January 01, 2008

Star Power: the Washington Post interviews Neil Tyson

I got to see Neil Tyson give a talk at the American Association of Physics Teachers Summer meeting in Greensboro last year.  He was really entertaining.  He packed a room with over six hundred seats so there was standing room only and people hanging in the hallway trying to listen. He was really funny, even if some of his joke were unoriginal. (How intelligent is a design that puts a sewage treatment facility next to an entertainment system??  Ha ha...ha........ah.) 

What was great, however, was that his whole talk was about how science educators have a responsibility to reach the public and bring science to them.  I'll never forget when he asked the audience how many of them did not have a TV or how many of them only used their TV to watch DVDs.  Somewhere between 15-20% of the people in the crowd raised a hand, many of them proudly.  Tyson then said "Oh, so those of you that raised your hand have no idea who I am, then!"  The person sitting to my right looked at me and said, "Yeah, I have no idea who this guy is and why AAPT is giving him an award."  I could hear murmuring around me that indicated she was not alone in her opinion.  Tyson pointed that he went on to TV shows like Conan O'brien and The Daily Show not to stroke his ego, but because that's where he can reach the widest audience. He then gave the example of watching the Superbowl, not because he particularly enjoys football, but that he wants to be able to relate to people around him the next day.  His point was that if we, as science educators, want to reach out to the public and have a scientifically literate society, then the scientist should be culturally literate and be aware of what the public is tuned into and turned on by (e.g. Conan and The Daily Show.)  I saw the light bulbs go on all around me as he explained this.

Anyway, I was thinking about this because one of the other stories that Tyson told during that talk he also told to a Washington Post reporter in a really good article.  It's a little long, but well worth the read.  The story Tyson told was about an interaction he had with movie director James Cameron.

Star Power  (Washington Post)

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