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February 14, 2013 5:49 PM   Subscribe

In which Neil deGrasse Tyson is asked a simple interview question and responds with a powerful story of perseverance and epiphany in the face of institutional bias and the intra-racial pressures which once pushed him to abandon his dream of becoming an astrophysicist.
posted by Scientist (110 comments total) 136 users marked this as a favorite

 
My kingdom for a transcript! I'll kick and scream in defiance of The Video Age until the bitter end. (Mostly for lack of headphones.)
posted by Brak at 5:58 PM on February 14, 2013 [59 favorites]


"He put me in a hole"--an amazing metaphor, because before modern technology the only way that astronomers could see stars during the day was by digging a hole deep enough that the ambient sunlight couldn't reach and so the stars directly overhead were visible. And then the Promethean image of his obligation to society eating his vitals, and Coleridge's albatross. This guy would have made it as a professor of English had he not been an astrophysicist, easy.
posted by sy at 5:58 PM on February 14, 2013 [12 favorites]


Well worth the 12 minutes. Thanks for posting this.
posted by reptile at 6:04 PM on February 14, 2013


If there's a transcript, I'd love to read it. Tough to watch video on the bus...
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 6:10 PM on February 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


Love NDT, his twitter posts are amazing.
posted by ktrain at 6:10 PM on February 14, 2013 [2 favorites]


Anything he says is worth listening to, he isn't just an astrophysicist, he is a goddamn philosopher.

The problem, often not discovered until late in life, is that when you look for things in life like love, meaning, motivation, it implies they are sitting behind a tree or under a rock. The most successful people in life recognize, that in life they create their own love, they manufacture their own meaning, they generate their own motivation.

For me, I am driven by two main philosophies, know more today about the world than I knew yesterday. And lessen the suffering of others. You'd be surprised how far that gets you.


/user/neiltyson
posted by Ad hominem at 6:16 PM on February 14, 2013 [62 favorites]


Yup, his most recent tweet just blew my mind again earlier today. I am a fan (understatement alert!)
posted by TwoWordReview at 6:17 PM on February 14, 2013


I fucking love Neil deGrasse Tyson.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 6:20 PM on February 14, 2013 [11 favorites]


I would really, really like to know what the Rhodes scholar in his anecdote is saying about ol' Neil now. He is our new Carl Sagan.
posted by Countess Elena at 6:21 PM on February 14, 2013 [4 favorites]


because before modern technology the only way that astronomers could see stars during the day was by digging a hole deep enough that the ambient sunlight couldn't reach ...

What? No. It's the light from the sky, not the sun, that makes it hard to see stars during the day. The sky is just as bright when you're in a hole as it is when you're outside.

Anyway, that was a great talk.
posted by Joe in Australia at 6:21 PM on February 14, 2013 [6 favorites]


I love his passion.
posted by smoke at 6:23 PM on February 14, 2013


Your responsibility is, by far, to yourself. That's what anybody owes to the world. Imagine the tragedy of derailing deGrasse Tyson's career before it ever really got off the ground. Even the most well meaning people can destroy your efforts by running that guilt trip on you, because the community/tribe/country feels it's owed your efforts as it sees fit.
posted by 2N2222 at 6:28 PM on February 14, 2013 [10 favorites]


That title reminds me of a subtitle to a Victorian novel.
posted by cjorgensen at 6:29 PM on February 14, 2013


Beautiful story. My father was the token white professor of physics at a black community college, and he believed with all his heart that those kids could achieve.
posted by localroger at 6:31 PM on February 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


That was powerful. I love that man.
posted by bluesky43 at 6:32 PM on February 14, 2013


...once pushed him to abandon his dream of becoming an astrophysicist.

True fact: In an alternate universe, Neil deGrasse Tyson played guitar in Queen.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 6:39 PM on February 14, 2013 [9 favorites]


Whoa you guys aren't kidding about his twitter posts. Actually makes me want to pay more attention to twitter:

The actual #StateOfTheUnion: Office-building-sized asteroid buzz-cuts Earth this Friday. NASA has no capacity to deflect them

Tell'em, brother.
posted by Doleful Creature at 6:39 PM on February 14, 2013 [2 favorites]


Great, great story.

I don't know if the chemist Percy Julian was ever given all due respect for his brilliance in popular media while he was alive, although he did get some of the professional recognition he deserved before he died in 1975. Nova did make a full length documentary about his life that was broadcast a couple of years ago. (Link includes access to a full transcript.) YouTube complete version of the documentary. Wikipedia bio.
posted by maudlin at 6:49 PM on February 14, 2013 [4 favorites]


I'm an Obama supporter. Last night, he said "Now is not the time to gut these job-creating investments in science and innovation. Now is the time to reach a level of research and development not seen since the height of the Space Race."

Here's an idea. How about more funding for the federal agency that drove the space race, as Mr. Tyson often suggests? You want alternative energy? NASA is a logical agency to make those advancements. Investment in infrastructure? Space exploration requires a solid infrastructure. Inspiration for the STEM disciplines? A robust national space program, baby.

I need to STFU and have you watch this.

http://youtu.be/CbIZU8cQWXc
posted by NedKoppel at 7:08 PM on February 14, 2013 [11 favorites]


What a storyteller he is.

I am so profoundly glad at this moment that Neil DeGrasse Tyson exists -- not just as a black astrophysicist, not just as a science popularizer and public intellectual, but as someone who has the storytelling skilll to really communicate to ordinary people just how amazing science can be. That moment with the aurora borealis was the same kind of shivers-down-your-spine stuff as Carl Sagan saying we are made of star stuff.
posted by Jeanne at 7:12 PM on February 14, 2013 [32 favorites]


Transcript requesters, I recommend waiting until you can watch it. It's a good story, but he's also a great performer.
posted by benito.strauss at 7:26 PM on February 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


New Cabinet position: Secretary of Tomorrow. Occupant: him.
posted by George_Spiggott at 7:30 PM on February 14, 2013 [48 favorites]


before modern technology the only way that astronomers could see stars during the day was by digging a hole deep enough that the ambient sunlight couldn't reach and so the stars directly overhead were visible.

This is nonsense.
posted by mr_roboto at 7:30 PM on February 14, 2013 [8 favorites]


If you ever have a chance to go to one of his talks live, do so. It's a lot of fun.
posted by curious nu at 7:57 PM on February 14, 2013


I'm a big fan of NDT and I'll have to follow his tweets. I'm glad that he's in the universe and I hope he inspires budding young scientists everywhere. I've never heard him say a boring word. His enthusiasm and intelligence is always so apparent and there aren't many people I feel that way about. I'm almost 50 so I'll never be a scientist, let alone an astrophysicist, but he makes me want to be one.
posted by shoesietart at 8:07 PM on February 14, 2013 [4 favorites]


I would really, really like to know what the Rhodes scholar in his anecdote is saying about ol' Neil now. He is our new Carl Sagan.

He's more than that, he's our new Fred Rogers. A black Fred Rogers. My theory for a long time about Neil Degrasse Tyson, what makes him so compelling and a revolutionary civil rights figure is that he's a big goofy *nerd*. His unapologetic intellect, his enthusiasm, his gentleness, his sense of humor, that afro, that dorky mustache, those ill-fitting suits and those ugly ties. He's a big, fat, loveable, non-threatening nerd and I love him for that. He's absolutely right that there are few, if any, other African- Americans out there in the media so unconscious of their self image, certainly not in 1989, who are just doing what they love without care for who they are supposed to be. It's infectious and wonderful. Even Obama has to go out and hit three-pointers on the campaign trail. Cosby has to dance to James Brown and pal around with Dizzy Gillespie.

Tyson's the first African-American man to break through the final wall: The Nerd Barrier.
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 8:37 PM on February 14, 2013 [35 favorites]


Add me to the NDT fan club. I absolutely adore the way he is able to take complex concepts and explain them in simple constructs that still trust that the reader/listener is intelligent. Like Carl Sagan, he never talks down to people. He's brilliant -- and yet you still could have a beer with the guy.

Plus, I have to say that I dig the moustache.
posted by zooropa at 8:37 PM on February 14, 2013


Does Neil deGrasse Tyson have a TV show? That guy should have a TV show.
posted by A Bad Catholic at 8:41 PM on February 14, 2013


I'm sure I've said this here before, but only a few years back I was annoyed by Tyson because he was an astrophysicist talking head who kept showing up in TV shows, talking about things that weren't astrophysics. He was the "science guy" that everybody had to get, and as a paleo nerd I was not interested in an astrophysicist's thoughts on whether T. rex was a hunter or a scavenger.

But, man, have I come around on him. So clear in his explanations, hilarious and effortlessly charming. I wish there were more science advocates of his caliber. Watching this video shoved me into a YouTube hole of NDT videos. Halp!
posted by brundlefly at 8:46 PM on February 14, 2013


Does Neil deGrasse Tyson have a TV show?

He has a podcast (with some episodes also available as video on the Nerdist channel). He deserves more, but that will have to do for now.
posted by maudlin at 8:48 PM on February 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


That man awes me.
posted by meese at 8:48 PM on February 14, 2013


He's hosting the upcoming sequel to "Cosmos".
posted by brundlefly at 8:50 PM on February 14, 2013 [8 favorites]


Favorite NDT fact: he loves girl drinks: those rich drinks that come in pineapples with umbrellas. He makes his own egg nog too.
posted by munchingzombie at 9:02 PM on February 14, 2013


I wish I was as smart as him.
posted by vasi at 9:09 PM on February 14, 2013 [3 favorites]


I totally want him to do that ASMR thing.

He brings so much of the "wonder" side of the table while remaining true to explaining the science. I had an astronomy teacher like that. I'm thinking stars, star clusters, constellations.
He had us looking at "The Moon" and grasp that it's really right there and totally real.
DeGrasse does that with everything. It's always fresh feeling.
posted by Smedleyman at 9:14 PM on February 14, 2013


Why can't we see more of gentlemen nerds dudes like this instead of idiotic rap 'artists'. NDT is The Man!
posted by BlueHorse at 9:19 PM on February 14, 2013


Why can't we see more of gentlemen nerds dudes like this instead of idiotic rap 'artists'. NDT is The Man!

Yeah, and why can't we see more white nerds instead of rock stars?
posted by Pope Guilty at 9:23 PM on February 14, 2013 [16 favorites]


His unapologetic intellect, his enthusiasm, his gentleness, his sense of humor, that afro, that dorky mustache, those ill-fitting suits and those ugly ties. He's a big, fat, loveable, non-threatening nerd

I love NDT, but if you scroll down to the second picture on this page you might reconsider the "dorky". In fact, I think this explains him better.
posted by benito.strauss at 9:28 PM on February 14, 2013 [14 favorites]


(And now someone's going to post a picture of Mr. Rogers in full biker regalia.)
posted by benito.strauss at 9:29 PM on February 14, 2013


Why can't we see more of gentlemen nerds dudes like this instead of idiotic rap 'artists'. NDT is The Man!

This is literally the worst possible takeaway from contemplating this guy.
posted by wayland at 9:37 PM on February 14, 2013 [60 favorites]


I love NDT, but if you scroll down to the second picture on this page you might reconsider the "dorky". In fact, I think this explains him better.

Um, "glittery space shirt tucked into jeans with belt and pointy sideburns" isn't exactly screaming "ultra-cool" at me. Worse if that photo was taken anytime after 1984.

Hey, I love the guy.
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 9:56 PM on February 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


(And now someone's going to post a picture of Mr. Rogers in full biker regalia.)

Closest I could get is him flipping the bird. If that's not enough for you, how about both barrels?

(Only slightly less entertaining in context.)
posted by radwolf76 at 11:16 PM on February 14, 2013 [7 favorites]


"He put me in a hole"--an amazing metaphor, because before modern technology the only way that astronomers could see stars during the day was by digging a hole deep enough that the ambient sunlight couldn't reach and so the stars directly overhead were visible.

actually you can't see the stars that way.
posted by Dr. Twist at 11:30 PM on February 14, 2013 [2 favorites]


Neil deGrasse Tyson used to host Nova ScienceNOW, which seemed to be Nova made for grade schoolers. He was fantastic at it and made me want to watch the show. Since he left, I've been somewhat disappointed.

The Carl Sagan references are not without merit. I don't think he can do a bad interview.
posted by chemoboy at 11:43 PM on February 14, 2013


This is literally the worst possible takeaway from contemplating this guy.

Wayland, why for do you say this?
posted by BlueHorse at 12:08 AM on February 15, 2013


BlueHorse: "This is literally the worst possible takeaway from contemplating this guy.

Wayland, why for do you say this?
"

"cause it's super whack and hella racist sounding.
posted by ShawnStruck at 12:23 AM on February 15, 2013 [16 favorites]


cause it's super whack and hella racist sounding.

fixed &c.
posted by dersins at 12:59 AM on February 15, 2013 [10 favorites]


Neil deGrasse Tyson is awesome. He and Bill Nye should team up and fight crime. Science crime.
posted by Mr. Bad Example at 1:12 AM on February 15, 2013 [13 favorites]


Neil deGrasse Tyson is awesome. He and Bill Nye should team up and fight crime. Science crime.

With transatlantic cameos from Ben Goldacre.
posted by acb at 1:44 AM on February 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


Something bugs me about the way some people react to him; I feel like at least some get caught up in the persona and don't see past that to the science. With, say, Sagan, people always came away awed by the science. I feel like with him, too many come away thinking how cool he is.

Not NGT's fault, I don't think, to be fair.
posted by professor plum with a rope at 2:03 AM on February 15, 2013 [2 favorites]


No, we get the science. Neil is right. Pluto is not a planet. Dwarf planet is even being a little too forgiving. It's just a big asteroid.

You spend enough time around people who speak crazy awesome facts, they no longer awe you. I know what he says is true, but I also like how he says it.
posted by chemoboy at 2:32 AM on February 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


I decided to watch this one more time before I went to sleep. It reminded me, somehow, of my 7th grade Math teacher. His name was Mr. Williams, dang if I can remember or ever knew his first name, but he was our math teacher. He was also black, and he was teaching us Algebra and Geometry. I never quite got Calc (that early) but he taught it in 8th grade. He was not only brilliant but he had an awesome cantor and way of describing things like infinity to a 7th grader that made you feel YEAH!

What reminded me of this was that statement by NGT's original detractor that, to paraphrase, doing something apart from grass roots helping those in need out was basically selling out their culture. I think the exact opposite is true, that if you are truly brilliant you need to ignore those around you and do what you want to do. Especially because breaking the mold and showing that, yes, you can be the great astrophysicist of our time (and also be black) puts that whole (be black) in parenthesis. And makes you wonder why being black matters.

I heard he won Teacher of the year awhile ago. I should look him up before I visit back home this spring.
posted by chemoboy at 3:02 AM on February 15, 2013 [2 favorites]


cause it's super whack and hella racist sounding.
LOL. It's interesting, though, that you self-righteously jump on that comment in particular as racist. Sure, it's an easy target—he doesn't like the objectifying rap music! OHNOES RACIST—but you're not in the least bit sketched out by any of this from earlier comments:
passion ... Tell'em, brother ... What a storyteller he is ... a great performer ... our new Fred Rogers .... Neil
Which isn't to say "racist" of course (any more than BlueHorse's point was "racist"), but I really haven't heard any of those terms used before to describe a white astrophysicist. On the other hand, I've heard plenty of them deployed to describe black athletes, jazz musicians, rappers, and so on. Which I think is definitely connected with this point:
Something bugs me about the way some people react to him; I feel like at least some get caught up in the persona and don't see past that to the science.
Why do need to feel we're closer to or more familiar with black rather than white celebrity experts? Why, we could have a beer with them! Call them by their first name! (We all refer to Richard Dawkins as "Richard," right?) Interesting stuff, for sure.
posted by Sonny Jim at 3:30 AM on February 15, 2013 [2 favorites]


Sonny Jim: I think your argument is undercut a little by the fact that Fred Rogers was a great, passionate storyteller and performer, and Mr. Rogers was white.

There are plenty of white people we think tell great stories – in fact, Carl Sagan was a white astrophysicist whose Cosmos NDGT will be narrating the next version of.
posted by Rory Marinich at 4:03 AM on February 15, 2013 [2 favorites]


Sure, Rory Marinich: but he was also a children's show host. Again, not a comparison I see made very often with white scientists.
posted by Sonny Jim at 4:09 AM on February 15, 2013


Sonny Jim, I've heard similar words used to describe Richard Feynman -- I think he's the prototypical scientist-you-could-have-a-beer-with. It's true that we don't often get scientists who are good storytellers, but I think that's irrespective of race. I don't know if we have enough well-known scientists to be able to judge, though.
posted by wayland at 4:45 AM on February 15, 2013 [8 favorites]


It's terribly racist when white people like an African-American and say so. I know because I read it on the internet Metafilter.
posted by Goofyy at 5:17 AM on February 15, 2013 [2 favorites]


Not what I was saying at all, Goofyy. The problem comes when that "like" is expressed primarily using generic "black-person traits," rather than attributes more closely connected with his expertise as a scientist.
posted by Sonny Jim at 5:35 AM on February 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


Good points, wayland, but I think a discourse analysis showing the frequency and distribution of unintentionally condescending "compliments" bestowed on "black" public figures cf. non-black public figures working in the same disciplines would be ... interesting.
posted by Sonny Jim at 5:40 AM on February 15, 2013


Man, I was super wrong about stars being visible during the day from a well. I shall instead liken our astrophysicist's image to the story Plato tells about Thales, the pre-Socratic philosopher: "A witty maid-servant saw Thales tumbling into a well and said that he was so eager to know what was going on in heaven that he could not see what was before his feet." The point still being that sometimes it's worth being in a hole to get to see the stars.
posted by sy at 6:02 AM on February 15, 2013


I fucking love NdGT and have posted about him here multiple times.

That said, he is not our new Carl Sagan.

The main difference to me is that Carl Sagan embraced (and in many ways helped to create) the American skeptical movement. Neil tends to avoid commenting on skeptical topics or secular vs sacred tensions in the US if he can possibly help it.

This is fine with me. He's a fantastic science communicator, the best we have right now, and I'm incredibly grateful for him. He's just not in quite the same strata of social engagement with everyday issues as Carl Sagan was.

Thanks for this post.
posted by lazaruslong at 6:04 AM on February 15, 2013


AMAZING! Thx so much for posting
posted by Pocahontas at 6:39 AM on February 15, 2013


New Cabinet position: Secretary of Tomorrow. Occupant: him.

That would be awesome, but I fear that it sounds too much like 1939/40 the New York World's Fair, "Building The World of Tomorrow,", which might not be all that bad, but it has a certain retro-futuristic element to it, which reminds me of Disney's Tomorrowland.

Or we could just call him Sky Captain.
posted by filthy light thief at 7:02 AM on February 15, 2013 [3 favorites]


It's not racist for a white person to like a black person, but it is racist for a white person to frame their appreciation for that black person in terms of that black person's relationship to the real or perceived traits of other black people.
posted by Pope Guilty at 7:11 AM on February 15, 2013 [54 favorites]


before modern technology the only way that astronomers could see stars during the day was by digging a hole deep enough that the ambient sunlight couldn't reach and so the stars directly overhead were visible.

This is nonsense.


Yes, but it's hilarious nonsense.
posted by The Bellman at 7:23 AM on February 15, 2013 [5 favorites]


Tyson's the first African-American man to break through the final wall: The Nerd Barrier.

George Washington Carver had him beat by at least 100 years. You don't find over 300 uses for the peanut without having a certain level of obsessive nerd-intensity. I'm an NDT fan all the way, but he's less specifically an African-American trailblazer than he is a brilliant scientist and communicator who also happens to be African-American.
posted by Strange Interlude at 7:55 AM on February 15, 2013 [5 favorites]


Um, "glittery space shirt tucked into jeans with belt and pointy sideburns" isn't exactly screaming "ultra-cool" at me.

I don't know where you learned what cool is, but I sure don't ever want to go there.
posted by snottydick at 7:56 AM on February 15, 2013 [4 favorites]


One of the best things I have seen on MeFi in some time. Thanks for posting.
posted by caddis at 7:59 AM on February 15, 2013



Plato tells about Thales . . . that he was so eager to know what was going on in heaven that he could not see what was before his feet.

And then, Aristotle tells us, Thales -- having used his observations to predict an unusually good olive harvest -- cornered the market on olive presses, thus inventing the game of Monopoly for a tidy prophet. And so was the first pure scientist also the first to debase science for crass commercial gain.

It's racist to . . . It's not racist to . . .

On the Internet, nobody knows you're not a racist.
 
posted by Herodios at 8:00 AM on February 15, 2013 [2 favorites]


Goofyy: "It's terribly racist when white people like an African-American and say so. I know because I read it on the internet Metafilter."

I'm sure Tyson will be relieved and flattered that some white person thought he was better than rap "artists". The scare quotes around "artists" will go over especially well.

lazaruslong: "The main difference to me is that Carl Sagan embraced (and in many ways helped to create) the American skeptical movement. Neil tends to avoid commenting on skeptical topics or secular vs sacred tensions in the US if he can possibly help it. "

Tyson on "The Perimeter of Ignorance"
posted by brundlefly at 8:33 AM on February 15, 2013 [5 favorites]


passion ... Tell'em, brother ... What a storyteller he is ... a great performer ... our new Fred Rogers .... Neil

.... I really haven't heard any of those terms used before to describe a white astrophysicist.


Except for "Tell'em, Brother", I'm sure I've heard them and thought them about scientists of all kinds of shades of skin. Heck, I know I've explicitly talked with other teachers about what we do in front of the class using the word "performance".

Why do need to feel we're closer to or more familiar with black rather than white celebrity experts? Why, we could have a beer with them! Call them by their first name!

You live in a world that is complete different from mine.
posted by benito.strauss at 8:48 AM on February 15, 2013 [3 favorites]


Found this highly relevant exchange when looking at brundlefly's link above: Tyson gently but thoroughly rebukes Dawkins not from a belief standpoint or a pro-science standpoint, but from an educative standpoint.
posted by George_Spiggott at 9:07 AM on February 15, 2013 [13 favorites]


I think George_Spiggott's link there kind of gets at why I have come to like Tyson to the degree I do. He not only is an educator, but a persuader. We certainly live in a time where everyone wants their allies to be forever right and strong and no nonsense and all those "don't-give-and-inch-because-that-will-show-weakness" mindsets. I admit I fall into that from time to time as well, but I think that is partially why we are so unrelentingly contentious right now. Which at times make sit hard to learn. If we come into something thinking "I know what is right already and everyone else is an idiot" and we project that, rather than hearing what someone else is saying and thinking about it even if you disagree with it before already forming your own defense/response....
Tyson persuades, and projects a human sincerity that many advocates in many fields just don't exhibit.
+1 for science
+1 for empathetic communication
posted by edgeways at 9:27 AM on February 15, 2013 [4 favorites]


Man, I was super wrong about stars being visible during the day from a well.

Meh--it is an ancient belief, so it's definitely tied to the origins of astronomical thinking in the way you suggested, even though it happens to be wrong.

inventing the game of Monopoly for a tidy prophet

Jesus swept?
posted by yoink at 9:41 AM on February 15, 2013 [8 favorites]


I can think of a star that is visible during the daytime.
posted by Cookiebastard at 9:45 AM on February 15, 2013


I can think of a star that is visible during the daytime.

Oh, c'mon, you can't be serious!
posted by benito.strauss at 9:53 AM on February 15, 2013 [3 favorites]


Transcript requesters, I recommend waiting until you can watch it. It's a good story, but he's also a great performer.

All well and good if you don't need subtitles or a transcript because of hearing difficulty. Not being in a place to watch a video isn't the only reason people ask for transcripts. Accessibility is a real issue in the growing age of internet = video.
posted by stoneweaver at 9:56 AM on February 15, 2013 [4 favorites]


Oh, c'mon, you can't be sirius!
posted by Babblesort at 10:11 AM on February 15, 2013 [6 favorites]


All well and good if you don't need subtitles ...

Oops, sorry stoneweaver, I didn't think about that case. I'm one of the (many) people on the Internet who prefers a transcript that I can read at my own pace to being forced to listen to/watch a video. There are a lot of tech talks out there where the video adds nothing to the content. I just wanted to point out that this was not one of them.
posted by benito.strauss at 10:23 AM on February 15, 2013


inventing the game of Monopoly for a tidy prophet

Jesus swept?


Well, as to which tidy prophet it was, History cannot say.

And what History cannot say, it must passover in silence.
 
posted by Herodios at 10:25 AM on February 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


Why can't we see more of gentlemen nerds dudes like this instead of idiotic rap 'artists'.

He is hardly a nerd. A geek sure, insofar as he relentlessly pursues a deep interest, but I don't think a high school and collegiate wrestler fits into the nerd stereotype at all. Quite the opposite in fact. The impressive thing about Tyson is that he blows up just about every stereotype venn diagram you can think of. The only thing left for him to do is to reveal that he is a writer of wheel of fortune fan fiction.
posted by srboisvert at 10:27 AM on February 15, 2013 [5 favorites]


Why can't we see more of gentlemen nerds dudes like this instead of idiotic rap 'artists'. NDT is The Man!

This is literally the worst possible takeaway from contemplating this guy.
posted by wayland.


Wayland still hasn't answered, so I haven't a clue what he meant by this.

"cause it's super whack and hella racist sounding.
posted by ShawnStruck


How the eff do you come off telling me this is whack and racist? Projecting much? I said he was a dude. That's a term of admiration where I come from. He's someone I think is a role model for all kids--no matter the color or gender. As far as comparing him to rap 'artists', they can hardly string a sentence without ten obscenities, they constantly talk about sex, including rape, dis women and call them bitches and 'hos, and advocate killing, anarchy, and destruction. Not exactly what I envision as a role model for any kid.

I really don't care if you think this is whack or not, but don't call me a racist. My youngest daughter is married to a good-lookin', smart black guy who's a cancer research specialist. He's in the process of adopting her daughter by her first marriage (to a useless white jerk) and their first baby is now over-due by two days. (She's as big as a house. Dammit, baby, COME already! Granma needs to book those plane tickets!) If you like, I'll post their wedding pics. They're a beautiful couple. Not that any of this is your damn business.

He is hardly a nerd. A geek sure, insofar as he relentlessly pursues a deep interest, but I don't think a high school and collegiate wrestler fits into the nerd stereotype at all. Quite the opposite in fact.
posted by srboisvert


Not sure if srboisvert addressed this to me, I'm most likely being a bit tetchy, but please notice *I* was not the one calling him a nerd. That was done by previous posters. Please note that I struck that particular word out. I also struck out the word gentleman because he's obviously not all po-faced and nose-in-the-air. He's down to earth; he drinks 'girly drinks'; he's articulate and communicates well with everyone, not just other scholars; he has a sense of humor--love the ferns tweet. He was a wrestler and a dancer, in short, not a typical intellectual 'gentleman' scientist.And frankly, I think he's good looking. Quite the dude.
posted by BlueHorse at 11:20 AM on February 15, 2013 [3 favorites]


As far as comparing him to rap 'artists', they can hardly string a sentence without ten obscenities, they constantly talk about sex, including rape, dis women and call them bitches and 'hos, and advocate killing, anarchy, and destruction. Not exactly what I envision as a role model for any kid.

Wow, holy shit, you don't have the first fucking idea what you're talking about and you're coming off as really racist here. Can you understand why?

(Pulling the some of my best friends card doesn't help either.)
posted by Pope Guilty at 11:38 AM on February 15, 2013 [15 favorites]


Perhaps we, uh, should move on from this? Or at least take it elsewhere.
posted by edgeways at 11:45 AM on February 15, 2013 [4 favorites]


Racist is an awfully big rock to throw at someone because they don't like or understand black music.
posted by kuujjuarapik at 11:54 AM on February 15, 2013 [11 favorites]


Why do need to feel we're closer to or more familiar with black rather than white celebrity experts? Why, we could have a beer with them! Call them by their first name
..........

You live in a world that is comlete different from mine.
.

Amen to that. I mean I seriously have this conversation (or a variant of) with my husband about a wide variety of celebrities, authors, experts and random internet personalities at least a few times month.

What a weird thing to think has a racial component. We all like to imagine our favorite celebs would be great friends if the right circumstances pit us in the same social circles.

I'm also on a first name basis with my favorite actors, even if it is there most memorable character and not their real name.
posted by [insert clever name here] at 12:25 PM on February 15, 2013


Admittedly, there is a thing where people can try to deny respect to African-Americans by denying them the formal recognition (e.g. using titles) that they would use with non-AAs. But to confuse this with using first names out of affection is a bummer.
posted by benito.strauss at 12:55 PM on February 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


It's not racist for a white person to like a black person, but it is racist for a white person to frame their appreciation for that black person in terms of that black person's relationship to the real or perceived traits of other black people.

I think there's truth to this statement, except framing appreciation for a black man in terms of perceived traits of other black men is *exactly* what Tyson is talking about in this interview clip and seems fair game for discussion in this thread.

When the Jackie Robinson steps out on to the field in 1947, it's ok to say "hey a black guy!" but by the time Barry Bonds does it in 1986, not so much.
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 1:11 PM on February 15, 2013


Articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy.
posted by IndigoJones at 1:42 PM on February 15, 2013 [5 favorites]


I wasn't even sure if I should comment about how much I liked his speech and him in general, for this reason. As a white lady, I am aware that my opinions on what a young black intellectual should do with his future, no matter how humanist and well-intentioned, are pretty much worth the pixels they're printed with.

Nevertheless, there is one thing I know about using your "potential," because I had to learn it the hard way. An person's mind is not a simple tool, like a hammer. You cannot simply assign an unwilling young person to turn themselves into the kind of resource that's required. The best that can happen is a lifetime of regret, resentment and/or clinical depression on the part of that person, despite his or her skill; the worst that can happen is endless.
posted by Countess Elena at 2:00 PM on February 15, 2013 [4 favorites]


BlueHorse: As far as comparing him to rap 'artists', they can hardly string a sentence without ten obscenities, they constantly talk about sex, including rape, dis women and call them bitches and 'hos, and advocate killing, anarchy, and destruction. Not exactly what I envision as a role model for any kid.

This isn't offensive because it's racist, it's offensive because of the proud display of complete ignorance of the genre. There have been many threads on MeFi about rap that would suit your taste, BlueHorse (for instance).

Back to the topic at hand, great story. Anyone have a link to the rest of the interview?
posted by joedan at 2:46 PM on February 15, 2013 [3 favorites]


Racist is an awfully big rock to throw at someone because they don't like or understand black music.

What, like "black music" is one single thing that can be easily defined?
posted by speicus at 4:30 PM on February 15, 2013 [9 favorites]


Thank you, speicus. Love me some rhythm and blues.
From Blind Lemon Jefferson and Charlie Patton to PJ Harvey and Charlie Poole.
posted by BlueHorse at 4:43 PM on February 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


I am glad somebody is talking about the expectations that come with being smart/gifted/whatever when you are part of an historically oppressed community. White privilege is being able to pursue the life you want without being made to feel that you have to set an example "for the race".

Must be nice. I am personally tired of being told that as a raised in poverty college educated black woman I should have children as if I could somehow cancel out a poor woman's kids. Or that I am obligated to get a PhD. Or people being disappointed because I do not aspire to be a lawyer or corporate executive or some other elite.
Not that others have to say anything. No matter what I do, there's always a voice in my head that wonders if there is more I should be doing for the community? (The answer is yes there is always something more you could be doing but you also have to live your life and draw a line somewhere between the individual and the group. It's complicated.)
posted by Misty_Knightmare at 5:01 PM on February 15, 2013 [17 favorites]


What, like "black music" is one single thing that can be easily defined?

That's not what I meant, and very likely you know it.
posted by kuujjuarapik at 5:52 PM on February 15, 2013


I ❤ NdT.

He's had a busy day on the news programs today, commenting on the asteroid and the Russian meteor on NBC, etc. A great ambassador for astronomy and astrophysics.
posted by ericb at 7:05 PM on February 15, 2013


Neil deGrasse Tyson: Russian meteorite was 'once a decade' event
posted by homunculus at 8:47 PM on February 15, 2013


Neil deGrasse Tyson: Thor's hammer weighs 300 billion elephants
posted by homunculus at 8:48 PM on February 15, 2013


[A couple of comments deleted; let's please not derail this thread further with the musicians / racism discussion, which can be discussed over in the Metatalk thread. Thanks.]
posted by taz at 1:21 AM on February 16, 2013


We live in a world where so many people make their living by crafting fictional stories and delivering them with huge helpings of tradecraft and production value, that someone who is an exceptional storyteller in their own right simply fades into the background by comparison. Meanwhile, the true stories about ourselves and our planet can't hold up either, since we've learned so much and can easily hope to learn much more in a short time, and perhaps see there truths in person or reap the benefits of those truths.

What makes people like NDT stand out, then, is that they are both gifted, sincere storytellers and they're telling the most compelling non-fiction stories we have left as a species, those of the universe beyond planet Earth, those things that lay almost completely outside of our grasp of understanding, and our physical access. It is, quite literally, the only set of true stories left in which most (if not all) of us do not know what the endings will be, nor whether we'll learn the endings before our deaths.

The world beyond our planet holds the mysteries that the ocean depths used to, that far-away lands used to; when you think of our solar system and worlds beyond, when you listen to Carl Sagan or Neil deGrasse Tyson, and you shiver with the grandness of it all: you're experiencing a story that we likely won't be around to see anything more than the first few pages of.
posted by davejay at 10:45 AM on February 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


Tyson gently but thoroughly rebukes Dawkins not from a belief standpoint or a pro-science standpoint, but from an educative standpoint.
posted by George_Spiggott at 5:07 PM on February 15


Do watch that to the end. Dawkins treats the "rebuke" in just the way it deserves, and even Tyson has to laugh.
posted by Decani at 12:06 PM on February 16, 2013


I had the privilege of seeing him live at last year's ASIS conference. What a fantastic, amazing person. Thanks for this link.
posted by odinsdream at 12:25 PM on February 16, 2013


Dawkins treats the "rebuke" in just the way it deserves, and even Tyson has to laugh.

I remember thinking when I watched it that Dawkins' response was right in line with the personality he wants to portray (abrasive). And if Tyson's like me, that laugh is just the way you respond to people who are determined to grind on, not a concession.
posted by benito.strauss at 12:40 PM on February 16, 2013


Do watch that to the end. Dawkins treats the "rebuke" in just the way it deserves, and even Tyson has to laugh.

I didn't see the same thing you did, apparently. In the one I saw, Dawkins accepted the rebuke very graciously and in so many words. He then segued into an amusing quote about people who don't think science is cool, and Tyson laughed along with it because it was funny.

i saw nothing along the lines of a rebuttal, refutation or even disagreement. It wasn't even entirely a propos, as it spoke to something rather different than what Tyson was speaking to.,
posted by George_Spiggott at 12:48 PM on February 16, 2013


This doesn't have to be Tyson vs. Dawkins, and that's not why I posted it. I think they agree on practically everything except the best way to reach people, and that's what Tyson was speaking to. I'm on board with everything Dawkins says* but he's mostly about preaching to the choir: I doubt he's ever convinced anyone who wasn't about 90% there already. He goes for the low-hanging fruit, the intellectuals who've already prepared a bed in their mind for his arguments. Tyson's set himself a much harder job and is much more the man to do it.

*Except when he says stupid shit about girls who quite reasonably don't want to be hit on out of the blue by strangers in confined spaces at conferences.
posted by George_Spiggott at 1:02 PM on February 16, 2013


Thanks for the link. It was great hearing Tyson discuss what turned him into a public intellectual.
posted by brainwane at 7:05 PM on February 16, 2013


300 uses for the peanut

I dunno. This kind of quote seems to degrade the achievement of African Americans in science, especially bioscience where their greatest achievements have been. Finding ways to turn peanuts into gear lubricant seems... silly. Whereas inventing pretty much all of modern pharmacology and pioneering open-heart surgery in the US, before the invention of penicillin, seems more intensely interesting to science nerds.

Yet before I linked to their Wiki articles, odds are, you had never heard of either one. You heard of that crazy black man making peanuts into shoe-leather, tho.
posted by Slap*Happy at 8:34 PM on February 16, 2013 [3 favorites]


I made a transcript of this interview excerpt, since it seems a lot of people wanted one. I will try to mefimail the people who I see mentioned it specifically.

Here's the transcript.

Enjoy! And I'm new to transcription, so feel free to send me your comments so I can make this transcript (and possible future ones, too!) as useful as possible to people. Sorry so late on doing this one - I didn't have the transcription software or the time until now.
posted by zabberts at 1:03 PM on February 17, 2013 [5 favorites]


Neil deGrasse Tyson: Thor's hammer weighs 300 billion elephants

Or not: Thor’s Hammer Is Not That Heavy (But It Is Scientifically Interesting)
posted by homunculus at 2:44 PM on February 17, 2013 [2 favorites]


I had the pleasure of spending a college summer internship in the same department with NDT (then a postdoc). He was as interesting and gracious in person as he is in interviews. And very kind to an 18-year-old with stars in her eyes. I had a serious crush on him.

I recently ran into him again when he was on campus to record an interview about a space mission we're running. Unfortunately, he had no memory of me. >cry<
posted by pointless_incessant_barking at 6:52 PM on February 17, 2013 [2 favorites]


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