Self-Motivation
David Goggins
Former Navy Seal
Career Development
Bryan Cranston
Actor
Critical Thinking
Liv Boeree
International Poker Champion
Emotional Intelligence
Amaryllis Fox
Former CIA Clandestine Operative
Management
Chris Hadfield
Retired Canadian Astronaut & Author
Learn
from the world's big
thinkers
Start Learning

Neil deGrasse Tyson: How science literacy can save us from the internet

If you understand when and how to ask questions, you possess an effective inoculation against charlatans.

NEIL DEGRASSE TYSON: I think no one would give up the internet today, in spite of the problems that it has presented us. It started out oh, this is kind of fun. We can watch cat videos all day or that most of the information that came across was instructive or humorous or enlightening. It didn't start turning mean until a few years in, maybe five or ten years ago. Certainly definitely beginning at least five years ago where people see it as a way to tribalize us. You don't agree with my opinion, you're wrong, and I'm going to fight you for it. I didn't grow up in that environment. I don't think anyone else did either. It was you have a different opinion? Cool. Tell me about it. Let's go have a beer, we'll talk about it. Not I will argue with you until you are dead unless you agree with my opinion. See something's not right there. And everybody's got an opinion and so there it goes. The internet is this clearinghouse of opinions but nothing gets cleared. Opinions ossify, making it a rather rigid place to navigate.

We have access to more information than ever before. That's a good thing. It gives good information some hope. But are we trained? Do we have the tandem training to know whether the information you just were exposed to is legitimate, is it real, is it false, is it true? You can't just hand people new kinds of information without expecting them to be confused by it without some training that would have occurred before it. Maybe all school curricula should be how to determine reliable sources and how not. How to know when it's not reliable. Is that in the curriculum? Not last I looked. Maybe in journalism school but not in K-12. Not in college, I haven't seen much of it. So yeah, we need practice. Better yet we need science literacy. Science literacy empowers you to know when someone else is full of shit. And it's simple. What is science literacy? It's understanding how things work. How physiology works. How chemistry works. How physics works. Engineering.

All of this. You don't have to be an engineer or be a scientist. Just understand how certain basic systems work so that when someone is ready to sell you homeopathic medicine where they've diluted the active ingredients from the water so that there's no molecules left in the water and they sell that to you and they're telling you that the water remembers the medicine that used to be in it. And you're going to hand money to someone for that? I'm not going to complain to you. I'm going to say let's go together and look at how you were trained. Let's look at the syllabus that you were handed when you were in school. Here's where you're missing a few things. Here's where you're missing how to ask questions. Science is not a satchel of knowledge. It's a way of querying nature and a way of querying other people who are making claims about nature. That's where the empowerment comes from. It's an inoculation against charlatans. That's how you're going to know the difference going forward.

  • The internet has become a tool to tribalize us, a place where opinions become identities in a fight to the death of who's right and who's wrong.
  • As information continues to flow in, many of us lack the training to effectively sort opinion from fact. This leads to widespread disinformation.
  • We need science literacy. With an understanding of how things work, or how to question how things work, we empower ourselves to discover the truth.

LIVE ON MONDAY | "Lights, camera, activism!" with Judith Light

Join multiple Tony and Emmy Award-winning actress Judith Light live on Big Think at 2 pm ET on Monday.

Big Think LIVE

Add event to calendar

AppleGoogleOffice 365OutlookOutlook.comYahoo

Keep reading Show less

Study details the negative environmental impact of online shopping

Frequent shopping for single items adds to our carbon footprint.

Photo by George Frey/Getty Images
Politics & Current Affairs
  • A new study shows e-commerce sites like Amazon leave larger greenhouse gas footprints than retail stores.
  • Ordering online from retail stores has an even smaller footprint than going to the store yourself.
  • Greening efforts by major e-commerce sites won't curb wasteful consumer habits. Consolidating online orders can make a difference.
Keep reading Show less

Childhood sleeping problems may signal mental disorders later in life

Chronic irregular sleep in children was associated with psychotic experiences in adolescence, according to a recent study out of the University of Birmingham's School of Psychology.

Personal Growth
  • We spend 40 percent of our childhoods asleep, a time for cognitive growth and development.
  • A recent study found an association between irregular sleep patterns in childhood and either psychotic experiences or borderline personality disorder during teenage years.
  • The researchers hope their findings can help identify at-risk youth to improve early intervention.
  • Keep reading Show less

    Neom, Saudi Arabia's $500 billion megacity, reaches its next phase

    Construction of the $500 billion dollar tech city-state of the future is moving ahead.

    Credit: Neom
    Technology & Innovation
    • The futuristic megacity Neom is being built in Saudi Arabia.
    • The city will be fully automated, leading in health, education and quality of life.
    • It will feature an artificial moon, cloud seeding, robotic gladiators and flying taxis.
    Keep reading Show less

    Why do people believe in conspiracy theories?

    Are we genetically inclined for superstition or just fearful of the truth?

    Videos
    • From secret societies to faked moon landings, one thing that humanity seems to have an endless supply of is conspiracy theories. In this compilation, physicist Michio Kaku, science communicator Bill Nye, psychologist Sarah Rose Cavanagh, skeptic Michael Shermer, and actor and playwright John Cameron Mitchell consider the nature of truth and why some groups believe the things they do.
    • "I think there's a gene for superstition, a gene for hearsay, a gene for magic, a gene for magical thinking," argues Kaku. The theoretical physicist says that science goes against "natural thinking," and that the superstition gene persists because, one out of ten times, it actually worked and saved us.
    • Other theories shared include the idea of cognitive dissonance, the dangerous power of fear to inhibit critical thinking, and Hollywood's romanticization of conspiracies. Because conspiracy theories are so diverse and multifaceted, combating them has not been an easy task for science.

    Quantcast