Once Again, America’s Best-Known Scientist Demonstrates Why We Can’t Trust Scientists, Especially If They Are Progressive, Pandering, Political Correctness-Obsessed Jerks Who Apparently Get Their Information From Cartoons [Corrected]

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:

Signature role

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.

18 thoughts on “Once Again, America’s Best-Known Scientist Demonstrates Why We Can’t Trust Scientists, Especially If They Are Progressive, Pandering, Political Correctness-Obsessed Jerks Who Apparently Get Their Information From Cartoons [Corrected]

  1. Stone? You mean Moore? Or Livingston? I know there’s a dispute as to whether Clement C. Moore wrote the poem, but Henry Livingston, Jr. is the only other person considered to have possibly been the author.

    Just for the record, at least in Europe, St. Nicholas was usually thought of as getting around by horse (specifically a white horse), or horse-drawn sleigh. Other gift-giving figures mostly didn’t have specific conveyances, although La Befana, a sort of Christmas witch who sometimes appears in Italy (the Three Kings invited her to come with them, she said she was too busy, but later regretted it and followed, and now wanders the world giving gifts to children, hoping to find the Christ Child) rides a broomstick, and of course the Three Kings supposedly ride camels in the Spanish-speaking countries.

    Reindeer first appeared in 1821 as an illustration to another Christmas poem, and then only one reindeer (white, with antlers) was depicted. Moore named eight, just for meter in his poem, and eight it was going forward, until Gene Autry’s song made Rudolph popular and he joined the team. There might be something in the pre-Christian tradition where Laplander shamans, using fly agaric, might have seen visions of flying reindeer. As for antlers, obviously these are magical reindeer (reindeer don’t normally fly), so they can look however the storyteller wants them to. Personally, if I were writing a Christmas story, the power to fly probably would have come from God, right around the same time He made Nicholas immortal.

    Tyson is a dick, he proved that long ago with his stupid wet blanket tweet on Christmas Day. Ok, you’re an atheist and you don’t celebrate. Go in to work then, and do something more useful than giving those of us who do a hard time.

    • Fixed this before I saw your comment. The link gave the correct name of the poet (though there’s a post here somewhere about the authorship controversy.) I was thinking of W. Clement Stone, who did more than write one poem, but he didn’t write this one.

  2. I can always count on Steve to fill his posts with interesting facts. I thank him for that.

    I am getting tired of people like Tyson trying to gin up some type of controversy merely to get his or her name in print. Tyson may be an astrophysicist but he is woefully ignorant with respect to allowing a culture’s iconography that reflects that which is good to be left alone and not denigrated.

    I have found that people who criticize simply to demonstrate their intellect often demonstrate their incompetence outside their spheres of training and education.

  3. Just wondering; Is “A Visit From St. Nicolas” the most influential poem in US history? “The new Colossus” gets a lot of lip service, and “The Star Spangled Banner” is important, but did they change anything substantive? But the whole Christmas culture. marketing, merchandise. music and movies were based on Moore’s imagery and ideas.

      • I’ve got more polar bears frolicking than reindeer flying.
        I think kids are brighter than dumb pronouncements like this. (I prefer Steve Allen’s pungent comments on Dumbth by celebs) A reindeer doesn’t talk or pull sleighs through the air, so any antler meanings are just as much fantasy. Even as a kid, I figured a few, like Vixen were female or had gender neutral names so it never bothered me in even my most militant feminist period.

        I admit I had really looked forward to his reviving the Cosmos brand, but I could not get through the first season due to historical inaccuracies and bias about culture instead of explaining SCIENCE. I felt horribly betrayed that the focus was not on the universe of science. The shifting sands of historical cultural change lost the chance to excite a generation about the wonder of the cosmos instead of blathering about social justice viewpoints that will never speak to people in another generation. Nothing ages as fast as old propaganda– that’s why it should be avoided in fiction or non-fiction. It will look stupid to kids and insane to older people who’re more experienced in fads and witch-hunts.
        Message projects will rarely become classics, unless the lessons are easily forgotten. (ref 1984 and Farenheit 451)

  4. Tyson clearly has too much time on his hands and too many friends who militantly identify as they/them or some other magical gender identity category. Queer theory I’m convinced, is about trying to make everyone as miserable as those who adhere this gender crap.

    My wife is pretty much “misgendered” daily. Her response to these supposed most horrid of abuses, is to smile and move on. If I ever meet Tyson, I’ll do the same.

    The way more interesting fact to share about reindeer, is how their large noses keep them warm. Their noses warm the air that goes into their bodies due to their entropy production. The colder it is outside, the more warm they become. Now that’s fascinating stuff!

  5. It would be cute if the next big Santa Claus movie has the reindeer anterless. When one of the characters new to the North Pol questions it, they get schooled on reindeer biology.

    And while they’re at it, they could clarify that Santa’s “elves” are technically brownies. I doubt Legolas would be thrilled at the notion that he’s shorter than a dwarf and only good for making toys.

  6. Let’s get back to the science, huh. Here is your physics lesson for today. Oil up your slide rules and check the calculations (to 3 significant digits, anyway). I give you “The Physics of Santa”:
    http://www.daclarke.org/Humour/santa.html

    For the record, I must add that in my home on the left coast, it was recognized that the east to west route being most likely, would put our house on the tail end of the trip and Santa would be needing something more than luke-warm cocoa or stale Coke, so he always had a couple fingers of Early Times sitting near the hearth. Neat. For medicinal purposes only, of course. Dad had a good handle on how things really worked.

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