Evolution, the New Cosmos, and the Continued Need for Public Broadcasting (Retracted)

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Tod Kelly

Tod is a writer from the Pacific Northwest. He is also serves as Executive Producer and host of both the 7 Deadly Sins Show at Portland's historic Mission Theatre and 7DS: Pants On Fire! at the White Eagle Hotel & Saloon. He is  a regular inactive for Marie Claire International and the Daily Beast, and is currently writing a book on the sudden rise of exorcisms in the United States. Follow him on Twitter.

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113 Responses

  1. Avatar greginak says:

    I completely agree, of course i’m a liberal, so all this makes complete sense. Many of the best educational shows ( James Burke’s Connections series, The Ascent of Man) i’ve ever seen and will still re-watch were only broadcast on PBS.

    BTW Yes i know Burke eventually had a Connection series on TLC. That would be the TLC that now shows Honey Boo Boo or other reality shows i think. He only got on TLC because of the wide exposure his series got on PBS.Report

    • My 7th-grade science teacher introduced me to “Connections,” and I loved it. Having grown older, I have some reservations on some things Burke says. But most of those have to do with what to me is certain assumptions about non-Western cultures that crop up every once in a while. I still like the show.Report

  2. Avatar Brandon Berg says:

    How is this an argument for public broadcasting, when your other example of evolution being ignored is public schools? Why do you think that PBS wouldn’t also, in this day and age, decide that detailed coverage of evolution isn’t worth the PR backlash it would cause?Report

    • Avatar clawback in reply to Brandon Berg says:

      I agree. If the right can remove evolution from the schools, they can remove it from public television. There’s really no substitute for simply defeating them politically.Report

    • Avatar KatherineMW in reply to Brandon Berg says:

      Well, public education curricula are controlled by the individual states, which means that children in red states aren’t taught the theory of evolution. A public broadcaster would be a national entity; and unlike school curricula (which are determined by school boards, i.e.: local government), it would be arms-length from the government and able to determine its own content. In Canada, the government can’t tell CBC what to broadcast.

      They can, however, cut CBC’s funding if it broadcasts things they don’t like, and are doing so. And it’s likely that a US public broadcaster would shy away from thing that people find controversial (even factual material like the theory of evolution). So your point is a good one.Report

      • Avatar J@m3zAitch in reply to KatherineMW says:

        Well, public education curricula are controlled by the individual states, which means that children in red states aren’t taught the theory of evolution. A public broadcaster would be a national entity;

        Nationally, Republicans have controlked the House of Representatives for something like 12 of the last 20 years, the Senate for 16 of the last 32 years, and have had 4 of the last 7 presidents.Report

      • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to KatherineMW says:

        @jm3zaitch, yeah but there recent control is odd with the votes in 2012 elections. 1.4 million more people voted for the Democratic Party. With a fairer districting system and distribution of seats, the GOP would not control the House.Report

      • Lee, not exactly. Or, at least, analyses (Zic pointed to one a while back) have demonstrated that gerrymandering is not actually responsible for GOP control of the House. The GOP has a natural advantage due to settlement patters to account for the pretty small difference in vote totals.

        You might get a Democratic majority if you had statewide proportional voting or something, though.Report

      • Avatar J@m3zAitch in reply to KatherineMW says:

        @leeesq

        OK, you hold your breath while you wait for that fairer system, ’cause I ain’t gonna!Report

      • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to KatherineMW says:

        @will-truman, I didn’t say that its entirely due to gerrymandering and that lot of it has to do with natural population distribution. If the Democratic voting areas were split into smaller but more seats and the Republican voting areas larger but fewer seats than their would be a House that might more accurately reflect the vote. Unless your blindly partisan, which many people are, winning the majority of votes should get you the majority of seats.Report

      • It’s not necessarily blind partisanship. It could also be a preference for weighting representation so that, say, rural interests have more of a voice. There’s partisanship in there, of course, but I think it’s possible for one to adopt a view that working anti-majoritarian tendencies in the system is a good thing without necessarily being blindly partisan.Report

      • Unless your blindly partisan, which many people are, winning the majority of votes should get you the majority of seats.

        That’s rarely the case, though, in any SMD system. There is almost always going to be a margin of error (though it’s not error). Arguably, the spread of the Democratic vote total in 2012 was thin enough to be within said margin. (That the Republican margin in the house is as large as it is is a problem, though, because that was deliberate.)

        I’m not sure how what you propose – drawing districts with an eye towards particular results – is markedly different from other forms of gerrymandering. Ideally, in my mind, you want congressional districts to represent places rather than specific results. Otherwise, you might as well just go to a statewide proportional representation system. Or a nation-wide one. (Which some people advocate, though I have mixed feelings about)Report

      • Avatar Rod in reply to KatherineMW says:

        @pierre-corneille , building in a sort of anti-majoritarian bias in the form of, for example, requirements for super-majorities for certain classes of decisions is all well and fine. But what we have now are structural advantages in both the House and Senate that accrue to a particular constituency and, by extension, a particular political party regardless of which side holds the majority overall.

        Do you imagine that somehow this structural advantage (the part not due to gerrymandering) would magically shift to favor the Democrats if/when the Republicans hold an overall majority? And just exactly why should Democrats/lefties be satisfied with this state of affairs?Report

      • Avatar Trumwill in reply to KatherineMW says:

        The anti-majoritarian nature of the House is a bug. It certainly wasn’t meant to be that way. But – aside from gerrymandering – it’s the product of where we have collectively decided to live. I do understand the frustration, though.

        The Senate is another matter, of course. Which benefits lower-population states of either color and that was very deliberately counter-majoritarian. It does hand an aggregate benefit to the GOP, though at the moment the advantage is less pronounced than most people think.Report

      • Avatar Rod in reply to KatherineMW says:

        But the real point, @will-truman , is that the situation in the house isn’t really anti-majoritarian. It only sort of looks that way right now because right now Democrats enjoy a slight majority status nation-wide. Let the electorate shift a few points in the direction of Republicans and you could no longer make that claim. It’s really just a bias towards rural interests and Republicans, neither of which I can comprehend a principled justification for.Report

      • Like I said, it’s a bug and it’s accidental. So, no, it’s not justified by principle but by circumstance and possibly by a lack of superior substitute. It’s antimajoritarian now, though as you point out that is subject to change.Report

      • Avatar Rod in reply to KatherineMW says:

        It’s worse than that, Will. Kansas is about as red as states get, yet the actual R/D split statewide is around 60/40, maybe 65/35. A proportional split of House reps would be 3/1 or 2/2, depending. Not long ago our delegation was 3/1 with a relatively urban district near KC sending a Democrat. Not no more! So how exactly is leveraging a 60/40 split to 4/0 representation anti-majoritarian, even accidentally? Looks like the exact opposite to me.Report

      • Talking about the non gerrymandering part.Report

      • @rod

        My point was against the “blindly partisan” part of what Lee wrote. I think one can support non-majoritarian outcomes without being “blindly partisan.”

        I agree with what Will has said here in this subthread as well, although I hadn’t thought of it in the same way. But what I had intended in my original comment you were responding to was to push back against what I saw as a statement that only “blindly partisan” people could disagree.Report

      • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to KatherineMW says:

        @pierre-corneille, blind partisanship does not necessarily have to take the form of preferring one political party over another. A person that desires an electoral system that favors rural interests having a vastly disproportionate vote is also being blindly partisan in that they are saying that rural interests deserve 40% of the influence even though the rural population might only be 15%. Considering voting patterns, favoring over representation of rural interests is effectively being a partisan Republican as well.Report

      • Whether support for unequal representation breaks down into “blind partisanship” depends, at least in part, on the merits of the case that is being made.

        For example, I think there are arguments in favor of the US Senate that are not blindly partisan even if the structure of the senate generally favors Republicans. @michael-cain has made such an argument, and his sympathies don’t especially line up with the GOP.

        On the other hand, it seems to me to take blind partisanship to support some of the Republican proposals to give electoral votes by congessional district. I can’t think of non-partisan, rational reasons for it, never mind actually agree with them.

        In the case of the house, I think the arguments in favor of a slight skew away from the cities can be justified as part of the argument against statewide multi-member districts. Or an argument against corrective gerrymandering to draw district lines with a partisan result in mind. Not that it makes it good that there is a partisan skew, but that the partisan skew is a negative consequence of something that is better than the alternatives.Report

    • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to Brandon Berg says:

      Because of its funding structure, PBS is somewhat more immunized from these sorts of pressure than more commercial television. They might buckle like Fox and National Geographic did but they might not. Its a sort of mixed bag.Report

      • Avatar Kolohe in reply to LeeEsq says:

        I’ll say this again. The premise that the Cosmos folks and their broadcasters buckled is not in evidence, and is contradicted by a heaping mound of other evidence. They almost literally poke the spectrum of creationist thought in the eye in the second episode.Report

    • Avatar Tod Kelly in reply to Brandon Berg says:

      @brandon-berg @clawback @pierre-corneille

      “Why do you think that PBS wouldn’t also, in this day and age, decide that detailed coverage of evolution isn’t worth the PR backlash it would cause?”

      I’m going to guess that you don’t consume a lot of public radio and television, because if you did I think you’d realize the answer to your question is because they already do.

      Science Friday deals with the subject all the time. Until it went off the air recently (not for being controversial) it’s parent show Talk of the Nation frequently had on biologist who had recently published papers or books that dealt with evolution; so to do show like Innovation Hub, The Takeaway, Here and Now, and a ton of others. NOVA deals with the topic of evolution constantlye, as does all of public broadcasting’s other science shows like Radio Lab, and Quest, Secret Life of Scientists, the Science Guy and Your Inner Fish.

      Hell, they produce entire specials about how evolution is science and what’s being pitched by politicians as “the controversy” isn’t, like Flock of Dodos, Intelligent Design on Trial, and The Battle Over the Meaning of Everything.

      And that’s not even mentioning it’s eight-hour science education mini-series that’s actually called Evolution.Report

      • Tod,

        Good point and although I do watch quite a bit of PBS, I apparently don’t watch enough, or I’d recognize more of the examples you mention. For the record, I’m not really saying that PBS is subject to the exact same pressures as, say, network television is. Instead, I’m saying that it could potentially be subject to similar pressures.

        Evidently it’s not, however, from your examples and from what Lee says elsewhere that PBS seems in some ways more immunized.Report

      • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Tod Kelly says:

        I had the same question as BB, and though your examples are good reasons to expect that this wouldn’t have happened if PBS had produced the Cosmos reboot (and thus do answer his question), I still find myself wondering whether the kind of attention to this production, which would have been much greater than to Science Friday or the evolution program you mention that I hadn’t heard of, wouldn’t have produced the same pressures, and possibly ultimately a similar result. For example, I’m not totally sure you’re right that NOVA still does deal with evolution in depth (i.e. doing more than what you’re criticizing the new Cosmos for doing) as much as it used to. I don’t watch a ton, but I watch some. I don;t remember much looking at evolution in depth recently.

        Also, as Shazbot suggests, if it turned out this problem had occurred in a PBS proaction, it would be exactly the kind of content decision that those whom you have such contempt for for their criticism of public broadcasting at least believe themselves to be responding to. Though to be sure, I agree that calls to stop financially supporting public broadcasting hurt journalism on net. At the same time, I also understand signaling dissatisfaction with an editorial direction you disagree with by suspending support and publicly stating the reason for it. Whether it’s reasonable comes down to the specifics of how we feel about the decisions actually being responded to – and I agree with you on the specifics of whatever public broadcasting might be said to be doing wrong at the present moment. Suspending one’s support on the basis of left/progressive dissatisfaction with the content seems over the top to me, too. But to the extent that the issue is just their voicing criticism of those decisions, I don’t see what the problem is as much. I’d be curious to know exactly what pieces of advocacy you’ve seen that led you to this attitude about people expressing dissatisfaction with certain tendencies in public broadcasting.Report

      • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Tod Kelly says:

        …Perusing the NOVA website, I see plenty on evolution, so, with relief, retract that example.Report

  3. Avatar Stillwater says:

    The Sooner State’s House, by the way, just passed a bill that would make it illegal for school administrators to prevent science teachers from telling kids that evolution is a no more scientifically valid or accepted than creationism.

    My wife and I were talking about the latest controversy about The Cosmos and how the religionists are demanding equal afor their views.Report

  4. Avatar Brandon Berg says:

    The nuances of the theory, the way that it has been proven over time in a number of fields, the fascinating variances that evolutionary biologist still disagree over, all of this is left on the cutting room floor. Which is why most young adults today who have taken high school biology, when asked, will tell you without embarrassment that evolutions is a theory that says that people came from monkeys. And why when they are presented with bogus pseudo-science from the fundamentalist crowd, they have nothing of substance inside their head to make valid counter-arguments.

    Eh…while I agree with the point you’re trying to make here, I would argue that the main reason most people can’t do these things is that most people don’t remember the vast majority of what they were taught in school, the exceptions being that small subset that they continue to use on a regular basis.Report

    • I agree. I think there are relatively few topics that students are able to provide a valid defense for. If an otherwise brilliant student did only know that bit about evolution, that would be sad, but brilliant students are the ones who are reading books outside of their regular coursework anyway.Report

  5. This thread might become a discussion of evolution and how it’s taught in schools, and it might become a discussion of Mr. Tyson, whose shows, public speeches, and what I consider to be his scientism turns me off.

    Having gotten that drive-by about Mr. Tyson out of the way, I’ll say that I think I can pretty much sign on to Tod’s argument, although @brandon-berg raises what I think is a pretty good point. We don’t necessarily have much assurance that public tv will do any better. My only answer–and it is at best just a partial answer–to Brandon is that PBS has a different constituency and different sources of funding and therefore different incentives in deciding how or whether its shows discuss evolution or other things not desired by the aggregation of market choices.

    On some level, this leads me to come down on the side of NewDealer and others who argue for public funding for things that maybe a majority of people don’t patronize. For some reason–and the reason is probably my own self-interested hypocrisy–I have a hard time signing on to robust funding of museums*, but I have a much easier time signing on to more funding for PBS and for public libraries. In part, that’s because I think they are more accessible and are so on a more enduring basis than museums are.** But in part, it’s probably also because I use those services more.

    *”Robust” here does a lot of work. I don’t want public funding for museums abolished and I think on some level it’s necessary and desirable. I just don’t think the “pro” argument is as obvious or unproblematic as some of those who advance it seem to think.

    **I imagine that for most people, a trip to the museum is a yearly–if that frequent–excursion, while tuning in to PBS or going to the library happen much more often for a larger number of people.Report

    • I’ve seen the word “scientism” before and while the pejorative connotation is clear, the definition is not. Can you help me here?Report

      • That’s a fair question because I use that word a lot and I mean it pejoratively. And I don’t have a precise definition. Here’s is part of what I mean:

        Scientism includes any of the following. One, the belief that all questions can be addressed using the scientific method. Two, the appeal to science as the final arbiter of things that science cannot resolve. Three, the willingness to deny that anyone who questions something uttered or stated in the name of science can do so legitimately. I see number three as more of the type of thing that is done by people who already have scientific credentials (say a graduate degree) done against those who haven’t such credentials, or a way of saying that only certified scientists can question what other scientists say.

        I can see many holes in what I just wrote, and I’m not sure how that definition stands up as a definition. It might even be a straw man.

        And it’s possible that I’m being unfair to Mr. Tyson. All I’ve really seen of him is two brief snippets of larger presentations he gave on TV. One was aired on some cable channel back when I had cable. In the snippet I saw, he seemed to state that the only reason people ever would believe in god is to explain what science has not yet explained, a “god of the gaps” argument that is true of many believers but not the only argument for god.

        The second is an interview he gave to Charlie Rose recently in which he said that people need to be scientifically literate because in a democratic society, we need to be able to evaluate the decisions of policymakers. That second example is actually a counterexample because it doesn’t really fit my definition of scientism and it strikes me as actually a defensible assertion in favor of scientific literacy. It just seems too simplistic (the argument that science education needs more money because otherwise policymakers will do unscientific things.)

        I’ll state that what I saw were only snippets of larger presentations. I did not even see the rest of either to judge them properly. So perhaps I’m off base.

        Anyway, that’s my working definition. I do realize I get more punchy on this issue than I have a right to be. And perhaps I should just avoid throwing that word around and instead criticize whomever based on whatever they say.Report

      • Avatar Burt Likko in reply to Burt Likko says:

        I appreciate that very much, @pierre-corneille . In this context, I think it’s a bit inappropriate since Tyson speaks in the series only of scientific matters, so appealing to scientific thinking and the collected achievements of science seems appropriate. In other contexts, science is probably not particularly relevant: beauty is the example I use in discussions of this nature. Science can tell us about symmetry and pattern recognition and such, but while that’s helpful, it can’t get down to the essence of why we find something beautiful.Report

    • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Pierre Corneille says:

      Pierre,

      This thread might become a discussion of evolution and how it’s taught in schools,

      That was actually the topic of my earlier non-existent comment. I think there’s actually a pretty dicey set of issues in play here, particularly with respect to the OK law effectively permitting school boards and administrators to include competing (mythologically-based) theories about the human origins and climate-science and etc. In particular, the way I read the OK bill, it specifically applies to religiously-based theories like young earth creationism and would permit including that theory in science classes. Of course, for those of us on the outside looking in, that’s a huge category mistake, but from the pov of a Real Believer the science (and The Scientists!) are flat out wrong about an important topic necessary to understanding the world correctly.

      It seems to me a disservice to kids (but not Christian YEC-type kids) to present these competing theories in the context of an education (since its the opposite of education as that word is standardly understood), but the politics of the issue fuzzies-up what would otherwise be clear distinctions to separate the two types of learning.Report

  6. Tod,

    I’m curious about your parting parenthetical. What are you referring to in particular? (That is, if you have the time to answer my question. If not, no need. I’m just not familiar with what you’re talking about.)Report

    • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Pierre Corneille says:

      That’s Tod getting all ideological on us, Pierre, looking for evidence to fit a theory. It’s not too different from a typical young earth creationist who searches for “scientific evidence” that the theory of evolution is a liberal myth.Report

  7. Avatar Mike Schilling says:

    Darwin’s landmark theory

    Which is fascinating. For instance, he demonstrated that in a few million years, Mt. Rushmore will evolve into something resembling Stonehenge.Report

  8. Avatar Mike Schilling says:

    the missing fifteen seconds was due to accidental operator error.

    Just like the 60 Minutes segment about how former governor Don Siegleman was railroaded by the Bush Administration was “accidentally” blocked in parts of Alabama.Report

  9. Avatar Shazbot3 says:

    (Oh, and by the way — after having read about the cutting of evolution from the new Cosmos, liberal bloggers who spend their time trying to convince readers that public broadcasting should be treated with scorn and derision for being a bunch of “tote-baggers” just because public broadcasting occasionally hires people who aren’t them can officially kiss my ass. They’re just as responsible for every economic death-nail public TV and radio gets these days as the fundamentalist crowd.)

    The whole idea behind the criticism of “tote baggers” is that many public broadcasters and a portion of their audiences are too deferential to right wing interests and too willing to aim at a faux centrism that makes a lot of “BSDI” claims and pretends David Brooks is correct and interesting. They are your ally in criticizng the failure of public broadcasters to not call anyone who doesn’t believe in evolution a moron or liar.

    But yeah, somehow the left is at fault. Punch those hippies. BSDI.Report

    • Avatar Tod Kelly in reply to Shazbot3 says:

      “The whole idea behind the criticism of “tote baggers” is that many public broadcasters and a portion of their audiences are too deferential to right wing interests and too willing to aim at a faux centrism that makes a lot of “BSDI” claims and pretends David Brooks is correct and interesting. ”

      Oh, I ‘m sorry. I hadn’t realized the reason we should stop supporting one of the last vehicles for actual quality journalism in this country is that some of its shows hire people you disagree with. You’re right, that’s totally different than the reason the right wants me to stop supporting it.Report

      • Avatar J@m3zAitch in reply to Tod Kelly says:

        I don’t think you understand, Tod. Everything’s totes illegitimate unless it’s strictly in line with my minority group’s particular views. And that ain’t nuthin’ like the right wing at all.Report

      • Avatar clawback in reply to Tod Kelly says:

        Who among liberals is advocating defunding public broadcasting? Or is criticizing some of its content exactly like the right defunding it?Report

      • Avatar Shazbot3 in reply to Tod Kelly says:

        The phrase “stop supporting” is hopelessly vague here. A criticism is and isn’t an absence of support in the same sense that advocating the murder of Big Bird is an absence of support.

        I support public tv and radio. (Have given money.) But also am heavily critical of the (not always present) faux attempt to give credence to rigjt wing positions on issues where the right is clearly wrong.

        I love Frontline, but they did an episode on Rhee and ed. reform that I wuld happily criticize as totebagger bate and/or crud.

        Public media can be both the best available mass media and still deeply flawed. That is what the left believes: it should be supported and improved.Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Tod Kelly says:

        That’s “tote bags illegitimate”.Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Tod Kelly says:

        “My kids watch a lot of PBS. They don’t know much about science or history, but, man, can they cook!”Report

      • Avatar J@m3z Aitch in reply to Tod Kelly says:

        That’s “tote bags illegitimate”.

        Dammit, I tried to think up a line like that. I’m going to hire you to humor edit all comments.Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Tod Kelly says:

        OK, but I want a 20% raise plus maternity leave.Report

      • Avatar J@m3z Aitch in reply to Tod Kelly says:

        I can’t do that, but I will let you start next year and begin with a semester off.Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Tod Kelly says:

        Spaulding: What do you fellows get an hour?

        Ravelli: Oh, for playing we get ten dollars an hour.

        Spaulding: I see…What do you get for not playing?

        Ravelli: Twelve dollars an hour. Now, for rehearsing we make special rate. That’s fifteen dollars an hour.

        Spaulding: And what do you get for not rehearsing?

        Ravelli: You couldn’t afford it.Report

      • @shazbot3

        I think I actually agree with you here, or at least can meet you part way. I do think that, for example, the PBS Newshour has a not always admirable tendency to take a controversy, say that there are two sides, and then interview each side as if they were completely legitimate views. That’s probably a good approach to many, even most issues, but when it comes to things like torture memos, I have to agree that the Newshour is sometimes guilty of it. And Shields and Brooks point and counterpoint is also an example of this. I suppose that type of thing is inherent in the point/counterpoint format, so if one accepts that such a segment is legitimate–and seeing that it’s only once a week, I’m not going to complain too much–I’m inclined to be more forgiving.

        I’d cut Frontline some slack on that score, however, because it is usually making an argument that aligns–again, usually–with what can be called the “left” (or at least “liberal”) position. So giving the other side an opportunity to speak is just being responsible journalism because Frontline ends up–thrice again, usually–critiquing that response. I can’t speak much to the Rhee episode. I saw it, but don’t remember it well enough. So you may be right there.

        Where I think I might disagree would be the following hypothetical, which being hypothetical, is resting on facts not in evidence. Suppose that PBS had a counterpoint to Cosmos. Let’s say it’s a counterpoint to Sagan’s Cosmos (because I haven’t watched Tyson’s). Let’s say this counterpoint does not engage in pseudo-science like Young Earth Creationism, but instead offers a critique of Sagan’s materialistic view of the universe, a critique to the effect of he unfairly baits non-empiricists–or “idealists” as I believe he called them in one episode–as the anti-science killjoys who set us back centuries and almost ruined it for everyone. If PBS offered such a program (again, this is hypothetical….if it has or does, I don’t know about it), I think it would be appropriate.

        Or if PBS offered a program that looked into the culture from which Young Earth Creationism comes with a stance that’s more sympathetic than “these people are nuts,” I think such a program would also be appropriate. That point of view as well as the hypothetical counterpoint to Sagan’s Cosmos is, in my opinion, something that also needs to be presented and grappled with. And PBS is as good forum as any to offer it.

        As I pointed out in my comment to Tod’s comment to me above, it’s possible I just don’t watch PBS enough to know the counterexamples. There may already be shows like that

        I make no comment here about Tod’s apparent claim that lefitsts bear some responsibility for the reaction against PBS because I’m not particularly familiar with the leftist critique. If he wishes to explain it, I’m all ears. (And yes, after rethinking my “q.e.d.” comment to you, I think that was inappropriate. I apologize.)Report

  10. Avatar Mike Schilling says:

    My kids were both taught evolutionary biology in great depth (i.e, I learned more from talking to them than vice versa.) Of course, they both went to Catholic schools.Report

  11. Avatar Kolohe says:

    “But due to the demands of the market, Tyson was unable to devote much time at all to the subject on network television”

    [citation needed]

    How do you know that this was not a aesthetic choice, but one of ‘customer demand’? Besides the entire 2nd episode is pretty much dedicated to evolution.

    Tyson and the producers are quite explicit on their views regarding evolution and climate change – hitting the audience over the head with it, frankly. It’s makes Sagan peacenik hippie nuclear freeze advocacy look subtle. The entire Giordano Bruno story is presented as a battle between Good Science and Bad Religion – when it really wasn’t. (It was a story about a guy with unorthodox religious views against Bad Religion and Bad Government – which doesn’t make the Catholic Church look any better, but it wasn’t about science *at all*)

    And I agree with what was said above in the comments, that the free market is going to better provide a minority opinion than a government run organization subject to direct political pressure.

    (If there’s one thing that showing this on commercial television has downgraded, it’s that the editing has been horrible at taking commercial breaks into account).Report

    • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to Kolohe says:

      There is no evidence that the free market will “better provide a minority opinion than a government run organization.” Free markets will provide whatever the owners and investors think will make them the most money. Minorities and minority opinions frequently feel under-served by the free market in television, which mainly seems to cater to Reality TV and sports fans first and foremost. During the first part of television history, BBC was much more daring in what they showed than American television.

      What provides for minority opinion is not the free market or government funding but immunity from both commercial and political pressures.Report

    • Avatar Murali in reply to Kolohe says:

      @kolohe

      I thought it fairly self evident that a free market in ideas is going to underperform in cases where the truth or goodness of a given idea comes apart from whether it feels good or true. People consume the latter, and in things like evolution, global warming and economics, there are plenty of features that cause our mental heuristics (which are mostly reliable for navigating small hunter gatherer societies) to fail badly.Report

      • Avatar Burt Likko in reply to Murali says:

        +1.

        Democracy is good at some things. Science is not on that list.Report

      • Avatar J@m3z Aitch in reply to Murali says:

        Sure. For most people the utility of an idea is not in its empirical truth value, but in its congruence with and reinforcement of existing value sets. So most people “purchase” ideas on the open market of ideas for reasons other than their empirical accuracy.Report

      • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Murali says:

        @burt-likko

        @murali ‘s point was explicitly about markets. So in your +1, why does the system under examination become democracy? You might be even more right to make that claim than Murali is to make his, but they’re different claims.Report

      • Avatar Burt Likko in reply to Murali says:

        Technically that’s true, @michael-drew , but the connectedness between a free market of ideas and a (western-style, liberal) democracy seems obvious enough to me. Yes, one might exist in a situation where the other is absent, but most of the time, you’d expect to encounter them in tandem and interrelated.

        So I’m guilty of using one concept as shorthand for the other. In this case, probably a venal sin at worst.Report

      • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Murali says:

        I’ve just been lectured enough on how democracy is only the least-worst threat to liberalism and freedom for markets that we’ve come up with so far and nothing more (but don’t say we fail to praise democracy sufficiently! – and I no longer do), a point that places markets and liberalism as a primary value and democracy as a contingent one with significant drawbacks of its own.

        So when an advocate for liberalism and markets as stout as @murali goes to the trouble of acknowledging a shortcoming of the liberal-market system itself – the primary value – I kind of prefer for the point to stay in those terms, rather than be piled on top of the raft of criticisms that advocates of liberalism and markets as primary values have for democracy as a contingent one in their service.Report

      • Avatar Brandon Berg in reply to Murali says:

        Regardless of how Murali originally made the point, it’s a criticism that applies more to democracy than to markets. While markets cater to the entire range of consumers, democracy caters to the median and ignores the tails.

        Also, he said “free market in ideas,” which is often used to refer to people choosing from a variety of ideas that are presented to them, rather than specifically to free markets in the economic sense. Maybe that is in fact what he meant, but there’s no reason to think that this is a problem that has anything to do with free markets in the libertarian sense.Report

      • Avatar Murali in reply to Murali says:

        @michael-drew

        Brandon and Burt are correct on this. I’m referring to the idea that the marketplace of ideas will eventually yield the truth. Of course this doesn’t mean that we should get governments to regulate speech, but the facts are what they are and the costs of public deliberation must be acknowledged. A standard RCT analysis of an unregulated market in ideas shows how it fails. This is an important result as it undermines a number of arguments that say that success in a free market of ideas (that is to say widespread acceptance by almost everyone outside of academic and other research institutional settings) is indicative of truth. Academic and research institutions tend to place impose standards of argumentation and evidence as well as impose norms about honesty as well as about addressing criticism. Academic publishing is also geared towards encouraging successful criticism. This does not preclude that specific research institutions may do an inadequate job with respect to the relevant norms and institutional structures.Report

      • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Murali says:

        @murali

        Understood. Thanks for the clarification.Report

    • Avatar Brandon Berg in reply to Kolohe says:

      Besides the entire 2nd episode is pretty much dedicated to evolution.

      So does that mean that this entire post is based on an incorrect premise?Report

    • Avatar Chris in reply to Kolohe says:

      I turned it off after the part about Bruno. If you get history that wrong…Report

  12. Avatar LeeEsq says:

    The continual ability of Biblical literalists to fight against the teaching of evolution in public schools and elsewhere in American life is troublesome. After the Scopes Trial, which was a publicity stunt gone very wrong, they went into the shadows for a few decades but sometimes in the 1970s emerged with full force and re-started the fight. One problem is that that public education in the United States is subject to more popular political pressure more than it is other countries. This makes the politics of public education more democratic, which I guess is a good thing, but hurts the content of education.Report

  13. Avatar Kolohe says:

    And why did the same people that are supposed to be wary of cultural & social conservative opinion decide to kick the whole thing off with a speech from President Obama?!Report

  14. Avatar NewDealer says:

    FWIW, my high school biology class covered evolution and genetics in decent detail. This was at a largely Jewish Suburban Public High School and in an area not known for Protestant Evangelism.Report

    • Avatar Will Truman in reply to NewDealer says:

      My high school did the same. A fair number of evangelicals around, though not as prominent as there are in other places. The notion of refusing to teach evolution probably would have resulted in some interesting school board elections.Report

  15. Avatar Kolohe says:

    Wait, is that the whole point? Criticizing a multi-part series based on the first episode before the entire thing has even been promulgated?

    Well played.Report

  16. Avatar J@m3zAitch says:

    most young adults today who have taken high school biology, when asked, will tell you without embarrassment that evolutions is a theory that says that people came from monkeys.

    Citation requested.Report

  17. Avatar Michael Cain says:

    I was flipping through the channels and hit the NatGeo version. Tyson went on at length about DNA’s role in coding what things are, the mechanisms for duplicating DNA when cells divide, the role of transcription errors and other mutations in creating changes in characteristics, and how the accumulation of sufficient changes leading to the creation of a new species. An explanation of how even small changes can have enough effect on how well an animal fits a particular environmental niche so that over many generations even a single transcription error may become widespread. A comment that if humans can breed so many variations on the gray wolf in a few hundred years, just imagine how far nature can go based on random variation but a billion years for changes to accumulate. IIRC, the term “evolution” was used repeatedly. The only spot I recall where one could strike 15 seconds worth and claim to be striking “evolution” was where he remarked that “This is what Charles Darwin was talking about when he wrote On the Origin of Species.”Report

  18. Avatar Jim Collins says:

    WTF?
    The whole second episode was about evolution. You mention that the second episode only mentioned it briefly for 15 seconds, which greatly confused me. Is there some distinction between “evolution by natural selection” and big-E evolution I’m missing. NDT even went out of his was to bash theories of “intelligent design” when discussing the evolution of the eye.Report

  19. Avatar Mike Schilling says:

    Kolohe seems to be onto something, because Creationists are accusing astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson’s reboot of “Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey” of being scientifically unbalanced because it doesn’t represent their beliefs..

    According to Danny Faulkner of the Creation Museum :

    “Creationists aren’t even on the radar screen for them, they wouldn’t even consider us plausible at all.”

    Mr.Tyson responded “Well, duh.” (Anyway, he should have.)Report

  20. Avatar Burt Likko says:

    Your peer group may be different than mine, @tod-kelly , for you to to perceive at variance from my perception that evolution isn’t taught in schools, but that doesn’t explain your perception at variance from mine that the second episode of Cosmos avoided the topic in any kind of forthright fashion.

    Cosmos in both its incarnations is about the wonder of science fact. It is about the beauty and joy of the real universe and the collective endeavor of discovering more about it. In my opinion, Tyson’s narrative struck exactly the right note. He began by using an easy-to-understand model of how generational changes occur, with the artificial selection of today’s myriad breed of dogs, all descended from low-adrenaline producing wolves.

    Because that was artificial rather than natural selection, he then shifted to another easy-to-understand example, the selection of white fur for bears living in iced-over regions of the world. He explained that the process is one that occurs to populations over tens of thousands of years, not individuals over single generations. Along the way he gave a direct, clear, and not-dumbed-down-but-accessible understanding of how mutations occur.

    There was even a visual, if somewhat glossed-over, explanation of the morbid mechanism by way this works, with an animation showing a prey animal leaving a trail of blood behind as it was drug off to be consumed by a successful predator.

    Tyson did a good job of explaining the idea of common ancestors and the inter connectedness of the tree of life. And he finished in what looks like a deliberate choice by himself and the writers with some self-revelation, as Tyson stated that contemplating this interconnectedness is for him a deeply spiritual experience.

    This, IMO, wonderfully accomplished the purpose of the show: to illustrate the wonder, joy, and power of the scientific endeavor, in this case, with respect to evolution and the diversity of life. I’m not sure what you found dissatisfactory about this, @tod-kelly , but I went away both pleased and understanding precisely why the science denial lobby is so very, very pissed off about the show.Report

  21. Avatar notme says:

    I thought the OP was silly for at least two reason, one, there is no proof given that a PBS station couldn’t or wouldn’t have been able to have made the series themselves. There is no proof that the decision to make it commercially had any effect on which topics and how much coverage those topics were given. There is no proof that having the series on PBS would have stopped the local PBS station from cutting the same 15 seconds.Report

    • Avatar Brandon Berg in reply to notme says:

      I would add, also, that even putting aside the fact that this series apparently does cover evolution in detail, the failure of one program on one network to cover evolution in detail hardly constitutes evidence that it can’t be left up to the free market. Unlike the government, which tells you what to like, the market produces something for everyone, and, by the same token, something for everyone to hate.Report