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 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".
Tyson's new book is Letters From an Astrophysicist (2019).
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.
Letters from an Astrophysicist
- China is spreading disinformation on Hong Kong protests - Big Think ›
- Does our society incentivize disinformation? - Big Think ›
A few traditions in the Roman Catholic Church can be traced back to pagan cults, rites, and deities.
- The Catholic rite of Holy Communion parallels pre-Christian Greco-Roman and Egyptian rituals that involved eating the body and blood of a god.
- A number of Catholic holidays and myths, such as Christmas, Easter, and Mardi Gras, graph onto the timeline of pre-Christian fertility festivals.
- The Catholic practice of praying to saints has been called "de-facto idolatry" and even a relic of goddess worship.
A pragmatic approach to fixing an imbalanced system.
- Intentional or not, certain inequalities are inherent in a digital economy that is structured and controlled by a few corporations that don't represent the interests or the demographics of the majority.
- While concern and anger are valid reactions to these inequalities, UCLA professor Ramesh Srinivasan also sees it as an opportunity to take action.
- Srinivasan says that the digital economy can be reshaped to benefit the 99 percent if we protect laborers in the gig economy, get independent journalists involved with the design of algorithmic news systems, support small businesses, and find ways that groups that have been historically discriminated against can be a part of these solutions.