In Which I Am Smarter Than Neil deGrasse Tyson (About Painful Animal Sex)

Neil deGrasse Tyson is a fantastically intelligent human being. Here are very many facts about him which prove the point. But, alas, he is still human, and thus prone to same occasional overreach that almost all of us are, as evidenced by this tweet he sent out several days ago:

Neil deGrasse

 

Now, as already established, Dr. Tyson, super-astrophysicist, is an absurdly smart guy. Wildly, crazily intelligent. Brainy in a way that I cannot imagine. But, if you’ll look closely at the tweet above, you’ll notice that he is straying beyond his own (incredibly vast) area of intellectual specialization. And even if you grant the obvious certainty that he almost certainly knows (very much) more than the average bear about a great number of topics that fall outside of his own areas of expertise, he is still bringing a layman’s understanding of animal boot-knocking (in the parlance of our times fifteen years ago) when put up against people who actually study this sort of thing. And also weirdos.

You can put me firmly in that second camp.  Before we take a spin over there though, it should be noted that animal-sex afficionadoes (that can’t be the right phrasing) were all over Tyson from the jump, hitting him with obvious and well-known examples of painful animal procreative proclivities like:

House Cats

I’ll take penile spines evolved to, uhhh, let’s just say “maintain connection” because good lord, the reality is somehow worse than the phrase “penile spines” for $100, Alex. THE REALITY IS WORSE THAN THE PHRASE PENILE SPINES. Just want to emphasize that. See this guy right here –

cute-orange-cat

He has penile spines and is a horrific monster. SO ADORABLE!

Ducks

Remember all the way back, ten seconds ago, when we were discussing penile spines? Remember how awful that was? Anyway:

Female ducks have evolved an intriguing way to avoid becoming impregnated by undesirable but aggressive males endowed with large corkscrew-shaped penises: vaginas with clockwise spirals that thwart oppositely spiraled males.

What’s so awful about that, you’re wondering? Let’s do it again, but this time, I’ll highlight some key phrasing:

Female ducks have evolved an intriguing way to avoid becoming impregnated by undesirable but aggressive males endowed with large corkscrew-shaped penises: vaginas with clockwise spirals that thwart oppositely spiraled males.

Here’s a whole article about this horrifying nightmare fuel if you’re not yet convinced. Would you like a gif of a muscovy’s penis, for some reason? (Also, do not click on this link.) Here. Now, understand that what the female ducks have done in response, apparently, is evolve vaginas corkscrewed in the opposite direction as as a defense against these animals. How bad did things get at lady duck headquarters before the decision was made to evolve vaginas corkscrewing (that’s a terrible term to be using, all things considered) in the opposite direction?  Pretty bad, I’d wager.

Bedbugs

The clinical term for what bedbugs do is “traumatic insemination” which, GAHHHHHH, so all the more I’ll say about is this brief description:

bedbugs

Squid

Which brings me to weirdos: me. Yes, scientists have their favorites, and yes, many of these examples are far closer to our lives than my own, but there’s still no shaking the Humboldt Squid‘s approach to reproduction. Start with the fact that this reproduction is occurring in the dark of the ocean. Add in the fact that squid have a penis-like appendage. Finalize with the fact that they definitely want their sperm to go somewhere, ideally in a lady squid, ideally near something that will find the sperm useful.

What do you have? An animal that cuts into its mate in multiple locations, inseminates the wounds, and just sort of hopes that something ends up working out biologically. And this process can work even after the squid is dead as in the case of this South Korean woman. *retches*

And then there’s this:

Males that produce sperm packages that can penetrate deep into the skin. Females with bellies full of stored sperm. Males that seriously injure the females during mating. This is just a selection of the bizarre reproductive techniques that marine biologist Henk-Jan Hoving has discovered with different species of deep-ocean squid.

*sonorous voiceover voice* Nature: It’s Horrifying And Awful, All At Once

Conclusion

Dr. Tyson is right about so many things but, unfortunately, he overstepped his area of expertise in regard to animal sex. Cmon now. CMON!

But, to be fair, he did sheepishly acknowledged his own faux pas:

deGrasse 2

So at least he’s smart enough to know when he’s wrong.


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33 thoughts on “In Which I Am Smarter Than Neil deGrasse Tyson (About Painful Animal Sex)

  1. Go watch footage of elephant seals mating (Netflix has a number of options) and tell me they’re enjoying it, Neil.

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  2. Pretty much all males enjoy sex. That’s how Mama Nature makes the whole thing work, after all.
    Females enjoying sex is kinda a weird aberration.

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  3. Between this and the intersex venomous snakes last time, I for one am glad that Sam is keeping on top of the Weird World of Violent Animal Sex beat for OT.

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  4. I’ve dubbed the whole NGT, Richard Dawkins, and pretty much any physicist who’s ever spoken about anything but physics Twitter as “smug Twitter.” NGT is its apotheosis, and his greatest Smug Twitter tweet is this one:

    The Leap Day is misnamed. We’re not leaping anywhere. The calendar is simply, and abruptly, catching up with Earth’s orbit— Neil deGrasse Tyson (@neiltyson) February 29, 2016

    One of the rules of Smug Twitter is that its inhabitants are almost always wrong, often in absurdly obvious ways which reveal that the person was just being pointlessly smug. In the example, what might we call “abruptly catching up” with something in colloquial English? A “leap,” perhaps?

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    • I am still loving the fact that I can hate on NGT all I want now and people won’t automatically assume I am a (maybe racist) knuckle-dragging hater of all things science.

      Seriously, he hasn’t just started being this way. He’s always been this way. People just loved f***ing science too much to notice.

      Regarding your tweet in question, I loved this response (which matches yours) from the husband of a former Leaguester:

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    • In Tyson’s defense, I’m not sure how long I could go being told I’m brilliant by everyone I meet before I veer outside of what I know and make a fool out of myself. In fact, I’ve done that even without the temptation offered by people calling me brilliant.

      And then add Twitter on top of it, and you can’t help but say stupid stuff.

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      • Oh sure. I suspect the same sort of thing happened with Dawkins: people kept treating him like a preacher who was right about everything, so he started acting like a preacher who thinks he’s right about everything.

        Also, I say we start the experiment now. You’re brilliant, Vikram.

        Now it’s everyone else’s turn. Let’s see how long it takes before you give us your leap year moment.

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        • Can people fall for the fan-based reality that they’re brilliant without believing and presenting themselves as brilliant to begin with?

          Seems unlikely to me. But maybe. Maybe that’s what happened to Kanye…

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  5. So… I’m going to dissent…

    Is the argument that no one should ever comment on matters outside their lane? Because that will take down like, 72% of the internet. Wait… shit, I don’t actually know anything about this topic so maybe I shouldn’t talk.

    I think this criticism would be much more valid of NDT was holding himself out there as an expert on the topic. But he isn’t. He’s just a guy saying something dumb on the internet. Isn’t that what the internet is for?

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    • As per usual, I mostly wanted to make jokes, but I do think given his gleeful enjoyment at correcting people’s misconceptions (which he routinely does within physics/astronomy), he should be more careful when straying beyond the boundaries of his own expertise for precisely this reason.

      I think many experts/talents are guilty of believing that their skillset exists much more broadly than it does, as if being good at one thing makes you good at all (or most) things. I can’t tell you how many people I’ve seen believe that because they’re good at research, they’re good at managing people.

      Anyway, the one thing you can always count on the internet for is real experts correcting feigned experts, which is what happened almost immediately too Tyson.

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    • intellectual authorities should be extra careful when doing so. I mean, a moment of googling would have cleared that up. Granted, this is not life and death information, but a little care from people who’s authority makes it more likely that many will believe unquestioningly seems a reasonable thing to ask.

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      • A very reasonable counter, Chris. I considered that myself but wasn’t sure if that was a fair burden to put on people.

        This particular comment seems more pithy observation… a poor attempt at Seinfeldian observation humor… but still. If you want to fancy yourself an expert, it does seem you are going to be received differently and taken to task when you are wrong… even if you are joking about an area of non-expertise.

        The people that really bother me are those who deliberately misrepresent themselves. People like Dr. Phil who seem content to comment on EVERYTHING because they have a certain title… even if they have a fairly limited area of expertise.

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    • Scientists are supposed to hold themselves to higher standards when commenting specifically about science, even if (maybe especially if) it’s outside their specific field. Since part of a scientific worldview involves not running around claiming stuff before you’ve tested it (at least by say, GOOGLING FOR FIVE SECONDS). Part of being rational, objective, and other such imaginary but yet still desirable adjectives.

      Plus Steven Jay Gould did such an admirable job of being a public intellectual that all modern public intellectual scientists are constantly being held to his standard (AND MOSTLY FAILING).

      Alsoplus, Richard Dawkins has been a smarmy bastard since his first popular science book came out, IF NOT EARLIER. (None of the evolutionary biologists I have met – admittedly no more than a dozen or so) have ever had a kind word to say for the man or his efforts at science.)

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  6. As I’ve said elsewhere:

    I think there’s a parable in this about the rational/skeptical community and the trouble that some segments of it have when it comes to grappling with feminism and social justice more generally.

    “My basic understanding of logic and some principle of science has led me to this conclusion, therefore it must be true”

    “Have you considered that your chain of reasoning fails to take into account the actual perspectives of women, and that your worship of science-as-totem has actually blinded you to a more complicated truth?”

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    • I think this is a very good point, and if one wanted to be particularly grim about Tyson’s tweet, it is that it was plainly and obviously written from an entirely male perspective. And his conclusion – that they would have died out years ago – is itself oddly personifying of animals, as if squids really are sitting down to discuss the relative merits of their peculiar sexual intercourse in service of a broader cost-benefit analysis of the whole thing, rather than simply being creatures living short, brutish lives, wherein reproduction is an instinctual part of their year on earth.

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    • “My basic understanding of logic and some principle of science has led me to this conclusion, therefore it must be true”

      How true is that characterization? It reads an awful lot of specific intentionality into a whole range of statements and a whole range of conflicts between the hard sciences and feminism/social justice/identity studies writ large.

      Certainly, there are cases of plain old hubris (I would put Dawkins in this category) and cases of being informed by a worldview of clear sexism/racism/whatever (James Watson comes to mind), but there are also plenty of areas where the disconnect arises because the two worlds are simply engaged in different projects.

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      • I less often see two worlds engaging in different projects than people with an (often tentative) connection to one world attacking the people and projects in the other.

        There’s a reason I talked about certain portions of the rational/skeptical community rather than hard scientists.

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  7. So, wait, rape in the animal kingdom is common, so common that females of some species altered there physical structure to prevent it/discourage it.

    So rape is “natural” then? How can it be wrong if animals do it. We’re all part of the glory that isnature.

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