Science

What’s Neil deGrasse Tyson Doing on Ben Shapiro’s Podcast?

On second thought, this makes a lot of sense.

Ben Shapiro and Neil deGrasse Tyson.
Ben Shapiro and Neil deGrasse Tyson.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by Rich Polk/Getty Images for Politicon and Araya Diaz/Getty Images.

On Sunday, Neil deGrasse Tyson will appear on an episode of The Ben Shapiro Show. According to a promo clip, they’ll be “talking about everything from physics to climate change to abortion to transgenderism,” Shapiro, the conservative firebrand who is known for antagonizing liberals, says. “We’ll get in all sorts of trouble.” Tyson sits in a chair across from him, nodding and bursting into a laugh at the end.

The chumminess between the two men seems to have already bothered some of Tyson’s co-workers. “In my experience, museum-affiliated scientists are required to vet all media appearances through our communications department,” tweeted Jacklyn Grace Lacey, an anthropologist at the American Museum of Natural History, where Tyson heads the Hayden Planetarium. Just Friday, Shapiro covered the Democratic LGBTQ town hall on his show, implied homosexuality is a “social viewpoint,” and said the town hall was “discrimination against religious people.” Given those, and other views, Lacey had “SEVERAL questions.”

Inner PR workings of the museum aside, it actually makes a lot of sense that this beloved (to many) science communicator is cavorting with Shapiro. Tyson is selling a new book, Letters From an Astrophysicist, in which he shares “correspondence with people across the globe who have sought him out in search of answers,” according to the Amazon page. Going on The Ben Shapiro Show, whose Sunday specials regularly draw 100,000 views on YouTube alone, will likely help him sell books.

But this media tour is about more than just getting his face in front of more people. Tyson has a more delicate task this time around, as it’s his first book after being accused of sexual misconduct. Last year, Tyson issued a rebuttal … in which he basically admitted to crossing several boundaries—like inviting his assistant to his apartment for a late-night hangout—while also claiming not to have done anything wrong. He was allowed to keep his job following closed-door investigations by his employers, the actual findings of which weren’t shared with the public, a frustrating move given the public-ness of the accusations themselves (from multiple women, including the former assistant, who claims he made lewd comments to her, and a former classmate, who claims he raped her). But after a year of staying (relatively) quiet, at least in terms of major interviews, this week of book press is serving the dual purpose as a mini redemption tour. Whenever Tyson is asked about the accusations, it’s always along with the fact that the institutions cleared him, which means the question mostly comes in the form of inquiry about what the past year has been like for him, rather than on what he allegedly did or whether he’s sorry. The answers he’s been giving fit with his original response to the allegations—that he’s just a bumbling dude who wants to help people learn.

On Tuesday’s CBS This Morning, he noted that in the past year, “I’ve learned to care about support that I’ve received, from friends, from family, from a fan base,” he replied. Then, he seamlessly segues into book promotion: “A lot of that fan base is represented spiritually, emotionally, and intellectually in this collection of letters. It’s people sharing their deepest issues, angst, about the world.” When asked further about his “#MeToo experience”—was he surprised?—he places his answer in a framework of caring about evidence. “You never know what’s going to happen, or who’s going to say anything about anything. … There’s an understandable urge for people to take sides, to have opinions, even in the absence of information; the entire point of an investigation is to be thorough. For some people that doesn’t matter I suppose.” Again, missing is an explanation of what conclusions had excused his behavior—does his employer think the things he was accused of didn’t happen, or just that they don’t matter? Tyson seems to think the latter: Later in the segment, he attributes any times he may have made people uncomfortable to a “spillage of personality,” as he waves his arms around laughing.

On The View, also aired on Tuesday, the segment kicks off with a question about the accusations and how his past year has been. Tyson explained that the end of the investigations last March allowed him to get back to his work. “I see myself as a servant of the public’s appetite for learning about the universe. It’s what I do. It’s all I do. To get back to work and maintain that has been good for me.” He again cites the support of fans. “You’ve been cleared for everything, so let’s get down to business,” Whoopi Goldberg concludes, with a snap of her fingers. Then they move on to Tyson’s specialty, answering questions about space travel and aliens.

The same pattern happens on Tuesday’s The Late Show With Stephen Colbert. Colbert asks, “What has this last year been like for you?” Tyson replays his winning answer, saying that he valued support from family, friends, and fans. “Especially fans, who were there the whole time, and they’re there now, receiving all that I do for them, trying to bring the universe down to Earth to whoever will listen,” he elaborates. “Clearly audiences love you,” Colbert replies.

And on Sunday, he’ll likely do the same thing on Shapiro’s show. In some respects, it’s a perfect place for him to continue this tour: Shapiro and Tyson are rather alike in their insistence on their own viewpoints as rational and therefore correct. “Facts don’t care about your feelings,” reads Shapiro’s pinned tweet. That sentiment parallels a famous Tyson quote, “The good thing about science is that it’s true whether or not you believe in it.” Shapiro was recently in the news for questioning the validity of Brett Kavanaugh’s accusers on the basis of what he saw as a lack of evidence, despite extensive reporting corroborating the women’s stories. Like Tyson, he picks and chooses what counts as evidence in these situations, and then performs objectivity. It shouldn’t be surprising that Tyson is including him as a stop on his book tour.