Astrophysicist Tyson says Americans ‘fear science’

N-Degrasse Colby Patterson
Neil deGrasse Tyson joins a sold-out crowd and gives a very laid back and laughter-filled lecture on human values Wednesday Night at Kingsbury Hall. Photo by Brent Uberty.

Neil deGrasse Tyson joins a sold-out crowd and gives a very laid back and laughter-filled lecture on human values Wednesday Night at Kingsbury Hall. Photo by Brent Uberty.

“I’d feel more comfortable if you showed that kind of enthusiasm after I spoke,” said Neil deGrasse Tyson as he walked on stage at Kingsbury Hall Wednesday evening to a standing ovation.

The astrophysicist and director of the Hayden Planetarium spoke at an event that sold out rapidly. The U hosted free live broadcasts in the Marriott Library Gould Auditorium, Social and Behavioral Sciences Auditorium and Social Work Auditorium to accommodate fans who were unable to get tickets to Kingsbury.

Tyson spoke briefly on science and pop culture and Pluto’s “downsizing” from planet to comet. His slideshow read “Pluto is still not a planet. Get over it.”

“Pluto never, never deserved to be a planet,” Tyson said.

When The New York Times published Pluto’s demoted status on its front page, a third-grader notably wrote a letter to the Times, explaining, “some people like Pluto, if it doesn’t exist then they don’t have a favorite planet.”

Discover magazine did, however, find a planet Wednesday afternoon. Tyson revealed a voicemail from the press, “That’s all, it’s just CBS News,” Tyson said.

Naming rights are also a big part of the science world — Tyson said most of the Periodic Table of Elements was named by the United Kingdom. In fact, the gases at the right end of the chart, which do not associate with any of the other gases was named the Noble Gases by England, after the “Noble Class” which does not associate with other classes.

“I am reminded why we fought a war to get the hell out of England,” Tyson said.

Tyson said planets are traditionally named after Roman gods and the moons around those planets are named after Greek gods. When William Herschel discovered Uranus, he originally named the planet after King George. After changing it to match the tradition of Roman god’s names, the moons were instead named after characters in Shakespearean literature.

After planets are found they have the running theme of elements being named after them, hence neptunium and plutonium. Tyson was not done bashing Pluto for the evening.

“Pluto got onto the Periodic Table of Elements on false pretense,” Tyson said.

Science also plays an important role in the national pride of countries — it is illustrated on currency around the world. Charles Darwin is featured on a bill in the U.K. and though, as Tyson pointed out, Darwin accomplished his greatest work at about 26, he appears much older on the pound note.

However, having a 26-year-old on the English bill “wouldn’t have the gravitas of a bald man with a beard,” said Tyson. On top of that, despite Darwin’s study of the finch, the hummingbird sits next to him on the currency.

A fair amount of the audience knew which scientist appears on bills in the U.S. — Benjamin Franklin.

“Good, that means most of you have handled hundred dollar bills,” Tyson said.

Tyson repeatedly asked the following question throughout his lecture: “What country is this?” He shared some examples of embarrassing news headlines, such as, “Half the schools in the district are below average.” He said that most of the country seems to fear science.

“When disaster comes, we run … the asteroid comes, we hide … we hoard toilet paper,” said Tyson. He encouraged people to instead ask themselves “How can I deflect that asteroid?”

Tyson said “America is fading,” showing a map of the real “America of Tomorrow.” According to the map, America will not be doing well in the 21st century.

“We may be voting ourselves back to the Stone Age,” Tyson said.

Tyson said we are too egotistical, reminding viewers that “humans are just … fecal matter.”

Zack Buchi, who works at the U, thought Tyson’s opinion that humans are egotistical was the most interesting part of the lecture, along with his view that this should not depress people but instead motivate them.

Buchi said that going back to school will be part of his plan to do his part in helping the future America.

Nico DiSera, a senior at Cyprus High School, enjoyed hearing about the correlations between science, research and the economy.

“I’m trying to do my part, that’s what ‘Cosmos’ is about” Tyson said. “It’s to remind you how science works … If your heart beats, you’re a target audience.”