I had work to do, and I missed it.
America’s living-room astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson came to Texas. Last Tuesday he spent a day trying to inspire college kids to study physics, or to stick with physics, and then he spent the evening with 3,000 close friends in an auditorium at the University of Texas-Arlington, talking about how much fun physics is, and how the use of real science and reason could improve our lives.
The greatest scientist of all time was Isaac Newton. “Hands down. Darwin and those other guys pale by comparison. Newton is the reason we have seat belts, because he proved objects in motion stay in motion. If you ask people in cars who are not wearing seat belts if they ever took a college class in physics they say no, every single time.”
About using math illiteracy to distort truth, Tyson said he was called for jury duty and the defendant was charged with possession of 6,000 milligrams of a controlled substance.
“Why would you say that? Six thousand milligrams is 6 grams, about the weight of a dime,” he said. When a newspaper headline proclaims half of the children at a school are below average on a test, he said, no one stops to think that’s what average means.”
On the importance the media places on celebrity news, Tyson showed a newspaper cover with a near full-page cover story on entertainer Michael Jackson and two important news stories teased in small boxes above the fold. Tyson said the country suffers from a “warped sense of what is important.”
Great scientific discoveries have not come about because people are interested in science, Tyson said. Just like the voyage of Columbus, funded by Queen Isabella of Spain, discovery is spurred by wars, cold wars and economic gain, he said. The only other inspiration for counties to spend lots of money is to celebrate royalty or deities, like with the Pyramids or the great cathedrals in Italy.
“We live in a country where people are afraid of the number 13. It’s delusional,” Tyson said, pointing to a book titled, “How to Protect Yourself from Alien Invasion” and the hysteria a few years ago with the Mars Hoax, with lots of science fiction circulating because Mars came closer to Earth than it had in 60,000 years. The widely circulated reports overlooked the fact that Mars was just a few inches closer and that was completely insignificant, Tyson said.
And then, according to the blog Politex, from the Fort Worth Star-Telegram (one of America’s legendary newspapers now facing the crises that seems to afflict all our better news organizations) someone asked him about creationism:
During the Q&A, an audience member asked Tyson about conservative members of the state Board of Education who want to teach the “weaknesses” of the theory of evolution in Texas high school classrooms.
“I think they should stay in the Sunday school,” Tyson said. Calling intelligent design theory a “philosophy of ignorance,” he argued that a lack of appreciation for basic scienctific principles will hurt America’s scientific output, which has been the largest economic engine in the country’s history.
“If nonscience works its way into the science classroom, it marks…the beginning of the end of the economic strength this country has known,” Tyson said.
Tyson, who spent time in Washington, D.C. after being appointed to committees by then-President George W. Bush, went on to say that he always knew a Republican judge in Pennsylvania would ultimately side with evolution backers in the high-profile Dover education case in 2005. The judge understood that respecting science is good for the US economy, Tyson said.
“What I learned from my tours of duty in Washington is no Republican wants to die poor,” Tyson said.
He’s right about Republicans ( said the former employee of Orrin Hatch/William Bennett/Lamar Alexander). I hope it’s true for Texas Republicans, especially those on the Texas State Board of Education.
Tip of the old scrub brush to Ediacaran, on the Fort Worth side of the Metroplex. Another tip to Physics Today from the American Institute of Physics.