Rich Lowry

The right’s most inane Neil deGrasse Tyson attack yet

The right's most inane Neil deGrasse Tyson attack yet

Neil deGrasse Tyson (Credit: AP/Richard Shotwell)

Salon

A conservative writer draws hilariously sweeping conclusions from a controversy involving Neil deGrasse Tyson

Over the past few weeks, Neil deGrasse Tyson has found himself in the crosshairs of the conservative media— and, surprisingly, not without reason.

The controversy revolves around a quote used by Tyson in many of his public speaking engagements, which for years he has been misattributing to former President George W. Bush. According to Tyson, Bush made the following statement in the immediate aftermath of the September 11th terrorist attacks:

“Our God is the God who named the stars.”

The implication here, made explicit by Tyson, is that born-again Bush was using the events of 9/11 to malign what he saw as the false god of Islam — when, in actuality, Tyson notes, Muslims and Christians worship the exact same deity. Not to mention that the majority of the aforementioned stars are actually named in Arabic.

The problem, as The Federalist first pointed out last month, is that both the quotation itself and its context were continually misstated by Tyson. Bush’s actual words — which were not delivered shortly after 9/11, but in 2003, following the Columbia space shuttle disaster — were thus:

“The same Creator who names the stars also knows the names of the seven souls we mourn today.”

Obviously, this is not just a minor factual quibble.

Since The Federalist first reported on the discrepancy last month, Tyson has rightly taken a lot of grief, and even grudgingly admitted that he was wrong. It’s an embarrassing admission for a man who just this year became a mainstream progressive hero in the aftermath of his successful “Cosmos” reboot. At the same time, it’s hard to complain that Tyson is getting a raw deal, or that he’s unfairly being maligned by right-wing journalists champing at the bit to defame a liberal icon. (They certainly are, but that doesn’t mean they’re wrong.) In truth, Tyson actually kind of deserves the dressing down — especially when it would have been so easy to find actual examples of harebrained Islamophobia in American politics.

But, lest you think this controversy has been met exclusively with fair-minded analysis, the National Review’s Rich Lowry has published a piece in Politico Magazine that draws some hilariously sweeping conclusions from Tyson’s snafus.

Titled “The Cult of Neil deGrasse Tyson,” Lowry’s article is actually pretty unremarkable most of the the way through. He spends much of it recapitulating the reporting already done by The Federalist, and criticizing Tyson for being so cagey throughout the episode.  On page two, however, one gets the sense of Lowry trying to go in for the kill — and that’s where things begin to go ever-so-subtly off the rails.

You see, Lowry explains, it isn’t just that Tyson was sloppy and wrong and weirdly obdurate in the face of criticism; it’s that this controversy is somehow emblematic of “progressive secularism” at large, and of the “high priests of rationality” who arrogantly insist that there is a scientific explanation for everything.

Quoth Lowry:

To be clear, it isn’t Tyson’s science that is the point of contention here. Who doesn’t want to listen to him talk about supernovas and the large magellanic cloud?

The problem is the belief of his fans—encouraged by him—that science has all the answers; that anyone who believes in physics must adhere to a progressive secularism; that anyone not on board is—to borrow from the accusations of Tyson’s defenders—guilty of anti-intellectualism, climate “denial” and racism.

There’s a lot going on in this passage, but unpacking it is illuminating: First, Lowry goes to some length to point out that he’s not casting aspersions on “Tyson’s science,” per se. (And, to be fair, Lowry doesn’t appear to have qualms with the theoretical astrophysics that Tyson specializes in.) But blink and you might miss the part where, mere sentences later, Lowry all but scoffs at the mention of “climate ‘denial’,” as if the very idea of it were somehow ridiculous now that Tyson has made a (completely unrelated) mistake.

So much for not contending with science!

Lowry’s piece is nominally about how fans of Neil deGrasse Tyson treat what he says as scripture, while unfairly imputing the worst of motives to Tyson’s ideological opponents. It’s a familiar refrain to anyone who pays attention to conservative narrative-making —“See! It’s the liberals who are really the zealots!” — and one that Lowry uses in his Politico article to casually introduce, and then just as quickly dismiss, progressive charges of climate denial, without ever addressing the subject head-on. Which is clever, not to mention incredibly sneaky. (A Trojan hobbyhorse, if you will.)

However, if you were curious what Lowry thinks on the matter of climate denial, you could start with this 2013 post at The National Review, in which he writes the following:

There are few things sadder than the “climate denier.” He ignores the data and neglects the latest science. His rhetoric and policy proposals are dangerously disconnected from reality. He can’t recalibrate to take account of the latest evidence because, well, he’s a denier.

The new climate deniers are the liberals who, despite their obsession with climate change, have managed to miss the biggest story in climate science, which is that there hasn’t been any global warming for about a decade and a half.

Ahh, the “global warming pause”!

Parroted often by members of the conservative press, this argument contends that theories of man-made climate change are provably fictitious, because data reveal that global warming has stopped in its tracks over the past two decades. However, as Salon’s Lindsay Abrams has pointed out, this is just another “climate denier myth that refuses to die.”

As McGill University physics professor Shaun Lovejoy wrote in a study published earlier this year:

As data and models have improved, the thesis of anthropogenic warming has become increasingly convincing[...]

Since 1998, the warming has noticeably slowed down — and due to a lack of a convincing model based explanation — the IPCC AR5 resorted to the vague: “Due to natural variability, trends based on short records are very sensitive to the beginning and end dates and do not in general reflect long-term climate trends.” In this paper, we have shown that the pause has a short return time and that it follows an equal magnitude pre-pause warming event: the pause thus has a convincing statistical explanation.

Translation: Natural short-term climate variations more than ably describe what skeptics term “the climate change pause,” without discrediting the long-term observations of dangerous man-made climate change. It is happening. And it is our fault.

Of course, Lowry has a compelling counter-argument to such findings: Neil deGrasse Tyson made up a quote one time

Could Chris Christie Really Beat Obama?

Andrew Romano – The Daily Beast

The New Jersey governor claims he knows he “could win” the White House in 2012, but he’s not “ready to be president.” Andrew Romano on why Christie isn’t insane—though he shouldn’t read much into early polls.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie isn’t known for being demure. Since defeating incumbent Democrat Jon Corzine in 2009, he’s blustered, bellowed, and bullied his way into the hearts of conservatives nationwide, berating every schoolteacher or union boss who has had the temerity to cross him—especially if his staff is filming the encounter for YouTube.

So when National Review’s Rich Lowry asked Christie whether “he knew that, given the moment, there is a serious chance he could win the Republican nomination if he ran,” the governor responded in typically bombastic fashion.

“I see the opportunity,” said the New Jersey governor, who at this point has been pestered about his (allegedly nonexistent) 2012 presidential ambitions so many times that he’s taken to saying he’ll have to commit “suicide” to get reporters off his back. “I have people calling me and saying to me, ‘Let me explain to you how you could win.’ And I’m like, ‘You’re barking up the wrong tree. I already know I could win.’ That’s not the issue.

An expression of complete electoral confidence from a sworn, Shermanesque non-candidate is a rare thing in American politics. Usually, when a politician is blabbering about how he can win a particular contest, it means he’s planning to give it a go. So does Christie really think he could clobber President Obama in 2012? And if so, is he correct?

Let’s start with the evidence in Christie’s favor. Last month, Zogby Interactive released a poll that showed the governor leading a hypothetical field of Republican hopefuls by a solid 10 percentage points; the silver medalist, Mitt Romney, scored a paltry 17 percent to Christie’s commanding 27 percent. Even more impressive, Christie was the only Republican who bested Obama among all respondents (43 percent to 40 percent), with much of his strength coming from independents, who preferred the New Jerseyan by a wide, 13-point margin (42 percent to 29 percent).              Continue reading here…

 

Behind the Right’s Glenn Beck Backlash

The Daily Beast

Bill Kristol criticized the Fox News host’s Egypt coverage, and Rich Lowry and others are piling on. But the condemnations are unlikely to spread to the GOP mainstream—and favorites like Rush Limbaugh and Andrew Breitbart are two reasons why.

Is the right turning against Glenn Beck?

This week in Commentary, Peter Wehner became the latest conservative commentator to call out the Fox News host’s absurd ramblings. He joined Bill Kristol, who criticized Beck’s coverage of the uprising in Egypt, Rich Lowry, who piled on, and Matthew Continetti, who called Beck’s oeuvre “nonsense” last summer.

That brings us to their fellow conservative Jennifer Rubin, who writes for The Washington Post. “What should thoughtful conservatives do? I’ve said it before, but it is especially relevant here: Police their own side,” she advised this week. “Rather than reflexively rising to his defense when questioned about Beck, why don’t conservatives call him out and explain that he doesn’t represent the views of mainstream conservatives? Conservative groups and candidates should be forewarned: If they host, appear with or defend him they should be prepared to have his extremist views affixed to them.”

As a Beck critic who criticized the creepy aspects of his on-air personality even when he was touting awesome Friedrich Hayek books, I’d love to see more folks in the conservative movement adopt Rubin’s attitude. But they won’t. One reason is that it’s difficult to condemn Beck in isolation. Acknowledging that his show is indefensible—that’s the core of her critique—means confronting the fact that Fox News under Roger Ailes knowingly broadcasts factually inaccurate and egregiously misleading nonsense every day. How many conservatives are willing to stipulate that?

It also means departing from the conservative movement’s standard approach to its entertainers: It’s verboten to criticize anyone on “your own side” in an ideological conflict many see as binary.   Continue reading here…