Big Ed gives BA props

By Phil Plait | July 16, 2009 5:00 pm

Hey, this humble (ha!) blog got a shout-out on Ed Schultz’s show on MSNBC! He showed a clip of the Arizona state senator Sylvia Allen making her ridiculous creationist statements about the Earth and uranium mining, and then mentioned my blog entry on it. Here’s the video from the Schultz show:

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Pretty cool. I almost hate to point out that even Ed got the age of the Earth wrong (he says billion when it’s 4.55 billion), but there’s a slight difference between getting a number wrong as a slip and getting it wrong due to clinging zealously to dogmatic nonsense. I’ll forgive a factor of four over a factor of a million any day.

Tip o’ the Geiger counter to my buddy Steve Andrew for posting about this!


Comments (53)

  1. Mena

    Well, we can cut him some slack. I did with Keith Olbermann the other day, when he was talking about that same Arizona politician claiming that the Earth was 6000 years old. Most of it was good, but when he mentioned uranium being carbon dated in context of that woman being dumb, well…
    Youtube, starting around 1:40:

  2. Rob Zuber

    KO mentioned “carbon dating” in order to make a joke. :)

    And Phil I posted a comment about the ED Show segment in the “Randi in UK Skeptic” thread right after it happened, so I should get all the credit. :)

  3. I’m so glad I live in Canada where we do not have stupid politicians…

    3, 2, 1…. 😉

  4. dhtroy

    Wow, it’s almost like your famous or something; yet somehow, not.

    Are we still allowed to speak directly to you, or do we have to go through your agent now?


  5. You keep getting more and more famous every year, Phil. When I scrolled down to comment, I saw that banner on the right side for the first time. How long has that been there? Between co-hosting the Skeptologists TV pitch (what ever happened to that?), two stellar books, and numerous interviews, you may almost be on the way to becoming the next truly famous scientist, and we all agree that the world needs more celebrity REAL scientists in the tradition of Feynman and Sagan. Mmmmmm, Cosmos. Makes me all warm and fuzzy just thinking about it.

    I’m not certain about the best way to suggest a blog post, so I’ll just ask a question here:
    This theory doesn’t sit well with me, though I can’t explain the specifics of why it looks bad. I know it’s geology more then astronomy, but at the end he makes some claims about Mars which are even more confusing. What exactly is this guy getting wrong?

  6. Stone Age Scientist

    I’ll forgive a factor of four over a factor of a million any day.

    Really, Phil? Even if it involves your credit card bill? 😀

  7. Davidlpf

    @Michael L
    Don’t tempt me.

  8. PsyberDave

    Rob, I sent an email directly to Phil right after Ed mentioned it, but I get nothing either.


    Phil, do you still get email at the badastro address?

  9. Doctor Plait. I just heard you on the Ron Reagan show and had to check out your site. Excellent stuff.. I’ll be adding it to my list of daily must-reads.

  10. Keith

    I’m with you, Phil, I think I can cut Ed a little slack about saying the Earth’s a billion years old. He’s far more right the Sen. Jelly Brain.

  11. eigenvector

    Simply a matter of being 90% right (Ed) than 100% wrong (dumb Sylvia)!

  12. David D


    “90% right?” “Factor of four?”

    Are you serious? This is kind of like being a little bit pregnant–it just doesn’t work that way . . .

    I have a pretty good idea of Sen. Allen’s understanding of modern cosmology and geology. I have absolutely NO IDEA whether Ed Schulz is any smarter than her or not (by the way, that factor of four means he’s “only” off by some 3.5 BILLION years). No one here can point out to me whether he just misspoke or whether he has any real clue about what he is talking about. He’s an ex-jock and was a rather controversial sports broadcaster in North Dakota. I am not aware of any scientific training or knowledge that he might have. Just because he broadcasts on MSNBC does not automatically make him a rational thinker.

    Sen. Allen is clearly, delusionally wrong, and it deserves to be pointed out. But if you are going to send someone out to make fun of her silliness, for pete’s sake at least send someone out who can get the effin’ facts straight.

  13. Jeremy

    I think David hasn’t been around very many astronomers. Generally if we’re at the right order of magnitude we’re happy.

  14. Big Fat Earl

    As for the mocking of Cretinists, I’m all for it, but this is MSNBC. Did you actually expect them to get the age of the Earth correct?

  15. David D


    I’m pretty sure the age of the Earth is well-established, so I don’t think “right order of magnitude” applies here, do you?

  16. A billion here, a billion there, and pretty soon we’re talking about a long time! I’m no scientist and my memory isn’t that great, but I would have said 6 billion. Or is that the age of the universe? Or just a figure that was used a lot at one time?

  17. «bønez_brigade»

    I cringed at Ed’s 1E9 comment — but at least he wasn’t 6 orders of magnitude off.
    Oh, and BTW…

  18. Ryan

    I’ve seen Ed Schultz a few time and its about as informative as The Daily Show. However, there are two important differences. Ed takes himself seriously, and is not nearly as entertaining.

  19. Christina Viering

    It is fun to try to figure it out!

  20. TheBlackCat

    …when people thought the earth was flat, they were wrong. When people thought the earth was spherical, they were wrong. But if you think that thinking the earth is spherical is just as wrong as thinking the earth is flat, then your view is wronger than both of them put together.
    -Isaac Asimov

  21. David D

    @#20 TheBlackCat–

    I never said that Schultz was as wrong as Allen. It’s pretty clear where Allen’s thinking comes from. It is not clear that Ed Schulz simply made “a slip” as BA claims, or whether he simply has no clue as to what he’s talking about.

    He’s a journalist. Aren’t we expecting him at least to get the facts straight? Especially when it comes to countering the claims of the YEC’s?

  22. Stacy Kennedy

    @ David D: “He’s a journalist. Aren’t we expecting him at least to get the facts straight?”

    Speaking of getting your facts straight:

    Ed’s not a journalist. He does political commentary.

    “A journalist (also called a newspaperman) is a person who practises journalism, the gathering and dissemination of information about current events, trends, issues, and people while striving for viewpoints that aren’t biased”–Wikipedia

  23. David D

    @#22 Stacy Kennedy–

    That’s fair. It’s not accurate to refer to Schultz (or O’Reilly or Olbermann etc. etc.) as “journalist.”

    That does not excuse him from being inaccurate. This is an important battle against people like Sen. Allen, and it should be a priority for people on this side of the debate to be as accurate as possible. “90% right” or “factor of four” simply isn’t going to cut it.

    The fact remains that Schultz was dead wrong about an established fact. And while he may not look as silly as Sen. Allen, this is the kind of fodder that Ken Ham and the people at AIG (no, not the insurance co.) will gladly use against us.

  24. tahlmorra


    Pet peeve, here…

    I am the son of a Mathematician and always understood “factor” to mean a “multiple of ten.” I think what you mean is a “multiplier,” as in: one billion becomes a result of 4 billion after a multiple of four.. Said, as I understand it, a billion..raised to a “factor” of four..would be ten trillion..obviously not what you intended..

    Picky, I know, but it grates on me..

  25. Tim G


    Aren’t you thinking about “order of magnitude” instead of “factor”.

    So the host is off by 0.66 orders while the senator is off by 5.88 orders.

  26. Glen W

    @#5 Chris Evo: “What exactly is this guy getting wrong?”
    Well, for one, it violates the law of conservation of mass. Where’s the extra Earth coming from? How about the water?

  27. Joey Joe Joe

    OT (for this blog): Did you hear about Endeavour? Looks like foam strikes during the launch.

    “Preliminary findings gave no reason for concern”. I’d like to find that reassuring, but I seem to recall something similar being said about Columbia.

  28. SionH

    If we were feeling especially generous we could give Sylvia this one, as technically she is correct.

    The Earth has been here for 6000 years, she just left off the billions of years before that when it was ALSO here.

    She didn’t say “only 6000 years”.

    Ah, who am I kidding….

  29. TheBlackCat

    I think Tim’s right, a factor is a special type of multiplier that is a component of the original number, like the prime factors of a number, which when multiplied together the correct number of times give you the original number. An order of magnitude is a multiplier of ten. When you say “raised to a factor of four” is different, it would be the number raised to the fourth power, which is neither the normal use of “factor” nor is it equivalent to “order of magnitude”. It would be 1e36, not 10 trillion (1e13).

  30. @SionH
    I was forced to chuckle. Good one.

  31. DWW

    I always find it just a bit amazing that people are so willing to dismiss science and the evidence that as been produced for the last 100 years or so. How did so many people, get to positions of power or access to media coverage with such twisted beliefs in the physical world around us? What went wrong in the 60’s and 70’s that allow our education system to produce such people?

  32. Jay

    The stunning part, in my opinion, is that her totally off-hand drop of the 6000 year comment suggests that she’s either unaware that anyone disagrees with it, or else is so consumed by the arrogance of ignorance that she doesn’t consider any other position worthy of acknowledgement.

    Miss C – roughly 6B for the universe, 4.5B for the Earth seem to be the usual numbers cited these days in casual conversation. I’m sure someone else can sharpen those up.

  33. SionH

    ~13.7B for the universe is the current figure, but 13 – 14B is usually close enough for most topics.

  34. He could have been more accurate with a slight alteration. Instead of “we know the earth is a billion years old”, he should have said “we know the earth is billions of years old.” This way he could have been accurate without needing to be precise. Still, like many here, I’m willing to cut “a billion” more slack than “6,000.” “A billion” is probably just one quick explanation away from getting it right. (“Actually, the age is around 4.5 billion.” “Thanks.”) Six Thousand is – more than likely – never going to get it right. (“Actually, the age is around 4.5 billion.” “That’s not what Genesis says!”)

  35. Ben

    You forgot to mention being mentioned in this CNN article at the very end! Don’t let it go to your head! 😛

  36. Torbjörn Larsson, OM

    So the host is off by 0.66 orders while the senator is off by 5.88 orders.

    Put that way it doesn’t look like much of a difference in errors. They are still within the same order of order of magnitude. 😮

    … um, what were we discussing again? Oh, “carbon-dating” the Earth to creationist satisfaction?! Never going to happen. It isn’t an order of magnitude error, it’s a category error, faith vs facts. That “6000 years” vs an actual age isn’t really comparable in any way, sort or form.

    But sure, the factual error that it is masquerading as is bugging me too.

  37. Jay

    SionH –

    Yep. My bad. I’ve had about 4 hours of sleep in the last 36, so I’ll bust out the fatigue excuse.

    Thanks for setting me straight. :)

    Miss C – disregard my goof, please.

  38. This is basically why I’ve labeled myself Libertarian. I can’t deal with the religious nuts that have infiltrated the Republican party. Besides nearly every quiz I take puts me right down the middle anyway :)

    To watch someone say that with absolute seriousness just confounds me. I had a teacher in school that refused to teach evolution. Oh, yeah, she was a SCIENCE teacher. What? Did I miss something? How do you teach science and not believe it?

    It’d be like a moon hoaxer teaching about our findings on the moon… bwa ha ha!

  39. Art

    I love the blog.

    The snide commentary, on the other hand, I could do with out. Why does everyone have to approach it as if they were the scientists who made the findings? Anyone with a computer and fingers can use Wikipedia. Thanks Phil for ignoring most of it.

    @sion h-
    Your comment didn’t have an emoticon, so how are we supposed to know you’re being facetious? 😉

  40. David D

    @SionH #34–

    ” . . . but 13 – 14B is usually close enough for most topics.

    I guess for Ed Schultz that would be 3-4 B.


  41. Glad you got free promotion on Ed’s show.

    As liberal as I am, I really don’t care for Ed. He spends the show screaming and name-calling. Kind of juvenile, but I guess it sells ads.

    I prefer Rachel Maddow and Keith Olbermann. And of course, Hardball.

  42. Randy A.

    Senator Jelly Brain made another mistake that hasn’t been commented on: she says (paraphrasing) that since the Earth has been OK for the last 6,000 years with no environmental regulations it will be OK in the future if we ignore the environmental effects of our actions.
    Somehow she missed noticing the obvious signs of present environmental degradation, and the fact that there are now 6.7 billion people sharing the planet.
    In previous posts to the Bad Astronomy blog I have advocated for more / better education. That would help Ed Schultz and other political commentators. But clearly this woman is beyond help…

  43. Ben

    42. GKopy Says:
    July 17th, 2009 at 11:28 am

    Keith Olbermann? Eww. Hardball eh, okay. Frankly I think all mainstream media does a piss poor job. Especially when it comes to space and science.

  44. justcorbly

    Here’s the difference between Schultz and Allen: Neither knows the currently scientically accepted age of the Earth, but, if corrected, Schultz will accept the new knowledge and move on. Allen, on the other hand, will accept only that which accords with her beliefs. In other words, Schultz is interested in learning but Allen is interested in believing. Sadly, Allen sees learning as diminishing believing.

  45. David D

    @45 justcorbly–

    Those are nice opinions, but you really don’t know if Schultz will “accept the new knowledge and move on” or that “Schultz is interested in learning.” Maybe you have some facts to back up what you are saying.

    If Schultz is so interested in learning, aren’t you troubled by the fact there apparently has been no correction issued by Schultz?

  46. One billion? Hey, I wouldn’t let the host off the hook so easily. Just because astronomers are giddy when they get something pinned down to within an order of magnitude … 😉

  47. HappyKitty

    Doesn’t really matter if the earth is 6000, 1 billion or 4.5 billion years old. Humans have only been mining uranium for maybe a couple of hundred years, causing toxic quantities of it to be released into the environment. This woman’s stupidity is in thinking that nothing has changed since before the start of the Industrial Revolution.

  48. justcorbly

    @46: I listen to Schultz reasonably often. It’s my impression that he does, in fact, admit to factual mistakes. Frankly, I wouldn’t expect him to issue a correction about that “one billion” business. He’s certainly much nearer the ballpark than the silliness uttered by Allen. Besides, 99 percent of the American public has no idea how old the planet is, or how far away the Moon is, or whether ISS orbits at 60 miles, 300 miles or a million miles.

    The fundamental point: Schultz is a rational person who will accept evidence of reality. Allen, like any other person who deals with reality via a distortion field of bogus religious dogma, will not.

  49. I'd_rather_be fishin'

    @3 Michael L Says:
    July 16th, 2009 at 5:41 pm
    I’m so glad I live in Canada where we do not have stupid politicians…

    Must be one of those lucky Easterners with the edjucated politicians. Not like us poor western folk with Ralph Klein (high school never-made-it and former used car salesman).

  50. Booker

    Did anyone catch Olbermann plagiarizing Plait’s web site while he was panning Sylvia Allen in his “Worst Persons” segment?

    Olbermann lifted almost verbatim, including Plait’s mention of the irony of the issue of Uranium mining in the context of the planet being 6000 years old. Olbermann blew it by attempting to taunt Allen about her not understanding “carbon dating”.

    It is a bad idea to rely on one pompous, arrogant (in that he lifted material from this site without attribution) dweeb, to call out an ignorant, narrow boob.

    I am surprised no one is pounding Olbermann on that bit of blatant theft of ideas.

  51. David D

    The fundamental point: Schultz, in attempting to correct a foolish woman, made an obvious error about a well-established fact (sorry, ballpark doesn’t count), which #1, made him look like a fool, and #2, gives people like that foolish woman more ammunition to cloud the issue.

    Olbermann stealing ideas? What else is new?

  52. justcorbly

    It was an “obvious error”, David, that very likely went unnoticed by 90 percent of his listeners, and, frankly, would have gone unnoticed by 90 percent of teh American population. You don’t really think people know this stuff, do you?

    In any case, Schultz’s “error” is not important. What’s important is that he was juxtaposing the rational scientific evidence-based explanation of Earth’s existence with the silly notion that it popped magically into existence 6000 years ago. Schultz is no scientist, and he didn’t have the facts straight, but he knows who’s right and who’s wrong.

    As for Olbermann: You’re looking for someone on TV that doesn’t ideas? Good luck with that? Besides, people need to stop seeking vicarious jollies via pundits.


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