Neil deGrasse Tyson: Bush's War on Science Was Not as Bad as We Think

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.

The astrophysicist says the President Obama understands the issues related to global warming or the energy crisis, but it wasn’t as bad as we think it was under Bush.

Develop mindfulness to boost your creative intelligence

Sharon Salzberg, world-renowned mindfulness leader, teaches meditation at Big Think Edge.

Image: Big Think
Big Think Edge
  • Try meditation for the first time with this guided lesson or, if you already practice, enjoy being guided by a world-renowned meditation expert.
  • Sharon Salzberg teaches mindfulness meditation for Big Think Edge.
  • Subscribe to Big Think Edge before we launch on March 30 to get 20% off monthly and annual memberships.
Keep reading Show less

Vikings unwittingly made their swords stronger by trying to imbue them with spirits

They didn't know it, but the rituals of Iron Age Scandinavians turned their iron into steel.

Shutterstock
Culture & Religion
  • Iron Age Scandinavians only had access to poor quality iron, which put them at a tactical disadvantage against their neighbors.
  • To strengthen their swords, smiths used the bones of their dead ancestors and animals, hoping to transfer the spirit into their blades.
  • They couldn't have known that in so doing, they actually were forging a rudimentary form of steel.
Keep reading Show less

For a long time, the West shaped the world. That time is over.

The 21st century is experiencing an Asianization of politics, business, and culture.

Videos
  • Our theories about the world, even about history or the geopolitics of the present, tend to be shaped by Anglo perspectives of the Western industrial democracies, particularly those in the United States and the United Kingdom.
  • The West, however, is not united. Canada, for instance, acts in many ways that are not in line with American or British policies, particularly in regard to populism. Even if it were united, though, it would not represent most of the world's population.
  • European ideas, such as parliamentary democracy and civil service, spread across the world in the 19th century. In the 20th century, American values such as entrepreneurialism went global. In the 21st century, however, what we're seeing now is an Asianization — an Asian confidence that they can determine their own political systems, their own models, and adapt to their own circumstances.
Keep reading Show less