Oops, they did it again …

Know-nothing functionaries in the Bush Administration have once again told the folks at NASA what is and is not “acceptable” science, proving again that the Bushites want to co-opt all arms of government to march to the tune of their master.

It seems a young pencil pusher, George Deutsch, directed a NASA scientist to always use the word “theory” when mentioning the Big Bang in a middle school presentation. That in itself is not bad, but according to yesterday’s The New York Times, Deutsch went on to demonstrate he doesn’t know science from a stale bagel.

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.”

Now, it takes either a lot of chutzpah or a total lack of brain matter for a 24-year-old political appointee (with no science background) to tell working scientists what a scientific theory is. I’m guessing it’s a combination of both.

The Big Bang is a scientific theory, meaning there is an overwhelming body of evidence supporting its validity. It is not, as Deutsch alleges, an “opinion.” He has committed the typical error of all scientific illiterates, confusing scientific theory with the more commonplace meaning of the word “theory.”

For example, one can say, “I have a theory. Britney Spears’ voice sounds like a 12-year-old’s.” That’s just an opinion. For a scientist to say, “We have a theory. The universe began in a colossal explosion of energy 15 bilion years ago,” he or she has to have a substantive body of evidence to support that claim.

Well, there is, and the NASA contractor developing a website about the Big Bang was doing what he should do. He was explaining to middle students how science works, not parroting the party line of the Intelligent Design/Creationist apparatchik .

Frankly, the mind boggles at the idea of an administration condoning this kind of bigoted micromanagement of one of the most benign of all government agencies. The public generally admires NASA for the work it does, and for the pretty pictures its probes make for wall calendars. NASA is supposed to be a non-political institution, like the post office, not a mouthpiece for religious extremists and dogmatic politicos.

The full text of the NYT article is here, but you may need to create a free user account to access it. Other commentary by scientists is here , here, here and here. And yet another — I’ll stop now.

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