Neil deGrasse Tyson was born and raised in New York City where he was educated in the public schools clear through his graduation from the Bronx High School of Science. Tyson went on to earn his BA in Physics from Harvard and his PhD in Astrophysics from Columbia. He is the first occupant of the Frederick P. Rose Directorship of the Hayden Planetarium. His professional research interests are broad, but include star formation, exploding stars, dwarf galaxies, and the structure of our Milky Way. Tyson obtains his data from the Hubble Space Telescope, as well as from telescopes in California, New Mexico, Arizona, and in the Andes Mountains of Chile.Tyson is the recipient of nine honorary doctorates and the NASA Distinguished Public Service Medal. 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".
Question: Will President Obama reinvigorate science in the United States during his tenure?
DeGrasse Tyson: I have high hopes for where science will go under Obama. He’s talk the talk, you know. So I… He’s certainly scientifically literate. Literate in the sense that I think he understands issues related to global warming or the energy crisis or investments in the National Science Foundation and NASA. I think he has some sense of that. And he’s been appointing reliable advisers in those circles. We look at who he appointed for Secretary of Energy and the Science Adviser, these are talented, smart, accomplished scientists. So, I have high expectations for where it can go. But we know the country’s in a serious economic straight right now, so the challenge will be to see what is the balance between the band-aid you will put on the problem that you can sort of stop the hemorrhaging at this moment and the investments that you, then, insert that will return on that investment later. You need the combination of both, without the longer term investment than you’re just putting band-aids on as you go forward and nothing ever gets permanently solved. It gives the illusion of a solution but it doesn’t actually change… change what the manifestation of these problems as time goes on. I like to believe that science is becoming mainstream. It should have never been something that sort of geeky people do and no one else thinks about. Whether or not, it will always be with geeky people do. It should, as a minimum be, what everybody thinks about because science is all around us. And, you know, you get the people who were driving with their GPS in the car, on their cellphone, [illegally], on their cellphone, say, I don’t need science. Why do I need science for? I got my cellphone and my GPS, I’m fine. You know, I don’t need space, [meanwhile] GPS is coming from satellite. There’s a… Occasionally, you get people who take the [trapping] of science for granted. And I have this secret plan. One day, I’m going to sneak into someone’s house and take away everything that’s been discovered or enable by the space program, for example, spun off from the space program. Just leave them… leave them back there and see what… see how they enjoy life or how much of these innovations they take for granted. You only notice them when you don’t have access to them anymore. And then, you learn fast.
Question: Did Bush damage the sciences?
DeGrasse Tyson: Yes, I do. In fact, I was 3 times appointed by President Bush, twice to serve on commissions. These are sort of high level gatherings of people with hand-picked expertise to bring their knowledge to bear on a problem that needs to be solved that faces the nation. The first of those was on the future of the aerospace industry, which was on hard times back in the early part of this decade, the beginning of the 20th century, 21st century, and also the future of NASA. These are the 2 commissions that I was appointed to. My third appointment was on a committee that selected the scientist who the president would award the Presidential Medal of Science to. It’s the highest award the nation gives a scientist. So, I’m there and I see it. And the stereotype of Bush being bad for science… if you ask someone what do you mean by that, essentially every case [that] site no more than to, maybe, 3 occasions where Bush was bad for science. One was sort of stem cell research. Another one was sort of the environment. And that’s kind of it, really. And… Okay. Yeah, yeah, he wasn’t good for this. There was a regression. Our advance in this field regressed under Bush. But it’s not the entire science portfolio of the nation. The portfolio of the nation includes, you know, the physics done under the Department of Education and the National Science Foundation and the National Institute for Health and NASA. There’s a whole science portfolio that comes under the Science Adviser’s office, the Office of Science and Technology Policy, OSTP. If you look at that portfolio, in fact, major money was added to that portfolio over the Bush administration. The NIH budget went up. The NASA budget went up. Although, by less than many people wanted, given what’s on its [plate]. In fact, the NIH budget nearly tripled over that time. The National Science Foundation budget went up. Meanwhile, under Clinton, President Clinton, over his 8 years, the budget for the… for NASA, for example, dropped by 25% in actual spending power. So, it’s not accurate to characterize the Bush administration as being anti-science if you measure support for science by the flow of money.