## Neil deGrasse Tyson doing a disservice

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### Neil deGrasse Tyson doing a disservice

I was listening to a Joe Rogan podcast from a few days ago. This one has Neil DeGrasse Tyson, who I genuinely love, and so this made me genuinely sad:

I don't know how many people know this, but often it's mindblowing when you learn, that some infinities are bigger than others. [...] The number of counting numbers...so 1, 2, 3, up to infinity...the numbers you would use to count things, that's infinite. The number of irrational numbers...so the numbers you cannot represent as a fraction, okay, there are more of those than there are counting numbers, by far. So these are orders of infinity. Then there are more transcendental numbers than there are irrational numbers. So that's a number you'll never find as a solution to an algebraic equation. So pi is a transcendental number. e is a transcendental number. These are magic numbers that show up in mathematics. And it turns out there's an even bigger infinity of those than there is of these other two classes of numbers. And they use the Hebrew letter aleph in ranking. So it's aleph-1, aleph-2, aleph-3, aleph-4. I think there are five levels of infinity.

This is mostly confused and wrong, and something that Tyson hasn't, as he's claimed, learned: there are not more transcendental numbers than irrational numbers. The transcendental numbers are not magic numbers that show up in maths. And there are not a mere five alephs (there are more alephs than we have an aleph to measure).

Why is Tyson venturing into territory where he is ignorant in his capacity as a science communicator? I really like the guy, but it just leaves me wondering how often he is overstepping the bounds of his expertise. If I read his popular science work, how do I distinguish the bits where he's talking competently and the bits where he's got it completely wrong because he doesn't even have a bachelor's level understanding of a topic? It breaks a bond of trust I expect from a science communicator, and makes me ever more reluctant to trust claims from popularisers of science. I dare say, it makes me feel suspicious of self-proclaimed "experts".

I'd level this criticism at Lawrence Krauss as well. I consider it pretty irresponsible coming from people who are presenting as the public face of science.

Go to 17m50.
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VazScep
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### Re: Neil deGrasse Tyson doing a disservice

Wow. That's silly. I'll let him off though, because I do genuinely love him and his work.

Thommo

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### Re: Neil deGrasse Tyson doing a disservice

Meh. He's still more knowledgeable than the average person on most of the subjects he's likely to be talking about. Even where he's flat out wrong he's inspiring people to look deeper for themselves. And he'd be the first to admit and be delighted to learn when he is wrong. That attitude is far more important than one of lecturing from a narrow point of expertise. If people were limited to only talk about things they were sure of, no scientist would ever say anything. And it's silly to listen to a science communicator and take their words for gospel anyway.
[Disclaimer - if this is comes across like I think I know what I'm talking about, I want to make it clear that I don't. I'm just trying to get my thoughts down]

minininja

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### Re: Neil deGrasse Tyson doing a disservice

minininja wrote:Meh. He's still more knowledgeable than the average person on most of the subjects he's likely to be talking about. Even where he's flat out wrong he's inspiring people to look deeper for themselves. And he'd be the first to admit and be delighted to learn when he is wrong. That attitude is far more important than one of lecturing from a narrow point of expertise. If people were limited to only talk about things they were sure of, no scientist would ever say anything. And it's silly to listen to a science communicator and take their words for gospel anyway.
Okay. So we don't take his words as gospel. How do we take his words then? How many people who listened to that podcast are going to go off and learn the subtleties of transfinite set theory? How many people are instead going to repeat the utter gibberish he himself seems to have acquired and pass it on as "mind-blowing" that there are more numbers like pi than there are irrational numbers?

I mention Krauss, because he was one of those contributing to the utter nonsense that 1 + 2 + 3 + ... = -1/12. People tell me this today. They take it as gospel, because they're never going to actually go away and learn about the subtleties of analytic extensions of complex functions.
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### Re: Neil deGrasse Tyson doing a disservice

- Pam.
- Yes?
- Get off the Pope.

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### Re: Neil deGrasse Tyson doing a disservice

On his tweets, I do wish he'd go back to nitpicking sci-fi films. I love that.

But that said, Rogan asks him why these sci-fi films get stuff wrong when they can easily employ an actual scientist as a consultant on the film, and I couldn't help remembering the director's commentary (fuck, I used to watch director's commentaries) of Sunshine. Brian Cox was the scientific consultant on that film, and in the commentary, he took some time to explain that stuff doesn't instantly freeze when exposed to the vacuum of space, even in the shade of the sun. Cox said he'd told Boyle that this didn't happen, but acquiesced for artistic licence.
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### Re: Neil deGrasse Tyson doing a disservice

That is a bit disappointing, that's pretty basic stuff, though l think you could let the 'magic' thing slide as a bit of hyperbole. Krausse goes around repeating that every atom or molecule in your body was made in a star. But something like 17% by mass is hydrogen, and that was created earlier than any star. And we have some lithium as well and much, some???, of that is from those early times also.

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### Re: Neil deGrasse Tyson doing a disservice

Does Tyson still repeat that myth about the soace oen, or has he taken the correction?
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### Re: Neil deGrasse Tyson doing a disservice

Hey, at least he didn't write a whole book about his mistake. That Harris guy did.
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### Re: Neil deGrasse Tyson doing a disservice

Tyson will study something with half his attention and then build a story around it. Which is usually entertaining but not always accurate.

Most his misinformation is harmless. For example, being confused on the cardinality of infinite sets doesn't do the average Joe Rogan listener any harm.

But sometimes he uses his garbled memory, incomplete understanding and vivid imagination to slam an individual or group. Then it's serious.

I've compiled a list of Tyson screw ups. His thing is over simplified pop science and history, often wrong.
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### Re: Neil deGrasse Tyson doing a disservice

He was (and perhaps still is?) adamant in his non-atheistic agnosticism.
"Respect for personal beliefs = "I am going to tell you all what I think of YOU, but don't dare retort and tell what you think of ME because...it's my personal belief". Hmm. A bully's charter and no mistake."

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### Re: Neil deGrasse Tyson doing a disservice

Thomas Eshuis wrote:He was (and perhaps still is?) adamant in his non-atheistic agnosticism.
That identity stuff I can easily forgive. This forum has had stupidly long threads fighting over what words we should be calling ourselves, and at the end of the day, we're arguing over who should get to write the next dictionary entry, not figuring anything out.

My understanding is that "agnostic" better reflects my position than "atheist" as originally intended, in that "agnosticism" in Huxley's formulation was supposed to be a broad scepticism of metaphysics. The main beef I've had with atheists over my years on the internets is in their credence of metaphysical discourse.
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### Re: Neil deGrasse Tyson doing a disservice

minininja wrote:And he'd be the first to admit and be delighted to learn when he is wrong.

Not always. It took some arm twisting to get him to admit he delivered a false account of Bush's response to 9-11. And Tyson certainly wasn't delighted to make this admission.

His screwing up the cardinality of different infinite sets isn't an isolated incident. He is often delivering bad history, math and science.

I do agree with him that the U.S. is becoming clueless in math and science. If we had a clue, we wouldn't be putting him on a pedestal.
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### Re: Neil deGrasse Tyson doing a disservice

VazScep wrote:On his tweets, I do wish he'd go back to nitpicking sci-fi films. I love that.

But that said, Rogan asks him why these sci-fi films get stuff wrong when they can easily employ an actual scientist as a consultant on the film, and I couldn't help remembering the director's commentary (fuck, I used to watch director's commentaries) of Sunshine. Brian Cox was the scientific consultant on that film, and in the commentary, he took some time to explain that stuff doesn't instantly freeze when exposed to the vacuum of space, even in the shade of the sun. Cox said he'd told Boyle that this didn't happen, but acquiesced for artistic licence.

Yeah, that's pretty much it. No director worth their salt is ever going to let science get in the way of a good story or their favourite special effects. Besides, even the best scientists are human beings and will lack the sheer breadth of knowledge in different fields to get every last detail right.

If you ever want a film where the scientific consultant mostly got his own way you could try watching Interstellar. I wouldn't especially recommend it.

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### Re: Neil deGrasse Tyson doing a disservice

The idea of different / bigger types of infinity is nothing strange, I'm not sure what the OP is objecting against.

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### Re: Neil deGrasse Tyson doing a disservice

VazScep wrote:
Thomas Eshuis wrote:He was (and perhaps still is?) adamant in his non-atheistic agnosticism.
That identity stuff I can easily forgive. This forum has had stupidly long threads fighting over what words we should be calling ourselves, and at the end of the day, we're arguing over who should get to write the next dictionary entry, not figuring anything out.

My understanding is that "agnostic" better reflects my position than "atheist" as originally intended, in that "agnosticism" in Huxley's formulation was supposed to be a broad scepticism of metaphysics. The main beef I've had with atheists over my years on the internets is in their credence of metaphysical discourse.

But, since atheism isn't about metaphysics, I fail to see how that makes agnosticism is better. Especially since the two are not mutually exclusive. Not even Huxeley's formulation as that relies/d on a straw-man of atheism.
"Respect for personal beliefs = "I am going to tell you all what I think of YOU, but don't dare retort and tell what you think of ME because...it's my personal belief". Hmm. A bully's charter and no mistake."

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### Re: Neil deGrasse Tyson doing a disservice

Matt_B wrote:If you ever want a film where the scientific consultant mostly got his own way you could try watching Interstellar. I wouldn't especially recommend it.
Ack. I really love that film.
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### Re: Neil deGrasse Tyson doing a disservice

JoeB wrote:The idea of different / bigger types of infinity is nothing strange, I'm not sure what the OP is objecting against.
Did you read it?
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### Re: Neil deGrasse Tyson doing a disservice

VazScep wrote:On his tweets, I do wish he'd go back to nitpicking sci-fi films. I love that.

I wish he'd fact check his own trailer for The Martian. He has Hermes departing from Low Earth Orbit (LEO) and arriving in Mars orbit 124 days later. The problem is ion propelled craft really suck at climbing in and out of planetary gravity wells. Hermes does 2 mm/s^2 acceleration. It would take more than 40 days to spiral out of earth's gravity well from LEO. That alone completely wrecks Andy Weir's 124 day trajectory. And then Hermes would take another two weeks to spiral down to Low Mars Orbit (LMO).

Moreover, most the slow spiral out of earth's gravity well would be through the Van Allen belts. This route would cook the astronauts.

Neil read this and responded with comments on my Fact Checking Neil deGrasse Tyson blog post. His defense? He didn't write the script for that trailer. Still, you think he would've blown the whistle on the bad science seeing that he was the star of that clip.

And even though he knows about it, he hasn't lifted a finger to correct the misinformation in that trailer. He hounded Cameron incessantly until the night skies in Titanic were corrected. Tyson should attempt to get the word out the LEO is a horrible place to harbour an interplanetary ion propelled craft. EML2 is a much better location for this sort of vehicle.
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### Re: Neil deGrasse Tyson doing a disservice

JoeB wrote:The idea of different / bigger types of infinity is nothing strange, I'm not sure what the OP is objecting against.

The OP is very familiar with the subject area (as are a number of other mathematicians on the boards). The objection is to the numerous false statements Tyson made.

I don't know how many people know this, but often it's mindblowing when you learn, that some infinities are bigger than others. [...] The number of counting numbers...so 1, 2, 3, up to infinity...the numbers you would use to count things, that's infinite. The number of irrational numbers...so the numbers you cannot represent as a fraction, okay, there are more of those than there are counting numbers, by far. So these are orders of infinity. Then there are more transcendental numbers than there are irrational numbers[1]. So that's a number you'll never find as a solution to an algebraic equation. So pi is a transcendental number. e is a transcendental number. These are magic numbers that show up in mathematics. And it turns out there's an even bigger infinity of those than there is of these other two classes of numbers[2]. And they use the Hebrew letter aleph in ranking. So it's aleph-1, aleph-2, aleph-3, aleph-4. I think there are five levels of infinity.[3]

So throughout this Tyson is speaking informally, and well outside his area of expertise. He's actually talking about the cardinality of numbers in standard set theory with the Axiom of Choice.

[1] The transcendentals are a strict subset of the irrationals. There cannot possibly be more transcendentals than irrationals because every transcendental is an irrational.
[2] In fact both sets have the same cardinality. https://www.quora.com/What-is-the-cardi ... al-numbers
[3] There are infinitely many. There are infinitely many infinitely manies of levels of infinity. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cardinal_number

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