Neil deGrasse Tyson loses it in a discussion about science

May 9, 2013 • 7:46 am

This clip was highlighted, without comment, at Sean Carroll’s Preposterous Universe website. I’ll post it, too, but add a comment:

It shows Tyson losing it in a science discussion with Brian Greene, Richard Dawkins, Lawrence Krauss, Tracy Day, Ira Flatow, and Bill Nye. The discussion was at an Arizona State University panel on “The Storytelling of Science” (you can see the full discussion here), where Tyson reacted rather violently when Krauss suggested that manned space exploration is driven mainly by the spirit of adventure rather than a search for scientific answers. I happen to agree with that, since the answers are about just as easily obtained with unmanned ventures.

In fact, I think that when John F. Kennedy first announced, in an address to Congress in 1961, that the country would try to send people to the Moon by the end of the decade (a prediction that proved correct), he explicitly referred to adventure—and also alluded to a race with the Russians. Speaking at Rice University in 1962, Kennedy famously said this: “We choose to to to the Moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard.” Shades of Edmund Hillary! But he’s right, for that speech kindled the American spirit, making it seem as if every American were participating in a marvelous adventure.

Tyson, promising to keep silent while Krauss speaks, can’t contain himself, and blurts out a stentorian stream of incoherence, asserting that manned space exploration was never driven by either exploration, science, or curiosity. Rather, Tyson claims, it was driven by the search for immortality (?) and for wealth.  I don’t get that at all.  When the Large Hadron Collider is mentioned, Tyson leaps from his chair and has to be restrained by Bill Nye.

This doesn’t seem to be a joke to me, or a James-Brown-like moment of fictional restraint. Rather, Tyson is simply ticked off.  I have to say that, while applauding Tyson’s contributions to science education, I don’t share my readers’ enthusiasm for him. I dislike his weasel-words approach to admitting his nonbelief, and underneath his veneer of cordiality there seems to be a stream of anger. And of course there was the incident of Tyson withdrawing David Albert’s invitation to an American Museum of Natural History debate on the origins of the universe.

Give me Carl Sagan any day.

183 thoughts on “Neil deGrasse Tyson loses it in a discussion about science

  1. Hmmm…not sure it’s fair comparing Tyson, an enthusiastically entertaining popularizer of astronomy, with Sagan, the greatest poet of the Twentieth Century.

    A current leading candidate for the title of greatest poet of the Twenty-First Century was on that stage next to Tyson — I refer to Richard, of course — but, even then, it’s hard to choose between the two. Sagan’s poetry was more Baroquely elegant, while Richard’s cuts closer to the bone.



      1. “Get thee behind me, Sagan.”

        You win the internet for today.

        You are hereby awarded 30 Interweb Karma Points. Enjoy.

        1. Thanks, I need the prize; just bought my daughter a Nexus 7 and the damned thing wouldn’t connect. A very nice woman in Michigan promised a replacement, no questions asked – impressive.

    1. If anybody had a talent an equal talent as Sagan for such prose it would be Christopher Hitchens, though for different reasons. Hitchens was able, often under the pressure of debates, able to concoct memes that were so profoundly power that one could almost hear the new a-holes being torn. You just need to read one of his books or articles to appretiate his great literary talent.
      Sagan of course was a completely different character and was adept to convey through prose a certain transcendence based on knowledge of the cosmos.
      Both of them will be missed by many. I simply don’t think we current have such orators, though having watched a few clips with our genial host, he isn’t to shabby at ripping new a-holes himself.

      1. Totally agree with Christopher Hitchens being super eloquent. I never stood up and cheered for a youtube video before until I saw Hitchens speak.

  2. I agree with you. Tyson’s a smart guy and interesting to listen to at times, but he’s too much to handle most of the time. I find him arrogant, pompous, and not terribly likeable or personable.

    1. You took the words right out of my mouth about deGrasse. It’s a pity the showman show- off style of his spoils an otherwise brilliant mind.

    2. Neil Tyson de Grasse’s ego is expanding faster than the universe. I watched the entire video and there are several examples. Once he says that he is going to mention his book because everyone else on the panel has mentioned theirs, and Krauss corrects him that no one on the panel has mentioned their books. He says that the LHC is 200 miles around and then is surprised to learn it is 60. After a long winded rant in response to Dawkins saying he would be interested in knowing and understanding consciousness, Tyson goes on forever only to conclude that consciousness might not even be the word for what Dawkins is looking for. Bill Nye responds sarcastically, “Oh Wow!” to laughter by the rest of the panel. But this just encourages Tyson to continue ranting. He continually interrupts others on the panel and this is a habit of his. I’ve seen him do this countless times. But he is often encouraged by the audience, as he was in this video.

      He talks about being humbled by science, but his showmanship overpowers his message. I watched a discussion with Tyson and Dawkins where I felt like he took a condescending tone toward Dawkins. Dawkins spoke graciously about the work of physicists and in turn Tyson talked about not being able to understand biological research because they use big words and it isn’t simple enough. There is a Feynman quote that would have been a nice response where he says the world is the way it is whether you like it or not, and it might be simple or it might be complicated (the onion metaphor), and if you don’t like it that’s your problem.

      I’ve also heard Tyson suggest several approaches to education that I found to be ridiculous. Using rap to engage kids and teach science. I once heard his attempt at rapping and it was awful. Is this really a solution? Do the “cool” people check out “StarTalk” and then take a step closer to the “geek” world, embrace science, and start to think it is cool? I don’t think so. I also heard him say that parents should let there kids rip things apart and tinker with everything in the house. Great idea if your parents are rich and can easily replace things or happen to have a bunch of old electronics lying around. But a terrible idea if your parents are still making payments on that Mac, or iPad, or plasma TV. Seeing him get worked up about silly things like this just makes him look foolish, I think.

      He says he is an agnostic and not an atheist because he doesn’t like labels. Huh? I might be able to handle all of this if it wasn’t for the condescending know-it-all tone that he often takes. I find it annoying. I know that my criticism is harsh and Tyson is a brilliant scientist. I just wish he would show more respect towards other scientists sharing the stage.

      1. Neil deGrasse Tyson is hardly a ‘brilliant’ scientist, or at least it’s accurate to say that he’s not a particularly productive one. His h-index is 10 at the VERY best. For comparison, Jerry’s is 28 and my own PhD supervisor’s is 33.

      2. Wow, Matt did you watch the same video I did?

        Tyson was a hoot and most of the others there seemed to love his rants–and I don’t think they were all just being polite.

        And yes, several of them did talk about their books–mostly Krauss; or someone else talked about their books.

        Oh, and the collider they were discussing wasn’t the LHC, but the supercollider in Texas that was cancelled, as Tyson rightly says because “peace broke out”. I found his realization about the size of the proposed collider to be rather humbling. He even said he’s been saying it wrong all these years. (Actually it was supposed to be 54 miles in circumference.)

        I really don’t think Tyson is any more egotistical than Krauss or most of the other panelists in that talk. He’s just a bit louder. A trait that I think we need in science these days.

        And how much did you laugh at Bill Nye’s reference to getting high after Tyson’s consciousness comment. Oh yeah, and Dawkins seemed to agree with what Tyson said about consciousness.

    3. I have to disagree, I find Tyson’s style captivating and I actually don’t mind his outbursts. The emotion shows a passion for his work that I see in people like Dawkins and Hitchens who have also been prone to these outbursts due to their passion. They are also often shunned by people for that reason (by both atheists and the religious). As far as being likeable and personable, there is a great video “The Poetry of Science” that features both Dawkins and Tyson. Tyson is shown to be far more likeable and personable in relation to Dawkins in that exchange. In particular, he has an understanding popular culture, which allows him to use analogies that improve communication. Dawkins often struggles to understand humour and popular culture in the exchange. I can’t help feeling that Tyson is being singled out due to his less enthusiastic embrace of the word ‘Atheism’.

  3. I’ll periodically get into fights with people on other sites who complain that the space program is the US is dead while ignoring that we have dozens of robotic probes exploring a good chunk of the solar system. To some people, manned exploration *is* the space program, and nothing else matters at all, which I find a very strange attitude to have.

    Sending humans anywhere is a huge undertaking, and more often than not, it seems like they just spend most of their time sitting around waiting to do stuff, or testing the equipment that is there so they don’t die, rather than doing science.

  4. Rather, Tyson claims, it was driven by the search for immortality (?) and for wealth.

    Conquistadors of space perhaps? Maybe too into Prometheus? Doesn’t seem like something to get so hot under the collar, though.

    1. I’m pretty sure he meant staying alive to mean in war or conflict. Not immortality.

      I just think NdGT’s very sensitive about space flight and defending it is what gets his goat.

  5. I think you should watch rest of the discussion for context before commenting on it. The “not wanting to die” line is about funding decisions that get made when the country is at war (or engaged in a cold war), not immortality.

    1. I’m not able to get sound from my work computer…. do you think he’s talking about immortality with respect to humanity being able to leave the planet and thus avoid any of the potentially extinction causing calamities that could happen in the future?

    2. Yup.

      Taken with the short snippet it’s easy to make the mistake that Tyson is talking about immortality when he’s actually talking about fighting and winning wars.

      I am also not super impressed with Tyson in general. I dislike how he brags about never offering opinions or his own conclusions – he freely offers opinions and conclusions for some things but he dodges when the subject is remotely controversial. I think we need public scientists like him to do better.

  6. Even the people we look up to in Science have personality flaws, including Mr. Sagan. This is why I don’t believe in having heroes. We’re all human.

    Nonetheless, I think Tyson may have had a point worth discussing but his irritation drowned it out.

    The invite debacle makes me as uncomfortable as Elevatorgate. As outsiders, we can’t really judge the situation accurately.

  7. I haven’t watched the above clip, but I did watch the entire panel discussion when it first came out. My impression was that Tyson said that the Apollo program and manned space exploration was driven by the Cold War. That actually makes a lot of sense to me and seems to fit the evidence.

    1. I was in attendance. My interpretation was that he was voicing the opinion that people are willing to contribute tax dollars to science when they think their lives are at stake, as they did during the cold war. But they are not so willing to contribute just for the sake of disinterested scientific advancement.

    2. It’s my understanding that the original reason for putting a person in space was to operate a spy camera: to pick the targets and handle the photo processing. Robots weren’t good enough to accomplish that during the Eisenhower administration.

  8. I think I’ve commented before that Tyson seems a bit reluctant to say outright that he is an atheist, no doubt because he has a politician’s eye on public opinion given his highly paid position as a popularizer of science. I’m not sure of what to make of this outburst, however.

  9. It’s difficult not to agree with Tyson when he talks, or shouts, dances and moustached smile, it’s difficult not to be taken in by his passion and enthusiasm. It’s why he’s so loved and why this is the first time I’ve thought negatively about him. Watching the whole video I didn’t see any anger in him. Now I’ve watched dozens of videos of him over the last year he’s getting real repetitive, more so than any other scientists I am aware of, when someone contradicts one of these prepared speeches he gets a bit loud. I would love to put him and Krauss in a room together and watch them argue.

    I don’t agree with him on the causes of space exploration. Sure the money comes from what he describes, but, if those engineers and scientists actually working on the projects where mostly after wealth, power or other political issues, and not curiosity, exploration and science for itself, very little would be achieved. Politics and
    funding would be useless without the curious.

    “Give me Carl Sagan any day.” Indeed!

      1. I’m not sure Dawkins should replace Sagan. I’m not sure who is better at popularising science. Dawkins sticks to evolutionary biology and his popularising of that is better than anyone I am aware of (if Coyne could do a sequel to WEIT I might change my mind ;)). I find Dawkins more comparable to Feynman in that respect in their passion and the treating the audience like intellectual equals. Sagan kept his work mostly in physics and space, but he was more prophetic and covered a wider area.

        If Tyson has a very good script in front of him he could do as an adequate replacement for Carl in the new Cosmos series, as for now I don’t know anyone else who would be better, apart from me.

        1. Well yes, I can see Tyson waxing eloquent in a remake of Cosmos. But I’m thinking more of Sagan’s Demon Haunted World with the spot-on subtitle “Science as a candle in the dark”. In his soft-spoken, question-asking way he went after religion in that book in a way I don’t see Tyson doing. For that you need Richard, who I consider a more blunt, confrontational version of Carl when it comes to criticism of religion

          Carl was very eloquent, even poetic. One of my favorite quotes from Demon Haunted World:

          “I worry that, especially as the Millennium edges near, pseudoscience and superstition will seem year by year more tempting, the siren song of unreason more sonorous and attractive. Where have we heard it before? Whenever our ethnic or national prejudices are aroused, in times of scarcity, during challenges to national self-esteem or nerve, when we agonize about our diminished cosmic place and purpose, or when fanaticism is bubbling up around us – then, habits of thought familiar from ages past reach for the controls. The candle flame gutters. Its little pool of light trembles. Darkness gathers. The demons begin to stir.”

          1. It’s a book full of beautiful quotes. Dawkins has said that he wished he had written Demon haunted world. I can’t see Tyson writing or saying something openly criticising most of America like that. I don’t know if tyson could handle the negative reaction. Dawkins and Sagan were of course polite but they dont let it get in the way of honesty. Tyson isn’t dishonest but his speeches are carefully crafted as to avoid confrontation with anyone but scientists. We need, we want, that confrontation in a good teacher. I’ve noticed that Tyson also asks very few question he hasn’t already got the conclusion for. He can make one wonder and look in awe but he doesn’t make you think like Sagan or Dawkins or Coyne. This is the first time I’ve criticised Tyson, yet I’m still a big fan.

          2. I hate to interrupt this testimonial to Saint Carl, but his essay The Amniotic Universe, which appeared as a chapter in Broca’s Brain was not a proud moment.

          3. I read Broca’s Brain a very long time ago but remember little. What was The Amniotic Universe about and what made it a disaster?

          4. And neither was his claim, with Shklovskii in “Intelligent Life in the Universe”, that Mars’ moons are hollow and constructed by aliens.

            Uncle Carl was often “full of it.”

          5. yep. Dragons of Eden, anyone?

            Well, his was an…expanded consciousness.

        2. Nobody can nor should replace anybody. We none of us can do better but than to sing our own songs as best we can.

          It just so happens that Richard’s got a pretty good voice, one that harmonizes rather well with the echoes of Sagan.



    1. He’s mentioned on the SGU that his public appearances are carefully thought through and optimized. It would not surprise me to see that he is uncomfortable when the discussion is wildly off any script.

      I am still really looking forward to Cosmos II.

      1. This is correct, he wasn’t addressing the motivations of the scientists and engineers doing to actual work, he was addressing the political climate that allowed for the funding of the work.

  10. I’m not sure I agree. Having watched the whole event a few weeks ago I recall him being very compassionate about that particular topic but also playful with the other guys even though they didn’t agree with him. I honestly don’t think he went off the rails or anything of that sort. However, I do think he is a bit to hesitant to take on the atheist label even though he does attack religion (mostly creationism) pretty ruthlessly at times.

  11. I think you are way off base here. These were a group of friends, having a passionate discussion. Yea, Tyson can be as boisterous as Dawkins is restrained. By to characterize Bill Nye as “restraining” him is just plain BS. Nye couldn’t restrain a 5 year old let alone Tyson. You don’t like Tyson, fine. But don’t pull a media trick of changing the facts to meet your agenda. You took one small segment, blew it out of proportion, and ignored everything that led up to it. You’re better than that.

  12. Interesting clip. I believe the “…people don’t want to die…” reference is connected to his next comment about “…the war driver…” My read is that he’s saying that one motive for funding space exploration is the potential military/Defense applications of new technologies developed for space exploration. He’s not talking about immortality, IMO, and though he’s strangely aggressive, he’s not really incoherent.

  13. Curiosity, whether scientific or a fuzzier variety, is necessary but not sufficient for a manned space program (or any large scale exploration). The money has to come from people with their own agendas, and those agendas boil down to a mix of greed and fear.

    I hate to say it, but I think Tyson is right. You can do small, good science without appealing to baser emotions, but the big stuff with the big price tags? I wish there were a counterexample. No, really, if someone can think of one it would cheer me up.

  14. Curiosity, whether scientific or a fuzzier variety, is necessary but not sufficient for a manned space program (or any large scale exploration). The money has to come from people with their own agendas, and those agendas boil down to a mix of greed and fear.

    I hate to say it, but I think Tyson is right. You can do small, good science without appealing to baser emotions, but the big stuff with the big price tags? I wish there were a counterexample. No, really, if someone can think of one it would cheer me up.

      1. Tyson actually addressed that. His argument is that compared to the Apollo program it was small change. And he also reminded us that the cost of the LHC is a little more than half of NASA’s yearly budget. In this sense he is correct.

          1. I’ll accept the LHC as Big Science without an obvious immediate payoff for someone, even if it isn’t as big as it might be. It may well represent the upper bound for such. But it’s *something* and I’m grateful. 🙂

  15. I think you need to see the discussion in general to give a bit more context. I watched this panel on youtube a few weeks ago and it’s really good. It just comes across as a group of friends having banter, particularly Tyson and Krauss who often jostle with one another!

    Storm in a teacup I think 🙂

  16. I disagree that the Apollo missions were about discovery and adventure.

    We were deep in the Cold War and Russia was beating us in space. Would their space program lead to newer, bigger, badder intercontinental warheads? Warheads housed on space platforms directly above our heads?

    The Apollo program was all about beating the Soviets. It were about gaining the space-based war technology before they did. It was about showing the Soviets that we were bigger and badder than they could ever hope to be. And it was about bolstering moral at home.

    The fact that this was all done through discovery and adventure and science was secondary to showing the world, the Soviets and the American people that our dick was bigger than the Soviet’s.

    It was all about politic and war.

  17. Rather, Tyson claims, it was driven by the search for immortality (?) and for wealth.

    Has Tyson completed that thought anywhere? It doesn’t sound right to me, but I’d like to hear where he was going with it before judging.

    1. It’s a misunderstanding of what Tyson was saying. When he said Apollo was driven by people not wanting to die, he meant that people were really worried that Russian rockets might be better than American rockets and rockets are really good for prosecuting wars.

      He said that all major human exploration is driven by not wanting to die (fear of your enemies) or acquisition of wealth. I think he’s right. Columbus’s motives weren’t “let’s see what to put in this blank area of the map”, they were “let’s find an alternate route to the Indies so we can make shedloads of cash on trade.

      Tyson’s points in the discussion were generally compelling, but I wish he had given the others more of a chance to speak.

      The restraining bit was just a piece of theatre. Bill Nye was clearly playing it for laughs.

  18. Thank you! I was beginning to think I was the only person on the planet who doesn’t worship Tyson, he was so obnoxious during that talk.

    Dawkins displayed such class in calmly exerting his incredible enthusiasm without these ridiculous displays of faux-excitement and assertion

  19. I remember that space exploration pioneer James Van Allen (who discovered the eponymous radiation belt) questioned the rationale for manned space exploration, as opposed to robotic exploration, as long ago as 1959. In one of his last contributions, in 2004, he wrote:

    Almost all of the space program’s important advances in scientific knowledge have been accomplished by hundreds of robotic spacecraft in orbit about Earth and on missions to the distant planets Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune. Robotic exploration of the planets and their satellites as well as of comets and asteroids has truly revolutionized our knowledge of the solar system. Observations of the Sun are providing fresh understanding of the physical dynamics of our star, the ultimate sustainer of life on Earth. And the great astronomical observatories are yielding unprecedented contributions to cosmology. …In our daily lives, we enjoy the pervasive benefits of long-lived robotic spacecraft that provide high-capacity worldwide telecommunications; reconnaissance of Earth’s solid surface and oceans, with far-reaching cultural and environmental implications; much-improved weather and climatic forecasts; improved knowledge about the terrestrial effects of the Sun’s radiations; a revolutionary new global navigational system for all manner of aircraft and many other uses both civil and military; and the science of Earth itself as a sustainable abode of life. These robotic programs, both commercial and governmental, are and will continue to be the hard core of our national commitment to the application of space technology to modern life and to our national security. … In a dispassionate comparison of the relative values of human and robotic spaceflight, the only surviving motivation for continuing human spaceflight is the ideology of adventure. But only a tiny number of Earth’s six billion inhabitants are direct participants. For the rest of us, the adventure is vicarious and akin to that of watching a science fiction movie. At the end of the day, I ask myself whether the huge national commitment of technical talent to human spaceflight and the ever-present potential for the loss of precious human life are really justifiable.

    At the time, Neil deGrasse Tyson argued in an interview with the NYT that “the urge to visit a planet, simply because we have not done so before, expresses a desire, if not a need, that transcends time and culture.”

    Toys for boys. I alway found Van Allen’s argument compelling.

    1. The case for manned (humanned?) space exploration has never had a decent scientific rationale, but it has had significant negative consequences for real science by diverting scarce science dollars. A good example is that $100 billion orbiting pet rock we call the International Space Station.

      1. Just to be fair, the AMS experiment aboard the space station has recently proved useful in confirming an anomaly first observed by some other satellite experiments in the cosmic positron flux. It is currently the most precise measurement available, so score one for the ISS. Other than that though, I don’t know a lot that the ISS has done for basic research.

        1. It was convenient to attach the AMS to the ISS rather than launch and maintain a free flying satellite, but the ISS was by no means necessary for the experiment. Lets put it this way, as a free flying satellite, the AMS might have cost a few million more. Compared to the $100 billion ISS, a pittance.

      2. Your tacit assumption that if the ISS had not been built the money would have been spent on (other) science projects probably isn’t justified.

    2. As Sagan said, the most compelling argument for a human space program is the goal of a permanent, self-sustaining human presence beyond the earth, to reduce the chances of the loss of human civilization, or even extinction, from a global catastrophe.

      1. Unfortunately, this compelling idea is silly. Having a small group of humans living in the hostile environments available to us in the solar system will not reduce the chances of extinction in any meaningful way. And interstellar travel is not an option. Even if feasible, it would take centuries and an enormous amount of luck for a small group of humans to reach a suitable planet, even if one can be found within a few dozen light years.

        1. The long-term goal is not “a small group of humans” but a large one. Eventually, multiple large groups of humans. The most obvious candidates for an initial colony are the moon and Mars.

          It’s been heartening to see a lot of renewed interest in a more vigorous human space program over the last few years, especially from tech entrepreneurs (Sergey Brin and Larry Page, Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, Paul Allen, etc.) and high-profile scientists like Krauss and Tyson.

    3. Europeans did not explore the other side of the Atlantic in any meaningful way until travel throughout Europe and the Mediterranean had become relatively routine.

      Today, travel across the globe is about on a par with international travel a half a millennium ago, and the Moon is about as well explored as the New World was then.

      We won’t seriously do anything more than plant the occasional flag on the Moon until it’s as reasonable for jet-setters living in New York to meet with somebody from Beijing to meet in Sydney for lunch and be back home in time for dinner as it is today for jet-setters in New York and Boston to meet in D.C. for lunch and be back home by dinner.

      And that’s also about the same time that we’ll be sending out our first successful manned Martian missions.

      It won’t be until the average middle-class family can spend a week on the Moon visiting Aunt Mille and Uncle Johnnie in their retirement condo there that we’ll have permanent research stations on Titan (Saturn’s largest moon), and nobody will yet have set foot on Pluto.

      And it won’t be until your crazy cousin Ralph commutes daily from his orbital home above Venus to the Saturnian Medical Research Facility that the first manned expedition reaches another star.

      But there’s a serious barrier to even the hypothetical possibility that any of this could theoretically happen:


      The entire transportation system, including the space program, is fueled by petrochemical hydrocarbons. And there never were enough of them in the ground to fuel the kind of society that would be able to spare enough resources for a permanent Lunar colony — let alone all the rest.

      The only option for the kind of energy we’d need is solar — and solar on a massive scale far beyond anything anybody’s even hinting at in the context of today’s energy crisis. Basically, we’d need every human-built structure to be topped with solar panels — all the buildings, all the roads, all the parking lots; everything. Just covering all the residential dwellings in the US today would provide current global electricity needs, and we’d need to cover all the structures on the entire planet for the kind of surplus we’d need to support serious Lunar development.

      At that point, we’d naturally start moving solar energy harvesting off the surface of the Earth. The ultimate conclusion of that enterprise, of course, is the Dyson Sphere, but we wouldn’t need anything nearly so extreme to fuel our exploration fantasies. Covering the sunward side of Mercury in power collectors would probably power a civilization just barely capable of interstellar exploration.

      So, it’s romantic as all get-out to fantasize about manned exploration. And it’ll happen, perhaps even sooner rather than later if we can make the transition to solar and stay on our exponential growth curve.

      But nobody reading these words soon after I type them will live to see any of it happen in other than an insignificant, symbolic, token fashion.



    1. Brian Cox is fantastic, I went to see him give a talk in Melbourne last year, it was great.

    2. I don’t think Wonders is quite in the same class as Cosmos, but it’s definitely greatly superior to most science shows. Cox is very likable and enthusiastic, and he also has a way of conveying the beauty and majesty of science. I loved the scene in Wonders of the Universe where he describes the future timeline of the universe – all the trillions upon trillions of years until entropy reaches its maximum.

  20. I don’t know, for sure, but it looks like a put-up job to me. I’m sure the audience enjoyed it immensely. Hopefully they went away with some food for thought.

  21. There is one exception to these generalizations about motivation. The Manned Mission to Mars effort under the Bush administration, 2004+.
    Bush Announces Plan for Missions to Moon, Mars
    Published January 15, 2004

    A manned mission to Mars is way beyond our current technology, no one has come close to solving the radiation problem, for just one. By focusing NASA’s efforts and resources on an impossible dream, other NASA programs were terminated or underfunded. I am convinced this was the true purpose of Bush’s Mars program, to cut climate-related research of Earth which would have strengthened the case for global warming.

    Perhaps this sounds too cynical. But when you’re dealing with Dick Cheney, it’s difficult to be too cynical.

    1. The irrationality I love about the wannabe Mars colonizers is that they justify it as necessary because “we are eventually going to make the earth uninhabitable.” More uninhabitable than Mars?!

      1. LOL. Right.

        We’d have to effectively strip pretty much all of the atmosphere off the planet, make the rest of the atmosphere unbreathable, make all of the soil sterile (or nearly so), get rid of the magnetic sphere that protects us from the sun’s harmful cosmic rays, have days-long sandstorms with tornado force winds, and lose practically every bit of water.

        THEN, the Earth would be less habitable than Mars.

        Earth will be less habitable than Mars in about a billion years, when the heat from the sun is too much for the planet to handle. Then, Mars will be more temperate and could provide a temporary refuge.

        Call me back in a billion years and we’ll discuss colonization. Until then, let’s focus on here.

  22. Tyson is entertaining and passionate and the idea of space exploration resonates with the public on an emotional level, but I agree with Coyne and Sagan that much (all?) of the scientific value could be accomplished with unmanned missions.

    I was at the ASU conference the previous night to this one mentioned. The endeavor reeked of self-promotion and celebrity. For example, Cameron Diaz had been invited to the event presumably as an the object of Krauss’ flirtations. (If anyone else was there that night they could corroborate my sentiment.)

    Perhaps Tyson’s feelings about the value of manned space exploration are genuine, but they are feelings and lack the objectivity of rationale science and smack of self-promotion. I find it relevant that he mentions the quest for “wealth” as a primary motivation for space exploration. Hmmm.

    1. Diaz was one of the celebrity talking heads in The Unbelievers, wasn’t she? So, maybe a legitimate guest here for the same reason, as a symbol of the broad popular appeal of science.


  23. The space race was a product of the Cold War. It sent a message “If we can put a man on the moon, we can put a missile in Moscow.” NASA’s peak year of funding (as % of budget) was actually 1966. The moon race was not about sci-fi dreams and only tangentially about science.

  24. I tend to agree with our host about 80% of the time, but definitely not on this issue, and for the most part, I think he judges Tyson rather harshly.

    And in this instance, the clip is out of context and Jerry’s interpretation of what happened is just off-base completely.

    I’ve seen Tyson give other talks about how space exploration or other large (I mean multi-billion large) scientific enterprises never have curiosity or a sense of adventure as the sole driver, or even the largest driver, behind them.

    And it’s true, sadly, but at the end of the day, deep pockets have to fund these sorts of things, and those deep pockets always have different motives, usually revolving around profit, military strength, etc.

    And it’s not like Tyson is saying he likes it that way, or that he’s happy about it, but just simply stating what he thinks the facts show….and by simply, i mean vociferously and animatedly 🙂

    1. Agreed, although I find it strongly bugsome that Tyson pulls his punches about his atheism.

      He’s no Carl Sagan, in terms of being a science populist. He isn’t terrible. He’s just too political. He could be great. Misses it by that much.

        1. I hadn’t thought about it. Being he’s dead, doesn’t seem like a useful pursuit.

          And don’t take that tone with me 🙂

          1. It appears that a little “tone” goes a long way with you. How should such a question be posed to you without you taking umbrage?;)

  25. Everyone has an opinion. I wonder how well funded and successful NASA would have been had we not wanted to “send a man to the moon?” Still, the precipitate from the space program includes much of the technological revolution since then with it’s demands for electro-mechanical mechanisms with more capability in smaller sizes, less weight, using less power.

    It’s not as though most of us don’t lose it at times… just read some of the comments here.

  26. After viewing the clip both in and out of context, I would tend to agree that he is referring to the cold war as a motivation for manned space exploration with his comments. Although I agree that Tyson is sometimes a little off base and overly politician like in his actions and speech, it seems that he is probably correct in this instance, even if he could have expressed it in a better way.

    He comes off as the Bill O’Reilly of science sometimes, getting up and shouting at people in the middle of a discussion, I’ve seen it happen a few times. At least, unlike Bill O, he’s right most of the time.

  27. Wow. I have seen mathematicians actually throw books at one another at a conference (it was in a discussion for standards for high school math students) and mathematicians come to blows at parties. (albeit not at MMA levels).

    I agree with many of the readers than the Cold War had a great deal to do with our manned space exploration.

  28. I think you can make a reasonable argument that the science and technology that is invented when developing manned space flight provides benefits beyond that immediate goal. Also, Tyson has repeatedly stated that one of the main reasons for manned spaceflight is to encourage kids and teenagers to go into science and technology fields, quoting roughly “nobody becomes an aeronautical engineer to make 747’s get 0.1% better fuel economy.”

    If one were to look at scientific developments specific to space and astronomy, robotic spaceflight would likely come out ahead on a science/dollar basis, but within the grander picture I agree with Tyson–the shear level of excitement generated by manned spaceflight increases the public’s general interest and aptitude in science. It is an investment in the future.

    1. Hmm… the “Teflon” argument? What were the actual benefits, other than for military uses, that would justify the budget*?

      * Although it should be remembered that the budget for the entire Apollo project was less than the annual financial cost of the Vietnam war. [Asimov]


  29. I didn’t see any anger or threat in Tyson’s behavior, just passion and perhaps a little frustration (and the playfulness Tyler McDaniel mentions in post #9). Also, I think his argument is essentially correct. It depends, I suppose, on how one interprets ‘driver’. Sure the spirit of adventure accompanied our manned exploration, but I don’t think it was the driver. Without other political factors driving it, the manned program would not have happened.

    I’m not a professional scientist nor an academic, and I can understand that his behavior may have crossed a line of the academic comfort zone. It certainly was not fair to Lawrence, who was upstaged. But I think calling Neil ‘violent’ really overstates the case.

    1. “upstaged” literally. Watch the clip with the sound off. Tyson’s not talking to Krauss at all, he’s looking straight at–and gesturing at–the audience. The leap to his feet was dramatic punctuation. And Nye was just clowning around.
      Did Krauss get the chance to finish his point? If not, I’d call the whole thing a rhetorically successful silencing tactic.

    2. Tyson has a habit – a sense of entitlement – of interrupting others. Reminds me of Mitt Romney and his ilk.

  30. “This doesn’t seem to be a joke to me, … Give me Carl Sagan any day.”
    It seems clear to me that there is humour in the air there and the restraint, etc is a parody. You know, I’d much rather listen to someone who clearly feels something for what he has to say. I find that aspect of him very appealing. And I’d sooner consider the Dr Spock’s of this world a pretence.

          1. 😉

            A very common mistake, though. But one that will get less so over time, as the Dr. recedes from memory…

          2. I hold Dr Spock personally responsible for the really bad way only children were treated in the 70s!

  31. With respect, I disagree. He did not ‘lose’ it. Tyson is very exuberant and ‘appears’ serious.. This is pretty much his personality. The whole thing was silly and a little funny. My opinion, there are more important things to talk about than why we need manned space missions.. but hey if that’s what they want to talk about they are more than welcome to it. As always, I respect and appreciate your opinion, even if I disagree with it.. a little or a lot.
    The way you put it though (in title and text), I thought Tyson was going down the path of schizophrenia or something..
    Yeah, he is wishy washy when it comes to labeling himself but I guess I can overlook that. I find the idea of ‘gods’ ludicrous, and we have some great people speaking out. You, Eberhard, Harris.. Even voices from the past such as Ingersoll.. His words are not lost, and there is not a single religious argument that can counter them: none.
    And hey, not everyone can be a Sagan.
    David Albert I don’t care for and quite honestly I may address his arguments but, like you, I don’t always feel like putting up with certain personalities.

    Either way, thanks for publishing my opinion on your site, as your blog is the only blog (on ‘atheism’) I read daily.
    More on Jim Al-Khalili please! Such as why is he not more outspoken about the fact that the seed for ‘Quantum Biology’ (not the Deepak Chopra nonsense) was planted in his head by another UniS professor?? And earlier back in the 60s by other biologists?

  32. I watched this entire panel discussion when it came out and I thought Neil deGrasse Tyson was joking here but I felt he was genuinely really ticked off about the same issue in this panel at TAM and I actually felt annoyed with him for a while:

    I go back and forth with Neil deGrasse Tyson. I think he is a genuinely nice guy who contributes a lot to the popularization of science, but maybe his desire to be nice is his Achilles heel as he does use questionable language by saying things like he doesn’t tell people his position, he just gives them facts (which to me seems a bit dodgy).

    I’ve also seen different clips where it appears that he alters how harsh he is being vis a vis religion depending on his audience – appearing more accommodationalist sometimes and completely angry and apposing on other occassions. This makes him appear disingenuous.

  33. The video and the description of it are way out of sync. Tyson did not literally lose control, nor was he actually restrained.

    And getting anything related to immortality out of his comment about people not wanting to die requires a degree of contortion I wouldn’t think possible to see here. That’s like saying when you step out of the way of a speeding car, you’re doing so to achieve immortality.

    Tyson paints with an overly broad brush, but he’s not wrong about the motives opening the actual purse strings for most huge and expensive projects.

  34. We need to explore THIS planet and its life, and develop “technology” aimed at our survival here, but “space” gets the lion’s share of the funding. Evolution is all about Earth (it’s not that there are zero benefits to space exploration–asteroids and extremophiles, for example–but it is largely a way for industry to suck the taxpayer dry). Speaking of rants, why petulant rants about personalities and pushing of agendas and opinions (not science) rather than the substance of issues? Why isn’t there more discussion about evolution here?

    Or IS this a playground of the vanities?

    1. “Speaking of rants, why petulant rants about personalities and pushing of agendas and opinions (not science) rather than the substance of issues? Why isn’t there more discussion about evolution here? ”

      I think the general principle is that the owner of the website gets to decide what he wants to post up, based upon whatever interests him at the time. We’re all free to go elsewhere if the content is not to our liking.

    2. Space exploration is a tiny proportion of our budget and the amount of money going towards living on this planet is many times greater, so the former is hardly “sucking us dry”. Nor does it benefit industry much.

  35. I’ve watched the whole video a while ago and I COMPLETELY agree with Chris Quartly, above. To me, this is just a group of friends engaged in friendly banter and jostling with each other. Nothing serious. But I’m a Neil deGrasse Tyson fan, so I guess I’m biased.
    Chris is right: This has “storm in a teacup” written all over it! =D

  36. I’m not American. However, as a young boy, space and cosmology-related subjects have interested me. Still do, in fact. The US’ cold war with the USSR being an impetus for the race to the moon and the initial drive toward space exploration in that context makes a great deal of sense to me. So I’m basically with Dr. Tyson, here…

  37. I found Tyson to be a hoot in the segment. I doubt I would have if I did not know already what extreme energy levels his rather huge self can throw off. His fellow scientists/friends took his personality in stride.

    Tyson is as profoundly extroverted as I am introverted, and his ability to connect to audiences via his non-verbal communication (which comprises the majority of communication) is his strength. Should we ignore his weaknesses? Definitely not, but nor should we bury his strong point–he connects via his enthusiasm, educating others about science.

    In general, I get my science from the G+ science community where I can ask questions and get them answered by largely unknown scientists. Additionally, I take online courses.

    I suspect the appeal of such folks like Dawkins and Tyson will probably decline as more direct contact with scientists increases. Therefore, I think Jerry’s website is more timely and relevant in that regard.

  38. OMG, NdGT stripped off his shirt! (at about 47 min.)

    OK, I have a little time (need 2+ hours)and I’m enjoying the entire show.
    So far, it’s a big personality fest. But Dawkins is talking now (@ 55 min.) and he’s talking about evolution–lovely. Cuckoos in particular.

    I’d recommend watching the entire show, I still haven’t gotten to the fight yet, but I’m looking forward to it. Yes Tyson is a bit full of it, but I rather like his drama and Krauss and most of the others play right along from the very beginning.

    1. I highly recommend watching the entire show. The first half is fun with everyone taking the stage for a bit, but the 2nd half was hilarious.
      Nye, Krauss, and Tyson did hog the show a bit(it did seem to be Krauss’ show though). But the others seemed to be enjoying it.

      I especially loved that Krauss brought up the fact that there was only one woman on the panel. Well done with a good explanation, but it would have been better if he’d had a more demographically varied panel.

      1. I thought it was really funny. I watched it live streamed and was laughing throughout. It was funny when Dawkins said he thought fun was over rated and Krauss told him that’s because he’s British.

        1. That was great too. There was a little bit of the US against the Brits throughout. But in a very playful way.
          Even Dawkins looked as if he was having fun.

          1. Tyson lacks the self-discipline – possessed by Dawkins – to rest his voice.

  39. Yes. Agree with this post. There are some other examples of Tyson losing it in a similar way and failing to engage with other scientist’s arguments. I think Steven Weinberg has being making the same kind of point that Krauss makes here for quite a long time and so has Bob Park (Voodoo Science).

  40. “When the Large Hadron Collider is mentioned, Tyson leaps from his chair and has to be restrained by Bill Nye.”

    Seems like he leaps out of his chair due to an overabundance of passion and that the following scene was more joke/theater. I think you are allowing a bias against NDGT to color your conclusions.

  41. Dear Jerry
    NdGT dismisses too lightly, the significant contribution that the spirit of adventure has made to science.

    Without it, the theory of evolution would not have been formulated by either Darwin or Wallace!!

    All scientists are adventurers at heart.

    1. Again, watch the entire show. He’s talking about funding. In particular, the big projects.
      And he’s not really talking about the scientists themselves.

      –I’m worried I’m starting to sound a bit like a Tyson groupie. I do like him and his enthusiasm. But I also like Krauss’; and Dawkins’; and Nye’s; and Flatow’s…

      1. “I’m worried I’m starting to sound a bit like a Tyson groupie. I do like him and his enthusiasm. But I also like Krauss’; and Dawkins’; and Nye’s; and Flatow’s…”
        Same here. I really enjoy Dawkins, Krauss, Greene, Bill Nye and Tyson. Science Friday’s a fun show. Brian Greene’s wife is charming. More power to her for organizing the World Science Festival (as well as for being the only woman on the panel 🙂 I unfortunately never heard of Neal Stephenson. Seems like an interesting writer to check out ! 🙂 The whole video is indeed worth a watch and will perhaps put Tyson’s “losing it” in perspective ! 🙂

        1. Stephenson? Making a public appearance? Wow!

          His novels are so dang long.

          If you have an interest in computers, start with In the Beginning Was the Command Line.

          Necronomicon is an obvious choice for his sf.


      2. I think you’re doing a good job of getting across the real tenor of the show, and I appreciate it.

  42. Is Manned space exploration more about adventure than science? Did our leaders support it based on Cold War politics? Probably, but So what? How many of us were influenced or inspired by these adventures? For a time the sky itself wasn’t the limit of our imagination or our reach. For a moment we looked outward. Now, we spend much of our time looking in or down.

    As for Sagan- a studied optimism that was impossible to ignore. That’s what I remember. He opened up areas of knowledge to many of us that had been unapproachable before. His love of the act of learning was infectious.

    Yeah, I know I’m a dinosaur…

  43. I’m just a bit old fashioned when comes to public discourse. I’m put out by his rude behavior; what he said is irrelevant to me once he crosses the boundary of civilized exchange. He had his turn; he should shut up and listen. That’s the only way the consumer of this program will discern the essence of each persons contribution. Basic classroom behavior, at least in my classroom.

  44. Yeah, I’m not a big fan of Tyson. And I also think that manned space flight is needless adventure seeking and that 10 robotic missions could be funded for the cost of one manned mission. That said, he plays an important role as science educator for young people, and as a black man, a role model for people of color.

    As far as public speaking, he does get overanimated to the detriment of his message and often, his arguments are not particularly cogent. He always struck me as a good example of an atheist “butter” and I speculate that he may be avoiding the atheist label because it can be an impediment to those he’s trying to reach with science. But we need passionate and animated speakers for science! While I appreciate the calm and eloquence of Dawkins and Harris, Hitch’s passion could bring down the house. There is no place for anger (and I clearly see Tyson flirt with that line) but please don’t criticize Tyson’s passion and enthusiasm.

  45. Somewhere, Tyson made a valid point (I thought) with respect to why he prefers not to be labeled as an atheist. He said such labels are unnecessary. He draws an analogy to a golfer. He said call someone who likes or plays golf–we call them golfers–but we don’t label those who don’t play golf. We don’t call them agolfers

    IMO, there seems to be some sense in this. Why not just label those who believe in god and other nonsense–call them theists or suckers or whatever–and leave it at that? There is no need to label those who aren’t that way, anymore than there is a need to label people who don’t play golf.

    I am always proud to be labeled as an atheist, but I respect someone’s desire not to be labeled and see no need to cast doubt on his or her integrity because of it.

    1. Oops. I meant to write:

      He said we call someone who likes or plays golf “golfers”, but we don’t label those who don’t play golf. We don’t call them agolfers.

      1. If we lived in a world in which golf was generally thought to be a valid means of answering existential questions, and devotion to golf was widely equated to moral fortitude, his “agolfers” analogy might have worked.

  46. My take home from watching the whole thing is that most of the other cognoscenti were being crushed a bit under the vying egos of Tyson and Krauss. I was actually most favorably impressed with how Nye was able to help keep things on track. I didn’t have a particularly strong opinion about Nye going into it, so his grace was a highlight.

    1. I was impressed with Nye too.

      I’ve only gotten to know about Bill Nye in the past few years. I never had cable to watch his science guy show, but I always thought he was just a kid’s show host (no offense meant to anyone). But some of his more recent stuff isn’t juvenile at all!

  47. I’ll add my two cents (about what it’s worth, I expect). I was there in the audience for that (in the “VIP” seating area) and I didn’t have the same reaction at all. It seemed to me to be mainly a harmless bit of histrionics that served to liven things up a bit. But I have a pretty wide tolerance for individual styles as well.

  48. I agree with Jerry here. Tyson made the transition from educator to Celebrity a while ago, with all that entails, and he has never looked back.

  49. Not his best moment.
    He is on a stage with people who will hear him out, and he still allows himself to get bent out of shape.
    It’s not like a Foxx News split screen, where one has to yell to get heard.

    Chill out, Neil. Compose yourself.

  50. 90% fluff and 10% science.

    I just watched the entire video and it was a mix of lame personal stories, standup, motivational speaking and sermonizing tacked on to a little bit of science and engineering. The huge crowd ate it up. The whole show has a megachurch feel to it.

    The participants acted just like pastors, who quote a couple verses from the bible, which the congregation really doesn’t care about and actually finds boring, and somehow relate those verses to some personal story and lifestyle advise.

    So here we have a genuine example of science as a religion.

    Tracy Day explained that is in fact, what she intends to do with events like these. She used to dismiss science and scientists in the 90ies as boring, but then became enamored with scientists. (Some other female journalists prefer generals or CEOs) Now, she wants to share her excitement with a wider public.

    Neil deGrasse Tyson’s stunt fit perfectly into her push to make science more dramatic and thus, far from being embarrased about it, it was put on the Youtube channel as a featured clip.

    I don’t think that it was staged, but Tyson, being a natural showman, intuitively understood what was expected from him.

    Dawkins kept a respectful distance.

    I for one prefer “boring”, traditional, non-dramatic presentations and debates, rich in data and intellectualism.

  51. I saw this entire video some weeks ago. I do not have entensive knowledge of Tyson, nor have I read any of his stuff.

    In seeing his behavior during this discussion I was baffles to understand his popularity. What I saw was a rather rude, obnoxious, and annoying individual.

    The point where he gets really stupid is right after Ira Flato makes a statement about the Apollo program. Tyson is rude and dismissive. Watch it at about 30mins.

    Seems to me that he thinks quite highly of himself. I have no interest in his opinions, but he attempted to dominate everyone on stage.

  52. While the US government was funding NASA to develop manned lunar mission technology in the open, the government was funding plans for lunar bases for the Air Force (Lunex) and the Army (Horizon). The Wikipedia page for the Army base says they would use Saturn rockets to reach the moon and build the base, then defend the base against Soviet ground attack with Claymore land mines and Davy Crockett nuclear-tipped rockets.

    Jerry asks if manned lunar exploration was motivated by a spirit of adventure or a search for scientific answers. Those two options don’t register as meaningful to me, unless the question is how the government sold the funding of manned lunar technology to the public.

    Tyson is just sayin’ that’s the deal.

    1. Also check out Sagan’s involvement in a classified program to nuke the moon. I’m not saying anything against Sagan as a person, I’m saying this is a factual statement: Given the US government’s political motivation to nuke the moon, science could tag along.

      Tyson is just sayin’ that’s the deal.

  53. Jerry, you’re obviously wrong on this one. The situation was clearly in good fun, and everyone involved was smiling. Tyson is entertaining _because_ he’s passionate. The point of the conference was to inspire people to become passionate about science, and Tyson is a fantastic example of someone who models that sort of passion.

    You also straw manned his argument saying he said the space race was about immortality. That’s obviously very different from Tyson’s actual claim that it was motivated by the fear of death.

    You need to get over the fact that Tyson approaches skepticism and the public understanding of science in a more careful, empathetic way than most of us can tolerate, and just start seeing him as the power ally he is in our quest to foster an age of science.

    “Give me Carl Sagan any day.”

    I’d rather have both. Each may be better at communicating to a different audience, and each have a completely different cultural and scientific background to bring to the table. It’s almost always a mistake to compare human beings in such a shallow and simplistic manner, especially on a forum where you’re free to dedicate due time to better effectively explore their different approaches.

  54. Sigh, late.

    Well, I have never been “enthusiastic” about Tyson. He is engaging his public, in a way that most of the time puts me personally off. And I think he could be clearer, but he has from time to time been very clear (and that analysis I have been enthusiastic about).

    Here I think he got a bum rap. He was initially interrupted from making an earlier reply I think, and then there was an insertion of a scientific experiment in a discussion of exploration. So a counter-interrupt possibly.

    Anger, understandable. But threatening body language in a public discussion!?

    As for the analysis, I can agree with Tyson that “adventure” is the surface description. But it is enough to start motivate a balanced, manned approach as NASA would never be funded as much on just unmanned missions.

    In the balance tough I think the public is also largely motivated by what puts them in perspective – Hubble, Kepler, Mars rovers – astronomy and astrobiology – the latter which has had little influence until recently. So we can reasonably fund NASA for “just” unmanned missions.

    In the end, it is the US choice (with the international public in the balance).

  55. Sorry to join this thread so late. The universe has been keeping me quite busy lately.

    Once again, I’m flattered by the attention my remarks have attracted. Allow me to offer several assorted comments:

    1) My CSPAN book talk: is a quick (and costless) way to learn of my more fully expressed arguments on America’s past, present, and future in space. Since the talk is comprised of fully formed arguments and not sound bites, I suspect it will be less prone to misinterpretation than my short clip from the ASU panel.

    2) Since this thread is really a “critique Tyson” session, I’ll take it as an implicit compliment that nobody commented on my van Gogh science story. The telling of science stories was the entire purpose of the panel.

    3) What nobody seems to realize is that saying “Tyson is no Sagan” is to elevate me to the same sentence as Carl, even if just to say that I’m not him. Thank you for this comparison. Not a day goes by that I do not recognize Carl’s contributions to the science education landscape on which I serve the public’s interest.

    4) Speaking of Carl, I am hosting the 21st century re-boot of Cosmos, to premier in the Spring of 2014. Thirteen episodes, like the original. So you are kinda stuck with me in that role. At least for now.

    5) My science research output can be found in Google Scholar. My output there is not especially relevant to my pubic profile. At least not as much as my books and speeches. But it’s there if interested.

    6) I think people occasionally confuse my enthusiasm in a conversation with arrogance. Whatever it looks like, arrogance could not be farther from my emotions. And about interrupting people, that’s just because I’m a native New Yorker, where an interruption is just active evidence that you’re paying attention to what the other person is saying.

    7) It’s really true. If you carefully analyze what I say, I hardly ever express opinions — just emotionally filled perspectives informed by extensive analysis of history, about which I read quite a bit. If you see a quote that looks like an opinion, it’s surely taken out of context. The best example of this is, “God is an ever-receding pocket of scientific ignorance”. Yup, I said it. But, believe it or not, when taken alone it’s entirely out of context. And it was not offered as an opinion. The entire interview will reveal this fact.

    8) People seem to think that dictionaries define words. They don’t. They describe a pre-existing usage of the words they contain. The conduct of modern, socially and politically active atheists is slowly re-shaping the meaning of the word, which has only mild overlap with my actual conduct. By example, less than 1% of my professional output relates to God, religion, spirituality, atheism, etc. For modern atheists, it’s near 100%. But my real question is why classify me at all? Why not just review my writings and speeches and let them stand for themselves? My tweet on the subject: “Labels are intellectually lazy ways that people assert they know you without knowing you”

    Respectfully Submitted,

    Neil deGrasse Tyson
    New York City

  56. “6) . . . confuse my enthusiasm in a conversation with arrogance . . . I’m a native New Yorker . . . interruption is just active evidence that you’re paying attention . . . .”

    I don’t think the enthusiasm is so much misconstrued as arrogance as it is (fighting my inherent “accommodationism ” and urge to be considerate) as . . . rudeness?

    Kind Sir, do you yourself like to be interrupted?

    Are incivility and impatience part and parcel of “A New York Minute”? Are New Yorkers granted some unique dispensation or entitlement by virtue of being “a New Yorker”? (To me, it’s like an adolescent water balloon-thrower invoking the sentiments that old pop song, “Blame It on My Youth.”)

    Of course anymore it’s not so uniquely New York; it obtains around and about the fruited plain. (As a private corporate tyrant accustomed to interrupting and shushing subordinates, Mitt Romney’s repeated interrupting of Obama was misconstrued by the media chattering class as inadequate debate performance, if debate in fact it was.)

    As I tell 4th thru 8th graders when they (repeatedly) interrupt me in mid-sentence, “May I have your permission to speak? Do you interrupt your Mamma when she is trying to talk to you? No one here likes to be interrupted – raise your hand.”

    As a New York Times letter writer said, commenting on incivility in Amuricun culture, “Excuse me for talking while I was being interrupted.”

  57. In my opinion, Sean Carroll’s view on the discussion isn’t worth reading due to its subjective nature. Everything else I have to say about Sean are just profanities and more profanities for some of the commentators.

  58. Fantastic beat ! I wish to apprentice at the
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  59. Tyson has a cordial way of being very reserved about being an atheist. He doesn’t see the value in “pissing people off” that don’t share his views in the interest of promoting science.

    I feel it is not doing anyone any favors and that his way of dealing with it seems very dishonest to me. Call a spade a spade, have a backbone with regards to what many consider to be an important viewpoint.

    I know why he does it… I just don’t agree with having to do it, or being dishonest like that.

  60. I agree with a lot of Neil’s views; just not his approach. People tend to not listen to you when you show aggression, or appear to. Neil is a smart guy, but he was ‘rude’ to the other speakers. This was not setup to be a debate session anyway, it was a discussion about the ‘greatness’ of science. Neil may not be invited quite as often to these events because of this. I’ll admit, I’m pretty argumentative myself, but he went far beyond of what is acceptable in a formal discussion panel like this.

    In any case, there is no doubt that the Apollo Missions, and the advancements of in the space race, as Neil pointed out, were primarily driven by politics and fear. The cold war was a chess game between the US/Western World vs USSR. So public interest as a whole to fund the space program was NOT motivated by scientific inquiry. The US was not going to let a communist country defeat them economically, technologically, etc. However, we must distinguish between public/political interest & scientist’s interest! Most scientists in western culture don’t really care about politics, unless it relates to funding. That’s why most scientists and teachers tend to vote on the LEFT is because of funding. Before the A-bomb was invented, most scientists interest in ‘nuclear energy’ was not motivated by making it into a weapon, but how to extract energy for useful purposes. It was politicians and gov interest to make it into a weapon. Wernher Von Braun who was the leading Rocket Scientist for the US didn’t give a shit National Pride or the political issues with the USSR. He was German! All he cared about was the advancement in Rocket technology and landing a man on the moon, for the sake of science.

    Still, scientists aren’t perfect either. Humans are still tribal creatures and many of them still have “National Pride” and Egos. What do I mean? Look at it this way. If the USSR had been the first to the moon and had done numerous geological studies and installed instruments with ‘manned missions’, for the sake of science, do you think most American’s would have celebrated that? Hell NO! Even many American scientists would have been troubled by this, because they too have EGOs and National Pride. So, those those who argue that the space race was primarily a scientific endeavour are deeply mislead, because if it was, Americans would have celebrated the USSR sending a satellite into orbit, and putting a man into space. But most didn’t.

    Also, I want to be clear. Though I agree it was motivated by political factor, we certainly benefited from a scientific perspective. Humans surviving in space without gravity, astronauts installing the reflectors on the moon, and returned samples of moon rock all had benefits to science.

  61. It’s a shame Mr Tyson is so influential. He ridicules those who recognize that the origin of life is still unknown to science and yet, he claims to be open minded.
    He claims to be a scientist and yet, he teaches theory as fact and denies the existence of facts that have been scientifically proven. Even Darwin came understand the flaws in his theory.
    According My Tyson, Darwin was also stupid.
    I know. This is just my stupid opinion.

  62. NDT is walking proof of the truth that you can take an above average intellect wrap it in a layer of self righteous pomposity and render it
    worthless. NDT, you took my excitement for the new cosmos series and killed it. I will not waste one more second of my life on it.

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