Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Bush v. Science, Round 37: George Carlton Deutsch III

After it became clear that he had been less than truthful on his résumé, George C. Deutsch III resigned his post at NASA yesterday, where he had taken it upon himself to see that NASA's online references to the "Big Bang" were amended to read the "Theory of the Big Bang."

His rationale for the change? "It is not NASA's place, nor should it be to make a declaration such as this about the existence of the universe that discounts intelligent design by a creator," moreover, he explained to one NASA employee that the Big Bang "not proven fact; it is opinion."

The 24-year old Mr. Deutsch's credentials for his post as a writer and editor in NASA's public affairs office in Washington? He worked the Bush/Cheney reelection war room in 2004 (It turns out he does not, in fact, have a Bachelor of Arts in journalism, Class of 2003, Texas A&M — hence the resignation.)

Of course, Mr. Deutsch's choice of preface for "Big Bang" is technically correct, but for profoundly incorrect reasons. I love the way Josh Marshall sums up the problem:

(The Big Bang is) not just some idea someone thought up which stands on an equal footing with any other idea anyone else could cook up. Among cosmologists today, it's the dominant theory about how the universe began. It is based on various theoretical work (which I won't try to understand or explain) and supported by a lot of astrophysical data.

The theory could turn out to be wrong. And it will almost certainly end up being revised in one or more ways. But it is not 'opinion'.

It's worth taking note of the word choice because it captures the mix of obscurantism and relativism which has characterized all the Bush administration's attitude about science and, really, pretty much all empirically based knowledge...

The rub here is the failure to see that knowledge which has been subjected to and survived – indeed been strengthened by – empirical and theoretical scrutiny stands on a higher footing than information that hasn't. This isn't pedantry. Nor is this some obscure alcove in the science curriculum.

This mindset – obscurantism and relativism duking it out to be of most use in the pursuit of power – suffuses the Bush administration: a lack of respect for facts and the set of tools we use to discern factual information from chatter and bombast.

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