It’s Turtles All the Way Down

I’ve occasionally joked in the past that it’s unfair that the biologists get all the attention from the religious wing nuts. I mean, modern cosmology ought to be just as big an affront to the young-earth creationist types as evolution, so what are we, chopped liver?

Of course, now that a story has come to light about a Bush appointee in the NASA press office (a 24-year-old former campaign intern) demanding that cosmology reports declare the Big Bang to be “just a theory,” chooped liver doesn’t look so bad. You can find the money quotes at any number of science blogs, and Sean provides an assortment of links.

I don’t really have anything to add to the general denunciations of this idiot little gunner having a job that allows him to bully scientists, so let me comment on something else. The final couple of paragraphs of the New York Times story are:

The Deutsch memo was provided by an official at NASA headquarters who said he was upset with the effort to justify changes to descriptions of science by referring to politically charged issues like intelligent design. Senior NASA officials did not dispute the message’s authenticity.

Mr. Wild declined to be interviewed; Mr. Deutsch did not respond to e-mail or phone messages. On Friday evening, repeated queries were made to the White House about how a young presidential appointee with no science background came to be supervising Web presentations on cosmology and interview requests to senior NASA scientists.

The only response came from Donald Tighe of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. “Science is respected and protected and highly valued by the administration,” he said.

I don’t know anything about Donald Tighe, who might be as big a political hack as this Deutsch yo-yo, but I’m going to choose to read that as followed by a maniacal little giggle, and the clinking of ice cubes in a much-needed glass of scotch. Because, really, this is just a few steps away from a Terry Pratchett novel:

You could see the spokesman’s mad grin, even on the radio. You could see his pen, poised over the “Farms for Sale” column in Poultry World. “We don’t know,” he said. “We were hoping you clever buggers at the BBC would have an idea.”

8 thoughts on “It’s Turtles All the Way Down

  1. Bushites can talk about respect and tolerance in science – precisely because they don’t have understanding about any of these subjects. For the same reason, political expediency, truth-economy and bottom-feeding populismus are subjects they cannot talk about.

  2. If you want to get fundies pushing absurd alternate theories in cosmology like they do in biology (which would be a good way for both of you to sell more books) you (or someone else) need to write about cosmology like Richard Dawkins writes about biology. I say that because I suspect most ID advocates are more anti-Dawkins than anti-science.

    Cosmology has to be used as evidence to demonstrate how absurd it is to believe that a tiny film of living scum on a grain of sand on a universal beach so vast it’s stars out number all the grains of sand on all the beaches of Earth could expect redemption from whatever entity might have “created” it.

  3. It’s no defense of Deutsch to point out that cosmologists, as a group, are far more vulnerable to accusations of bias than are biologists.

    The hard evidence claimed to support every sort of cosmological press release (“dark matter”, “dark energy”, “inflation”) is far, far weaker than the least of biologists’ offerings. Gould’s punctuated evolution may have turned out wrong, but it was the facts that decided it. Frequently the strongest argument offered in favor of any given cosmological speculation is that failure would falsify Big Bang. To everyone who takes Big Bang as revealed truth, this would be unthinkable, but revealed truth is the territory of Deutsch’s ilk. (Big Bang, whatever its merits, is felt by IDers — as by the Vatican — as much more comforting than the alternatives.)

    Is the Hubble Relation really a law of nature? Are exceptions allowed, even in principle? Last year a high-z quasar (by the Hubble relation, among the most distant objects in the universe) was identified that is physically in front of a nearby, opaque galaxy (NGC 7319). The silence from other astronomers since has been deafening; telescopes have failed to swivel about, en mass, to investigate it, or any of several other redshift anomalies of NGC 7319.

    As an arena for the next battle with the forces of anti-scientific inquiry, cosmology would be a very poor choice indeed.

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