Administration official: "Big Bang" is just a theory

By Sean Carroll | February 4, 2006 6:21 pm

You’ve heard, I hope, about NASA climate scientist James Hansen, who the Bush administration tried to silence when he called for reductions in emissions of greenhouse gases. Cosmology, as it turns out, is not exempt from the radical anti-science agenda. The New York Times, via Atrios:

In October, for example, George Deutsch, a presidential appointee in NASA headquarters, told a Web designer working for the agency to add the word “theory” after every mention of the Big Bang, according to an e-mail message from Mr. Deutsch that another NASA employee forwarded to The Times.

The Big Bang memo came from Mr. Deutsch, a 24-year-old presidential appointee in the press office at NASA headquarters whose resume says he was an intern in the “war room” of the 2004 Bush-Cheney re-election campaign. A 2003 journalism graduate of Texas A&M, he was also the public-affairs officer who sought more control over Dr. Hansen’s public statements.

In October 2005, Mr. Deutsch sent an e-mail message to Flint Wild, a NASA contractor working on a set of Web presentations about Einstein for middle-school students. The message said the word “theory” needed to be added after every mention of the Big Bang.

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.”

Emphasis added. Draw your own conclusions, I’m feeling a bit of outrage fatigue at the moment.

Update: Phil Plait has extensive comments at Bad Astronomy Blog. Also Pharyngula, Balloon Juice, Stranger Fruit, Gary Farber, Mark Kleiman, World O’ Crap, and Hullabaloo.

Update again, for our new visitors: Folks, of course the Big Bang model is a theory, and of course it is also correct. It has been tested beyond reasonable doubt: our current universe expanded from a hot, dense, smooth state about 14 billion years ago. The evidence is overwhelming, and we have hard data (from primordial nucleosynthesis) that the model was correct as early as one minute after the initial singularity.

Of course the initial singularity (the `Bang’ itself) is not understood, and there are plenty of other loose ends. But the basic framework — expanding from an early hot, dense, smooth state — is beyond reasonable dispute.

It’s too bad that scientific education in this country is so poor that many people don’t understand what is meant by “theory” or “model.” It doesn’t mean “just someone’s opinion.” Theories can be completely speculative, absolutely well-established, or just plain wrong; the Big Bang model is absolutely well-established.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Science and Politics
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About Sean Carroll

Sean Carroll is a Senior Research Associate in the Department of Physics at the California Institute of Technology. His research interests include theoretical aspects of cosmology, field theory, and gravitation. His most recent book is The Particle at the End of the Universe, about the Large Hadron Collider and the search for the Higgs boson. Here are some of his favorite blog posts, home page, and email: carroll [at] cosmicvariance.com .

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