Iceberg tip: Neil Tyson fakes deGas science: Make him fess up!

This is the tip of a large iceberg.  Melt it!

There’s a simple red flag here that something is amiss:  In his “correction” post on Facebook, Neil deGrasse Tyson claimed that he had previously “calculated” 125 F using a fixed-volume formula.  That’s untrue.  The red flag is that if he had been using fixed-volume formula, he’d have come up with 142, not 125.  Another red flag is that the 125 F corresponds exactly to a reasonable assumption of the leather stretching by exactly 1.0% in the humidity and rain, causing the volume to expand by 3.0%.

Correcting the admitted error in his calculation of 125 results in a new result: 73.5: room temperature.  His “correction” post incorrectly claims that the result of the correction is 90.   In other words, the on 1/27/2015, when he wrote his “correction” post, he should have tweeted that the Patriots looked innocent, because the weather would cause a room temperature ball to lose the alleged 2 psi.  He should have corrected his erroneous tweet from the day before that basically said the Patriots were guilty.  But instead what he wrote in his “correction” post was untrue served to cover up the magnitude of his error from the day before.

Examination of the circumstances shows that there is no plausible explanation for the misrepresentations in Tyson’s “correction” post other than that Tyson didn’t want to admit that he had tweeted to the effect of “guilty” when he should have tweeted “innocent.”  He silently changed his estimate of leather expansion from 1.0% to 0.0%, an assumption he would have known was unreasonable, apparently in order to force his calculation to produce a result that was more expedient for him personally.  That’s classic scientific misconduct.

This is an even greater issue today because upon having his error pointed out privately to his staff, he or they are electing to leave it unfixed.  If the Patriots were guilty, this would be a moot point, but it’s also recently proven that the  it’s now 100% proven that the Patriots did not cheat, and that the NFL investigators knew the Patriots did not cheat.

Tyson’s failure too call out the right correction may even have caused the NFL to frame the Patriots; the NFL’s work was driven by what fans believed and wanted to believe, rather than by the truth.   His failure to fully disclose the results of his correction may have tipped the scales, directly causing the Patriots to lose their draft picks in 2016, which hurts their chances even in 2018 and 2019 into 2020.  That can still be reversed, in theory.  Tyson should be helping clear the Patriots name, rather than letting his harmful misinformation stand.

Why is this important beyond a silly football scandal that has cost Tom Brady millions of dollars he didn’t need and draft picks he does likely need?  It’s misconduct.  Tyson misrepresented his science and fudged is inputs to get a more marketable conclusion.  When people want to discredit the work of scientists, people accuse scientists of doing just that, to get grants and get published.

That makes him a fake scientist, at least this time around.  The longer he gets away without correcting it and making amends, the more evidence there is that some percentage of other scientists are designing their studies to produce a desired result that will get published, instead of seeking the truth.

He, or his staff, have not responded to the request to correct his post and make amends.

Call to action:

Please help pressure him to understand the impact his actions had and take steps to reduce the damage it caused.  Getting reporters to push the issue would help.

Oh, and use the issue to get Tom Brady’s a re-trial in the court of public opinion, because new information obtained from accidental leaks by the NFL proves cheating was impossible and the NFL knew it.

The proof of the intentional wrongdoing

The tweet:

His innocent tweet on 1/26/2015, which was both over-simplified and also erroneous,  was about how hot the air had to be at the start to provide an innocent explanation for the claims of 2 psi pressure loss in the Patriots footballs when they cooled down.  You may recall that the Patriots were saying that rubbing the footballs to prepare their surface had left them warmer than room temperature, although in hindsight that turned out to be moot because they had cooled back down before the referee approved the balls.

Tyson’s tweet was “For the Patriots to blame a change in temperature for 15% lower-pressures, requires balls to be inflated with 125-degree air.”

The over-simplification is that nearly all his readers would think because the tweet was about “temperature” change, rather than the “weather,” people would not recognize the degree of uncertainty in the data, and would draw the wrong conclusions if they did the math themselves.  In the physical world, on a rainy day, moving into the cooler outdoor air raises the relative humidity, making the leather expand and thus making the football’s volume expand, causing more pressure loss than would happen in a fixed volume like a glass container.  This leather expansion was later proven significant in the NFL’s lab-bench testing documented in the Wells Report, even for the “dry” balls, but few people have noticed.   The rain causes the leather to expand even more.

Tyson had not over-simplified the work he did.  He only over-simplified the description of it, which is still mostly okay because the number he provided to the public included the true complexity.  He’d accounted for leather expansion.    Had he not accounted for the leather expansion, the number he would have tweeted out is 142, not 125.  Therefore, he was considering the leather expansion.  To confirm that to be true, we have to figure out what numbers he was using when he did his innocently erroneous calculation on the day of his erroneous tweet, before then lying the next day about what he learned the next day when he corrected his error.

The error was failing account for the pressure outside the ball.  His post describes that error correctly, but fails to disclose that the result of correcting the error in his original calculation changes the answer to 73.5, rather than to the 90 that his “correction” post claimed.

The data Neil had to start with:

All the variables he was using are known from first checking what the press reports were at the time  and then confirming that his corrected calculation result indeed matched exactly those numbers.   The spreadsheet downloadable at the bottom of the post shows the sources and the calculations.

He was trying to figure out how warm the air would have to be in the ball when the referee checked it for the a ball starting at the alleged 13 psi gauge reading to end up at an 11 psi gauge reading, in order to lose the alleged 2 psi, a loss of 15%, when the temperature drops to the alleged 50 degrees.   He claimed that for a fixed volume, when properly accounting for the outside air pressure of 14.7 psi, which he’d failed to do in his tweet from the prior day, the balls would have to start at 90 degrees to explain the pressure loss.  As the spreadsheet confirms, his 90 degree “corrected” claim validates that he was using those numbers.

If you use zero as the outside air pressure, as Tyson’s post claimed he had done by accident the day before, and take his word for it when his post says that his calculation for his tweet had used a fixed-volume formula, the resulting calculation says 142, not the 125 that he tweeted out.  So when he changed his claim from 125 to 90, he must have silently changed some other assumption he’d been making in addition to making the correction for the outside air pressure.  How can we know what that other assumption was that he changed?

We can rule out the gauge pressure assumption as the source of the difference.  Changing it to the 12.5 minimum instead of the 13 average makes only a tiny difference.  We can rule out the ending temperature, because to end up with 125 as his answer by assuming he’d used a different ending temperature, he’d have to use 35.5 degrees, which isn’t in the ballpark and isn’t a nice round number either.   Did he confuse Celsius and Kelvin with Fahrenheit?  None of those changes would explain it either.  Therefore if it was a calculation, the he had not kept the volume constant.

Was 125 a random gut feel guess, rather than a calculation?  He said it was a calculation.  It seems unlikely that Tyson would make an official sounding proclamation without doing any math.  And if he’d been so irresponsible, he wouldn’t have doubled down and called it a “calculation” the next day; he’d have called it a “rough estimate.”  Could it have been some arithmetic error?  Any chance there was of that fades away when you examine the leather expansion issue.  It provides very strong circumstantial evidence that supports Tyson’s claim that the 125 was the result of a calculation rather than a wild guess.

Hypothesis: Tyson made an allowance for the leather to expand in the rain and humidity

A responsible person, before casting suspicion on the Patriots, would have made some allowance for the effect of the humidity and rain on the leather of the football, which could cause it to stretch just as wood expands when you bring it into humid air or put water on it.  That would cause the volume to increase, which causes an additional loss of pressure compared to the effect of just the temperature.

Googling for “how much does leather expand in humidity” (without the quotes), provides plenty of validation that it expands but not many specifics.

Googling for “how much does wood expand in humidity” provides specifics, to put you in the ball park.  The #1 search hit for that topic shows that humidity increase, without even any water, causes a 12 inch wide board to expand by 1/8 to 1/4 of an inch.  That’s 1.04% to 2.08%.  The relative  humidity increase was large, plus there was actual water, so that’s a good range to use.  Any number around that range would be reasonable.  Even half a percent would be reasonable.  Zero percent is unreasonable.

Confirmed: He had figured on 1.0% leather expansion.

The leather expansion that explains is 125 claim is exactly 1.0%. Therefore, he was not using a fixed-volume formula when he calculated 125.

Figuring on 1.0% expansion causes the volume to increase by (1.01)*(1.01)*(1.01), which is 1.0303: an increase of 3.03%.   Using that assumption with a start temperature of 125 on a football starting at 13 psi and expanding 3.03% in volume in the humidity and rain and ending at 50 degrees results in an ending pressure of 11.00, producing the alleged pressure loss of 2.00 psi.  See the spreadsheet at the bottom of this post for the math.

He could have gotten to his estimate of 125 by assuming that the volume expanded by 3%, pulling that number out of the air, but that would be highly unlikely to pick that particular number.  What makes sense is that he calculated the 3% from considering what happens to the volume if you increase the length by 1% and the width by 1% and the height by 1%.

There is no plausible explanation for arriving at 125 other than having pondered leather expansion and selected 1.0% as the estimate.

The true result of correcting his innocent error: 73.5 F, thus no cheating.

Knowing what formula Tyson used to produce the erroneous 125 claim in his tweet, one can now tell what result he would get by correcting for his forgetting the outside air pressure.  The new answer: 73.5 as the starting temperature now produces pressure drop.  That’s locker room temperature in general and also within the actual range of the heating system at the stadium that day.

What would have been morally correct:

Folks pointed out to him that the right math to describe the effect of temperature when the volume does not change is 90, not 125 like his tweet.  The morally correct response is to acknowledge his error, calculate the new result of 73.5, and remind people that in his judgement, you have to consider the weather, including the humidity and rain, so you can’t keep the volume constant.  He should have reminded the people who corrected his error that they should have made an allowance for the leather expanding, and doing so suggests that there was no cheating.  He’d be admitting to a mistake but also showing that he’d put more science effort into the problem than were the people pointing out his error.

He should have said that to really know whether a few tenths of a psi were missing, careful experiments will have to be done to see how much the leather stretches, but for the time being, the Patriots don’t look guilty.  He should have tweeted the new number, 73.5, and wrote a post explaining the issues accurately.

The untruths:

The next day, 1/27/2015, Neil’s facebook post about Deflategate still basically says, when you check the math carefully, and if you accept Tyson’s clever story about imagining playing football in outer space, his reasoning is that because the Patriots cheat, leather must not expand on earth; unlike in space where he thinks the rain makes it expand 1% when the Patriots aren’t around.  That’s fake science.

As shown above, these statements from his facebook post, still there on 1/14/2018, are untrue:

  •  “My calculation used the well-known gas formula that relates pressure to temperature within a fixed volume” [emphasis added]
  • “Using the (correct) gauge pressure in the calculation reduces the needed inflation temperature to about 90-degrees for that effect”
  • “But what it means is that the Patriots would simply need to have inflated the balls with (more accessible) 90 degree air rather than 125 degree air”

Is there motivation to be untruthful?

Neil’s correction post was the day after his original erroneous tweet, so it seems unlikely he could have just forgotten about the volume issue that he’d done calculations on just the day before.  But people don’t tend to lie without motives.  Motives include:

  • Minimizing how many people would ever find out he made an error
  • Affirming that, despite the error, his larger judgement was still correct
  • Avoiding putting himself at the center of a controversy where there’s certainty at the time
  • Avoid getting sucked into further debates on the topic
  • Avoid delivering news that most of his fans an followers don’t want to hear — that the Patriots probably didn’t cheat.
  • Not wanting to appear to be “wrong” again if it later turns out that the Patriots did cheat
  • Not wanting to admit to himself that the Patriots didn’t appear to have cheated, because at most not much air appears to be missing.

There’s not much penalty for untruth because:

  • Nobody would likely notice (nobody did for almost 3 years)
  • Most of the country would forgive him for bias against the Patriots
  • He’s largely independent as an author and speaker, beholden more to public opinion than anything else.
  • He seemed to think the Patriots were guilty, so if he got caught he’d still seem “right” in the big picture.
  • People are inclined to give the benefit of the doubt to likable famous scientists
  • Nobody would pay attention if someone did notice (so far at least)
  • His museum doesn’t look into such allegation
  • Few people in the public eye are interested in expending their political capital to expose the wrongdoing of a popular person who generally does good work of promoting public interest in science.
  • The public doesn’t have the patience to examine the evidence of lying.  If he gets caught with the untruths, he can just say they were an accident and nobody will be push back.
  • He may believe that a small lie to protect his reputation is better than reducing his reputation, thereby reducing his ability to do good works.  The path to hell is indeed paved with good intentions, as the say.

In short, nearly any public figure who is rational and is not a martyr, unless they put a very high value on the truth, would lie and probably not feel too bad about it, rather than fess up.  Especially at a time when for all he knew, the Patriots were almost certainly guilty of sneaking out at least a few tenths of a psi, based on the press reports.

It’s naive to think that corporations or politicians or anyone who’s livelihood depends on public perception would call themselves out as fools for a mistake if they thought they could possibly ignore the mistake (he couldn’t) or smooth it over with a little deception to not look like a big deal (he did).  Indeed politicians and corporations, even when under scrutiny, try to mislead people regarding the significance of any wrongdoing that’s been called out.

Could Tyson have just forgotten what he did the day before?

What if he had no recollection whatsoever of the day before, or of how he got the 125 answer?   That wouldn’t change his world view about humidity and leather.  Upon being told that the fixed-volume answer is 90 degrees, his immediate reaction would be that people need to factor in an estimate for leather expansion.  He would have recalled doing so the previous day.

Could he have calculated both 142 (no expansion) and 125 (expansion), and forgotten which scenario the 125 came from?  It seems very hard to imagine that he’d have forgotten what he did the previous day and also not re-checked his math.  Even if he’d lost track of which of his original numbers were which, he’d also have remembered that expansion made a difference of about 17 degrees, so he’d know that when people told him 90 degrees for no expansion, the right answer was about 17 degrees less than that.

Even if he had no recollection of the 142, he still knew that because leather expands, the key figure the public needed to know was much less than 90.

So he knew the big picture that correcting his error changes the appearance from guilt to innocence.

Lack of corrective action shows disregard for the truth

Even for those people unwilling to think through the reasons why it’s implausible that he didn’t realize his statements were false at the time, there’s no good reason not to correct them now.

It’s not a moot point now that the Patriots are proven innocent beyond any reasonable doubt

Didn’t the NFL run experiments using a 3D laser scanner to prove leather didn’t expand, making this all a moot point?  No!  The NFL paid for such experiments to falsely design a 3D laser scanner test for the purpose of creating a false appearance that leather didn’t expand.  They never actually tested what happens when  a dry ball spends time in humid air or gets water on it.

They withheld the internal-ball-temperature data from their experiments with humid air and misted-and-wiped footballs to make it harder to notice that the data showed the leather had expanded significantly.  Fortunately, they forgot to delete the data that showed that within 25 minutes of a change in the outside temperature, the inside temperature is essentially the same as the outside temperature (Exponent Figure 14).  This allows you to see in Figure 21 that by the end, over 0.2 psi of pressure loss caused by volume expansion, when the balls fully warmed up but the leather hadn’t contracted yet, for a ball that wasn’t even exposed to any liquid water, and over 0.30 psi.  I the leather didn’t stretch, the balls were supposed to end up about 0.17 psi higher than they started, because they ended up 3.5 degrees warmer than they started.  They didn’t.

Furthermore, the pressure loss on game day was much less than 2 psi for most balls because they’d started with less pressure than the NFL realized at the time of the initial press reports.  Furthermore, the air the balls were exposed to was not 50 but rather 45 degrees, because the air touching the outside of the wet bag holding the wet and dry balls was 45 degrees due to the evaporation, rather than the air temperature in the stadium of 48.  Check out “wet bulb temperature” on wikipedia, or the spreadsheet at

The witness information combined with data documented by Exponent proved with extraordinary precision that no air appeared missing and not even 0.20 psi of missing pressure could be hidden in the remaining small uncertainty.  There is much more to it than can be covered in this space.  The NFL obscured most of that key data, but it was still there, except for a few key pieces of information the the video, the weather records, and the appeal hearing transcript.   It’s quite a puzzle and quite a detective story, hence the book “Catching the Accusers.”

The surprising impact of Tyson’s untruth:

Tyson played a significant role in falsely convicting the Patriots in the court of public opinion.  What if Tyson instead admitted that when he fixed is oversight about neglecting the outside pressure, his science told him the Patriots were most likely innocent?  Opinion might have shifted, causing the NFL to decide not to later frame the Patriots by later running intentionally misleading tests and later hiding copious amounts of their information.

Early in the scandal, before the NFL started testing, the NFL leaked to the press that many balls had only about 10.5 psi, 2 psi below the minimum they’re allowed to start with (12.5) Surprise: that information was correct.  Had Neil DeGrasse Tyson said to his millions of twitter followers and said on TV that that a 2 psi drop was about right, the whole scandal might have played out differently.

Note: Few people knew at the time that about 0.33 psi of that allegedly lost pressure was never in the balls to begin with because the gauge had lied.  How the NFL covered up their proof that the ref indeed used the gauge that lied, and how Ted Wells later accidentally leaked it out, is quite a detective story — see the book!

The NFL later denied those reports that many balls had only 10.5 psi because the NFL didn’t want to admit that NFL personnel had witnessed unwritten measurements on cold footballs that showed the Colts balls had only about 11 psi at the time, the difference caused by the Colts balls starting out with 0.50 psi more pressure when the referee approved them compared to the Patriots footballs.  In other words, they figured out early on that the Colts footballs had originally lost about as much pressure as the Patriots footballs.

The written measurements in the Wells Report were different because by the time those other measurements were made, the Colts balls had warmed up out in the open for 13 minutes, while most of the Patriots balls spent time in a wet bag that not only kept balls cool, but actually re-chilled balls that had warmed up when they were first taken out for those initial, unwritten measurements.

Pretty much the only people that know these things for sure are the ones who have already read the book “Catching the Accusers”, on 

Perhaps making Neil “DeGas” Tyson fess up can bring enough publicity to get the press to check it out, confirm it’s true, report the fact that the NFL knew the Patriots were innocent, and who knows, maybe even shame the NFL into giving back the draft picks, so Brady can have his best shot to win another superbowl in January of 2019.

It’s up to you to help make this happen!   Spread the word.


PS: Here’s the spreadsheet to check Neil’s numbers.

Re-creation of Neil DeGrasse Tyson's PSI Analysis
Re-creation of Neil DeGrasse Tyson's PSI Analysis
Version: 1
13.2 KiB