Last month, Playboy magazine ran an interview with Deepak Chopra, well-known among skeptics as a man whose grasp of science is only enough to use sciencey-sounding words to bolster whatever bizarre claim he's making this week.
I received an email from an editor of Playboy asking me if I'd like to write an OpEd about the interview to be printed in that issue. Given the long reach of the magazine (it sells more than 2 million copies per month) I agreed and quickly penned a response. The interview and my editorial, along with one by Michael Shermer, ran in that June 2011 issue [NOTE: Playboy had the interview online but now it's gone; I found transcripts but I'm not sure they're legal. If someone knows where the original link is, please let me know!]. Here is what they printed from me:
This captures the gist of what I was saying, but due to space limitations was not my entire rebuttal to Chopra's word salad in the interview (or should that be Mad Lib?). I think it could be read as if I'm insulting people who aren't scientists, but that's not what I was saying. To make things clear, here, in its entirety, is what I wrote:
Deepak Chopra has once again failed to grasp the reality around him. In the interview, when asked why scientists argue so strongly against him, he says “…that’s because I’ve gone out on a limb, whereas other people have played it safe.”
That’s not quite right: it’s not that he went out on a scientific limb, it’s that when he talks about science he gets it utterly wrong. Ironically, he’s so wrong all the time he’s even wrong about being wrong. This also extends to his pronouncements about quantum mechanics, where he universally garbles even the most basic premise of the science. To someone unaccustomed to it, he sounds profound, but to someone who actually knows QM what he says is mumbo jumbo. And when he tries to defend himself he says things that are simply false.
For example, in the interview he claims that “… skeptics are all angry people. They’re mostly high school teachers with old science behind them.” Sure, skeptics are angry when someone, willfully or otherwise, grossly abuses even basic science. But skepticism is just demanding evidence for claims. That’s not anger. That’s common sense.
And as far as the second part of his statement about skeptics, that shows his own prejudice against those who question him. When I go to skeptics meetings I see speakers on the real cutting edge of science. And I also see an audience comprised of people of all ages, including many who are quite young, all sharing a joy of science, a wonder of the Universe, and a sense of majesty and awe at the view Nature provides us.
If you want to truly understand something, and grasp just how amazing the Universe truly is, science – and reality – win every time.
Dr. Philip Plait Astronomer, author of “Bad Astronomy”, creator of the Bad Astronomy Blog
Too bad they couldn't print that whole thing, but happily I can here. I hope that clears up my stance on Chopra. Of course, it's true I'm unhappy he's distorting reality to make a buck. But what makes me really unhappy -- yes, even angry -- is that he's shortchanging the Universe. His Universe is small and scary and unexplainable. The real Universe is huge and magnificent and artistic and understandable using math and science.
Perhaps, in the end, that's what motivates me to do all this. I want people to see just how grand the real Universe is. We're a part of it, and we can understand it. And that's just about the most magnificent thing I can imagine.