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Thursday
Jul112019

Cosmologist Brian Keating admits to close relationship to conservative propaganda site Prager U

Brian G. Keating, who is a physicist and cosmologist, and a professor at the University of California at San Diego, made a video for Prager U (their wikipedia), a known deceptive conservative propaganda outlet, in which he compared scientists theorizing about multiple worlds ideas to religious belief, implying that the scientists were no more logical than religion-believers. Here is that video:

Keating reached out to me via Twitter in June 2019 to be on my psych-related podcast People Who Read People. He said "Would love to be on the podcast to discuss cognitive biases in cosmology and the Nobel Prize." 

In emailing with him, I said I didn't really understand why he would have made a video with PragerU, which is a known deceptive and very biased conservative group. In his response, he said "Well, if you hate them I don't think it will be a good match. I am quite close with PragerU and i don't agree that they portray it as if it is a degree granting institution anymore than Budweiser University implies similarly..."

In my opinion, this is a disgraceful association, and should hurt Brian Keating's reputation. PragerU is known for lies and deceptive, biased approaches; they are fundamentally anti-science. If you're not familiar with PragerU, here are a few fun facts:

  • They're not a university or any sort of academic institution. Their name is intended to lend credibility to their videos (their main output), so their deceptive approach is evident in their very name. (I confess I don't know what Budweiser University is, which Keating compared PragerU to, but I doubt Budweiser is making "educational" videos with various experts pushing specific political views.)
  • From Wikipedia: "PragerU was founded in 2009 by conservative radio talk show host Dennis Prager and radio producer and screenwriter Allen Estrin, in order to present conservative views and to offset what Prager regards as the undermining of college education by the left."
  • In a video on the Alt Right, a PragerU presenter argues that it is similar to the American Left, saying "the alt-Right has nothing in common with conservatism, and is in fact much closer to leftism... Except of course, the left is much, much larger."
  • There's an anti-immigrant PragerU video called "The Suicide of Europe." ADL fellow Mark Pitcavage says that the video is prejudiced and contains anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim rhetoric.
  • Another video argues against the scientific consensus on climate change.

I'm sure that's enough to get the point, but the full PragerU wikipedia has more info about their exploits and you can watch their videos for yourself.

Why is Keating involved in this? He seems to be quite bitter about his past experiences, and my assumption is that he holds a grudge against the scientific community. He wrote a book called Losing The Nobel Prize, which was about what seems to be a pretty controversial event where his team claimed to have found gravitational waves (a big deal) but then it turned out they didn't. In his book, he focused on what he sees as the flaws of the scientific community and the Nobel Prize process. You can read a couple blog posts about his book and his past here: Book review #1, Book review #2 (goes into more detail about some alleged shadiness on his part).

I think for Keating to be involved with such an anti-science, deceitful organization is shameful. I'd take it as a sure sign that we won't be seeing anything important from him ever again, science-wise.

To get into what is probably the obvious: I want to point out how ridiculous it is to compare scientists contemplating many-worlds ideas to religious people. All the respected scientists I've read consider many-worlds an option to explain the evidence they've seen thus far (inflation for long-distance many-worlds, and quantum physics/hilbert space to explain close-by many-worlds). I haven't seen them espousing some huge, religious-like belief in the idea. Even the most enthusiastic are careful to point out "it's just something that would fit the strange things we've seen, and also help explain the carefully tuned nature of our universe." I was reading Max Tegmark's first book, and as enthusiastic as he is, he still is careful to point out that there are serious problems facing these ideas, like the measure problem.

Let's say that there are some scientists who do blindly or too-strongly believe in many-worlds concepts. Would that make them less able to do good science? Does Brian Keating really believe that scientists are sitting around so blinded by the idea of many-worlds ideas that they are not doing strong science and are hiding results or silencing other ideas? I just find it laughable. And to summarize what Tegmark said about it: many-worlds is not a theory, it's just a prediction of other theories that have been successful. They know it's almost certainly untestable.

My other thought was: is Brian Keating even religious? Is he even conservative? Based on his past and what I've read about him, I think it's entirely possible he's not conservative or religious, and is just looking for chances to talk shit about his fellow scientists. The fact he reached out to me to talk about cognitive bias in science says a lot about his goals these days.

If you'd like to learn more about multi-verse/many-worlds ideas, check out the multiverse entry on Wikipedia.

Okay enough ranting. In conclusion, shame on you, Brian Keating. You are a disgrace to science.

P.S.: I bought your book because I was curious, but I bought it used.

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