Watch Cosmos, be less dumb

I wouldn’t be much of a television professional if I didn’t watch a lot of TV, have an opinion on all of it, and insist on sharing that opinion even when you don’t ask.  But I do; I do; and even though you didn’t, here goes.

I hope you’re watching Cosmos.  If you’re not, you can catch it online here as well as on Fox and a few of the Fox-affiliated networks; next new episode is Sunday night.  Astronomer/rock star Neil deGrasse Tyson is an engaging if slightly self-absorbed host for a journey of the imagination that’s not only exploring out in space, but back in time.  This version takes full advantage of the capabilities of the medium in the modern day and tells a great story.  I don’t find it as enthralling as the original with astronomer/rock star Carl Sagan back in 1980, but it’s not fair to compare the two, not for people like me who saw the Sagan series when we were young and the things he talked about were actually new and unknown to us.  For me, it had the advantage of provoking wonderment in a way the current version just can’t; I hope it does for the kids of today.

The new series, produced by Sagan’s widow Ann Druyan, Seth McFarlane and others, is providing easy-to-follow explanations of some difficult scientific concepts.  The writers and producers have found a way to lay things out so you can understand the concept in the same way you eat an elephant (one bite at a time); it’s not scary to learn new things here.  I particularly liked Episode 2 for the explanation of evolution by natural selection.  Anyone who didn’t watch that show with a preset determination that evolution is for atheists could grasp the basics; yes, you’ve got to give up the notion that the Earth is only 6000 years old and that people and dinosaurs lived side by side, but you will understand what the scientific terms “evolution” and “natural selection” really mean.  It should be required viewing for the members of the Texas State Board of Education, that’s for sure.

If you prefer yours in a handy graphical form, here’s a swell chart from Reddit user SlipperyFish done for The Infographics Project (thumbnail image via Thinkstock).  Thanks to Upworthy for the link to this short answer to a perennial favorite dumb question:

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A little good news: scientists stand up to politicians

And by politicians, I mean the knuckleheaded, blindered-by-the-right-wing nitwits who refuse to believe anything that doesn’t support their political beliefs…or, the beliefs they profess to believe, in order to maintain their political support (there, I believe that’s clear now).  You know, the ones who don’t get Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s epigram that people are entitled to their own opinions but not to their own facts, and who don’t get the irony that they don’t get it.

Today I ran across this NPR story about scientists in Tennessee fighting a state law that was promoted as an open-minded effort to allow “teachers to question accepted theories on evolution and climate change,” but which the scientists argued was just another attempt to get creationism taught as a theory on a scientific par with evolution.  The story refers to similar efforts in other states where scientists are fighting other efforts to distort science fact into political fiction.

Allow it?  Questioning theories and explaining how hypotheses are proved and become accepted scientific fact is the basis of science.  Teachers don’t need state lawmakers’ permission to break down and explain the parts of any scientific theory, or they shouldn’t.  Not knowing that, while trying to sneak a little religion into the secular science, the grandstanding pols peel back another layer of their own ignorance…or is it another layer of toadiness?

Slamming your eyes shut and screaming “no no no no no no no I can’t hear you” in the face of inconvenient facts is not the reassuring response I want out of my elected representatives.  I agree with Rice University professor Ken Whitney, who thinks that a candidate’s refusal to acknowledge scientific fact as fact ought to be a deal-killer when we go to the ballot box:

I would have an extremely hard time voting for someone who actively argued that evolution should not be taught, or alternately that intelligent design is a valid concept that we should be teaching our kids in public school science classes.

Note, he said we shouldn’t be teaching it in science classes, and that’s because it’s not scientifically valid.  We have to be open-minded enough not to confuse science with religion if we want to get the most value out of each of them.