Monday, February 06, 2006

Big Bang Memo

So now GWB and Co. are making NASA the latest target of their holy war against facts. It's not at all surprising that they're trying to suppress the evidence about global warming. It's pretty typical for industries to try to hush up anything that would cost them money. I probably ought to be more outraged about that than I am, but it's the sort of thing you come to expect from the Bushies. And the effort to mold all NASA PR to support George's goofy Apollo Jr. plan isn't that outrageous either; all bureaucracies do that in some form or other, and experienced scientists generally understand the importance of sucking up to whoever's writing the checks. That's just a fact of life.

But it's no longer just a matter of being business-friendly or playing the bureaucracy game. Now the fundies in the administration are trying to suppress any mention of the Big Bang as a proven fact, since creationism is official government policy these days.

From the NYT story:

The Big Bang memo came from Mr. Deutsch, a 24-year-old presidential appointee in the press office at NASA headquarters whose résumé says he was an intern in the "war room" of the 2004 Bush-Cheney re-election campaign. A 2003 journalism graduate of Texas A&M, he was also the public-affairs officer who sought more control over Dr. Hansen's public statements.

In October 2005, Mr. Deutsch sent an e-mail message to Flint Wild, a NASA contractor working on a set of Web presentations about Einstein for middle-school students. The message said the word "theory" needed to be added after every mention of the Big Bang.

The Big Bang is "not proven fact; it is opinion," Mr. Deutsch wrote, adding, "It is not NASA's place, nor should it be to make a declaration such as this about the existence of the universe that discounts intelligent design by a creator."

It continued: "This is more than a science issue, it is a religious issue. And I would hate to think that young people would only be getting one-half of this debate from NASA. That would mean we had failed to properly educate the very people who rely on us for factual information the most."

More coverage at Bad Astronomy, The Inquirer and Slashdot.

In a not-entirely-unrelated note, Feb. 17th marks the 406th anniversary of the day the astronomer Giordano Bruno was burned at the stake by Church authorities. Among other things, he argued that the earth orbits the sun, contradicting certain passages in the bible -- that is, if you take them absolutely literally.

We aren't yet at the point where our present-day fundies can have people arbitrarily killed for disagreeing with them, but I don't think this is due to a lack of desire on their part. Our fundies think the same way as their medieval predecessors, and they certainly didn't mind a bit of bloodshed now and then.

The blue-n-green blob above is a map of the cosmic microwave background (faint echoes of the Big Bang) made by NASA's WMAP spacecraft. WMAP was proposed and developed during the Clinton administration. You have to wonder if it would've even made it off the drawing board in this day and age?

Religion vs. science is an area where there really is a difference between Christian fundies and their Islamic brethren. Where our wingnuts flatly deny the validity of any facts that contradict what they think their holy book says, the Islamic tendency is to argue and try to demonstrate that science and the Koranic account of creation are in perfect accord. I have to say is a point in their favor, just this once. If the two strains of thought were reversed, and scientists in the Middle East were the ones under attack, we in the West would just add it to our existing stereotypes, and chalk it up as more evidence of ignorance and backwardness on their part. Instead, it's a sign of ignorance and backwardness on our part, and one we ought to be deeply ashamed of.

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