One thing an ethical, competent scientist should never proclaim is that the science is settled.
Science is constantly changing, with long-accepted ideas subject to revision as new data arises. Anyone who claims science irrefutably validates a preferred political position may be acting as a propagandist instead of an expert.
In a Monday interview, media personality Neil deGrasse Tyson, whose credibility hinges on scientific credentials, attempted to make the kind of “the science is settled” claims used during the early phases of the pandemic to defend his COVID policy preferences. What he did not provide was proof that science still supports those claims. Challenges to Tyson’s talking points left him speechless.
Tyson appeared on the PBD Podcast, hosted by Patrick Bet-David, a conservative Christian entrepreneur.
Even though Tyson is an astrophysicist, not a medical scientist, in the interview he positioned himself as an authority on vaccinations and the public good. Now that Dr. Anthony Fauci has retired, perhaps Tyson thought there was an opening to be the one to “represent science.”
In 2016, The Federalist wrote about Tyson’s use of scientific credentials as a means to conflate his opinions with fact: “When you insist that facts and evidence speak for themselves, it has a funny way of silencing everyone else. As one intrepid Twitter user replied to Tyson’s initial tweet, ‘Convenient how the “evidence” always seems to line up with Tyson’s personal beliefs.’”
The discussion on the PBD podcast suggests Tyson’s habit of claiming the scientific high ground to overrule other viewpoints is still present six years later. But Bet-David was able to make some points Tyson could not brush away.
Talking about the controversial COVID vaccine, Bet-David asked, “Is it fair to say that some of the side effects we may not know for five, 10, 15, 20 years? They can’t say, ‘We know 100 percent of the side effects 10 years from now.’ How are you going to know that?”
Tyson was forced to admit, “Yeah, OK, so no, of course we can’t know that.”
At another point, when Bet-David pointed out that not all scientists agreed that the vaccine worked, Tyson became so flustered that he was reduced to waving his arms and calling Bet-David “dude.” Tyson evoked a hypothetical “social contract” that meant getting vaccinated to avoid infecting others.
Bet-David responded by noting how the experts assured us the vaccines would prevent the spread of the disease. “They were wrong,” Bet-David said. Tyson shut down for a moment before starting to rationalize.
— Wittgenstein (@backtolife_2023) January 10, 2023
A large thrust of Tyson’s argument was about risk. He claimed the vaccinated were less likely to get COVID, if they did it would be less severe, and that the vaccine saved tens of millions of lives.
Tyson’s talking points reinforce the old saying that there are three types of lies: lies, damned lies and statistics. He acts as if the third type of lie is beyond reproach. The trouble with his claims can be summed up in a recent tweet, using statistics from Alberta, Canada.
According to the tweet, what the numbers from July actually showed was that only 18 percent of hospitalized COVID patients in Alberta were unvaccinated. The largest portion of hospitalized patients — 50.93 percent — were triple-vaccinated.
The Twitter user noted that the COVID figures are no longer being released, as they do not support the narrative.
You’re totally right.
They aren’t even releasing the stats in vax and unvaxed since the summer because there’s no benefit to the shots. Alberta’s stats show that.
18% are unvaxed in AB. In July, of those hospitalized with covid, 18% were unvaxed. pic.twitter.com/wcTv2H2gAB
— Nicole’s_in_AB_#TrudeauMustGo (@Zone3Garden) January 10, 2023
The tweet was in response to another commentator who accurately stated, “It’s like how they’re trying to sell us on the idea of how many million lives were saved by the jab. There’s absolutely no way to know that. None whatsoever. It’s entirely speculation.”
Not the Bee provided a helpful list of those who now contradict Tyson’s claim that the vaccine prevents the spread of COVID: the Mayo Clinic, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Scientific American and White House official Dr. Deborah Birx.
The Biden administration was forced to retreat on vaccine mandates for the military. Jimmy Fallon was mocked for trying to hype the latest COVID variant. There are increasing calls for accountability for the way the pandemic and vaccines were handled.
The science and politics of COVID have changed since Tyson staked his partisan position. A good scientist would have observed this.
Scientists should form their hypotheses based on the facts observed, not try to skew the facts to fit pre-existing conclusions.
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