A few months ago, and I blogged about this, Neil DeGrasse Tyson brilliantly did the worst “Well, Actually” spiel I’d ever heard. He, with complete confidence, did a number of incredibly stupid things. Now, he has had some famous brain farts like the time he claimed nutrition science was stupid because all that was needed to lose weight was calories spent outweighing calories consumed which is not how metabolisms work. Protein burns slower than glucose which is why the Atkins Diet works. If you don’t eat sugar, the body must compensate for the lower metabolic value of the slower burning calories by burning reserves of fat. If you eat sugar, it can use most of that energy at once and it doesn’t need to compensate with burning reserve fat.
He tried to “keep it real” with a sick “well, actually” burn but those burns are only badass if they’re true. On Bill Maher’s show he demonstrated he didn’t know how nuclear bombs or human tragedy worked since he said hydrogen bombs don’t cause ionizing radiation and that they’re are other military tactics which kill comparable numbers of people so he didn’t understand what the big deal was. As he pointed out, the firebombing of Tokyo killed more people than the nuking of Hiroshima or Nagasaki. I mean, hydrogen bombs are fussion but they’re triggered by a fission bomb which definitely produces ionizing radiation and while 100,000 people died in the firebombing of Tokyo and only 80,000 died in the nuking of Hiroshima but only six people died in Romeo and Juliet, Ted Bundy only killed 35 people, and less than 3,000 died on 9/11 and they’re all comsidered tragedies. Neil didn’t know that because he was focussed on being a “well, actually” guy.
I wrote a poem called “The Society of Bold Iconoclasts” which lampooned the contrarian culture. There are some parts of academia I imagine as two hair-brained narcissists saying “I contend” with elbow patches and in transatlantic accents. Peter Higgs recently wrote in The Guardian that contemporary academics are expected to publish at a stupidly high rate and the result is what Sabine Hossenfelder (a hypocrite regarding this as her career is being a ‘Well, actually’ person who makes similiar glaring mistakes, on occasion) said about modern quantum physics. That, since real significant discoveries are rare but publications are quarterly, the academics must churn out sophistic bullshit and the easiest way to do that is to take the anti position to something that already exists. The most striking example of this was with regards to global population.
The instant the population rate started slowing, there commenced a widespread panic among academia about the slowing growth rate. They didn’t care about the absolute number people or the environment or the standard of living of people, it was just a chance to write counter papers to all of the overpopulation alarmist papers they had published earlier. What was apparent was they had no ideal number of people or ideal ratio of humans to natural resources or anything like that. They had no teleology in their panic and the best arguments they had were about economics which were insanely retarded (and they knew it) because eventually the old people outnumbering the young is going to happen. The reason they made these arguments wasn’t because they were too stupid too understand infinite economic and/or population growth is impossible and they failed to offer a sustainable solution, it was because academia, as a whole, is stupid and they were expected to publish sophistic bullshit.
Sometimes, you just have to be the BBC radio on April 18, 1930, where they said “There is no news” An academic journal needs to just sometimes say “There have been no discoveries, of note, no new theories. The standard model of particle physics is the exact same as it was last quarter. We were going to publish an article about life in an exoplanet atmosphere but we have no data on the planet since JWST won’t get the spectroscopy measurements for six months so these are hypothetical models based, ultimately, on wild guesses without any data purely as clickbait because aliens. That is stupid, though. So, we’re going to profile some of our postdocs and janitors. Our department chair got a new bunny!”
Filling the air with sophistry does not improve the intellectual discourse, it makes it worse because it elevates the insignificant and obscures the significant. You’ll do much better thinking about general relativity or quantum mechanics or maintream philosophy or maintream psychology by playing with them as they are than focussing on the small questions and useless hypotheticals which can be done in a month. The months add up and nothing profound has been done because it takes a long time to analyze big questions and major theories and come up with something useful or significant. You have to stare at a question for a while before a eureka moment. Contrarianism is bad for intellectualism and we must learn contentment with the silence of the science headlines.
* On a small tangent about Sabine Hossenfelder’s ‘well, actually’ mistakes. So, she recently said dopamine addiction is a myth which is demonstrably untrue unless you use the straw man arguments she uses based on narrow interpretations and false assumptions like examining neurotransmitters in isolation and using a clinical definition of addiction. Rather than asking whether hedonistic habits, clinical or subclinical, have detrimental chronic effects on character and functionality but as a physicist, she ain’t great at interpreting psychology.
Or that we have little to worry anout regarding the strength of the Gulf Stream current in light of global warming.