An Education in Science and Suffering

Question: How did you first become interested in science?

Freeman Dyson:  Yeah, it’s hard to tell of course, but I’ve been interested in science certainly from a child.  I was mostly interested in numbers.  I was calculating things at a very young age.  I just fell in love with numbers and then it spread from there to the rest of nature and I became…  I remember the total eclipse of the sun, which happened when I was three, and I was furious with my father because he wouldn’t take us to see it.  It would have meant about a whole day’s driving and anyways, so he said no, you can’t see the partial eclipse and that’s it, and I thought that was terribly unfair.

Question: What was your science education like?

Freeman Dyson:  So, well I never learned much science in school.  That was I think an advantage in the old days.  I grew up in England and we spent most of the time on Latin and Greek and very little on science, and I think that was good because it meant we didn’t get turned off.  It was… Science was something we did for fun and not because we had to.

Question: What was your experience of World War II like?

Freeman Dyson:  Yes, well I was 15 when the war started, so for a long time I just stayed in school, but then so I was lucky.  I had only two years of the war and so I went to work for the Royal Air Force when I was 19, which was already just two years before it ended, so I went to the **** headquarters and that was July ’43, and so I had just two years of it, the last two years and I was working as a statistician mostly just collecting all the information about the Air Force operations, particularly the bombing of Germany, so I had a sort of front-row seat view of that.  Of course it was a total shambles, the whole campaign.  It was a great tragedy for both sides and, well, there was nothing I could do about it.

Recorded March 5th, 2010
Interviewed by Austin Allen

Freeman Dyson fell in love with math, science, and nature as a child. Later, as a statistician in World War II, he had a "front-row seat view" of mass tragedy.

Compelling speakers do these 4 things every single time

The ability to speak clearly, succinctly, and powerfully is easier than you think

Former U.S. President Barack Obama speaks during a Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee rally at the Anaheim Convention Center on September 8, 2018 in Anaheim, California. (Photo by Barbara Davidson/Getty Images)
Personal Growth

The ability to communicate effectively can make or break a person's assessment of your intelligence, competence, and authenticity.

Keep reading Show less

Antimicrobial resistance is a growing threat to good health and well-being

Antimicrobial resistance is growing worldwide, rendering many "work horse" medicines ineffective. Without intervention, drug-resistant pathogens could lead to millions of deaths by 2050. Thankfully, companies like Pfizer are taking action.

Image courtesy of Pfizer.
  • Antimicrobial-resistant pathogens are one of the largest threats to global health today.
  • As we get older, our immune systems age, increasing our risk of life threatening infections. Without reliable antibiotics, life expectancy could decline for the first time in modern history.
  • If antibiotics become ineffective, common infections could result in hospitalization or even death. Life-saving interventions like cancer treatments and organ transplantation would become more difficult, more often resulting in death. Routine procedures would become hard to perform.
  • Without intervention, resistant pathogens could result in 10 million annual deaths by 2050.
  • By taking a multi-faceted approach—inclusive of adherence to good stewardship, surveillance and responsible manufacturing practices, as well as an emphasis on prevention and treatment—companies like Pfizer are fighting to help curb the spread.
Keep reading Show less

Preserving truth: How to confront and correct fake news

Journalism got a big wake up call in 2016. Can we be optimistic about the future of media?

  • "[T]o have a democracy that thrives and actually that manages to stay alive at all, you need regular citizens being able to get good, solid information," says Craig Newmark.
  • The only constructive way to deal with fake news? Support trustworthy media. In 2018, Newmark was announced as a major donor of two new media organizations, The City, which will report on New York City-area stories which may have otherwise gone unreported, and The Markup, which will report on technology.
  • Greater transparency of fact-checking within media organizations could help confront and correct fake news. Organizations already exist to make media more trustworthy — are we using them? There's The Trust Project, International Fact-Checkers Network, and Tech & Check.
Keep reading Show less