Given his history of popularizing physics and astronomy, which of course I see as a good and useful endeavor, I don’t want to bash Neil deGrasse Tyson too hard. Instead, I’ll let the Spectator do it. (Only kidding—sort of. . .)
The other day I posted a video in which Tyson, determined to promulgate his ideas about sex and gender despite the reasoned opposition of his moderators, lost his cool, becoming rude and arrogant while claiming that problems like transwomen competing athletically against biological women could be rather easily solved (he didn’t say how). He also evinced an ignorance about the seriousness of issues about “women’s spaces”, as well as a superficial view of how people conceive of their gender.
He’s been doing this for some time, and what bothers me is his hauteur: his apparent conviction that he alone knows what is right, and his refusal to listen to those who oppose his views, especially women. But he’s a physicist, not a gender expert, so he might be excused. Still, I can’t fully excuse him because he is using his cachet as a famous physics popularizer to buttress his views on sex and gender. They don’t translate—not unless Tyson has done some research on stuff like the effect of puberty on the athletic abilities of trans women. And he apparently hasn’t done that research
All I’ll say is that I hope Tyson listens to this kind of criticism and cools it, perhaps retreating to his well-fenced bailiwick of popularizing physics and cosmology. And he needs to restrain his demeanor, at least pretending to listen to his opponents instead of talking over them.
The article below, which appeared yesterday in The Spectator, isn’t as polite as I’ve been. But it will be useful if Tyson realizes that there are more than a few people out there who don’t agree with his views. It also discusses why Tyson has suddenly taken it upon himself to become a Culture Warrior, something I have no answer to.
Click below to read the piece.
I’ll give a few quotes. The article (the Spectator is conservative) isn’t perfect, as it has one big flaw, but it’s on the money calling out Tyson’s behavior, as it does below:
Over the years, deGrasse Tyson has become increasingly condescending, rude and arrogant. He has veered from the area of astrophysics into other avenues, including, most recently, the trans debate. More specifically, trans women competing in actual women’s sports.
During a recent podcast appearance, deGrasse Tyson altered between moments of rage and maniacal laughter. In short, he failed to cover himself in glory. For example, when asked by the hosts, Konstanin Kisin and Francis Foster, for his thoughts on trans women competing in women’s sports, and whether or not their inclusion created an “unfair playing field, both literally and metaphorically,” the astrophysicist provided a truly nonsensical answer. Instead of barring trans women from competing in sports, deGrasse Tyson, who enjoys harping on about the importance of rationality, said that we should “fix the playing field, damn it.
“You know something? The day you fix the playing field,” he added, “this conversation will look completely ridiculous.” When asked how, exactly, one would go about fixing the playing field, deGrasse Tyson started cackling like a lunatic before admitting that he couldn’t answer the question.
. . .Neil deGrasse Tyson sells himself as an expert communicator, but effective communication involves speaking and listening. He is very good at the former, but utterly hopeless at the latter. In truth, deGrasse Tyson is a lecturer. He speaks at people, even through them, but rarely, if ever, with them. His unwillingness to listen to others, to continuously cut them off mid-sentence, to disrespect hosts like Joe Rogan in their own studios, is as legendary as his mustache and titillating ties. deGrasse Tyson, the kind of guy who starts every sentence with “well, actually,” lacks intellectual humility. He’s intelligent. He has many fans. But no one is a bigger fan of Neil deGrasse Tyson than Neil deGrasse Tyson. This lack of humility undermines his willingness to negotiate, to compromise and to consider another individual’s point of view. The great irony here is that Tyson’s hero, Carl Sagan, spoke passionately about the importance of humility. Sagan emphasized the importance of nurturing scientific curiosity, not shouting down people who question your beliefs.
The demise of America’s most notable astrophysicist is a sad spectacle indeed. A man who once excelled at opening our minds to all of the cosmic possibilities has morphed into something truly appalling. In short, Neil dGrasse Tyson has become Neil deGrasse Tiresome.
Nice last sentence, and perhaps Tyson will see it (I’m sure he will!), and perhaps, though probably not, take it to heart. Author Ghlionn also tries to analyze Tyson’s turn to Wokeness, and he might be right:
Where does his obsession with social constructivism come from? More importantly, I wonder, is it sincere, or is there something else at play?
DeGrasse Tyson spends an inordinate amount of time on TikTok, desperately trying to appeal to a younger audience. This investment appears to be paying off. After all, he now boasts more than 5 million followers. The average TikTok user’s age is twenty-one. Unless you happen to live under a rock on a distant planet, you’re no doubt aware that younger individuals tend to be incredibly woke. They tend to live more “fluid” existences. This, I suggest, is the main reason for deGrasse Tyson’s rather odd takes on biological reality. Like Howard Stern, Stephen Colbert and numerous other big name individuals who used to be fun, Tyson is playing to an audience. Not only is he insufferable; he’s also insincere.
Well Tysonb’s certainly playing to an audience, but in a way that’s much less civil than, say, Carl Sagan, but I can’t say if his recent change of behavior comes from trying to appeal to the kids, and that requires a woke attitude. It’s an interesting thought, but not as important as Tyson’s conveying misinformation and underestimating the serious issue of “women-only” spaces.
But there are two other issues in the piece that bear discussion. Here’s one:
This wasn’t his first time at the trans-friendly rodeo, and chances are it won’t be his last. That’s because, over the past year or so, the sixty-four-year-old has made it his life’s mission to advance the idea that gender is little more than a social construct, something that was perhaps dreamt up by a few men in a basement many moons ago. “Apparently the XX/XY chromosomes are insufficient, because when we wake up in the morning we exaggerate whatever feature we want to portray the gender of our choice,” he recently blabbered. Gender exists on a spectrum, he insists — but so do things like sanity and patience, Dr. deGrasse Tyson.
I see this dismissal as somewhat misleading. Gender can indeed be a social construct, as with those people who consider themselves bi-gender (or fluidly bi-gender) and take on sex roles, dress, and behaviors that have evolved in a social milieu. Thus a mixture of gender roles is not completely bogus, or “dreamt up by a few men in a basement.”
But what is NOT a “social construct of gender” is Tyson’s misleading statement that when a woman dons pants instead of a skirt, or puts on makeup, she is feeling more male than she would have otherwise. First of all, even if you take that seriously, it’s doesn’t show a spectrum of gender but a spectrum of sex. But if Tyson means gender here, as he surely does, he’s still wrong. If you ask a woman who puts on pants if she’s “feeling more male today,” she’d get angry. What would anger her is that a simple day-to-day choice of clothing somehow proves the existence of a spectrum of gender roles. The woman would, in all likelihood, say, “No, I don’t feel more male; I just thought that pants would be more comfortable today.” This conflation between changing your clothes and adornment and sliding along a “gender scale” is something Tyson needs to ponder, as he’s got it wrong.
The other problem with the Spectator article is this bit:
When the astrophysicist is not defending dangerous gender ideologies, he can be found passionately defending Covid-related measures, including mandatory vaccines and masks. During a fiery debate with Patrick Bet-David, when the host asked if mandatory vaccinations were a problem, deGrasse Tyson spoke about a “public health contract” that American citizens had signed “implicitly.” Many readers will say that they never remember signing such a contract. That’s because you never signed it. When PBD said that many Americans were basically forced to take vaccines to keep their jobs, even though many of them didn’t want to, the science-loving author responded with a nonchalant shrug of the shoulders. My point here is not to demonize vaccines. It’s that people should have a right to choose what they put in their bodies. Dr. deGrasse Tyson appears to think otherwise.
I’m not going to get into the masks issue, as it’s complicated and the efficacy of a mask depends on the kind of mask you’re using. But what I will maintain is that the authorities have a right to require one to get vaccinated (or removed from society) if there’s a deadly disease afoot that the vaccination or sequestration can prevent. And that was the case in the first days of covid. No, there’s no contract here, no “democratic resolution”. In such cases the authorities have to act unilaterally if there’s enough evidence—as there was for covid—that a public-health crisis is imminent.
What the Spectator is evincing here is straight-out conservative anti-vaxism, and in this case Tyson is right and they’re wrong. People can indeed decide what to put in their bodies, but if what they do or don’t do affects the welfare of others, the authorities have the right to keep their choices from endangering others. If you don’t want to get vaccinated, you can’t go to work. Tellingly, it’s the law in most states that before a kid goes to public school, he or she must have several different accinations. That only makes sense. If the kid or kid’s parents decide they “have the right to decide what to put in their body,” and opt out of kids’ vaccinations, then fine: the kid doesn’t get to go to public school and cause an epidemic. This anti-vaxer attitude devalues the Spectator piece, and Tyson’s shrug of the shoulders is appropriate.
But Tyson should still chill out on matters of sex and gender.