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Neil deGrasse Tyson’s Cosmos and “the artistic license to lie”


In his new book, Unbelievable, 7 Myths About the History and Future of Science and Religion, science historian Michael Keas provides a lot of useful information about the anti-Christian bias of Carl Sagan’s 1980 Cosmos and the 2014 remake featuring Neil deGrasse Tyson, (a projected 2019 update is coming this spring).

One thing readers may not know is that, in a series that leaned heavily on the supposed conflict between religion and science, obvious and widely noted misrepresentations were excused in the service of a “greater truth”:

At least one historian of science thinks that, for the sake of a greater good, it might be permissible for Cosmos 2014 to broadcast false history of science. Joseph D. Martin, historian and philosopher of science and technology at the University of Cambridge, wrote that he agreed with many of the criticisms of Cosmos’s representations of history, but he added, “ Cosmos is a fantastic artifact of scientific myth-making and as such provides a superb teaching tool when paired with more responsible historical presentations.” …

Martin continued: “If we [grant] Cosmos the artistic license to lie, the question is then whether it [is] doing so in service of a greater truth and if so, what is it? And what does it mean for us if it turns out that Cosmos and the history community are simply going after different truths? For the record, I myself am still very much on the fence about this issue, but if I were tasked with mounting a defence of Cosmos as it stands, one of the things I’d say is that the stakes of scientific authority are very high right now, especially in the United States. Perhaps the greater truth here is that we do need to promote greater public trust in science if we are going to tackle some of the frankly quite terrifying challenges ahead and maybe a touch of taradiddle in that direction isn’t the worst thing.” (pp. 152–53) Also: Joseph D. Martin, “We Need to Talk About Cosmos,” H-Physical Sciences, May 14, 16, 2014

“Artistic license to lie”? “Different truths”?

If you are not familiar with the term “taradiddle,” it has come to mean a blatant lie whose significance the speaker hopes to minimize, in order to keep control of — as the New York Times would put it — the Narrative.

Keep all this in mind next time you hear about a tax-funded study of supposed reasons why the public doesn’t trust science.

See also: You have to know the cosmos remake is in trouble (conceptually) when physicist Chad Orzel is saying stuff like this at ScienceBlogs (2014)

Larry Krauss? Francisco Ayala? And Now Neil DeGrasse Tyson? It will be interesting to see whether the #MeToo movement takes off any of the shine of the 2019 continuation (2018). It could be waning in significance.

Carl Sagan had some extraordinary religious commitments which helped shape his thought: Science and miracles: The Carl Sagan edition (2018) Also: Learning dolphin languageto talk to ET (2013)


A study of the causes of science skepticism sails right by the most obvious cause of skepticism: Repeated untrustworthiness

Sev, long-time ID objector: I do not recognize any “artistic license to lie” in the context of a film or TV show that purports to be a documentary account of some aspect of the real world. If the relationship between science and religion is far more complex and nuanced than the warfare thesis suggests then it should not be beyond the wit of man to explain that in the show, even if there has to be some compression due to time constraints.
Kudos to Sev. We have a known duty to truth, to right reason, to prudence, to fairness and justice, and much more. Educators carry a special burden in this regard as we are entrusting the naive and young to their authority to instruct. Breach of such a sacred trust is a grave wrong. KF kairosfocus
Thank you, I do believe an apology is owed to Seversky. AaronS1978
Just to clarify, as far as I am concerned, it is inexcusable to lie, to present something as true that you know to be false in a documentary. It cannot be justified by some alleged principle of an "artistic license to lie" in the cause of some greater good. Neither can distortions of the known facts of a case be excused by the need to fit complex information into the tight constraints of a TV show. That is simply laziness at best. Seversky
Oh my- Seversky calls upon "the wit of men" and "compression due to time constraints". That sets the context of the first sentence- it wasn't an artistic license to lie, it was just the wit of men who were under time constraints to make their points. That is, no lies and all wit. ET
But again I really don’t think he says there’s no lie. He doesn’t recognize the artistic license to lie which is in total agreement with the OP AaronS1978
I reread his post again and I kind of see where you’re coming from maybe of he could clear it up that would be nice AaronS1978
I didn’t get that from his post I got that he didn’t recognize anything that claims to be a documentary but also use the artistic license to lie Pretty much it’s not a documentary if it wants to lie about the information that it’s presenting I’m pretty sure he was agreeing with the op, and I didn’t get that he was saying there was no lie. And I don’t think anybody would be so ridiculous as a say there was no lie when the commentator that is being quoted straight out admits there was a lie but it’s ok if you get the point across So I see no reason to criticize seversky as it looks like he disagrees with what the commentator said and that it’s not a documentary if it uses the artistic license to lie Whether he is in a-mat or not has nothing to do with his post and he is entitle to his view. But no one should criticize him when he was agreeing with the rest of the op. That’s all, again I certainly don’t take his post in any which way shape or form as he Is agreeing with the commentator quote Or he’s pulling an officer BaBrady “there is nothing to see here” LOL totally be trolling us and watching us all discuss this. Which at that point that makes him a poop Either way if, If he meant the way I am reading it he certainly does not agree with commentator and we certainly should not criticize him on it he is agreeing with us AaronS1978
It appears to me that Seversky is saying that wasn't any lies ET
ET at 13. You misread Sev's comment. He said "I do not recognize any 'artistic license to lie.'" He is plainly agreeing with the OP. Barry Arrington
Seversky did not denounce the inexcusable lying in support of what the liar sees as a greater truth. The lies Jews have contended with, the blood libels, the Protocols of Zion, were lies told in pursuit of a greater “truth.” What Seversky wrote was to loftily trivialise it. He deserved getting a slap down. Living the lie could he been better put, but don’t go overboard on his. Belfast
My read of what Seversky posted in 4 was that there was "nothing to see here, move along". ET
Guys, the lie is materialism and a-mats live the lie. That is all I am saying I apologize to Seversky if Seversky is not an a-mat. ET
News @ 8 Yes, exactly. The spokespersons for the groups that control ALL public discussions demand to be accepted DESPITE the flaws in their statements that are obvious to anyone who has even the mildest understanding of the subjects. I have read more military history than any sane man needs to read, and so I NEVER watch TV shows about wars and such because the crap the narrator reads whilst showing some out of context film clip is SO FAR from what is true that correcting a 2 minute spiel would take longer than the nominal 60 minute program itself. The same is unfortunately true about Science shows on TV. As near as I can tell, the writers prepare perhaps 20 minutes of talk for a "1 hour" show. Watch any of the shows for "popular audiences" and note that the EXACT SAME things are said 3 times in a row, with a different camera angle on the speaker. And then the narrative CREATES doubt and controversy only to finally say, "But if we do ANY research at ALL, then the mystery disappears and the photos are ONLY confusing because I INTENTIONALLY misrepresented them." This is the ENTIRE premise for "What On Earth" and several other shows in the same genre. But I have to believe that such crap is POPULAR with General Audiences because there is so MUCH of it on TV. vmahuna
Yeah ET, you owe Sev an apology. Barry Arrington
ET, Hey I’m not trying to be a poop but I don’t think seversky meant it like that, at least the way I’m reading it, he does not agree with any show that claims to be a documentary using the artistic license to lie Or at least that’s how I think I’m reading it that’s what I got from it correct me if I’m wrong I’m sorry if I’m wrong AaronS1978
Barry Arrington at 3, what's really amazing is that the same people - the SAME people - will turn around and expect trust. And act like something is really wrong when others treat them as untrustworthy. It's gonna get strange. News
ET at 5, you didn't really mean what you said, did you? If you don't know the person, you can't know that. If you do, it rather sounds like a personal grievance, best not aired in a public venue. News
Neil deGrasse Tyson's storytelling is not about truths or lies. Neither Tyson nor the many celebrity scientists and philosophers are able to discern a difference because they believe the story will convince others to disbelieve what they disbelieve and hold to what they believe. They do not want to die alone, obscured and alienated, with their story they will be remembered and forgiven their disbeliefs. Storytelling is about remembering not about truth or lies. Tyson's Sagan is remembered in this manner and he joins Sagan in the history of storytelling. Tyson does not want to die alone, forgotten, obscured, alienated. Science is the human experiencing vehicle for storytelling in our today, artificially stripped of the human experiencing vehicles from ancient religion, shared faith, contiguous spirituality. Human experiencing has been difficult and burdensome during our brief history and reason demands we find a solution to treat our pain, to surgically remove the source of our drudgeries. Religion, faith, and spirituality are easy targets for prognosis, extraction, and disposal from the edifices of empirical data and naturalistic evidence. But the storytelling of science is failing to give the inclusiveness our human experiencing has want and need to know what is true or false, what is trustworthy or dangerous, what serves as purpose or nothingness, what is believable or disbelievable. When reason is alone our unmovable rock, at least, we will not die alone, obscured, alienated, forgotten, unforgiven. We will be remembered as storytellers and this will rejoin us with our ancestors from years long ago. redwave
Of course Seversky would say that. Seversky lives the lie ET
I do not recognize any "artistic license to lie" in the context of a film or TV show that purports to be a documentary account of some aspect of the real world. If the relationship between science and religion is far more complex and nuanced than the warfare thesis suggests then it should not be beyond the wit of man to explain that in the show, even if there has to be some compression due to time constraints. Seversky
Joseph D. Martin, Ph.D
the stakes of scientific authority are very high right now, especially in the United States. Perhaps the greater truth here is that we do need to promote greater public trust in science
And the way to promote greater trust is to lie through our teeth if we think it serves some greater purpose. Proving once again that some ideas are so gobsmackingly stupid, that only highly educated people can believe them. Barry Arrington
For some time Tyson has been inventing histories to support his cautionary tales against religion. See fact checking Neil deGrasse Tyson He has told these stories repeatedly over many years. Often to huge audiences of self proclaimed skeptics, folks who are constantly bragging about their ability to detect bull shit. Yet they devoured Tyson's steaming mounds with enthusiasm. Were the "skeptics" dishonest or merely credulous? Although very embarrassing the latter is the kinder interpretation. But since 2014 it has become more widely known that Tyson is prone to fiction. Yet folks like Novella, Shermer, Krauss, Harris et al continue to endorse Tyson. It is becoming more obvious that large factions of the so called skeptic community are dishonest. HopDavid
Religious people (who, historically have been the vast majority* for all of recorded history) recognise an alternative religion when we see one. A big part of the orwellian "Science good, Religion bad" conditioning of our children is to prevent any honest inquiry into the exact definitions of science and religion, and therefore prevent the next generation from ever learning that they've been consistently lied to in a most consequential manner. As a creationist I have never seen any more conflict between religion and science than did Newton or Galileo or any of the deeply religious people who have made such enormous contributions to our knowledge of the material world. I do recognise that there is a permanent state of conflict between liars and truth-tellers and that neither science nor religion has ever been wholly composed of either: we've always endured a mixture and likely always will in this life. * It is an enduring mystery why the advocates of a theory which holds that traits only become widespread if they have survival value would want to eliminate one of the most persistent and ubiquitous traits of human nature; religious conviction. ScuzzaMan

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