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Neil deGrasse Tyson weaves humor with wisdom in Q&A

The famed astrophysicist took questions from Elon University students on Thursday in a Whitley Auditorium program where he advised his audience not to “ever shortchange your curiosity for the promise of money” as they pursue their life passions.

Neil deGrasse Tyson with Associate Professor Tony Crider

Neil deGrasse Tyson wants you to know that he rarely gives “opinions.” Facts? Emerging scientific truths? Those are what one of America’s most beloved scientiests likes to share with his audiences.

For instance, Tyson is in conversation to host a second season of “Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey,” the FOX Network’s reboot of Carl Sagan’s 1980 landmark television series that last year earned him international accolades. The reboot debuted to rave reviews with millions of people tuning in every week for the documentary program.

And there’s plenty of science left to explore that didn't make it into Season One.

“I don’t have a timetable if it will happen but I can tell you the universe is vast,” Tyson said April 2, 2015, to an Elon University audience. “If there can be multiple seasons of Kim Kardashian, we can have multiple seasons of 'Cosmos.'”

Facts, he says. Not opinions.

A lunch hour program in Whitley Auditorium afforded students an opportunity to ask questions of Tyson whose role last year as host of “Cosmos” cemented his stature in popular culture. His appearance, moderated by Associate Professor Tony Crider from the Department of Physics, preceded Elon University’s Spring Convocation in Alumni Gym.

As part of his quest to “to bring the universe down to earth, for all who care to listen,

 Tyson fielded more than a dozen queries that ranged from aliens (he wants to see a body) to climate change (it’s real and it’s bad) to private enterprises in space (he’s not opposed to them, but he thinks the most important advancements will happen through government efforts).

Tyson reserved his most solemn responses for questions about the future of mankind and what people are doing to the planet.

“To be the active cog in a wheel that’s changing the climate is basically the seeds of our own undoing of our own civilization,” he said. “We'll survive it, but cities with coastlines will be gone. There will be less land with more water in the ocean. I think it’s the hubris of people who think they know what they’re talking about that don’t whom we somehow have a way of putting in charge of others. That’s sad and a recipe for disaster.”

Education is part of the solution, he said. So is self-awareness.

“The issue is not whether you know something or not, but if you don’t know something, and don’t know that you don’t know something, and you achieve power over others, that’s what's dangerous,” he said. “Part of education is knowing when you don’t know something. Not enough people have achieved that.”

Tyson directs the Hayden Planetarium with broad research interests that include star formation, exploding stars, dwarf galaxies, and the structure of the Milky Way.

In 2001 Tyson was appointed by President George W. Bush to serve on a 12-member commission that studied the future of the U.S. aerospace industry. The final report was published in 2002 and contained recommendations that would promote a thriving future of transportation, space exploration, and national security.

Tyson is the recipient of the NASA Distinguished Public Service Medal, the highest award given by NASA to a non-government citizen. His contributions to the public appreciation of the cosmos have been recognized by the International Astronomical Union in their official naming of asteroid 13123 Tyson.

Tyson expressed hope that science will continue to be of interest to younger generations and that, despite today’s climate change deniers and other science skeptics, common sense will prevail. Economic growth and wellbeing are at stake, he added.

“The more you deny science and technology and its role, and what an emerging truth is, you will bankrupt your country,” he said. “People will realize that.”

Eric Townsend,
Staff
4/2/2015 5:50 PM