Monday, March 10, 2014

History: It Is a Collection of Rumors I Have Encountered!

Neil deGrasse Tyson apparently feels confident in discoursing on history without bothering to look any of his "facts" up.

One reason I note this is because several times I have pointed out this type of thing in reference to people who are trying to attack Christianity with bogus history. However, in this case, NDT believes he is defending a Christian accomplishment, but it turns out he simply has no idea what he is talking about. Almost every single "fact" he offers is untrue!

It is as though NDT was doing a documentary on physics based on misremembered material from a high school class, theories discredited decades ago, and snippets culled without discrimination from the popular press, and didn't think there was any point running any of the material by any actual physicist before presenting it.

As Renaissance Mathematicus notes, NDT could have significantly improved the factuality of his account simply by consulting Wikipedia for a few minutes! One would think, before going on the air to misinform a million viewers*, a narrator might bother to do at least that.

Moral: Whether they seem to favor "your side" or oppose it, you simply cannot believe the historical "facts" offered in the popular media without confirming them in the work of a real historian who specializes in the area in question. Oh, and middle and high school teachers: it is much, much better if your students consult Wikipedia for their history than that they cite the nonsense they are liable to find in documentaries or on newsstands.

UPDATE: I have been prompted to re-check the post I link to above, and I realize I got the source wrong: Neil deGrasse Tyson says this in a podcast, not on Cosmos, which I implied was where it was said (though I never actually explicitly said it).

* I have not checked his actual viewership: "a million" here should be read as "very, very many."


  1. Uh, Gene it sounds like you are accusing NDT of saying something wrong in his Cosmos show.* But in fact, his remarks were off-the-cuff in response to a question he didn't know he'd be getting during a podcast interview.

    It is as though Gene Callahan wrote a blog post based on a quick skim of somebody else's commentary, without actually checking to make sure he had read the source correctly.

    * If that's NOT what you're saying, then my apologies. But there are at least two spots in your post that suggest that this is what you think happened.

    1. My bad: I thought RM was quoting from Cosmos. But hey, these were just remarks I made off the cuff on my blog!

    2. Ok, Bob, I went back and read the original post by RM, and... No! Yes, I misidentified the source of the remarks. But this is not something he was asked about and had to spin together an answer on the fly: he deliberately brought up the calendar example and expounding upon it was entirely his choice. I got the source wrong, which is my bad, but everything else I said stands.


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