While we are on the subject of science education, c.f. the post on "Giant Intelligent Vegetable on Mars", I am happy to see that my friend Dr. Tyson is doing his job and speaking out about the importance of science and the importance of funding science and science education.
A recent NY Times article has an interview with Dr. Tyson in which he spins the recent meteor strikes into an impassioned plea for more science funding.
One of the many fringe benefits of working at the Hayden Planetarium many years ago was to be able to work with the many idealists at the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH), first among them being Neil deGrasse Tyson.
To give you one example of this idealism, and because it always makes me laugh, at a meeting about the Digital Galaxy that we were building for visualization, the project leader, Dennis Davison, asked what measures we were taking to insure "the integrity of the data". We hardly ever talk about the "integrity of the data" when working on Zombie movies or blowing up planets, generally speaking.
It is a slight exaggeration to say that Neil's job is to be public and get kids (and adults, but mostly kids) excited about science. And he does this really well. Part of the secret to his success is that he is completely sincere in doing so. He thinks science IS important, and he thinks science education is very important and he charges out there in public and uses every opportunity to say so.
When the Hayden was being rebuilt and the AMNH was racing towards its end of the fake Millennium deadline, Neil engaged in a dialogue to have the AMNH create a small astrophysics department. What you may not be aware of is that there have been almost no new astrophysics departments in this country since the great expansion in the science in the 1950s as part of the Cold War and the Space Race. The AMNH was not jumping up and down about adding more costs to their overhead, but Neil insisted and he won. The point is, the AMNH is the only organization in this country (that I am aware of) that has as its mission doing real science and communicating results directly to the American people. In other words, their mission is not to train more graduate students, Universities do that, and the AMNH has a good relationship with Columbia and many other schools. The AMNH's job is to do both research and direct science education to the general population. Hence, if you have a Planetarium, you should also have an Astrophysics department.
Neil has an interesting background, the whole story of which I am not completely clear on. But I do know that he went to the Bronx High School of Science, scholarship to Princeton, and is a living example of the promise of higher education to create opportunity for minority groups (although I suspect that Neil is something of a ringer in this regard).
Astrophysics is a very tricky field. It is incredibly elitist and the field as a whole can be quite nasty, and I assure you that Neil's immense popularity wins him no friends in the field of Astrophysics. But he is on a mission, he is one of the most recognizable people in NYC, and I assure you he is completely sincere.
By the way, Neil is unlikely to use the word "motherfucker" in public, but I thought that the above image of Neil making a point at some public forum was very funny, so I stole it from a post someone did on Facebook.
American Museum of Natural History