George C. Deutsch, the young Bush campaign flack who was telling NASA personnel that they shouldn't discuss the Big Bang without considering the topic from its religious perspective, has been forced to resign. As reported first earlier today by the Scientific Activist blog, Deutsch claimed on his resume on file at NASA that he was a graduate of Texas A&M.
Only he never graduated.
So he lied on his resume, and presumably his job application too. Always a bad move if you're planning to become embroiled in a major media firestorm.
Just to keep the recollection fresh, Deutsch was an intern in the Bush-Cheney 2004 'war room'. That qualified him for his next assignment screening scientific information NASA personnel could communicate to the public.
When reviewing NASA documents Deutsch became concerned at references to the 'Big Bang'.
The Big Bang is "not proven fact; it is opinion," he instructed one person working at NASA. "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 ... 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."
Deutsch's directive was that every reference to the 'big bang' be preceded by the words 'theory of'. And a number of you wrote in to say that whatever Deutsch's foolery, it is correct to refer to the Big Bang as a 'theory'. Indeed, the big bang is much closer to being a 'theory' in the colloquial sense of the word (as opposed to the scientific sense) than evolution is.
That is quite true. But Deutsch's comments above show that a narrow scientific reading, absent the political context, misses the point.
Deutsch told the NASA guy that the Big Bang was not a "proven fact", which is certainly true. But in no meaningful sense is it mere "opinion."
It's not just some idea someone thought up which stands on an equal footing with any other idea anyone else could cook up. Among cosmologists today, it's the dominant theory about how the universe began. It is based on various theoretical work (which I won't try to understand or explain) and supported by a lot of astrophysical data.
The theory could turn out to be wrong. And it will almost certainly end up being revised in one or more ways. But it is not 'opinion'.
It's worth taking note of the word choice because it captures the mix of obscurantism and relativism which has characterized all the Bush administration's attitude about science and, really, pretty much all empirically based knowledge -- something we discussed at length here.
The rub here is the failure to see that knowledge which has been subjected to and survived -- indeed been strengthened by -- empirical and theoretical scrutiny stands on a higher footing than information that hasn't. This isn't pedantry. Nor is this some obscure alcove in the science curriculum.
This mindset -- obscurantism and relativism duking it out to be of most use in the pursuit of power -- suffuses the Bush administration: a lack of respect for facts and the set of tools we use to discern factual information from chatter and bombast.