Posted Wednesday, March 7, 2012, at 4:42 PM
Astrophysicist and science communicator Neil deGrasse Tyson.
Photo by Mike Lawrie/Getty Images
Astrophysicist Neil DeGrasse Tyson’s official jobs might include things like serving as a research scientist for the American Museum of Natural History and as director of the Hayden Planetarium, but it seems his real work is to turn your mind inside out. Tyson is a science communicator—meaning that a major part of his work is to make science understandable and interesting to stoners.
As the Slate Culture Gabfest recently discussed, while the effort to convey difficult scientific ideas to laypeople is unquestionably honorable, the results are frequently kitschy, and sometimes even problematic. The complexity often gets lost in translation, and the tone is frequently cutesy and patronizing. (To take an example from the Gabfest, the idea that “Gravity is the shape of spacetime itself,” became, to Slate movie critic Dana Stevens, “something about a bowling ball and a piece of cloth.”) Tyson himself can occasionally come across a bit like Bill Nye (no offense to either!), but he’s among the best at what he does. At times, as in the video below, he becomes a kind of preacher who delivers only the facts of science.
I’m not going to say that this video isn’t a little kitschy (is the moon at 2:21 a Death Star?). But it’s also enlightening and—at least one skeptic found—not a little moving. Vimeo user Max Schlickenmeyer took one of Tyson’s answers from a TIME video interview and set it to imagery from various BBC series and science documentaries, plus the Cinematic Orchestra’s “To Build A Home” (a favorite choice of filmmakers in need of some dramatic lift). The TIME interviewer asked, “What’s the most astounding fact you can share with us about the universe”—a meatball for Tyson—and the astrophysicist hits it out of the park. I won’t spoil the fact itself, but let’s just say that Tyson says it a little better than Moby.