The New ‘Cosmos’ Science Documentary With Neil deGrasse Tyson

Image: "ESO's Visible and Infrared Survey Telescope for Astronomy (VISTA) has captured this unusual view of the Helix Nebula (NGC 7293), a planetary nebula located 700 light-years away. The coloured picture was created from images taken through Y, J and K infrared filters. While bringing to light a rich background of stars and galaxies, the telescope's infrared vision also reveals strands of cold nebular gas that are mostly obscured in visible images of the Helix." Wikimedia Commons (CC BY 3.0)  https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/deed.en
Image: “ESO’s Visible and Infrared Survey Telescope for Astronomy (VISTA) has captured this unusual view of the Helix Nebula (NGC 7293), a planetary nebula located 700 light-years away. The coloured picture was created from images taken through Y, J and K infrared filters. While bringing to light a rich background of stars and galaxies, the telescope’s infrared vision also reveals strands of cold nebular gas that are mostly obscured in visible images of the Helix.” Wikimedia Commons (CC BY 3.0) https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/deed.en

The updated new version of Cosmos, the famous 1980 science documentary with Carl Sagan, is being broadcast on American television (on FOX, of all places). Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey is hosted by Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, who has become a famous science communicator and Internet meme himself even before , and is co-produced by Ann Druyan, the widow of Sagan, who was already involved in the first instalment.

As in the original series, the new show’s premise is to present the current scientific knowledge about the universe and how humanity acquired this knowledge.

Here is the official trailer:

Scientific facts hit the Christianist half of America

In the American context, where roughly half of the population are creationist Christians (46 percent believed that “God created human beings pretty much in their present form at one time within the last 10,000 years or so” in 2012, according to a Gallup poll), the program has sparked a considerable controversy among the faithful—twenty-first century scientific knowledge sharply contradicts the Bible-based creation myth of young-earth creationism.

Anti-Science rears its ugly head on Twitter

Some of the Christian fundamentalist viewers are taking to Twitter to promote their crude anti-science beliefs even after being presented the scientific facts on the program. Some examples:

Space dust is not as cool as earth dust, which the Bible claims god made humans from:

Regardless of what #cosmos says, I believe that we are made in the image of God. #MoreThanSpaceDust — Mike Peters (@MichaelCPeters) March 10, 2014

Here’s the Bible quote:

“And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.” – Genesis 2:7, King James Version

Science is described as a religion:

Wow, and they believing in God is insane? Takes more “faith” to believe what I just watched. #Cosmos — Tirrell Cotton (@tirrellcotton) March 10, 2014

Science is of course not a religion, it is based on scientific facts acquired through research. Science as a process does not believe everything that is written in a book just because it is there. Scientific hypotheses are falsifiable. In theory, scientific results can be reproduced by other scientists. That is the key difference to faith.

Argument from scripture:

Dear #cosmos, the origin of the universe actually is not mysterious. God had Moses write about it in the #Bible. You should read it sometime — Andy Forister (@andyforister) March 10, 2014

The problem with this argument is that it could be used for any book to claim anything. Hobbits, dragons, witches, talking trees—all of these appear in Lord of the Rings. But it would be difficult to find many people who conclude from this that Middle Earth is a real place.

Unwavering faith in a particular creation myth in the face of evidence to the contrary—this is a clear sign of religious fundamentalism, considered a virtue by the true believers, and the exact opposite of scientific inquiry, which is, after all, a self-correcting system.

A nineteenth-century battle in the twenty-first century

If this sounds familiar, it is probably because there are historical parallels. Long before the advent of networked and mobile personal computers, in 1925, there was the Scopes Monkey Trial. Even though that (in)famous episode in American history revolved around evolution—Charles Darwins’s On the Origin of Species—versus Christian creationism and not cosmology, the pattern is similar. If science and religious belief are contradictory, the religious fundamentalist chooses to ignore, or, as in the case of the creationist movement, fight science.

One strategy of the creationists to accomplish this goal in the case of Cosmos is by demanding equal airtime to promote intelligent design—Christian creationism cloaked in the mantle of science. This way, they seek to promote the idea that both concepts are equally valid—a classic case of the balance fallacy. They are of course not. Science works through observation of the natural world and the testing of hypotheses, while creationism works backwards from the revelations of  particular holy book (in this case the Bible).

Go science TV!

Hopefully, more people will learn about the current state of human knowledge about the cosmos through this piece of television. I love Carl Sagan’s work and think Neil deGrasse Tyson is awesome.

I can’t wait to see the show and learn more about the cosmos myself!

Read more:

Cosmos & the Creationists: Why Some People Hate Science on Television.” (Steven Newton, NCSE, 2014/03/10)

Cosmos Wars, Episode II: Attack of the Facts.” (Steven Newton, NCSE, 2014/03/17)

Neil deGrasse Tyson Is Really Starting To Scare Conservatives.” (Amanda Marcotte, The Raw Story, 2014/03/18)

Neil deGrasse Tyson Shows Why Small-Minded Religious Fundamentalists Are Threatened by Wonders of Universe.” (Adam Lee, Alternet, 2014/03/20)

Neil deGrasse Tyson Squashes Creationist Argument Against Science on National TV.” (Dan Arel, Alternet, 2014/03/17)

Hear more:

http://www.startalkradio.net – Neil deGrasse Tyson’s radio show / podcast

Politics As Smoke And Mirrors – ‘Huckabee’ On Fox News

Politics as smoke and mirrors – ‘Huckabee’ on Fox News

Former Arkansas Governor and Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee has been involved in a second career as talk show host on Fox News since leaving active politics in 2008. Apparently it is not that easy to lure in big studio audiences for the recording of that program.

A new video has appeared that clearly reveals how mirrors inside the studio are used to make Huckabee’s audience seem bigger than it really is. Because the mirrors are shaking, that trick is easy to recognize.

Watch a clip from the progressive David Pakman Show explaining the trick here:

I am not sure whether Fox News are the only media outlet guilty of this visual ‘enhancement,’ but it seems to fit right in with a lot of other, more deceptive techniques that can be regularly observed on that network.

Smokes and Mirrors—at least the mirrors—have for once crossed over from the figurative into the literal.

New Online Archive “The Lantern” Covers US Media History

New online archive “The Lantern” covers US media history

This is great news for anyone interested in media history of the twentieth century in the US.

The Lantern is “a new open access, interactive library” from the Media History Digital Library in cooperation with the University of Wisconsin-Madison Department of Communication Arts featuring 800,000 pages of documents covering the history of radio, film, and television.

The archive allows for full text searches in vintage magazines. You can also browse through the cover pages and get inspired by the imagery. A quick glance at the main search page reveals how different the designs and layouts from a few decades ago look compared to contemporary magazines.

lantern archive
lantern archive

Please also check out Kate Rix’s longer article over at OpenCulture.