What is the straight dope on Neil deGrasse Tyson "Quote Manufacturing"

I have seen several folks on Twitter and FB linking to an article on The Federalist website claiming that NdGT has manufactured a bunch of quotes in his lectures or interviews, and that there was a big dust-up on Wikipedia about it.

What’s the deal? Is this true, false, or other?

Do you have some links or something with details?

Given the Federalist author is only one I can find talking about how the author’s evidence of fake quotes is being ignored I think I’d actually want to read the actual Tyson speeches with the nefarious quotes.

According to the various Federalist articles (they really seem to be banging on this) the quotes appear in slides he frequently uses in presentations. TriPolar, he’s talking about this and some follow ups.

Thanks. And that’s it? There’s a controversy because no newspaper had that headline?

Ok, carry on.

Based on the linked article, it seems pretty clear that Tyson has at least two slides that he commonly uses in talks that consist of made-up quotes. They do not strike me as worth pounding on. They seem like things that you hear all of the time, and his use of them is more like a parable (there once was a man who had two sons…) than a factual citation. I do think the slide about “below average” either misunderstands average or misuses it.

Wait, so the quotes in question are:

“Half of all schools in the district are below average” - attributed to a newspaper headline

“I’ve changed my views 360 degrees on the issue” - attributed to a member of Congress

I suspect what’s actually going on is that the Federalist author is humor-impaired and doesn’t realize that Tyson is joking with his audience rather than expecting them to take the quotes literally. Hyperbole is frequently used in public speaking, and the quotes are so generic it’s hard to believe that Tyson expects a literal take on them.

I saw the*** Federalist ***piece that seems to have sparked this.

Is it a big deal? No, of course not. But it appears Neil DeGrassie Tyson is doing something that MANY popular speakers do: taking urban legends or dubious quotes as gospel, and building a theme around them.

LOTS of people of every ideology do this. Decades ago, Ronald Reagan’s stump speeches regularly entailed humorous anecdotes about liberal Democrats, or second-hand stories about, say, women on welfare driving Cadillacs. Were such anecdotes true? Sometimes, they were 100% true. Other times, they were based on truth, but drastically oversimplified. Sometimes, Reagan was merely rehashing a bit he’d seen in ***Reader’s Digest ***that was just an urban legend.

As I said, LOTS of speakers hear a great story or a funny quote and think, “This is great, I just HAVE to use this,” but never check too closely whetehr the story is true or whether the person the quote is attributed to actually said it.

I myself have attributed quotes to Mark Twain or Abe Lincoln or Groucho Marx that they probably didn’t really say. In my mind, Tyson is guilty of nothing more serious than that. It’s a minor peccadillo, not a huge crime.

I’d be a LITTLE more angry if Tyson had attributed a stupid quote directly to a specific politician. That is, if Tyson had claimed “President George W. Bush was outraged that half of all doctors graduated in the bottom half of their class in medical school,” that would be grossly unfair. But if he attributed such a silly quote to SOME nameless politician, I can’t really see the harm.

So long as Tyson is just using a few humorous anecdotes or silly quotes to illustrate a general point, rather than to mock a particular person, it’s fine by me.

As even the Federalist writer admits in his article, it’s hard to know how Tyson used those slides since we don’t have the audio. I agree that the quotes were probably intended to be more parables or just jokes. I think this is also kind of a silly thing to get worked up about.

The writer, Sean Davis, does make the decent point that a majority of the data points in a set **can **be below the average. But he allows that without the audio he doesn’t know if Tyson made the same point.

After a quick glance at the site (I’d never been there before), it looks like they have a grudge against Tyson. Now, why would Davis, who “previously worked as an economic policy adviser to Gov. Rick Perry, as CFO of Daily Caller, and as chief investigator for Sen. Tom Coburn” want to work so hard to discredit a popular and influential scientist? That’s a head-scratcher.

Is there a GQ aspect of this worth discussing?

I think the answer to this may be in the beginning of the article, where he mentions how Google auto-fills search terms that begin with Tyson’s name. He hates Tyson because Tyson is so damned smart!

Certainly, there is. “Did someone fake quotes?” is a quintessential GQ question.

It appears to have been answered, at least in part. An audio or earwitness testimony would be needed to further clarify the answer. People can turn this into solely a political issue and if that happens it should be moved, but it’s not there yet.

I don’t have the time to dig into it now, but this article on that site seems to be a little better. It criticizes Tyson for apparently misquoting George W. Bush to claim that Bush talked about “Our God” as distinct from Islam’s God in the aftermath of 9/11. If Tyson did fabricate a GWB quote to attack him like this, that is wrong, and he should be criticized for it.

That doesn’t mean he should be discounted as a scientist, though.

Unless he has an actual quote in mind, I’d rather he had the quotes unattributed. For example, just use

“I’ve changed my views 360 degrees on the issue”
“Half of all schools in the district are below average”

instead of

“I’ve changed my views 360 degrees on the issue” - Member of Congress
“Half of all schools in the district are below average” - Newspaper Headline

Unattributed, I think they work just as well, and he can use spoken words to say they are “commonly attributed to a member of congress”. But when he adds the unjustified attribution, yeah, that does seem wrong to me.

Whether or not the quotes are real, there is no grounds for a scandal. This sounds more like people nitpicking because they dislike Tyson and want to discredit him because he’s one of those people who disseminate information about the Big Bang, evolution, climate change, etc.

Is “Newspaper Headline” really an attribution? It seems obvious to me that that quotation is not necessarily a direct copy of a headline but is just being used to illustrate a point. An “attribution” so vague as “Newspaper Headline” is a dead giveaway that it’s not 100% real. Maybe I’m giving the man too much benefit of the doubt because I have a lot of respect for him, but I find it unlikely that he was making any kind of a point that hinges on that headline having been printed that way, word for word.

Is that because you think that it is a statement of fact or because he shouldn’t be telling jokes? I took it a joke, and better with the punchline (the source) otherwise it is just a dumb thing people say.

I was curious, so I went looking, and found a lot of variations of basically:
“Half of [some area] schools are below **national ** [or state] average” (one example here)

I can easily believe, even if it wasn’t a joke, that some harried editor shortened it. On to the other “quote” - a quick search of “changed 360” in your engine of choice shows that it would be surprising if a member of congress DIDN’T say it! I haven’t found one in my cursory check that used it to mean “started changing but came back to my original opinion” so, I’m going to assume that is safe to use without a reference from the OED.

Remember, Abe Lincoln famously said: “Not every quote on the Internet attributed to me was mine. Peace out!”

Beating up on Neil DeGrasse Tyson seems to have become the conservative meme of the week for some reason. One of my former classmates from grad school has gone hard-core Tea Party and reposts half a dozen articles a day from sources like the Daily Caller, National Review, and PJ Media, so I’m pretty plugged in to the current trends in right-wing Internet outrage.* She has posted at least three anti-NdT articles over the last week, having never mentioned him before or indicated any particular interest in his activities.

  • I don’t defriend her or hide her posts because 1) she’s a nice enough person face to face, and actually does post some interesting things when she’s not in outrage-du-jour mode; and 2) because it’s actually kind of fascinating watching the talking points unfold and shift. I have no idea whether she believes everything she posts, or whether she simply thinks it is important to spread and propagate the talking points regardless of whether she believes them. I kind of suspect the latter, because she is obviously intelligent and rhetorically savvy enough to have gotten a PhD in a field that is all about language and rhetoric, although think she may have enough cognitive dissonance going on that she would deny it even to herself.

Your right because I failed to consider that someone could prove those were actual quotes.

I’ve heard “the half below average” quote attributed to Eisenhower, or at least he was “shocked” when he heard half of all Americas were below average intelligence, but don’t have a cite. It seems a common example.

This site mentions it:

I think Neil deGrasse Tyson was illustrating a lot of people don’t understand the difference between mean and median.