Letters – December 2016

Public-private science, recipe

Public-private science

Neil DeGrasse Tyson’s work is a breath of fresh air for anyone concerned with the widespread anti-science attitudes in society, particularly as we face real-time consequences of pseudoscience virality. Neil works tirelessly to demystify the natural world and promote rational inquiry, whether through his books, the re-launched Cosmos miniseries or the podcast / TV series StarTalk. As accessible as he is entertaining, Neil does a valuable public service in reminding us that science is best served when it’s at the heart of public consciousness, not hidden away in a laboratory. All perfectly compatible with the socialist vision of a world where humans tear down the wall separating intellectual and physical labor, where a liberated society puts our tremendous scientific capacity to use improving conditions for ourselves and our planet.

Still, there are some illusions working quietly in the background of this new science popularization which need some demystification of their own. Implicit in Dr. Tyson’s work, and shared by co-thinkers like Bill Nye, is the idea that scientific progress is apolitical – and what’s more, that if we give it the room it needs, it will save the world for us. In the same breath as a moderately veiled comment chastising Republican politicians to get ideology away from science policy, the StarTalk ethos advances its own policy prescriptions: ramp up NASA funding, expand public-private partnerships in space exploration, and ‘vote climate’ (does anyone think this was down-low support for Jill Stein?) Non-political science resembles mainstream liberalism.

For a representative example, consider the December 16 StarTalk All-Stars, “The Lunar Legacy, with Buzz Aldrin.” Bill Nye approvingly recounts the wonders of state-subsidized capitalism applied to the Internet, in which public money / R&D was later handed to the private sector. He proposes to do the same for space colonization and climate change. The profit motive and social need perfectly in sync – human progress, sponsored by Google.

– Gabriel Pierre



The old Russian hack: three parts coffee, one part vodka.

– Miah Simone