Neil DeGrasse Tyson Cozies Up to the U.S. Military Machine

It was announced Wednesday that Neil deGrasse Tyson, beloved ambassador of science and head of the Hayden Planetarium in New York, will be joining the Pentagon’s “Innovation Board” along with Amazon CEO and multibillionaire Jeff Bezos. The two join a 15-person board that includes Aspen Institute chief executive Walter Isaacson, former Google CEO Eric Schmidt and other “private sector leaders.” The board’s purpose is somewhat vague, described by Defense Secretary Carter as a partnership “between the public and private sectors“ to promote “innovation” at the Defense Department.

The addition of deGrass Tyson is notable due to his status as a public science educator and his vocal criticisms of war. In a 2014 interview with Parade magazine titled "Neil deGrasse Tyson: Why You Will Never Find Scientists Leading Armies Into Battle," deGrasse Tyson mused on the inherent antiwar nature of scientists:

"...when you have a cosmic perspective, when you know how large the universe is and how small we are within it—what Earth looks like from space, how tiny it is in a cosmic void—it’s impossible for you to say, ‘I so don’t like how you think that I’m going to kill you for it.’ You will never find scientists leading armies into battle. You just won’t. Especially not astrophysicists—we see the biggest picture there is."

While deGrasse Tyson certainly is not leading anyone to war, he’s consulting with those who are.

The United States military has active engagements in 80 to 90 countries a day and, in 2015, dropped a total of 23,144 bombs on seven countries. All with the assistance of thousands of scientists.

There’s an added layer of irony that the heir to the legacy of Carl Sagan, whose popular educational television series "Cosmos" deGrasse Tyson rebooted in 2014, is further warming up to the same military system Sagan was arrested for protesting against in 1986 and had frequent public battles with it throughout his career.

AlterNet’s attempts to get comment from deGrasse Tyson were not immediately returned. It is unclear if the position is paid.

The host of "Cosmos" has been criticized before for his blind spot on the militarization of science. In dueling open letters in 2014, science writer John Horgan and UC Santa Barbara professor Patrick McCray asked deGrasse Tyson to clarify his apparent indifference. He did so in a brief followup exchange with Horgan that climaxed with this bit of circular handwaving:

No scientist working for the government has a job outside of tax-based sources of support—paid by citizens in the service of national policy implemented by a Congress and a President. I can scream at lawmakers without limit, but their duty is to serve their constituents. And so it’s the electorate that I, as a scientist and educator, will always target for my messages.

Seems deGrasse Tyson is now bypassing the electorate and targeting a private consortium of billionaires, ex-spooks and military brass. The militarization of science is a serious issue and deGrasse Tyson’s position on it deserves far more clarity, doubly so now that he's gone from indifferent to the problem to actively partaking in it. 

Enjoy this piece?

… then let us make a small request. AlterNet’s journalists work tirelessly to counter the traditional corporate media narrative. We’re here seven days a week, 365 days a year. And we’re proud to say that we’ve been bringing you the real, unfiltered news for 20 years—longer than any other progressive news site on the Internet.

It’s through the generosity of our supporters that we’re able to share with you all the underreported news you need to know. Independent journalism is increasingly imperiled; ads alone can’t pay our bills. AlterNet counts on readers like you to support our coverage. Did you enjoy content from David Cay Johnston, Common Dreams, Raw Story and Robert Reich? Opinion from Salon and Jim Hightower? Analysis by The Conversation? Then join the hundreds of readers who have supported AlterNet this year.

Every reader contribution, whatever the amount, makes a tremendous difference. Help ensure AlterNet remains independent long into the future. Support progressive journalism with a one-time contribution to AlterNet, or click here to become a subscriber. Thank you. Click here to donate by check.

DonateDonate by credit card


Thanks for your support!

Did you enjoy AlterNet this year? Join us! We're offering AlterNet ad-free for 15% off - just $2 per week. From now until March 15th.