5 Geniuses The Media Loves To Quote (Who Aren't Experts)
You know who's smart? Scientists! If somebody's got a white coat on, they probably know about ... well, pretty much everything. We know that doesn't make sense when you give it even a moment's thought -- when your car breaks down, you don't assume a brain surgeon is more qualified to fix it than your local mechanic -- but tell that to the media. They go to the world's geniuses for hot takes on everything, regardless of whether the subject is in the "expert's" wheelhouse or their opinion on it belongs closer to the outhouse.
Neil DeGrasse Tyson And Elon Musk Think We're Living In The Matrix
Though Neil DeGrasse Tyson and Elon Musk have little in common with one another, we're lumping them together here because they do share one bizarrely specific belief: that we are all living in some kind of Matrix-style simulated reality.
The argument goes like this: If we can assume that technology will eventually reach a point where we can create a perfectly lifelike simulation of reality, then we can create people who think they're alive. If we allow those virtual people to go their own way and advance, then they will eventually create their own simulations, and those people will create their own simulations in turn, etc. Assuming that these simulations are indistinguishable from reality, then the odds that we're living in the one really real reality are, according to Musk, "one in billions." Tyson agrees; it's a simple matter of statistics and probability!
Why You Shouldn't Have Asked Them:
The theory itself isn't necessarily stupid, but what neither Musk nor Tyson seem to realize is that it's actually philosophy, not science. Tyson in particular is famously disdainful of that stuff, so maybe it's no surprise he doesn't like the descriptor. But ask either a scientist or a philosopher about this theory, and they will come to a rare agreement: Musk and Tyson are full of shit.
Popular Science asked theoretical physicist Brian Greene what he thought about it, and Greene responded that there's no evidence. If we were to experience some kind of reality-altering glitch, like those frequently seen in the Matrix movies, then there might be a case to make, but we've seen none of that. On the navel-gazing side, Vice asked a couple of philosophers, who concluded that the premise itself is nonsense. A simulation that is indistinguishable from reality is reality, or else you could, you know, distinguish it. There's literally no difference between living in reality and living in a 100-percent perfect reproduction of reality, so why bother with it?
Any way you classify the theory -- philosophically or scientifically -- it all boils down to the same thing: stoner-grade mental masturbation.
Which is tons of fun, and we highly recommend it. But maybe don't publish articles about it on your news site. Leave that to us.
The Media Thinks Bill Nye Is The World's Foremost Expert On Climate Change
Bill Nye "The Science Guy" is basically the Mr. Rogers of STEM. Recently, you've seen him on the news discussing global warming and climate change with a generation of deniers, repeatedly insisting that yes, it's a real thing that is happening, and yes, it is incredibly bad. Media outlets like MSNBC and The Washington Post frequently call him up to discuss the issue, because when you need a science guy, you may as well go with the Science Guy.
Why You Shouldn't Have Asked Them:
Bill Nye isn't the Master of All Sciences. That's not a thing. He has an undergraduate degree in mechanical engineering from Cornell University, and worked for Boeing for a while before trying to break into the comedy industry. That's when Ross Schafer talked him into the idea of combining comedy with science education. Of course, Bill Nye: An Engineering Guy Who Fills A Pop Culture Niche isn't as catchy a title for children's television.
Now, we love Bill Nye as much as anyone, and on the topic of climate change, he's absolutely right. The problem comes when the media cites him as an authority. Nye is charismatic and lovable and a whole bunch of Millennial nerds had posters of him in their rooms, but it really would be better to feature boring old real climate scientists, like Michael Mann or James Hansen.
"Who the hell are they?"
Trying to teach the world about the threat of climate change is cool and all, but it can backfire if you're not actually an expert in that field. In 2013, MSNBC conducted an interview with Nye to explain that year's catastrophic New England blizzard. But Nye's amateur explanation of the mechanics of blizzards and hurricanes caught the eye of Jason Samenow, The Washington Post's weather editor, who holds a master's degree in atmospheric science. He wrote a devastating takedown of Nye's interview, which was a mixture of inaccurate information and stuff that Nye may as well have picked up from Twister.
And that's basically handing the ball to the other team -- "See? This guy is wrong about one thing, so he must be wrong about everything!" There's no question Nye is smarter than us, and more than entitled to his opinion on the issue -- especially since, again, it's correct in the larger sense. But we love space rockets. We think space rockets are cool. We are passionate about space rockets and believe they are an important issue. You should not invite us on your TV show to explain space rockets.
Michio Kaku Is A Fine Theoretical Physicist And A Crazy Everything Else
Michio Kaku is a physicist at NYU and a popular science commentator for the media, if only because he looks like an Asian Doc Brown. The only problem is that the media likes to consult Kaku on everything vaguely sciencey, and Kaku is all too happy to oblige them.
In 2011, following a 5.8 magnitude earthquake in Virginia, Kaku told the media that America was overdue for a quake-a-geddon that would be 30 times more powerful than the maximum energy of the San Andreas Fault and would reduce New York to rubble. In another interview, he talks about how we're not too far off from the invention of Star Trek-style teleportation -- this was after scientists in 2014 were successful in teleporting a photon.
Why You Shouldn't Have Asked Them:
On the topic of earthquakes, Michio Kaku knows about as much as you do. And when we say that, we are correctly assuming that you don't know shit. Ask a real earthquake expert, and they'll be happy to tell you that America has very little risk of experiencing the kind of apocalyptic doomsday quake that Kaku was all too excited to warn us about. But Kaku has crazy hair like a movie scientist, and that looks great on camera.
The teleportation thing is a whole bunch of nonsense, too. Scientists were just teleporting the information from one photon to another, and it has almost nothing to do with teleporting entire people or objects. According to at least one NASA scientist, "Nothing in the physics of today gives a hint about how that might be possible."
In another video, Kaku talks about creating a "library of souls" -- one you could walk into and sit down for a chat with a hologram of Winston Churchill or Albert Einstein, since it'd have all their respective memories.
In another, he discusses the depictions of traveling between dimensions in the Fantastic Four movie, and says that it isn't unrealistic at all. Here he calls Pluto a comet, and predicts we will land on Mars mid-century. In this interview with MSNBC, Kaku theorizes that maybe the reason aliens haven't visited us is that they blew themselves up with nukes. They ... covered that in physics class?
In conclusion: Newscasters, just because Kaku is a physicist and you don't understand what that means, that doesn't mean you should cut to him for elaborate takes on alien theory just in case that's what physics is about.
Stephen Hawking Cannot Predict The Apocalypse
Stephen Hawking might be the greatest mind on the planet today. Struck down in his early 20s by motor neuron disease, all known medical science gave him, at most, a couple of years to live. So they advised him to get all of his thinking out of the way early. That was in 1963. Over 50 years later, the man isn't even close to dead, and his work on physics has drawn comparisons to Einstein. Tragically, his disease has advanced to the point that he can now only move one muscle in his entire body: his cheek. And yet he does more with that one cheek than we could ever do with our four.
But that doesn't mean that he knows everything. He's not a My Little Pony expert, for example, and you wouldn't cut to him for expert opinions on Sparkledew's fuckability or whatever. And yet in recent years, the media has cited Hawking as an authority on a number of increasingly absurd apocalyptic predictions. In 2010, they freaked out when Hawking warned that aliens might learn of our existence and respond by wiping us out, Independence Day-style. Then in 2016, he warned that robots might become self-aware within the next 100 years and wipe us out, Terminator-style. Then he said an asteroid collision is imminent, which would kill us all, Armageddon-style. Most recently, since Brexit, he's started warning us that we only have 1,000 years left as a species, unless we double down on interstellar colonization, because politics are going to kill us all. Which one was that, Hunger Games?
Why You Shouldn't Have Asked Them:
It makes sense to listen to what Hawking says when he's talking about universal inflation, or quantum gravity, or black hole radiation, or anything else we don't have a distant hope of understanding. But Hawking isn't any more of an authority on aliens, or robots, or asteroids, or goddamn politics than you are. There's a reason his field is called "theoretical physics" and not "practical doomsday prognostication."
If you're after realistic predictions about the chances of alien invasion, robot uprisings, or Mad Max apocalyptic social decay, then you're shit out of luck -- there are no experts on that. And if there are, this stupid comedy website is probably one of them. Here's our expert prediction: Life is always going to be weird and scary, and you'll worry about space and robots and water wars, but fantastical sci-fi scenarios are not going to kill you.
Just playing the odds here.
Jordan Breeding is a part-time writer, full-time lover, and all-the-time guitarist. Check out his band at http://www.skywardband.com or on Spotify here. Luke Miller used to keep America's skies safe as an air traffic controller, but now he writes fart jokes for Cracked.
Behind every awful movie is the idea for a good one. Old man Indiana Jones discovers aliens. Good in theory, bad in practice. Batman fights Superman. So simple, but so bad. Are there good translations of these movies hidden within the stinking turds that saw the light of day? Jack O'Brien hosts Soren Bowie, Daniel O'Brien and Katie Willert of 'After Hours' on our next live podcast to find an answer as they discuss their ideal versions of flops, reboots, and remakes. Tickets are $7 and can be purchased here!
For more scientists that make us second guess buying a white coat and pocket protector, check out 7 Scientists Who Definitely Weren't Just Arousing Themselves and 5 Great Scientists Who Believed Wildly Unscientific Things.
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