Comets and asses

Two things happened this week. One of them was a scientific achievement that advances human knowledge, and one of them was a giant butt. Which one do you think America cared about more?  Screenshot_2014-11-14-21-41-09

So yeah, this happened. And on Kim Kardashian’s official Facebook page, as you can see, it garnered over 260k likes. Oh, and also we landed a space probe on a comet for the first time ever. No big deal.


This is only the first time in history we’ve seen the surface of a comet. This mission might provide answers to questions about our solar system and our very own planet. So you know, I wouldn’t be surprised if tons of people–what?! Only 5.6k likes? Okay…fine, maybe the ESA doesn’t have the greatest of Facebook presences. But what about more popular science sites on FB, like I fucking love science? Surely when they posted about Philae and Rosetta, people flocked to it!


That was the most popular post about Philae and Rosetta and the ESA mission, and it only has 150k likes. A hundred thousand more people were interested in a celebrity ass than a scientific milestone. That might not seem like a lot of people, but think of how many politicians are elected by much slimmer margins. 

Okay, Facebook isn’t the only social media site out there. There’s also twitter. So let’s look at that. Here’s something from the ESA and Philae:


I think this bears repeating: this is the first time human eyes have seen what the surface of a comet looks like. Almost 9k likes. Okay. And then there’s this:


Kim K’s baby eating hot chocolate. Almost 30k likes. More than three times as many likes as a significant scientific and human milestone. Let that sink in.

So why is this important? Because this is it, people. This is America. If you’ve ever wondered what’s wrong with our country, ta-da.

It’s why, when ranked internationally, American students come in at or below average in math and science testing. In recent data our students failed to crack the top 20 in science, math, and reading. But there is a further implication here.

This is why the problem with scientific literacy in America is never going to get better. Science can’t compete. I applaud people like Bill Nye, Brian Greene, Lawrence Krauss, and Neil deGrasse Tyson for the wonderful books they turn out on current scientific advancements and ideas for consumption by the general public. But books aren’t going to reach the people we need to influence the most–our youth. Today’s kids spend 7.5 hours per day consuming media (TV, social networking, gaming, and music). Or, put another way, they spend virtually all of their free time NOT reading. 

If science wants to make any sort of meaningful impact on future generations, they’ll have to do so over social media. There’s literally no other way to reach children and adolescents. But science is being drowned out. Kim Kardashian has 24 million Facebook fans. If you add up NASA, CERN, the ESA, Bill Nye, Stephen Hawking, and Richard Dawkins fans you only get 14.65 million, a little more than half of Kim K’s followers.

Some people might be tempted to say, “So what?” Who cares if kids aren’t interested in a comet? Scientifically illiterate kids grow up to become scientifically illiterate adults. And the those adults vote and are elected into office, and do things like ignore global warming, refuse to vaccinate their kids, and try to get creationism taught as science. Scientifically illiterate people don’t innovate, and without innovation the economy is going to tank. Scientific literacy affects every facet of our lives and our future.

Kim Kardashian reaches more kids everyday than science does. For that matter, so does Justin Bieber, whose Facebook page has 76,000,000 likes. One final bit of information.

Between their two twitter accounts, Kim Kardashian and Justin Bieber reach a combined 82.2 million people–about 25% of all Americans. NASA reaches just under 8 million, or about 2.5% of all Americans.



14 thoughts on “Comets and asses

  1. I read an article once that said that canceling NASA missions had a much more long-reaching effect than saving money in the short term: we grew up watching astronauts go up into space and were inspired to go into engineering and other sciences. Without those programs, kids aren’t going to be able to think “I want to be an astronaut when I grow up!” Apparently now they can think “I want to have a photographable shiny butt when I grow up.” 😛

    1. They did a study not long ago about kid’s career goals. Most of them just want to be famous. Not for any talent, like JK Rowling got for Harry Potter, just to be famous like those reality show stars. Let’s hope that some parent somewhere is telling their kid that their chances of doing that are so slim, they may as well not even bother with just trying to be famous in general.
      I can’t find the study itself, but here’s a link to the huffpo article on it, for those who are interested.

  2. Honestly, I think most of the problem with us not scoring in the top 20 is that we tend to focus on the wrong side of the problem. We’d rather lower the passing grade than do some kind of education reform. We’ll fix a problem superficially so that parents don’t bitch to the school that their kid is stupid. I may think the Flynn Effect is a real thing, but I have a feeling it’s slowing down. Maybe not, I don’t have the numbers of IQ tests, but it feels like it.

    The economy, at this point, is mostly based on getting people addicted, not coming up with great products. Almost every food item is designed to be as addictive as possible so that they don’t have to make anything new, just repackage the old stuff. Replace food with almost anything else and the statement still holds true.

    In defense of video games, they’ve done some pretty good things for people’s lives. I learned to read almost exclusively from video games like Final Fantasy and Pokemon. Perfect World got me interested in math, and the game itself has nothing to do with math, just some of the stuff that you can do with your character down the road. After that, I found the Numberphile youtube channel, and from that the Periodic Table of Videos. If you give them the right video games, you can get a kid’s spark going. The same can be said for TV shows and whatnot. Plus there are equally stupid books you can feed your kid, like the book Kim Kardashian wrote. That book also got her on the NYT Best Seller’s list, which is actually kind of sad.

    We get a culture that we want, and right now this is what we want. Hell, I think it’s always been what we want. We’re a visceral species, so we’re more likely to want to stare at Kim Kardashian’s ass than at the surface of a comet. Even I’ll admit the fact that they sent that probe into space 10 years ago and it made it is almost as impressive as the fact that we’ve landed a probe on a comet at all. We can’t even make a phone battery that lasts more than a day.

    You can’t really expect us to care about this sort of thing, since it doesn’t directly affect most of us. Life really feels no different now than it did a week ago for most of us. We have a limited mental bandwidth, and most people are in such soul-crushing jobs that they don’t have the brain power left over to give a shit about the rocket on Mars or whatever it was. We’re just not built to, I guess.

    1. I’ve heard that IQ tests here are on the rise, but then again relative to the rest of the world we may still be getting outpaced. Of course I’ve also heard that IQ rests are outdated, poorly reflect actual intelligence, and are basically useless.

      I really didn’t mean to bash on video games. I grew up playing video games, and I turned out just fine. There’s nothing wrong with video games per se. Everyone needs to blow off steam now and then, and they were lumped into a general “screen time” category. TV can also be educational for that matter. Hell, think of how many kids learned to read from Sesame Street. The problem isn’t the things themselves, but rather their ubiquity and how we use them.

      And this is where I disagree with you, respectfully. I don’t think we have the society we want. I think we have the society that’s been engineered and thrust upon us by the ruling class in this country. They’ve designed an economy where sex sells because it makes them more money. They’ve stagnated wages and shipped jobs overseas and cut benefits and employee hours to increase profits for shareholders, which means that in a lot of families both parents have to work or they have multiple jobs and so there isn’t anyone in the family to help kids succeed academically. Special interests and politicians defund education and service programs.

      Because I don’t think this is what people want. If you asked parents if they wanted their kids to grow up to be the next Britney Spears or the next Albert Einstein, I very highly doubt any parents would answer Britney. Yes, we have a reptilian brain buried in our skulls that wants a lot of sex, but that’s always been the case. However, it hasn’t always been the case that societies on earth have always venerated and looked up to sluts. There was a time in American history where we did actually looked up to people of substance–authors, scientists, explorers, politicians. Their brains loved sex too, yet they were able to rise above it. I think we have tons of mental bandwidth. Look at how many people watched the moon landing, and that arguably didn’t affect our day to loves either. And there was a lot of the American plate back then, too. I’m sure going to work still sucked. The Vietnam War was on. People thought the Russians would blow us all to hell any day.

      I think the culture we see now is a direct result of wealth consolidation and concentration. A select number of people want more and more and they have everyone else under their economic boot, so to speak. They present us with everything we see and hear and read. The way they influence politics and practice business make people so desperate to just basically survive that they have no time to help their kids with school or to even instill the basics into them. And school isn’t doing it, because they’ve lobbied for the gutting and destruction of what was once an educational system that was the envy of the world.

      I think the vast majority of people in America don’t want this culture, but they’re too busy, poor, and uneducated to begin to fix it.

  3. You should write more Ryan, you’re getting pretty good at this 🙂

    I agree with this post wholeheartedly. People would buy a shit sandwich if it was called “The Kardashian”

    I see people all the time who are more concerned with the Faux News alternate universe than what they can actually see for themselves.

    I often see people who are unable to gather the facts and make their own fucking opinions. They eagerly await someone else’s opinion to adopt as their own.

    I wish I could gather up my family, move to a nice island someplace, and do my best to see it populated with people who are grounded in reality. I doubt it would last long though…teh stupid is everywhere.

    1. Thanks man 🙂

      Yeah, I really don’t know what the solution here is. Or if there’s even a solution. If people are so eager to just adopt an opinion, I’d think that some people at least would cling to pop Sci guys like bill nye or deGrasse tyson. But they don’t. For some reason, people seem to gravitate toward the most ass backward, incorrect ideas or ways of thinking.

  4. I totally see where this is going. I have not read any of the comments above mine and just read what Ryan posted. Reading about Ryan’s post made me realize that society, in some respects, is doomed. Western and “Westernized” culture lately has been too focused on petty, stupid topics and celebrities. Ryan, you make a good point about how people have lost their focus from important topics and subtopics like religion/spirituality, astrophysics, biology, antropology, economics, evolution….and then debating each of these. These are far more important topics to be discussed…..

    I do think that it’s possible that we could all be wrong about this. People want “cute and funny,” Ryan. Plain and simple. Let me explain. (Keep in mind I don’t want “cute or funny” but just let me be the Devil’s Advocate here). We live in a serious and sometimes dangerous world. There are constant threats of terrorism in our country and other countries, people freaking out over Ebola (for no real reason), people freaking out over vaccines, pollution….etc;

    People want “cute and funny” which in my opinion means one main idea: people want to escape from reality. Plain and simple. Even though I disagree with all of it….

    I remeber a year ago I posted something about a very controversial topic about economics, from a historical approach and from an economic historian. I posted something with facts, logic, using the scientific method and a lot of research from experts….I also posted, within a day or two of this, a picture of a friends dogs in a driver’s seat of a car and the title was, “No Time To Explain. Get In The Car.”
    Guess which facebook post got the most attention, in terms of “likes” and whatever else?
    Yeah, the one with the dog. I put a lot of thought, compiled a lot of past research, used peer-reviewed, took differing sides into the other post but……… Nobody really cared. At all.
    Even though what I posted what actually important, dispelled several myths from the last several decades, could have probably change the minds of a lot of people if they would follow through with the post….but….nada. Nothing.
    I put a lot of thought into this post….but. Nothing.
    There obviously was a lot more thought putting an unmanned device on an object in space versus a bottle of alcohol exploding over Kim’s arse.

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