Friday, March 28, 2014

I saw Neil DeGrasse Tyson live at the University of Utah and he made me dream about tomorrow

Dr. Tyson exudes personality on stage. I was impressed by how entertaining,
informative, and humorous he was. And I loved it when he read from "The Book
of Carl", i.e., an honorary nod to Carl Sagan who was so important in my life
that I quote from him in my novel, Oculus (it's no coincidence that the story
takes place at Ivy League school Cornell University, Sagan's Alma Mater.
Wednesday night at around seven o'clock mountain time, Dr. Neil DeGrasse Tyson of the Hayden Planetarium in New York City took the stage at Kingsbury Hall here at the University of Utah to thunderous applause. He immediately started talking about Pluto and how he "drove the car" that got it reclassified as a dwarf planet and how hate mail (see below) has poured into his office ever since. "I didn't fire the gun, I just drove the car." Maybe the New York Times started it all by taking the reclassification of such notable scientists as Tyson and making an eye-catching front page headline "Pluto's Not a Planet? Only in New York."

If you take the time to read the piece I'm talking about by following the embedded link, it's kind of humorous. Also, here's the letter that Tyson displayed behind him, and it had me laughing my ass off. In my opinion, if you're going to get hate mail, this is the best kind to get.
You gotta love any child that starts a letter in earnest with "Dear Scientist" and then goes on to be concerned about science books not being "right" and concerned about the possible people who may live there who won't exist if Pluto ceases to be a planet. I'm also fairly sure that Dr. Tyson responded to this little girl by handwritten letter (and I'd love to read that). I say this because it's simply too cute to ignore.

Tyson went on to give a summary of scientific observations about the night sky that many of us never notice (probably because we live in cities that drown out the light of the stars). For example, Uranus was originally discovered by a Brit who named the planet "George" after the English King. Really?

Thinking about the order of the planets in that way, i.e. Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, ... and George makes me chuckle. Later it was renamed by Britain to a more suitable roman god with one concession: the moons of Uranus would be named for Greek characters that appear in Shakespearean plays (or in a poem by Alexander Pope). That's how we get Titania and Oberon (A Midsummer Night's Dream), Ariel (The Tempest), Umbriel (The Rape of the Lock), Miranda (The Tempest), Cupid (Timon of Athens), and Mab (Romeo and Juliet). You see, people that discover scientific things get naming rights, and this was a more fascinating topic than I thought it would be. Allow me to elaborate.
Ancient Baghdad as depicted by an artist. Perhaps this might have been
a scene during the Golden Age of Islam.
People have been looking up at the sky for a long time, and Dr. Tyson focused his lecture on a 300 year span in history known as the Golden Age of Islam. According to Dr. Tyson, Baghdad (during this era) arose as a cultural epicenter of all things scientific and wonderful.

Baghdad welcomed people from far and wide who had differing views and observations of the natural world. Arabs invented algebra and trigonometry and gave us the concept of zero (which even the Romans had no clue). They gave us words like algorithm and a numeral system we still use today. Because of the golden age of Islam humans explored biology, medicine (hospitals were open 24-hours and a system requiring medical diplomas to license doctors was put into place), and they gave us some of the most fantastic architecture and engineering the world has ever seen. And of course some people turned their eyes to the heavens to begin what would become the field of astronomy.
Ibn al-Haytham was an Arab scientist,
mathematician, astronomer, and philosopher
who made significant contributions to the
principles of optics, astronomy, and the
scientific method. Before him, people used
to think we were able to see because beams
of energy emerged from our eyes. Picture
Superman and his x-ray vision and you get
the idea behind "emission theory," which
proved to be completely wrong.

This is why most of the brightest stars in the sky have Arabic names. Betelgeuse (in the constellation of Orion) and Pollux are just two examples. But all of that scientific advancement ended after 300 years because there was a cultural shift in the Islamic population away from scientific questioning and observation.

Tyson gave an example of this by pretending to knock something off of his podium. Instead of pursuing why something falls to the earth and looking for a reason, the people in the region explained the event as simply being "Allah's will."

Tyson says you can't go through a day in the Muslim-centric area of the world without hearing someone make a reference to "Allah willing, the weather will be good tomorrow" or some other such nonsense. They've completely stopped their participation in forward and advanced scientific exploration and fall back upon the idea that "god did this" for all things they don't understand or don't want to understand. Religion has basically become the ultimate excuse to stop learning.

Dr. Tyson says this is a tragedy because the Muslim world comprises 1.4 billion people; that's 1.4 billion people that have washed themselves of all responsibility to make the human race better. "There have only been 2.5 Nobel Prize winners in the realm of SCIENCE that have come from Islamic backgrounds. I say .5 because one was in economics."

Imam Al Ghazali
When Dr. Tyson frames the conversation like this, it's sobering. Literally one-sixth of the world could care less about science. So how did all of this start? He put up a picture of an Imam named Al Ghazali. A religious reformer and mystic who (in Tyson's words) is one of the people responsible for the decline of science and civilization in Muslim culture with works like Mathematics is the work of the Devil, Al Ghazali essentially started a movement to get people to accept the following: all events had to be caused by the divine instead of being the product of some external force.

In other words, Al Ghazali killed curiosity and Tyson insists that this is going on in America today. It saddens me to agree so wholeheartedly with Dr. Tyson. Here's how I identify the problem at hand: we now have an entire population of self-absorbed scientifically unmotivated adults, and it hurts all of us because adults are in charge. Think about it. Adults wield resources and create or destroy opportunities. In my own state of Utah, assault on education from the Eagle Forum is continuous. For example, these backward thinking conservatives want to remove sex education of any kind from the classrooms to just teach one thing: abstinence.

In my opinion, one of the biggest problems with the world today is that we have large groups of people who will accept whatever they hear on the grapevine, just because it suits their worldview--not because it is actually true or because they have evidence to support it. We live in a world where we see headlines like "Eighty percent of the passengers who survived had studied the locations of the exit doors on takeoff." This headline doesn't provide any real information. It's not like we can ask the dead people if they studied the locations of the exit doors. And what about a congressman who (Dr. Tyson points out) said, "I've changed my views 360 degrees on that subject!" The guy that said this makes a huge salary, yet remains scientifically and mathematically ignorant (either that or diabolically evil). We live in a world where elevators don't have a 13th floor because superstition is so powerful that people actually fear a number. And we live in a world that's afraid to use negative numbers to indicate basements. Instead we get "B" for "Basement" and "SB" for "Sub-Basement." Dr. Tyson says, "We have a perfectly established numeric system that can eliminate the need to buy a vowel."

"I don't recognize America today," Dr. Tyson said over and over. He emphasized that his reboot of Sagan's Cosmos is an attempt to reignite America's curiosity about science. "It's to remind you of how science works." As a viewer and fan of Dr. Tyson, I have to say that Cosmos is pretty darn amazing. Hearing him talk about future episodes of the show was exciting. But he also went on to show the audience how insignificant we really are by telling a story from his own life.
Cosmos is a reboot of Sagan's mini-series filmed a
generation ago. Sadly, it will have only 13 episodes like
the original. I got the answer straight from Dr. Tyson
himself in the Q&A period (see below).

Here's how it went down. Dr. Tyson was invited to speak before a crowd of very bright and young science and mathematics scholars who had all won awards and were headed to the colleges of their choice (boy wouldn't that be nice?).

One young man wore a Harvard tie and Dr. Tyson took the tie away from this man and asked him, "Why are you wearing this tie? Is it because you want the respect of others who recognize the pedigree of an education from Harvard?"

The young man admitted that this is exactly why he wore the tie and this is how Dr. Tyson responded: "The reason you want this is because people that went to that institution before you went out into the world and accomplished great things. After they did these great things, the institution claimed them as one of their students." Tyson eluded in his tale that many people focus on the wrong thing: an educational pedigree. "Accomplish great things and no one will care about your educational background. Does anyone here know what school Einstein went to? Do we care? Nope. He won the Nobel Prize in Science because his achievements exceeded that prize." For those of you that may be concerned about the young man's tie, Dr. Tyson said he intends to return it to him soon and follow-up on the guy's ambitions and projects now that he's graduated.

Because I work in the public sector, this uncomfortable truth from Tyson really struck a nerve. In government, education is valued over skill (at least in the agency I work for). It has to do with justifying the expenditure of tax payer money. In order to do that, people have to have letters after their names. In the private sector, companies like Google and Facebook could care less about your education. If you have the gravitas and ability to demonstrate incredible skill in the field of software engineering, you can go to work for Silicon Valley right out of high school and make a six-figure salary. My point? Skill is prized above education.

Dr. Tyson touched on how people and their tremendous "Egos" have damaged scientific discovery. For example, many cultures raise us to believe that we are special in this universe or that we were created to rule all other things. In his opinion, this is far from the truth (as disparaging as it may be). But he went on to say that there's something deeply spiritual about being connected by DNA to all living things. I tend to agree. As an example, Dr. Tyson told the audience that there are more bacteria in your colon right now than all the people born on this world even if you go back to the very beginning of time. And every once in a while, those bacteria will remind you of who's in charge.

One of the slides Dr. Tyson showed the audience was a phylogenetic cross-section of a "Tree of Life" showing the relationship between species whose genomes have been sequenced as of 2006. The very center represents the last universal ancestor of all life on earth:
Click on this sentence for an even bigger picture of the above so that you can see all the names going around the outside.

Homo sapiens occupies one small line in this list of species at about the eleven o'clock position. If that doesn't make you feel insignificant, then he followed up with a picture of Saturn taken by the Cassini spacecraft (Saturn was gorgeous by the way) that shows a pale blue dot called Earth. Then he read from Carl Sagan's own book Pale Blue Dot: A vision of the Human Future in Space:
"Consider that dot. That's here. That's home. That's us. On it everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every "superstar," every "supreme leader," every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there--on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.
"The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that in glory and triumph they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner. How frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds. Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity--in all this vastness--there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.
"The Earth is the only world known, so far, to harbor life. There is nowhere else, at least in the near future, to which our species could migrate. Visit, yes. Settle, not yet. Like it or not, for the moment, the Earth is where we make our stand. It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we've ever known." -- Carl Sagan
Dr. Tyson showed us how America used to dream about tomorrow by putting up an image from the 1950's. I don't have a copy of the exact image Dr. Tyson used in his presentation, but it looked something like "Tomorrowland" as seen below:
He said that we no longer have these visions; that it basically ended when America stopped going to the moon. "We don't even have the ability to visit our own space station. We have to rely on Russia, which is one of the reasons why we don't want to make them too angry with sanctions over their invasion of Crimea." Again, he reiterated the theme of "I don't recognize this country." He put up a map that showed nations distorted on purpose to reflect scientific growth. You'll notice that the United States is now smaller in contribution than Japan, Europe, and China. This is a result of people electing representatives who do not value science and the thing it inoculates us from (here's looking at you Michelle Bachmann, Ted Cruz, and insane Senator Mike Lee from my own state of Utah--I hang my head in shame).
The world map of scientific growth by country.
Notice Africa. It's non-existent. An entire area of the world that rejects science in favor of something else. Europe is huge because the United States walked away from the super collider project in the 1990's (that could have discovered the Higgs Boson not to mention made thousands of jobs for people in Texas), and we allowed the Europeans to achieve that milestone. Brazil is growing because of aerospace and Japan remains huge as it has been during the entirety of the post World War 2 generation. Tyson does not want the United States to go the way of the Golden Age of Islam.

So why should America be worried about the decline of science? Well for one, "Science inoculates you from cult leaders by giving you the tools to question their authority." He described how the Heaven's Gate cultists all committed suicide because they believed a spaceship was traveling behind the comet Hale-Bopp and that (through dying) they'd arrive on the spaceship wearing their shoes and carrying their backpacks. In every generation there are people who claim the world is ending and they base it on some lie that has no evidence. Science gives you the ability to question these claims. "Oh you say there's a spaceship? Can you show it to me?"
The vest he's wearing was bought right here at the planetarium in Salt
Lake City. He said there were no more on the shelves and the guy
working the register had one on and offered to sell it to him. It remains
one of the most favorite of his vests to wear.
In the question and answer session, I actually got to ask Dr. Tyson a question. Boy was that fun. I said, "Dr. Tyson, will there be a second season of Cosmos?" He reacted with a huge smile and capered about the stage comically. "DO YOU HAVE ANY IDEA HOW HARD IT WAS TO GET THE FIRST SEASON to television!? Holy cow. I don't know. It's up to Fox, but as much as I love it someone else needs to do it. I'M A SCIENTIST. I want to be in my lab and watching my kids grow up." He shook his head to many affectionate "awhh's" coming from the audience (including my own) and replied, "Folks, that's how it works. Someone else gets to take over. We pass the baton to someone new."

Well I asked a question and got an answer. I love Cosmos, but it appears there will be only thirteen episodes just like Sagan's mini-series that was on PBS a generation ago. I guess I will have to savor them. TL;DR: I saw Neil DeGrasse Tyson live at the University of Utah and he made me dream about tomorrow. It's a dream I haven't had in some time, and I'm glad it's back.

Do you think the United States can turn itself around, get a hold of education, and instill the love of science in the next generation? Do you think the first man on Mars will be an American? I'd like to think so, but Neil DeGrasse Tyson is right. Only science will show us the way.


  1. To be a grumpy bulldog, I don't think America has ever really been that great at science. Einstein wasn't American. Neither were all those Nazi scientists we brought over who helped us get to the moon.

    I have to say George is better than Ur-anus, though far less hilarious.

    It is true instead of Tomorrowland all we seem to think about are apocalyptic landscapes. (Not dystopias, ahem.) I wouldn't blame not going to the moon again so much as Vietnam and then Watergate and the constant threat of nuclear annihilation and now terrorism has dampened our enthusiasm about the future.

    It is pretty lame we can't launch people in rockets anymore, though maybe Putin's BS will reignite the Space Race as he seems determined to start Cold War II. (See, this is what I was talking about in my previous point. I mean how am I supposed to think about some shiny Jetsons future when it looks like WWIII could start in a couple years?)

    Anyway, science and technology is the only way to move things forward. Religious nuts should get on board because if they really believe the Big Man in the Sky created us then he also created our intellect and curiosity that's allowed us to do all this stuff and thus it would be sinful to waste His precious gifts. So all those uptight imams and Tea Partiers are blasphemers!!!

    BTW, this is your best post in like forever. I suppose Monday it will be back to movie previews or TV show reviews or funny cat pictures or something.

  2. Thanks Michael, for an enlightening post. The comment at the end says it all: 'The Good thing about science is it's true whether you believe it or not.' A man after my own heart. Loved Sagan.

    I think Canada needs to take a bigger part in the equation, too. Canada appears non-existent on that map of science advancement. Scientists here are ignored by our government if what they say doesn't fit 'their' government policy.

  3. @Pat: Dude! It's hard to write really good posts all the time. Some days I just don't feel inspired. But thanks for the compliment. :)

  4. man, this was an awesome post and i'm totally jealous that you got to go to this talk.

    I actually went to a talk last night about discovering new mammals in the age of extinction, and there was one point that totally gave me hope about our future. He said when they announced the Olinguito as a new carnivore, in under 48 hours the website that hosted the heavy, dense scientific study and paper that no layman could understand, crashed, because so many people were trying to read it.

  5. Part of the problem (a big part) is that people, people being not all that bright on the whole, want answers they can understand. "God made it that way" or "Allah wills it" are easy, understandable answers. People are inclined to go that way rather than to understand the scientific reason for something.

    The rest of the problem is economic and the fact that we continue to funnel money to the 1% so that that gap between them and everyone else grows wider and wider. We can't educate people while they hold all the money, and they don't want to educate people, because less educated people are more compliant.

  6. @Pat: You made me grin with dystopian aside.

  7. What a great opportunity being able to see a speech by Neil. He's one of my favourite scientist/atheist spokespersons, even though he's always adamant about being agnostic.

    That letter from that kid was so cute. What an imagination! Maybe that child will be a future writer.

  8. @Andrew: I couldn't agree more.

    @Suz: Yes, he's agnostic. Honestly, I lean that way too, but I use the term "atheist" because there's less to explain that way. A lot of people are very unfamiliar with the term.

  9. The modern world was created by those who understood the benefits of the scientific method. I find it interesting that many in the Moslem world would turn their backs on science in favor of a medieval caliphiate, yet many Islamic governments (Iran in particular) are currently busy creating atomic bombs. The last time I checked, a knowledge of science is required to create such a bomb. Guns and cars and planes are all valued in the Moslem world, yet they came from science.

    I'm enjoying Dr. Tyson's version of Cosmos and I also enjoyed your informative post.

  10. @Stephen: Dr. Tyson was concerned about scientific growth. People have known what it takes to make an atomic bomb for decades and Iran is just now getting around to doing it. The program is on hold by the way, thanks to our government's diplomatic outreach. One does not grow by reproducing what is already known. That's merely peer review. A nation grows by solving problems where no answer yet exists. This is what Tyson believes we should be working on and Tyson sees the best way to do this is by going into space once more. Let's go to Mars!

  11. I think a lot of it has more to do with economy than curiosity. The industrial revolution happened when Britain was the most affluent country in the world (due to various nefarious activities) and 50s America was enjoying a post-war boom. Dreaming is a lot more commonplace when people feel comfortable.

    Nowadays money people stick to what they know and take fewer risks. Religion is just one of many coping mechanisms and often an excuse for apportioning blame (non-believers!).

    Very interesting post, cheers.

    Moody Writing

  12. He is such a brilliant and charismatic guy. A great ambassador for science. And Cosmos! He's perfect to bring that show back.


    This is totally immature, but you gotta watch this if you haven't seen it already.

    Dude, totally click here.

  13. @L.G.: That's an awesome video. Thanks for sharing. The slo-mo puts a whole other spin on Neil.

  14. Oh, I'm jealous you got to see Dr. Tyson! I adore the man. I've been watching the new Cosmos show and I make sure to catch anything with him on the Science Channel. I had no idea Uranus was called George! Hehehe! As for the US turning itself around, I really hope so. My son already has a love for science. He wants to be an astronaut. I hope his dreams come true.

  15. I apologize on the behalf of SC for its terrible record on science. I told some girl about the red moon (part of the lunar eclipse) next month and she said "is the world going end like it says in the bible"

    seriously there are bible verses about a red moon being a sign of doom.

    Turns out there's been many in just recent history. No doom yet. Figure that.

  16. Am I weird if I think that hate mail letter from the kid is darling? Kids crack me up!

  17. I love Neil DeGrasse Tyson. He makes science cool (along with my husband, I should say). And how cool you got to see him. What a great, detailed post. I love the letter from the kid. It reminded me of a picture book I wrote when the Pluto demotion happened. I called it: Oh, No! What Happened to Pluto?"

  18. Wow, Michael...what an awesome post! I can't even begin to know what to comment on without my comment becoming longer than the post. LOL
    I was fortunate enough to grow up during the '50s and '60s, when science and math still meant something. Education has experienced a terrible decline, replaced by more superstition and fringe nonsense than I even want to contemplate.
    That is so cool that you got to see him!
    I, too, was saddened when Pluto got demoted. Loved the letter from the kid. :)
    And George? That's funny!

  19. Oh, and Pat? My A to Z posts will all be cat pictures...but with intellectual quotes...

  20. Well, this was a spectacular post! I really hope that Neil DeGrasse Tyson visits Denver soon (or Boulder or some other close place). He's such a fantastic speaker.

    America has indeed changed, as he says. There's still a strong scientific community, but gone is the leadership of someone like JFK who set a seemingly impossible goal--putting a man on the moon within the decade, and somehow we did it. And then we developed even grander space plans that somehow got lost.

    Growing up, I remember Future World fantasies being common, and Star Trek was a hopeful, scientific, very un-dystopian view of humanity's future. When I was a kid there also didn't seem to be the hostility toward science that the loud fringe nuts now express. No doubt there was a fringe then, but they didn't have the noisy platforms and belligerent anger we see now.

    Those fringe nuts, as opposed to the sane religious folks (many of whom can be scientists too) are certainly a baleful influence on America today, but I think what's also hurting us is the worship of money, status, entertainment, materialism. Instead of studying the sciences, too many people have gone to law school or get their MBAs, so that now we have a dangerous shortage of medical doctors and really skilled engineers. Today hedge fund managers and bankers are lionized only because they are obscenely wealthy. Meanwhile, scientists have to fight for research funding. This is wrong.

    By the way, if I ever discover a heavenly body I think I'd like to name it Fred.

  21. @Helena: That is a remarkably astute comment about Hedge Fund managers and how our focus (as a country) has shifted toward status, money, and materialism. Our brightest minds are now going to Silicon Valley or Wall Street and not into the sciences.

  22. That's so cool that you got to see him live. I would have loved to go to that talk.

    Scientific illiteracy is a problem. Too many kids see science as boring, or worse, in opposition to their religion. Which it isn't. Not really.

    I guess what we all have to do is to support Tyson and scientific shows and such. Promote the fun of science where we can. We must be the change we wish to see in the world. We might not be able to take everyone with us, but we might be able to pull some that just need a nudge in the right direction.

  23. The United States has never been good at science. We had a good run after World War Two when many of them emigrated from Europe and our university system still attracts many of the best and brightest to visit and some stay to enjoy the fruits of capitalism.

    Where the United States has always excelled is engineering. Forerunners were things like the Erie Canal, the Washington Monument, the Panama Canal, and Hoover Dam. The Space Program was an offshoot of this as it combined the knowledge of the Germans with the engineering genius of the United States to create something decades ahead of when it should have occurred.

    Many of the best and brightest in the 60s/70s went into civil engineering and built bridges, interstates, and parks. Others went to Silicon Valley and created the computer age.

    I grew up in the 80s and the focus during the Reagan era was money and specifically banking. All the brightest American students in the 80s and 90s focused their energy figuring out ways to leverage decimal points to better fund projects and get better returns on money. The problem was while some of what they did added value, most of it contributed nothing to the greater good and ultimately almost sent the world into a economic tailspin that would have made the Great Depression look like childsplay if not for timely government intervention.

    We've wasted the knowledge of a generation and the current one could be even bleaker as many get degrees but the jobs that have felt like a birthright for almost a century are disappearing.

    There aren't easy answers but the turn away from science is the saddest result as we've split into two camps: reason based thinking and faith based thinking. They can co-exist as Sagan wrote so brilliantly in his book Contact. Tyson is taking a firmer line in Cosmos as they producers aren't pulling punches in standing up to the fundamentalists that have always stood in the way of progress.

    In my opinion, the only way to turn this around is for people to stop being polite when discussing religion. 50% of American thinks the world is 5,000 years old which is laughably stupid but no one calls them out. That needs to stop and people like Tyson give me hope.

  24. @Kevin: The problem with calling out religious people is that you are not going to change their mind. These people believe without the need for evidence and peer review because it suits their worldview. I think this is especially true for men, as their role in religions is always superior to that of a woman's no matter what religion you seem to look at. Take a look at the LDS religion as just one example and you see how men are empowered in just about every single way. This makes them feel good and at the end of the day, they don't want to go back to being a nobody so they embrace the delusion of being "extra special."

    As well, meetings and group "get togethers" are a dreadful way to get anything accomplished. I've found this to be true when arguing with a creationist because many of these folks are what I call "Big Talkers." In other words, they talk over you on purpose to keep you from saying anything at all.

    Here's the thing: people who are allowed to talk in meetings do not improve accuracy, but they radically improve their own opinion of their accuracy. In a research on this very topic, "making a decision as a part of a group leads to increases in confidence that are not mirrored in accuracy." People talk themselves into believing that they're right. More talk doesn't convince them otherwise, so they're lacking vital data that the silent pairs had--an honest estimation of both partners' level of surety. Talking actually obscured their whole situation.

    Because of the psychology in how a human mind reaches a decision, the best thing we can do is keep discussion brief, and allow people time to think about their own position, without having to defend it.

  25. OH, wow. This would take me days to fully comment on. I agree with about 99.9% of everything you and Tyson say here, and I want so much to comment on everything in it. Let me say this, though, in brief:

    1. I don't, as someone who makes hiring decisions, look at what school anyone went to. When I give it thought at all, I think that people who go to Harvard, etc., are dumb, because knowledge is knowledge and they paid 10 times what I paid to learn the same things. The caliber of teacher is less important than the caliber of student.

    2. I've never understood why believing in God means not believing in science. I believe in God, and I understand science. It seems perfectly natural to me to say "God exists, and He created a world that follows scientific rules." Saying "It's God's will" that something drops to the ground is dumb. Understanding why things drop to the ground (whether you think they do so in a universe that was created or 'Just happened', as Mark Twain said) is important to know how to react to the world around you. I've been having a debate with a partner at work about our revenues: he says "we always make this much and we don't know why..." and I point out that means he can't count on it happening or exploit it. If you don't know why things drop to the ground, you can't know how to stop them from doing so, or take advantage of them doing so, etc.

    3. The real answer, I think, is to engender a love of science again. We don't spend money on moons, etc., because we started caring about COST as opposed to SCIENCE. The space shuttle was an attempt to control costs, and it made space travel mundane, and routine, and mundane, routine things do not capture the imagination. The first thing to go is always the mundane and routine, and when you reduce everything to a cost-benefit analysis, you'll never get people involved in space travel.

    Kennedy got people excited by making it a challenge, and it was part of the Cold War. The only good thing Worst President Ever Bush did was talk about going to Mars, and boy should we do that. That's why I liked Felix's jump from space (and why I got made at Tyson for degrading it): it got people thinking about science.

    If you make people excited about science, they'll not notice the money we spend. People spend a jillion dollars a year on college basketball crap, because they love it. Get them thrilled about Mars and they'll donate money voluntarily.

    Which is why "Cosmos" is a good start, and why overall Tyson (who tends to be a bit arrogant) is a good thing.

  26. As a tiny, insignificant life form that lives on a pale blue dot suspended in a sunbeam, how can I help? How can I possibly make a difference? I look at my kids and see my answer. When I talk to my children about math and science, I can't help but get excited and that gets them excited and curious and it's contagious. I want both my son AND my daughter to know how important and powerful math and science are. I wish my parents had been more present with my education when I was a child, I'm pretty sure I would have gone a lot farther if they had....

    Michael this is one of my favorite posts--ever. I'm a big fan of Dr. Tyson and I so wish I could have been there with you to see his talk.

  27. Thanks for the fantastic report, Michael. Tyson is such a fun scientific personality and I love what he's been doing to reignite interest in science.

    That letter from the child was so hilarious! Poor baby, worrying about the people on Pluto... It gives me hope for humanity.


  28. Thanks for the fantastic report, Michael. Tyson is such a fun scientific personality and I love what he's been doing to reignite interest in science.

    That letter from the child was so hilarious! Poor baby, worrying about the people on Pluto... It gives me hope for humanity.