Useful Notes: Neil deGrasse Tyson
"If you are scientifically literate, the world looks very different to you. There's a lot we understand out there, and that understanding empowers you."Carl Sagan's direct successor as "Coolest Scientist in America", which is appropriate, as Sagan was Tyson's mentor, and was to a degree responsible for Tyson becoming an astrophysicist in the first place. Director of the Hayden Planetarium at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, Doctor Tyson is one of the scientists (along with Brian Cox, Phil Plait, Michio Kaku, Stephen Hawking and several others) who have taken up the task, largely pioneered by Sagan, of bringing easy-to-understand science to the general public. He's the host of PBS's science series Nova, has written multiple books (all easily understood by laymen) about astrophysical phenomena, and is a frequent guest on The Daily Show, The Colbert Report, and Jeopardy. He also runs the Star Talk radio show, in which he and guest speakers discuss astronomy, science and science-fiction (often Lampshading Physics Goofs). Dr. Tyson was the primary driving force behind the demotion of Pluto from "planet" status to "dwarf planet" status, based on his view that Pluto is only one of thousands of Kuiper Belt objects that have been discovered (an action he has admitted has brought him "a lot of hate mail... mostly from children"). In addition to his scientific endeavors, Tyson is a dancer (he won a gold medal in an International Latin Ballroom competition), a wrestler, a collector of fine wines, and a model rocketeer. In collaboration with Richard Dawkins, he's also opposed the Intelligent Design Movement and their attempts to include religion as part of school science curricula. He has argued more than once that a society that isn't scientifically literate is a society without a future. To that effect, he has personally funded scholarships for students who seem especially bright and science-minded out of his own pocket. As an example: during a question-and-answer period at one lecture, a fourth grader asked Dr. Tyson, "What would happen if a black hole collided with another black hole?" Tyson was astounded by the question, and the boy now has a full scholarship to the university of his choice waiting for him. Dr. Tyson claims that he feels he has a duty to "pay Carl Sagan back" for the care and attention Dr. Sagan gave him while he (Tyson) was "just a high school student who wanted to be an astronomer". And best of all, he is One of Us. His lectures frequently reference science fiction movies (he's especially a Star Trek fan) and comic book characters (he collects Superman, Green Lantern, and the Justice League of America), and helped DC Comics name the star that Krypton orbits (red dwarf LHS 2520 in the Corvus constellation). He provided the title for the Symphony Of Science songs Onward to the Edge and We Are All Connected, and appears in the videos. He appeared in season 4 episode 7 of The Big Bang Theory as well as in season 5 episode 16 of Stargate Atlantis. And as Sagan's successor, he hosted Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey series. He even guest narrated on CinemaSins' Everything Wrong With series to help provide scientific inaccuracies with the film, Gravity (and again in their Interstellar video). He plays Waddles the pig on Gravity Falls when he becomes hyper-intelligent (Waddles is normally "voiced" by Dee Bradley Baker). On the other side of the ledger, Tyson became embroiled in a scandal in September of 2014 when he was accused by Sean Davis of the Federalist of fabricating several quotations he used in his public speeches. A summary of the accusations is available here. In one of these instances, Tyson was criticizing the press for not understanding what an average was, even though it seemed to be Tyson himself who appeared to be confused about the difference between an average, or mean, and a median. In another, Tyson referenced a speech that President George W. Bush gave after the destruction of the Space Shuttle Columbia in which the President quoted a passage from the Book of Isaiah to the effect that God, who named the stars, also knew the astronauts who had died in the shuttle disaster. Tyson instead claimed that the passage came from the Book of Genesis, and that Bush had used the passage to claim the superiority of Christianity over Islam following September 11, 2001. In another case, critics argued that his series Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey oversimplified the case of Giordano Bruno to make it a cartoonish story of good-scientist-evil-church (a critique is here).
- [tosses hands up] "Watch out, we got a badass over here!"