Sunday, January 17, 2016

Fact checking Neil deGrasse Tyson

Tyson is well known for fact checking movies, comics and other pop culture stuff. Here's giving Tyson a taste of his own medicine.

18. GMOs

Most of Tyson's misinformation is merely annoying. For example, who cares if he tells his listeners there are more transcendental numbers than irrationals? It's not as if the vast majority of his fans will ever actually study Cantor's ideas on infinite sets. But the examples of his bad math and science serve to demonstrate Tyson's comfortable talking with confidence on subjects he knows little about.

Much worse is when Tyson uses his poor memory and sloppy scholarship to invent history. And then uses his false history to push a narrative. Falsifying history is a serious offense. I have bolded examples of Tyson's bad history.

Tyson on "idiot doctors"

The first half of the video Tyson argues surviving cancer doesn't demonstrate divine intervention. I'm fine with that.

But the second half of the video is a clueless rant against idiot doctors, the American Medical Association and Pre-Med students.

A doctor doesn't just tell a patient "You've got six months." Rather a patient is given statistics on people in a similar condition. So a patient lives longer than the norm. Does this make the doctor an idiot? No. It demonstrates there are statistical outliers on a bell curve. It is..... astonishing. Astonishing that Tyson and the physics 101 prof are unfamiliar with entry level statistics.

Also Tyson as well as the physics prof seem to believe someone who's failed freshman physics would go on to med school. There are idiot physicists, I assure you!

Well known skeptic Dr. Novella called Tyson out on this (scroll to Those Darn Physicists). Novella noted this was part of the keynote speech at TAM6, a 2008 conference for skeptics. Dr. Novella thought it was an excellent lecture except for the idiot doctor part. Which goes to show even self proclaimed skeptics are happy to swallow falsehoods if they seem to support their personal prejudices. Also from Tyson's TAM6 speech was his Bush and Star Names story.

President Bush and Star Names

Tyson tells us President Bush attempted to "distinguish we from they" in the wake of the 9-11 attack. This routine was also included in the TAM6 keynote address.

Stands to reason right? We all know a Republican would seize this emotionally charged moment to stir up hatred against Arabs.

However Bush's actual 9-11 speech called Islam the religion of peace. Bush was calling for inclusion and tolerance. Exactly the opposite of the xenophobic demagogue Tyson falsely portrays.

In fact Bush and his administration have repeatedly condemned anti-Muslim rhetoric. Colin Powell was one of the first to bring Corporal Kareem Kahn's sacrifice to public attention:

Bush has made many comments urging tolerance and inclusion for Muslims. See this page from the Whitehouse Archives.

Tyson's shallow stereotype may apply to some Republicans, but not all.

Jonathan Adler wrote a number of columns on this for The Washington Post:
Does Neil deGrasse Tyson make up stories?
Neil deGrasse Tyson admits he botched Bush quote
What makes an accusation Wiki-worthy? This column was interesting. Do information sources try to suppress information damaging to people they sympathize with? The winning clique of Wikipedia editors sure did. The successful effort to censor this information are well documented on the talk pages starting with Archive 2.

Tyson eventually admitted his story was false and apologized to President Bush. However Tyson qualifies his apology with these words:

"Of course very little changes in that particular talk. I will still mention Islamic Extremists flying planes into buildings in the 21st century. I will still contrast it with the Golden Age of Islam a millennium earlier..."
Well, the rest of that particular talk is just as wrong Tyson's Bush and Star Names fantasy.

Ghazali "Math is the work of the devil"

The Bush quote confabulation segues into a non existent Hamid Al-Ghazali quote. Hamid Al Ghazali was a muslim cleric that supposedly ended the Islamic Golden Age. According to Tyson, Ghazali wrote that math was the work of the devil. Tyson  would make that claim in other talks besides the TAM6 keynote speech. Tyson claims Islamic progress stopped and hasn't recovered since.

Ghazali would praise the disciplines of science and mathematics saying they are necessary for a prosperous society. So I very much doubt that Ghazali ever demonized math. When challenged Tyson replied:
"As for Al Ghazali, a more accurate representation of his views is that the manipulation of numbers was an earthly rather than a divine pursuit. And it was divine thoughts and conduct that were widely promoted -- to the exclusion of earthly conduct. Earthly conduct became associated with being anti-God, which I characterized as the devil. In later speeches (over the past year or so) I leave it as a simple split between earthly and divine pursuits, realizing that I was misleading some people by mentioning the devil at all."
This quote is from Tyson's comment below. In other words he admits there was no Ghazali text containing the assertion that math is the work of the devil.

Did Islamic innovation end with Ghazali? No. There were many Islamic scientists and mathematicians who came later. Abu al-Hasan was born three centuries after Ghazali died. Hasan was the father of symbolic algebra.

The Golden Age of Islam ended more in the 1400s when sea routes rendered land trading routes obsolete. At that time the mideast ceased to be a trading hub where diverse cultures would meet and exchange ideas.

Tyson claims the once innovative civilization would surely have rebounded if not for Ghazali. He notes that the 1.3 billion Muslims alive today don't earn that many Nobel science prizes. Well, neither do the 1.3 billion people living in China. Nor the 1.3 billion people living in India. And these civilizations enjoyed periods of innovation. In fact our zero and numbering system comes from India, not the Arabs as Tyson falsely claims. Is Neil going to blame the Chinese lack of Nobel science prizes on Ghazali?

Professor Joseph Lumbard made an excellent video on this topic.

Physicist Basil Altaie also made a video calling out Tyson's wrong history.

Islamic Scholar Mohammed Hijab also calls out Tyson's sloppy scholarship and falsehoods on Islamic history.

People have been calling out Tyson's bad history on Islam since at least 2010.

Tim O'Neill thoroughly examined Tyson's history on Ghazali.

Newton Just Stops When
He Cedes His Brilliance To God

Tyson's false history on Newton comes in two parts. The first part is actually flattering to Newton, Tyson claims Newton accomplished decades of collaborative efforts in just two months on a lark.

But then Tyson uses his exaggeration of Newton's accomplishments to slam the great man. Tyson claims that Newton could have easily done Laplace's Traite de Mecanique Celeste in an afternoon. But supposedly Newton just stopped when he ceded his brilliance to God.

The last part makes me angry. Newton did not just stop. And claiming Newton's faith hindered him? It was Newton's faith that sustained his passion for inquiry.

In the following I look at each of these claims. 

About an hour into his TAM6 lecture, Tyson portrays Newton as a super human saying Newton invented calculus on a dare. Tyson frequently makes this claim and often says it took Newton two months to establish this branch of mathematics.

 Well, no.

Two thousand years before Newton Eudoxus was slicing stuff into small bits to get more accurate approximations of volume and area.

These methods were well known when Descartes and Fermat invented analytic geometry (also known as graph paper with an x and y axis). With this invention y=x2 became a parabola. x2 + y2 = 1 became a circle with radius one. Descartes’ way of looking at things enabled us to scrutinize conic sections and other curves with symbolic algebra.

After Descartes and Fermat invented analytic geometry, it was only a matter of time before someone used Eudoxus like methods to get good approximations of the slope of a curve or the area under a curve. Which was done by Fermat and Cavalieri among others.

It was Fermat who devised ways to find the slope of the tangent. 

And here is Cavalieri's Quadrature Formula:

Cavalieri's Quadrature Formula.
So was Newton The Father of Calculus? This kid had a lot of daddies. A more sensible question would be what was Newton's contribution to this group effort.

Thony Christie paints a more accurate picture -- The development of calculus was the collaborative effort of many. And it didn't take two months. Christie elaborates on this in his essay The Wrong Question.

"Certainly Neil acknowledges that Newton built his models on the work of others," one his defenders told me, "Newton himself said he could see far because he was standing on the shoulders of giants." Nope. Tyson tells us Newton did it all by himself. And goes on to say "If he could see farther than others it's because he's standing among midgets."

Thony also looks at these claims when he disembowels the Big Think Video My Man, Sir Isaac Newton.

My Man, Sir Isaac Newton inspired a popular meme.

All this supposedly happened in just two months before Newton turned 26. The "dare" was a friend's question on planetary orbits. Halley asked his famous question on planetary orbits in 1684 when Newton was in his 40s Link.  

Newton started thinking about gravity and planetary orbits in 1665 and made his break through in the years 1676-77 Link. He was in his mid 30s when he deduced that inverse square gravity implied Kepler's laws. And it took Newton 12 years.

After thinking he had established Newton’s super powers Tyson flatly asserts Newton could have knocked out perturbation theory in an afternoon. “You know this!” Tyson shouts to his enthusiastic audience. Well, no. I don’t. And neither does Tyson or his credulous audience.

In fact Newton had tried to build n-body perturbation models. He looked at the sun, earth and moon and attempted to build a model that would accurately predict the moon's moon's motion. Astrophysicist Luke Barnes quotes from William Harper's book on Isaac Newton:

… Newton developed this method in an effort to deal with the extreme complexity of solar system motions. … The passage continues with the following characterization of the extraordinary complexity of these resulting motions. 
“By reason of the deviation of the Sun from the center of gravity, the centripetal force does not always tend to that immobile center, and hence the planets neither move exactly in ellipses nor revolve twice in the same orbit. There are as many orbits of a planet as it has revolutions, as in the motion of the Moon, and the orbit of any one planet depends on the combined motion of all the planets, not to mention the action of all these on each other. But to consider simultaneously all these causes of motion and to define these motions by exact laws admitting of easy calculation exceeds, if I am not mistaken, the force of any human mind.” (Wilson 1989b, 253) 
It appears that shortly after articulating this daunting complexity problem, Newton was hard at work developing resources for responding to it with successive approximations. The development and applications of perturbation theory, from Newton through Laplace at the turn of the nineteenth century and on through much of the work of Simon Newcomb at the turn of the twentieth, led to successive, increasingly accurate corrections of Keplerian planetary orbital motions. [emphasis added]

So Tyson's assertion is demonstrably false from the get go. Newton had invested considerable effort in this problem. See also physicist Michael Nauenberg's piece on Newton's efforts to model 3 body systems.

Besides Newton, Euler took a crack at perturbation theory and n-body mechanics. As did Lagrange. Both these men were giants in their own right but did not make satisfactory models. 100 years after Newton, Laplace built on the work of Euler, Lagrange and Newton. To say Newton could have done it in an afternoon is disrespecting Laplace, Euler and Lagrange. It is also profoundly ignorant.

In Tyson’s alternate history Newton would have easily done Laplace’s n-body work had he not been stopped by his belief in the “God of The Gaps”. Tyson states this as a flat out fact. But an alternate history is not a testable hypothesis. We can’t rewind history and see what happens with different parameters.

Here’s another alternate history: An agnostic Newton would have been a normal young man who spent his spare time in taverns chasing women. No splitting of light, no laws of motion, and no contributions to calculus. His accomplishments would have been zip, zero, nada. Like Tyson’s alternate history this is nothing more than idle speculation.

More Transcendentals than Irrationals

In an interview with Joe Rogan, Tyson asserts there are more transcendental numbers than irrationals. He also tells Joe there are five cardinalities when it comes to infinite sets.

Was this a fluke? Maybe Neil just mispoke. But Tyson gives a similarly confused account in an interview with Dazed and Confused Magazine:
You know how numbers, you can count them forever? Well how about fractions? The infinity of fractions is bigger than the infinity of numbers; and then there are transcendental numbers, like Pi. There are more transcendental numbers than pure irrational numbers, and there are more irrational numbers than counting numbers. And more fractions than all of them. 
It's appropriate the above rambling passage comes from Dazed and Confused Magazine. Tyson's assertions earned him a mention in the badmathematics subreddit. The Rational Skepticism blog also chastised Tyson for this misinformation.

Five Centuries Regressed

Is the earth flat or round? This silly argument between Tyson and rapper B.o.B. generated a great deal of publicity for B.o.B., Tyson, and Tyson's nephew.

Part of the exchange: "@bobati Duude — to be clear: Being five centuries regressed in your reasoning doesn't mean we all can't still like your music."

Supposedly folks during the dark ages thought the earth was flat. Sadly Tyson is perpetuating this myth.

Tyson's misperception of the dark ages is a common error. Well summarized in "The Chart":

"The Chart" What Tim O'Neill calls

In the August 1991 issue of History Today Jeffrey Russel effectively argues people knew the earth was round during and before the time of Columbus. In his comment reply (below Russel's article) Tyson perpetuates the myth that knowledge of a spherical earth was lost in the "Dark Ages". Historian Tim O'Neill explains where this myth comes from. O'Neill also documents prominent scholars from that period that knew the earth was spherical.

The above links as well as more interesting reading can be found in this reddit badhistory thread on Tyson's battle with B.o.B.

The Eiffel Tower Was The First Structure Taller Than The Pyramids

Tyson tells Joe Rogan that the Eiffel Tower was the first structure taller than the pyramids.

Here is Wikipedia's list of tallest buildings built before the 20th century. There are numerous counter examples to Tyson's claim. A few here: The Washington Monument and Cologne Cathedral.

Blind As A Bat

This common misconception is addressed in  Christie Wilcox's Discover article Actually, Bats See Just Fine, Neil.

Tyson's trailer for The Martian

Hermes' impossible trajectory

Above is a link to Neil deGrasse Tyson's trailer for The Martian. At 1:15 of the vid, Tyson has the space ship Hermes departing from Low Earth Orbit (LEO). 124 days later he has Hermes arriving at Mars orbit (2:17 of the video).

Hermes is propelled with low thrust ion engines. In the book when Hermes is about to rendezvous with Watney's Mars Ascent Vehicle (MAV), Lewis says Hermes can do up to 2 mm/s2. This acceleration is also given online:

Two millimeters per second squared would require an extremely good alpha. But it's possible future power sources will deliver more watts per kilogram. So 2 mm/s2 is only medium implausible. I'll let this slide.

Problem is, low thrust ion engines really suck at climbing in and out of planetary gravity wells. From low earth orbit, it would take Hermes about 40 days to spiral out of earth's gravity well and about 20 days to spiral from the edge of Mars' gravity well to low Mars orbit. Two months spent climbing in and out of gravity wells destroys Andy Weirs' 124 day trajectory.

Given 2 mm/s2, the trajectory Tyson describes is flat out impossible.

A slow ride through the Van Allen belts.

At 1:50 of Tyson's video he talks about the danger of solar flares and how astronauts are vulnerable to radiation. Well, departing from LEO means a month long spiral through the Van Allen Belts. Not only does the long spiral wreck Weir's 124 day trajectory, it also cooks the astronauts.

Tyson enjoys some notoriety for fact checking fantasies like Star Wars or The Good Dinosaur. This leaves me scratching my head. Many of the shows he fact checks make no pretense at being scientifically accurate. However The Martian was an effort at scientifically plausible hard science fiction and thus is fair game. Same goes for Tyson's trailer.

A physically impossible trajectory along with cooking the astronauts? Tyson's effort at hard science fiction isn't any better than Gravity or Interstellar.

Neil's Five Points of Lagrange Essay

The Five Points of Lagrange was a Neil deGrasse Tyson article published in the April, 2002 issue of Natural History Magazine. A few excerpts:

Gravity falls exponentially with distance

Popular usage has made "exponential" a general term for dramatic change. But a physicist should know the more specific mathematical meaning of the this word. Gravity falls with inverse square of distance, not exponentially.

Arthur C. Clarke was first to calculate altitude of geosynchronous orbits

Wrong. Clarke's contribution was suggesting communication satellites be placed in geosynchronous orbit (GSO). A fantastic idea with tremendous impact. But Clarke wasn't the first to calculate the altitude of GSOs.

Herman Potočnik calculated the altitude of GSO in 1928.  It's possible this altitude was calculated even earlier. Newton might have done it.

Unhackable Systems

The solution is so simple, just make unhackable systems. Oh my gosh, why didn't the cyber security folks ever think of that?

Twitchy published some good responses.

The Coriolis Force in Naval Battles

The Coriolis Force was a Tyson article published in the March 1995 issue of Natural History. In the article Neil has this to say about the 1914 Falklands battle:
But in 1914, from the annals of embarrassing military moments, there was a World War I naval battle between the English and the Germans near the Falklands Islands off Argentina (52 degrees south latitude). The English battle cruisers Invincible and Inflexible engaged the German war ships Gneisenau and Scharnhorst at a range of nearly ten miles. Among other gunnery problems encountered, the English forgot to reverse the direction of their Coriolis correction. Their tables had been calculated for northern hemisphere projectiles, so they missed their targets by even more than if no correction had been applied. They ultimately won the battle against the Germans with about sixty direct hits, but it was not before over a thousand missile shells had fallen in the ocean.
However the role of Coriolis correction in this battle is a an urban legend.

Coriolis Force in Football

Tyson likes to say the Coriolis force would deflect a 50 yard field goal half an inch to the right.

He repeats this fairly often. More recently for the Houston stadium. He seems unaware different  latitudes feel different Coriolis accelerations.

Coriolis force felt by a football would depend on the velocity and direction of the football as well as the latitude of stadium.

Coriolis acceleration = -2 Ω X v

Metlife is about at latitude 40.8 degrees. Metlife tilts about 11º from the north. I will go with the horizontal speed of the ball of 23 meters/second.

We can choose our coordinates so the x axis runs west to east, the y axis runs south to north and the z axis is the local vertical going up...

Ω = (0, 5.52e-5, 4.76e-5) 1/sec
v = (4.39, 22.58, 0) meters/sec
a = -2 Ω v = (.0021, -0004, .0005) meters/sec2,

Deflection from uniform acceleration is 1/2 a t2,
where t is time of flight. For a ball with a 23 meter/sec horizontal speed, it takes a little less than 2 seconds to traverse 50 yards.

1/2 a t2 = (.0043, =.0008, .00096) meters = (.167, -.032, .037) inches.

Of that displacement, the component displacement to the right is .17 inches. Tyson's half inch is off by a factor of three.

Field goal kickers don't have the level of precision where 1/6 of an inch vs 1/2 an inch makes much difference. However I wouldn't want Dr. Tyson to be calculating Coriolis in situations where it's important, like naval battles.

2001 Space Odyssey station rotates too fast

19:56 into an interview with Dan Le Batard, Tyson tells Batard:

… by the way I calculated the rotation rate of their space station which gives you artificial gravity on the outer rim. And it turns out it's rotating three times too fast. So if you weigh 150 pounds you'd weight 450 pounds on that space station (hee hee).
Tyson also tells Joe Rogan the same thing.

Tyson is wrong on several counts.

2001 A Space Odyssey's Space Station V has a radius of about 150 meters and a spin rate of about 1 revolution each 61seconds. That gives an angular velocity ω of 2 π radians per 61 seconds.

Spin grav = ωr
Spin grav = (2π/(61 seconds))*150 meters
Spin grav = .106 * 150 meters/second
Spin grav = 1.59 meters/second

The spin gravity comes out to about one sixth of earth's gravity. A 150 pound man would weigh about 25 pounds on this station. This is close to the gravity on the moon's surface. Which is what Clarke and Kubrick had intended since the station was a stop on the way to the moon.

Also weight scales with the square of spin rate. So tripling spin rate would increase weight by a factor of nine.

Brick Helicopters

Helicopter blades will continue rotating after engine failure. Descending through the air at an angle can spin up the blades. Leveling off just before reaching the ground makes for a soft landing.

The process is described and demonstrated at this Getting Smarter Every Day Video.

NASA's million dollar space pen

In Tyson's column for Natural History Magazine as well as in his Space Chronicles Tyson wrote:
During the heat of the space race in the 1960s, the US National Aeronautics and Space Administration decided it needed a ballpoint pen to write in the zero gravity confines of its space capsules. After considerable research and development, the Astronaut Pen was developed at a cost of approximately $1 million US. The pen worked and also enjoyed some modest success as a novelty item back here on earth. The Soviet Union, faced with the same problem, used a pencil.
Ummmmm..... No.

This urban legend was debunked in a Scientific American article.

At one time both NASA and the Russian space program were using pencils. But the tips flaked and broke resulting in potentially harmful particles floating around in the weightless environment. Pencils are also flammable, something to be avoided in a spacecraft.

Pens were needed. But it wasn't NASA who financed the R&D. It was Paul C. Fisher of the Fisher Pen Company. He invested $1 million to create what we now call the space pen. According to Scientific American, none of that million dollars came from NASA.

Both NASA and the Russians bought the pens from the Fisher Pen company at $2.39 per pen.

GMO = artificial selection

In this video Tyson defends genetic modification by claiming it's not different from the artificial selection humans have been practicing for millennia.

Which is wrong. Genetic modification as practiced by Monsanto is splicing DNA from one species onto the DNA of another species. Artificial selection encourages traits that already exist in a population's gene pool. Here is a primer: Genetic Modification Explained.

Are GMOs beneficial? Or are they harmful? I don't know. I'm not taking a position pro or con. I'm pointing out Tyson's argument conflates two different techniques.

Before NASA nobody thought about miniaturizing electronics

In an interview with Fareed Zakaria, Tyson said:
The urge to miniaturize electronics did not exist before the space program. I mean our grandparents had radios that was furniture in the living room. Nobody at the time was saying Gee, I want to carry that in my pocket. Which is a non-thought. 
Well, the TR-1 hit the market in November of 1954 and NASA was formed in 1958

The TR-1 hit the market 4 years before NASA was formed

Here is the Wikipedia article on the history of transistors.


Deflategate was a controversy over the  American Football Conference championship game January, 2015. The New England Patriots were accused of cheating when their footballs were found to be about 2 pounds under inflated.

Tyson tweeted:

A 2 PSI drop from 13 PSI  gauge pressure is about 15%, right? Well, no, not really. The 13 PSI  gauge pressure is the pressure above the surrounding air pressure.  Atmospheric pressure at sea level is about 15 PSI. Absolute pressure would be 13+15 PSI. So the drop in absolute pressure is 2/28 or about 7%.

Confusing gauge pressure for absolute pressure would be understandable if coming from a freshman engineering student doing a pop quiz. But this is a supposedly world renowned astrophysicist accusing the Patriots coaching staff of cheating.

More on Tyson's Deflategate errors can be found at Neil deGrasse Tyson bungles science of Deflategate scandal.

Tyson's rocket equation: propellant mass scales exponentially with payload mass

In his "explanation" of the rocket equation Tyson tells us "the amount of fuel you need okay to deliver a certain payload grows exponentially ... for every extra pound of payload" .

This is wrong. Payload mass grows exponentially with increasing delta v, not payload mass. 

In fact, amount of propellant mass per kilogram of payload tends to go down with increasing payload mass.  This is partly due to the square cube law, amount of surface area per volume goes down with increasing volume. Also the avionics of a large rocket can be the same mass as the avionics for a small rocket.  See this thread from the NasaSpaceFlight Forum
This is particularly annoying to me. Many of my blog entries are devoted to the rocket equation and therefore focus on delta V. 

Copernicus kept his theory secret for fear of the church
From the Mental Floss Article 10 Things We Learned From Neil deGrasse Tyson's "The Inexplicable Universe" Course:

Evidently Neil hasn't heard of Copernicus' Commentariolus. Copernicus wrote this in 1514, almost thirty years before De revolutionibus orbium coelestium which was published in 1543 when Copernicus was on his deathbed.
In 1533 Johann Albrecht Widmannstetter delivered a series of lectures in Rome on Copernicus ideas. Widmannstetter was secretary to Pope Clement VII, Pope Paul III and Cardinal Nikolaus von Schönberg. His lectures were heard by Pope Clement VII and the cardinals. 
Cardinal Nikolaus von Schönberg was impressed with Widmannstetter's lectures and wrote a letter to Copernicus in 1536 urging him to publish.
Copernicus finally published De revolutionibus with the help of his friend Bishop Tiedemann Giese
De revolutionibus was placed on the Catholic Church's Index of Forbidden Books in 1616. But this was more than 70 years after publication. The book was not formally banned but merely withdrawn from circulation.
So it is not true that Copernicus kept these ideas secret from the Catholic Church. Widmanstetter had shared his ideas with a pope and a number of bishops and cardinals. It was a cardinal who urged him to publish and a bishop who helped him publish.

Painful sex would make a species go extinct

Tyson received some ridicule when he tweeted

If there were ever a species for whom sex hurt, it surely went extinct long ago.

Emily Willingham called him out with her Forbes article What Neil deGrasse Tyson doesn't know about sex fills many books. She gives a number of counter examples. Tyson defended himself saying in all her examples it is just a single partner that experiences pain. And that reproduction might occur if one partner finds it pleasurable while the other finds it painful.

Biologist P Z Myers weighed in with Some days, it's very hard to defend Neil deGrasse Tyson. He opined that Tyson's reply was making the goal posts dance. And that in biological systems it often isn't pleasure and pain that drives behavior.
And Myers went on to note that Willingham did provide a counter example where both partners experience pain to reproduce: salmon. He writes:
"And Willingham addressed his excuse with her very first example:semelparous fish, like salmon. Neither sex gets a lot of joy aout of reproduction. They batter themselves half to death trying to get upstream; they exert themselves to such a degree that their flesh is like an exhausted disintegrating bruise by the time  they get to the spawning grounds, and then they die."

The James Webb Space Telescope is parked in Earth's shadow

In this Lagrange point explainer Neil tells us that the James Webb Space Telescope is parked at the Sun-Earth L2 where earth blocks the Sun. This is to keep the Sun's rays off of the sensitive infra-red telescope.

Earth does mostly eclipse the sun at the L2. However the JWST isn't parked at SEL2. It is in a large halo orbit around SEL2 and never comes near Earth's shadow. The telescope relies on a sun shade to keep sunlight off of the scope. 

Earth is smoother than a cue ball

In this Joe Rogan interview Neil tells us that that Earth scaled down to the size of a cue ball would be smoother than any cue ball ever machined.

Scaled down to a 57 mm diameter cue ball Earth's biggest mountains and valleys would be around .04 mm. Which is about 10 times the size of the biggest bumps and pits on a cue ball.

Neil seems to confuse tolerance for sphericity with texture. VSauce takes a look at this fifteen minutes into his video How much of the Earth can you see at once?

Curvature not visible from Branson's flight

Tyson claims he has done the calculations and tells us that the curvature of the earth is not visible from the altitude of Richard Branson's suborbital fight with Virgin Galactic. 

Six minutes into his Facebook video Why Do Billionaires Love Space Neil says "So, now high up are they relative to the earth? Are they gonna see the curvature? I did a calculation, the answer is NO." He makes the same claim here.

Here Neil claims you would not see curvature from the altitude of Felix Baumgartner's jump.

Felix Baumgartner made his jump at about a 39 kilometer altitude. A little more than 3 minutes in Scott  shows curvature at at 30 kilometer altitude. Curvature is visible. A little more than 4 minutes in he shows the view from a 100 kilometer up.

Either Neil hasn't done the calculation he claims or he is incompetent. This gaffe is especially annoying since Flat Earthers have been citing these claims and appealing to Neil's authority.

NASA invented cordless power tools

Tyson tells Joe Rogan that NASA invented cordless power tools because there are no power outlets in outer space.

However Black and Decker Developed the first cordless power tool in 1961 before the company had any contracts with NASA. From a NASA page

Did NASA invent cordless power tools?
No. The first cordless power tool was unveiled by Black & Decker in 1961. In the mid-1960s, Martin Marietta Corporation contracted with Black & Decker to design tools for NASA. The tool company developed a zero-impact wrench for the Gemini project that spun bolts in zero gravity without spinning the astronaut. Black & Decker also designed a cordless rotary hammer drill for the Apollo moon program. The drill was used to extract rock samples from the surface of the moon and could operate at extreme temperatures and in zero-atmosphere conditions. Before the zero-impact wrench and rotary hammer drill could go into space, they needed to be tested in anti-gravity conditions. Black & Decker and NASA tested the tools either under water or in transport planes that would climb to the highest possible altitude and then nosedive to simulate anti-gravity conditions. As a result of this work, Black & Decker created several spinoffs, including cordless lightweight battery powered precision medical instruments and a cordless miniature vacuum cleaner called the Dustbuster, but cordless power tools predate the Space Agency's involvement with the company.


Modern nuclear weapons would have no fall out


Tyson: Modern nukes don't have the radiation problem -- just to be clear
Maher: Really?
Tyson: you're still blown to Smithereens but yeah it's a different kind of weapon than the Hiroshima and Nagasaki
Maher: Nuclear weapons -- If they're exploded don't have a radiation problem?
Tyson: Not if it's a hydrogen bomb. No, not in the way that you we used to have to worry about it with fallout and all the rest of that.

Neil would be somewhat correct if modern hydrogen bombs were pure fusion bombs. But they are not.

Modern hydrogen bombs use a fission trigger. And many hydrogen bombs use a fission reaction during the fusion reaction to increase destructive power. There is a potential for much more fall out than Hiroshima or Nagasaki.

Alex Wellerstein, a historian specializing in nuclear weapons, gave a break down on Twitter.

Here is the Wikipedia article on hydrogen bombs.

Other complaints against Tyson

The above is a list of Neil's questionable claims.  What follows is other Tyson related information.

Allegations of sexual misconduct

Tchiya Amet alleges that Tyson drugged and raped her in 1984. There are many articles on her allegations. Here is an article from Vox is one. Is Tyson guilty? I can't tell. It Tyson's word against Amet's on an event that happened decades ago. 

Here Tchiya talks about her experience in a YouTube interview with David McAffee.

The Vox story also talks about Katelyn Allers' complaint that Neil lifted her blouse to look at a tattoo. Creepy but not really a serious transgression, in my opinion.

However Ashley Watson's story is very credible. Neil has corroborated most of Watson's account.

Watson was Neil's production assistant for the Cosmos TV show. One evening Neil invited her to his apartment at 10:30 pm. Watson thought they were going to discuss the show and a possible promotion.

According to Watson Neil was partially dressed. She said he was playing one of Nina Simone's songs and kept repeating the lyric "Do I make you quiver." He gave her a "Native American Handshake" where he felt her pulse as he looked into her eyes.

Ashley didn't put out and within days she resigned/was let go. 

Watson complained and National Geographic says they conducted an investigation. However Watson says she gave the investigators contact  information of people who could corroborate their complaints. She says none of them were contacted. See this story from the Daily Beast.

An older married man hitting on a younger engaged woman is creepy but not a career destroying offense. However holding someone's career hostage is an abuse of power. If Tyson is guilty of this he should be fired from any administrative position. Personally, I believe Ashley Watson.

See also Tyson's Facebook post on the allegations.

Neil trashing a writer from the New Yorker magazine

Karen Heller did an interview with Tyson for The Washington Post. In that interview Neil expressed his anger at Rebecca Mead, a writer for the New Yorker.

Meade's profile of Tyson was dripping with admiration for Tyson.  However she made the mistake of correctly noting "Tyson attended public schools, and was not a distinguished student. He was social, and teachers criticized him for being inattentive." 

Tyson responded by commenting on Meade's article:

No, no, no, no, no. As far as I can judge, I was anything but a mediocre child. I was active in all these activities that were intellectually stimulating.  What’s interesting is I have two or three times as many Twitter followers as the New Yorker has circulation. So I haven’t done it yet, but I’m going to post the article and say, ‘This is verbally accurate and impressionistically false.’ It will be an exercise in journalism.

In my opinion Neil deserved his bad grades. He has repeatedly displayed incompetence in math and physics and horrendously sloppy scholarship in his attempts to recount history.  Rebecca Meade could have mentioned that Neil flunked out at the University of Texas with his advisors suggesting he pursue a different career (scroll to trouble in Texas). 

Neil was treated more than fairly by Rebecca Meade, in my opinion.

Neil's business partner complains he was misled.

David Gamble was one of Tyson's former business partners. He claimed Tyson misled him when his partners bought out their share of StarTalk. From an article in The New York Post:
Celebrity astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson defrauded one of the creators of his popular “StarTalk” show while the producer was suffering physically and financially from a rare liver disorder, according to a new lawsuit. 
David Gamble says he and NASA employee Helen Matsos brought the idea for the “StarTalk” radio show to Tyson in 2006. 
Their partnership began to fray in 2011, however, when Gamble was diagnosed with polycystic kidney disease, according to Gamble’s Manhattan federal suit. Tyson and Matsos cut Gamble out of “StarTalk’s” operations, Gamble claims. 
Gamble — who was undergoing dialysis for three to fours hours each day — agreed to sell his stake in “StarTalk” to Tyson and Matsos, the lawsuit claims. But Tyson and Matsos defaulted on their payments and only agreed to pay after convincing Gamble to take a lesser deal, he said. 
Tyson personally convinced Gamble to take the new deal by telling Gamble “that Tyson would likely be leaving StarTalk and that he did not believe the show had any future,” the lawsuit said.

I can understand excluding a partner if his health were failing. But did Tyson tell Gamble StarTalk had no future? If so, there's no question Gamble was misled.

Kickstarter and Indiegogo supporters put $734,287 into Neil's vapor ware video game.

Neil deGrasse Tyson's Space Odyssey was a crowd funded video game. 7207 backers invested $356,866. The goal was $314,159, the first 6 digits of pi. Estimated delivery of the game was July 2018. The game has still not been delivered. Here is the Kickstarter page.

And 7,568 backers pitched in $377,421 on Indiegogo.

Here is the KickStarter comment page. And here is the Indiegogo comment page. Needless to say those who invested are disappointed and angry.

Students sink $50,000 to hear Neil B.S.

Here is a college student's account of Neil's disappointing presentation. It had a net 10.3 k upvotes. Here is another student describing the same event.

Is Tyson an

On a talk page of Wikipedia's Tyson article someone asks if Neil is a practicing astrophysicist. 

Don Barry, an actual astrophysicist from Cornell, replies:

Not since graduate school (he did not successfully progress towards a degree at UT/Austin, and convinced Columbia to give him a second try). Aside from the obligatory papers describing his dissertation, he's got a paper on how to take dome flats, a bizarre paper speculating about an asteroid hitting Uranus, and courtesy mentions *very* late in the author lists of a few big projects in which it is unclear what, if anything, of substance he contributed. No first author papers of any real significance whatsoever. Nor is the there any evidence that he has been awarded any telescope time on significant instruments as PI since grad school, despite the incredibly inflated claims in his published CVs. He cozied up to Bush and pushed Bush's version of man to the Moon, Mars, and Beyond, and now gets appointed to just about every high level political advisory board. To an actual astronomer, this is almost beyond inconceivable. It's just bizarre. To answer Delon's question, no: he is not a practicing astrophysicist - Don Barry, Ph.D. Dept of Astronomy, Cornell University

Barry's assessment was written December 3, 2008. This is from Neil's C.V. which I retrieved on June 12, 2023. I count 5 peer reviewed papers where Neil is the lead author, published from 1988 to 1993. He is listed as co-author is the COSMOS papers in 2007 and 2008. I believe these are the few big projects Barry mentions. Barry is correct -- Neil's name appears late in long lists of authors. Barry's assessment remains correct to this day.

Even as a student Tyson's performance was sub mediocre. Harvard turned him down for their post graduate program. 

And he flunked out of his doctoral program at the University of Texas. From The Alcalde, a University of Texas publication:

Back in the lab, though, things weren't going as well. Tyson wasn't making progress on his dissertation, and professors encouraged him to consider alternate careers. He took the criticism hard, and he also faced racial discrimination on campus.

"I was stopped and questioned seven times by University police on my way into the physics building," he says. "Seven times. Zero times was I stopped going into the gym — and I went to the gym a lot. That says all you need to know about how welcome I felt at Texas."

At the same time, Tyson says that racism, while an everyday reality, didn't play a major role in his leaving the University. "Getting stopped by the police—I don't count that as significant racism. That's just 'same shit, different day' racism. I was stopped by campus police at other schools too—though not with the same frequency as in Texas. And I still get followed by security guards in department stores."

After Tyson finished his master's thesis, his advisors dissolved his dissertation committee—essentially flunking him. "I still don't talk about it much," he says, "because it was a failed experiment, and I've moved on from that chapter of my life."

"With or Without skin color, I wasn't the model student," he adds. "There was simply no room for me to be the full person that I was. If race was at play in all this, it was only at the edges of the experience"

Kudos to Neil's U.T. doctoral committee for having the backbone to flunk him. Given the numerous errors in his pop science I am wondering how he got a bachelor's degree, much less a doctorate.

R. Michael Rich was Tyson's doctoral advisor at Columbia. It's my belief Rich noticed the popularity of Neil's lectures and gave Neil his credentials thanking that science and astronomy needed a charismatic advocate.

It says in Tyson's Wikipedia article that Rich hired students to help Neil with the data reduction on his thesis. So I am wondering how much of his doctoral dissertation Neil wrote.

In my opinion Tyson demonstrates that charisma and political skills suffice to get an Ivey League degree -- competence in physics is not required.

Meatatarians vs Vegetarians

There are a number of reasons to eat less meat. Vegans express concern for the suffering of animals we grow and kill to eat meat. The meat industry has a large carbon footprint and a greater impact on the environment. I am not a vegan or a vegetarian. But I have tried to reduce my meat intake. My daughter is vegetarian.

In his book Starry Messenger Neil has a chapter ridiculing vegans and vegetarians. He regurgitates much of this chapter when promoting his book on TV or podcasts. From an interview with Steven Colbert:

"People say 'I don't want to kill animals.' I don't have a problem with that. They probably have a humane mouse trap in their basement. They don't want to snap the neck of the mouse. So they capture the mouse -- you've got to check on it every couple of days because they dry out real quick. 

"So there it is and they set it loose into the wild where they have guaranteed it will be swallowed whole by, and picked apart by woodland predators. The average life of a mouse in the wild is nine to 18 months. Best thing you can do for a mouse is leave it in your basement where it will live up to six years."

This is a ridiculous straw man. Is it practical to share our home with a fire and health hazard? No. Is it practical to reduce animal suffering by eating less meat? Yes.

Personally I use traps that snap the rodent's neck. I believe this is quickest most painless death I can give them. I am not going to let them dwell in my wall where they can chew the insulation off my electrical wiring.

Neil goes on to describe a bizarre scenario where sentient plant aliens would be appalled at vegans eating baby plants:

"Imagine photosynthesizing sentient aliens. They're in a spaceship and saw earth, has a good biodiversity of plants and it's on their tour book. They come to visit.

"Then they meet vegetarians who expressly eat plants. And they'll freak out. And it's not just plants. They notice that vegetarians target the reproductive organs of plants -- its flowers the berries, the nut, all of the things -- the plant's just trying to make another version of itself.

"Nope, let's eat it!


"Imagine the aliens check in on Whole Foods and they see people shopping in the produce aisle. And they notice these same vegetarians are into infanticide because they're selecting baby carrots, baby spinach, baby arugula, baby everything. And these aliens say 'What the hell is going on here on earth?' and they attack us!"
Maybe the aliens would notice the plants we eat aren't sentient. Mushrooms are more closely related to us than to photosynthesizing plants. But there's no evidence they feel pain or fear. Nor have I seen evidence plants suffer.

Do Neil and his plant aliens equate slicing up a carrot to slicing up a living puppy?

But let's say for the sake of argument that plants do suffer.

By some estimates it takes 8 pounds of grain to grow a pound of beef. So to get a pound of food the meat eater has to slaughter eight times as much plant life as the vegan getting his food directly from plants. The aliens would be eight times as pissed at Neil. Maybe more as it has taken many pounds of meat for Neil to grow his enormous buttocks.

Neil lets rip one of his dramatic sound bites: "If you cut a tree, does it not bleed?" I am thinking of torrents of tree blood being splattered as Neil takes a chainsaw to trees in the Amazon rain forest so he can eat more beef.  

Failure to correct misinformation.

It's June 21, 2023 as I write this. I started this page in 2016. For nearly nine years I've been asking Neil to correct the misinformation he has spread. At first I tried to be courteous and respectful. But it seems like Tyson has no desire to combat the misinformation he has spread over the years. I have to conclude he has no regard for the truth.

Reluctance to admit error for his Bush and Star Names story.

In 2014 Sean Davis sent a series of questions to Tyson. Neil responded to them here. One of the questions:

3) Tyson regularly tells his his audiences about the time time that President Bush said, in the week after 9/11, "Our God is the God who named the stars" as a way of dividing people based on religion. Can you please provide me with the original sources of this exact quote from President George W. Bush, including the date on which he said it, the venue, and the full remarks in which the quote appeared?

Tyson responded:

2001 affected me deeply, as was true with most people.  ...

I have explicit memory of those words being spoken by the President. I reacted on the spot, making note for possible later reference in my public discourse. Odd that nobody seems to be able to find the quote anywhere -- surely every word publicly uttered by a President gets logged. 

FYI: There are two kinds of failures of memory. Ones remembering that which has never happened and the other is forgetting that which did. In my case, from life experience, I'm vastly more likely to forget an incident than to remember an incident that never happened. So I assure you, the quote is there somewhere. When you find it, tell me. Then I can offer it to others who've taken as much time as you to explore these things.

One of our mantras in science is that the absence of evidence is not the same as evidence of absence.

That last sentence is galling. Neil is always going on about backing up claims with evidence. But when he makes a serious accusation against the President, he doesn't need evidence. And he is using his eyewitness testimony to back up his story? The unreliability of eye witness testimony is a staple for his shows. He should use this as an example.

Tyson would not admit error.

And then the story started trending. Even appearing in outlets like The Washington Post (Link). 

Tyson was eventually forced to admit error. But it took a great deal of arm twisting.

Kinda Sorta admitting error in regarding Ghazali and the Islamic Golden Age

Neil sort of admitted error in his comments on this blog (Link).

But my blog is a very obscure corner of the internet. Neil has been loudly and publicly repeating this story for years, maybe decades. And his fans are still reposting this misinformation. Neil needs to make more of an effort to correct this chunk of false history.

No admission whatsoever regarding his Newton falsehoods

Regarding Newton Thony Christie has been trying to give Neil a heads up since at least 2014. Maybe earlier. See this tweet.

And I have been hounding Neil for years. On occasion he has responded to me. Here is a screen capture I made in 2019:

I think it finally got through, though. I've noticed his Newton stories seem to have dropped from his routine around 2019. 

On this page I have a long section on Neil's misinformation regarding Newton (Link). To summarize Neil has Newton doing Principia and inventing calculus in just two months on a lark. But then Tyson has Newton turning into a drooling idiot when he started basking in the majesty of God. 

Systemic dishonesty

It's not just Neil pointedly ignoring the falsehoods he's spread.

Jonathan Adler wrote an article on how Neil's Bush and Star Names debacle was censored from Tyson's Wikipedia article (Link).

And, indeed, it's all there in Wikipedia's talk pages. I will give Wikipedia credit that their process if much more transparent than in most information outlets.

Discussion of Bush and Star Names starts on Archive 2 of the talk pages for Neil's article. At first the censors argue that Sean Davis and the Federalist aren't reliable sources. 

Archive 3 starts with references to Neil's admission his Bush and Star Names story was wrong. Yet numerous editors continue to make the reliable sources argument even up to Archive 12. Major coverage was another argument against inclusion in the article even though the story appeared in many major news outlets.

Starting in Archive 13 Tyson's defenders try censor allegations of sexual misconduct. I was surprised that mention of the allegations eventually made it into the article

In my opinion if a pundit is busted disseminating false information it should be included in his Wikipedia article. I doubt Wikipedia's article will ever note any of the falsehoods Tyson has spread.

The Wikipedia process is transparent. I would guess similar conversations have gone on behind the scenes at other information outlets.

Tyson is seen as the voice of rationality and objective truth. He must be protected even if it means suppressing data.