Not for the first time, astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, the anointed successor to the far more serious and reliable Carl Sagan, abused his reputation as the nation’s most-recognized scientist by grandstanding for the progressive mob, his allies and pals.
On Christmas Eve, he tweeted,
“Santa doesn’t know Zoology: Both male & female Reindeer grow antlers. But all male Reindeer lose their antlers in the late fall, well-before Christmas. So Santa’s reindeer, which all sport antlers, are therefore all female, which means Rudolf has been misgendered.“
One of the annoying things about Tyson is that he is a know-it-all, and like most know-it-alls, he doesn’t know as much as he thinks he does. When someone sporting the mantle of scientist is delving into the accuracy of the alleged features of Santa’s reindeer, he should be aware of the origin of the assertions he is debunking. Tyson obviously isn’t. Indeed, he is apparently illiterate.
The first mention of Santa’s reindeer is in the 1822 poem “A Visit from St. Nicholas,” better known today as “The Night Before Christmas.” He refers to “eight tiny reindeer.” Reindeer aren’t tiny, at least the reindeer we know about. If Santa’s reindeer are indeed tiny (in the poem they are pulling a “miniature sleigh”) , then they must be a species unknown to us and science, and thus the male members of the breed might retain their antlers. We have little information on this question. Scientists are supposed to investigate such things, not leap to conclusions. Tyson just assumed tiny reindeer are the same as the usual kind, or, more likely, he didn’t consider the issue at all. That’s sloppy, agenda-driven science, and malpractice by Tyson.
Reading the poem, one can see that there is no mention of antlers at all. If males of the so-far undiscovered species of tiny reindeer do lose their antlers before Christmas, nothing in the poem suggests otherwise. Nor does the poem suggest that the reindeer are male. St. Nicholas, aka Santa, calls out the names Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donder and Blitzen. I’ve never known a man or woman with any of those names. Presumably “Vixen” is a female name, and Cupid, the one name that suggests a male (Cupid was the son of Aphrodite in Greek Mythology), is also a girl’s name, according to the BabyCenter, which tracks such things.
The tiny reindeer could all be female, and thus have their antlers if tiny reindeer share that characteristic with the big versions, or all-male without their antlers, or, if keeping antlers is a quirk of the as yet undiscovered Rangifer tarandus mimimus, then well-antlered as illustrators of the poem assumed, but you can’t blame the poet, or Santa, for their artistic license. You can blame a scientist who is supposed to follow sound principles of research for not checking the facts before shooting off his metaphorical mouth.
But what about Rudolph? His story was the invention of Robert May, and then Johnny Marks wrote the music and lyrics of the Gene Autry Christmas classic based on the short May story. As you can immediately discern from the rendition of the song above,there is no reference in the lyrics to Rudolph having antlers or not having antlers. Once again, Tyson has chosen to neglect his research in order to reach a desired conclusion. The song has far outstripped the children’s story in popularity and circulation: I had never seen nor read the story before today. [In the original post, I credited May with the song. Thanks to Frank Romano for the correction.]
So what is Tyson basing his smarty-pants pronouncements on? Why cartoons, that’s what! The inexplicably famous Rankin-Bass 1964 stop-action feature shows Rudolph with antlers. It also shows Rudolph talking, and reindeer don’t talk—I’d call that a more troubling variation from zoology that the antlers/no antlers issue. But then real reindeer aren’t stop-action animations, and neither is Santa. Obviously the representations of the reindeer aren’t intended to be literal, because animation isn’t literal. Why is Tyson citing zoology at all, since animated reindeer aren’t animals?
Nor is there any suggestion in the animated feature that Santa named Rudolph, since we are told that he is the son of Donner (more correctly Donder), who also can talk. I would assume that Rudolph was named by his parents…if Rudolph is really a “he.” After all, the voice of Rudolph on the feature is a she, Billie Mae Richards:
If Tyson had tracked down the original story, which he obviously did not, he would have known that Rudolph was neither one of Santa’s reindeer, nor was he the offspring of any of them. Santa saw Rudolph’s glowing nose at a nearby reindeer village and recruited him for that foggy Christmas eve’s flight. This also means that Santa didn’t name Rudolph, and that it wasn’t Santa’s team that were mean to Rudolph, but the reindeer where he lived before Santa found him.
But I digress…
In summary, Neil deGrasse Tyson abused his authority by making an accusation without evidence, based on second hand material, without checking the easily ascertainable facts available. His claim was based on unwarranted assumptions and biased conclusions, all to justify progressive virtue-signaling and pandering to feminists and political correctness fanatics who have been politicizing the Rudolph story for years. In the process, he provided a perfect example of why scientists cannot be assumed to be trustworthy, thorough, unbiased, and, at least in Tyson’s case, literate.