose to believe or not to believe. But there are also those that we simply have no choice but to accept as truth.
Tyson concludes the video with this thought-provoking sentiment: ‘Recognize what science is, and allow it to be what it can and what it should be — in the service of civilization. It’s in our hands.’