David Spector 
Member since May 20, 2014



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Re: “Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey

I'm educated in basic physics by school and in critical thinking by my parents. Each time I watch an episode of the new Cosmos, my wife has to sit through my cries of "speculation!" and "not true!" Neil deGrasse Tyson is a wonderful science educator and entertainer, but the new cosmos states as facts both facts and speculations. That is not fair, it does not adhere to the essential spirit of science: that its content should be true.

Tyson shows the magic of the Northern Lights in the usual way: by showing time-lapse movies of these curtains of light in the nighttime sky. This is dishonest in the usual way: at no time does he state that these movies are sped up. The real Northern Lights don't move like that.

Tyson states that birds are the remnants of dinosaurs. This concept was discarded some years ago.

Tyson states as fact that bacteria from one planet can be transported via rocks ejected during asteroid collisions to other planets around the same or even other stars. This is extremely speculative; the only evidence is a meteorite that was at first thought to have come from Mars and bearing fossils of bacteria. But these "fossils" proved some years ago to be small standard geological formations seen also in rocks that could not possibly come from outside of Earth.

Tyson states that we may be able to send or receive interstellar signals from another intelligent society. Yet reasonable estimates predict that the minimum probable distance to such a society is too large for such signals to be detectable (their signal strength would fall off by the inverse-square law down to zero due in part by the quantization of energy).

And these examples are just from the episode currently playing as I write this (which starts, "Must we die? Are there beings in the Cosmos who live forever, afloat on an endless journey down the river of time?"). Fortunately, these mistakes or speculations are almost drowned out by the many facts and inspiring true stories he recounts. But they do annoy. His science should have been fact-checked so that kids don't learn and repeat exciting untruths. Mixed fact and speculation is not the right way to inspire and train future scientists.

Posted by David Spector on 05/20/2014 at 9:56 PM


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