Promoting science is a major reason often given in support of the space shuttle program and against ending it. But the space shuttle program was never about science, as astrophysicist and celebrity science-show host Neil deGrasse Tyson recently admitted (in the video below). It was created for geopolitical reasons — to combat the commies. He thinks Americans are afraid to admit this and need to be more honest with themselves.
He also allowed that you can see the program as a waste of money from the perspective of funding science, but I disagree with his suggestion you can see it as a waste of money only if you see the program as existing solely for the purpose of promoting science. It was a colossal waste of money by any measure, and I say that as a proponent of space exploration and exploitation.
One thing that disturbed me, however, was Tyson’s claim that he could second-guess the geopolitical reasons for the space shuttle program if he were a political scientist, but he’s not so he won’t. On the one hand, it’s refreshing to see a scientist not making cocksure pronouncements about things outside of his particular area of expertise. On the other hand, speaking as a political scientist myself, political scientists should not be put on a pedestal and treated as technocratic experts to whom one must defer on political issues. Ironically, Tyson here falls prey to a kind of provincial attitude, despite warning against another kind in the video, in limiting his personal responsibility for making reasoned judgments to his own field of science . The “Oh, I’ll leave the ethical and political concerns to others, I’m just a scientist” conscience-absolving attitude is an irresponsible abdication of responsibility that has played a role in the development of government weapons of mass destruction, such as the atom bomb.