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Neil DeGrasse Tyson interview, and he's going to have a show on Fox - Input Junkie
March 2nd, 2014
12:58 pm

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Neil DeGrasse Tyson interview, and he's going to have a show on Fox
Cosmos: A Space-Time Odyssey, Tyson's new show. So, Fox is doing a show about deep time, science, and a reasonable chance of mentioning evolution as a settled theory. Any predictions about how their viewers will take it?

Transcript

Some highlights:

Getting value from space exploration:
Do you know there are grooves in the curved exit ramps of many freeways? And that, of course, improves traction when the road is wet. You say, oh, that's a great idea. That came from NASA. It doesn't have to be high-tech to be a great idea. Why did it come from NASA? Because someone was more interested in the space shuttle landing and maintaining its course because it's not - a spaceship shuttle is not powered when it's landing. It's a glider. And you want that thing to sort of not skid off the runway coming in for a landing. So they came up with this grooved idea, which keeps the tires aligned. It channels out the water. And someone thought it up because they were inspired by NASA, not because they're inspired by cars on exit ramps from freeways. So, high-tech and low-tech creativity are stimulated by this kind of activity
Schools aren't trying hard enough and are focusing on the wrong things:
DAVIES: So I know you excelled at this and got involved in some special programs. And I read that you were recently asked to give, I think, a commencement address at, was it your elementary school, and declined. Did you feel let down by the public school system when you were a kid a kid?

TYSON: Oh, no, no. So everyone has all different experiences in school. I just know that throughout my life, at no time did any teacher ever point to me and say, hey. He'll go far. Oh, he's someone you should watch. You know, I had some OK grades. They ran the gamut. I had some high grades in math and science, and medium grades in other subjects, and slightly lower grades in other subjects. You've got to remember, the school system is constructed to praise you if you get high grades. And if you get straight A's, you're the one that everyone puts forward, and they prognosticate that the straight-A person is the one most likely to succeed, because that's the way the school system is constructed and conceived.

DAVIES: Simple. Yeah.

TYSON: And there I am, getting grades all over the place, but I know my interest in the universe and I owned a telescope that I bought with money I earned by walking dogs, because I live in a huge apartment complex. And 50 cents per walk, per dog, and that accumulated quickly. I bought a camera, a telescope. I taught myself astrophotography. I did all this.

I took classes at the American Museum of Natural History at Hayden Planetarium, advanced classes for adults in modern astrophysics. I did all this, but none of that showed up as a high grade on an exam in school. So, there I am, and teachers complaining about my social energy, as though that was something bad, and, oh, he's disruptive. Not purposely, I just had energy, right.

So my elementary school wanted me to come back - because I was already well-known by then - to talk and say what a great education I had. I said no. That's not the talk I would give. I would say I am where I am today not because of what the teachers said about me or did for me, but in spite of it. And I don't think that's what you want, so I will decline. Invite me back one day, and I'll talk just to the teachers, all right, and then I'm happy to tell - give - you know, tell them what they should be looking for, perhaps, in their students.

Also consider - now, see you've got me started here. Also consider that if you a straight-A student in your class, that student has straight A's not because of teachers, but in spite of teachers. That's what having straight-A means. It means you do well, no matter the teaching talent of the teacher. That's what straight A's mean. So if you're a teacher and you put forth your straight-A student as though you had something to do with it, you are deluding yourself.

DAVIES: Right.

TYSON: The greatest teachers are the ones that turn a B student into an A student, or a failing student into a B student. Then let's talk about your teaching talents.

DAVIES: Having done some teaching, I completely agree with what you say there. But I wanted to ask.
Subtle racism:
Were you discouraged from getting into science, or maybe not taken seriously - then and even through college and graduate school - because you were African-American, at times?

TYSON: Oh, so the African-American thing. So there you get, oh why are you staying late for the physics club when you have this athletic talent? You could be really great at that. And that happened a lot. So that's not explicitly racist. It's sort of implicitly - it's not like the stories my father could tell you, right, because he grew up in the '30s, '40s and early '50s. Those are - that's a whole other kind of story that he can tell you. So, compared to that and those stories I heard, I wasn't, you know, I wasn't going to complain about this. I just made sure I had a fuel tank ready to draw from to just get over and get past whatever these obstacles or absence of support was there.
Anyone know whether white highschool athletes are also discouraged from taking an academic path? My bet is yes, but not quite as much.

Tyson considered becoming an exotic dancer in grad school, and how difficult it can be to think of the obvious:
TYSON: In graduate school - you're broke in graduate school, basically. And I was flexible from having danced, and I was pretty cut from having wrestled, and I also rowed. And so, on the dance team, there were some fellow male dancers who told me about this club where - it's this ladies club, right, but there's male dancers. And they said they danced, do the moves we do, just in the normal training and for our dance performances. It's in the range of what the flexibility would be for anything else we'd be doing. They invited me, because I needed more money, I was broke. So I went...

(LAUGHTER)

TYSON: ...just to observe it, right. Say, is this is something I could do? Just - and there they came out with jockstraps having been soaked in lighter fluid, asbestos jockstraps ignited, coming out dancing to Jerry Lee Lewis' "Great Balls of Fire." I said no - not - no. That's not for me.

(LAUGHTER)

TYSON: And I'm embarrassed to say that it was not until that moment when I said to myself: Maybe I should be a math tutor.
Preparing to talk with Jon Stewart, and that black people's accomplishments are over-attributed to talent rather than hard work:
DAVIES: When did you realize you had a gift for communicating with people about science? I mean, you're, you do this in a lot of venues, and have for a long time.

TYSON: Yeah. People call it a gift, and that implies you sit there and someone hands it to you. I want to encourage people to not think in terms of gifts, but think in terms of, wow. You work hard to succeed at that, because that's exactly what I do. For an example, before my first interview on Jon Stewart - you know, that's a tough interview right there, all right, because he's brilliant and he's laden with pop culture referencing.

And so I said to myself: If I'm going to have a successful interview with Jon Stewart, I want to study how he talks to his guests. So I sat there and I timed how long he lets you speak before he comes in with some kind of wisecrack or a joke. And what's the average time interval of that? Is it a minute, 90 seconds, 30 seconds? And I would create a rhythm in the parceling of the information I would deliver to him so that a complete thought would come out. So that when he does interrupt, there's a complete thought and then a fun joke, and then there's a resonance to that where you can then move on. Yeah. No, it's not a gift.


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[User Picture]
From:agrumer
Date:March 2nd, 2014 09:29 pm (UTC)
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By “Fox”, do you mean the Fox Broadcasting Company (aka FOX) or Fox News Channel (aka FNC)?

The two channels reach different audiences. FOX is strong in the younger demographics (teen and 18–34), while FNC’s viewers trend older (median age 68).
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From:nancylebov
Date:March 2nd, 2014 09:48 pm (UTC)
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I had no idea there was more than one Fox.

From Wikipedia: "The series will premiere on March 9, 2014[3] simultaneously in the US across ten 21st Century Fox networks, including Fox, FX, FXX, FXM, Fox Sports 1, Fox Sports 2, Nat Geo, Nat Geo Wild, and Fox Life."

Would that include both of the Foxes you mentioned? It sounds like there will be no escape from the show.

Radley Balko was on Fox News Channel-- possibly they have the better quality stuff?
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From:beamjockey
Date:March 2nd, 2014 11:51 pm (UTC)
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Fox News Channel is the often-poisonous conservative all-news service your liberal friends (including me) love to excoriate.

Unmodified Fox generally refers to the network of U.S. broadcast TV stations, similar to CBS, NBC, or ABC. As the "fourth network," it started up in the late Eighties and was the home of The Simpsons and The X-Files.

Both are part of Rupert Murdoch's media empire, until recently known as News Corporation. After a restructuring last year, these TV operations belong to the logically-named conglomerate 21st Century Fox.
(Deleted comment)
From:paulshandy
Date:March 5th, 2014 05:22 am (UTC)
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Well, at least the neo-cons and theo-cons might learn something despite themselves. Can't wait to see the ratings.
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From:beamjockey
Date:March 2nd, 2014 11:40 pm (UTC)
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As I noted the other day, the premiere is being rolled out across hundreds of channels worldwide, an unusual step in the cable biz.
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From:olifhar
Date:March 2nd, 2014 09:40 pm (UTC)
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He sure has been doing a lot of interviews leading up to the premier! I also didn't realize it was going to air on FOX, instead of just the National Geographic Channel. I assume the FOX airing is going to be more commercial-laden.

Thanks for this transcript. I hadn't heard that he was an athlete.
From:paulshandy
Date:March 5th, 2014 05:21 am (UTC)
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Is this the FOX station that aired Buffy and Firefly, or the FOX News station?
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From:olifhar
Date:March 5th, 2014 05:47 am (UTC)
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The Buffy/Firefly/Simpsons/Family Guy/American Idol/House/Glee/X-Files FOX.
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From:acelightning
Date:March 3rd, 2014 07:44 am (UTC)
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I knew this was coming, but I didn't realize it would be this soon! I hardly ever watch TV, and since I only have "limited basic" cable - just enough to get cable internet - I don't get National Geographic or anything like that. But I get the regular broadcast channels, including plain old Fox TV. (I wish my TV included a recording device, though.)

I always thought of Carl Sagan as the "lite" version of Isaac Asimov, the first and still champion science-explainer. (For one thing, they both had familiar-to-me New York/Yiddish accents - who can ever forget Sagan's "billllllions and billllllions"?) Tyson can't possibly follow in that line, but he's got his own extremely accessible style of science-explaining.

This is gonna be FUN!



Edited at 2014-03-03 07:45 am (UTC)
[User Picture]
From:nancylebov
Date:March 3rd, 2014 08:41 am (UTC)
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The bbc is doing a series on the elements, in case you'd like some more science getting explained.
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From:acelightning
Date:March 4th, 2014 10:20 am (UTC)
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I only wish I could watch the Beeb! :-(
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From:nancylebov
Date:March 4th, 2014 01:17 pm (UTC)
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I'm not sure how good your connection is, but I can listen to the elements podcasts online.
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From:acelightning
Date:March 5th, 2014 03:04 am (UTC)
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It's not my connection, it's my computer. I bought it brand-new, state-of-the-art, in 1997 :-(
It doesn't have enough memory to play any audio longer than about 6 or 7 minutes, and it no longer wants to play videos at all.

[User Picture]
From:witchwestphalia
Date:March 5th, 2014 03:29 am (UTC)

Gifts & Hard Work

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One thing I was struck with is that Tyson rejects the gift idea completely. I don't think it's that simple. Someone else could've worked just as hard, and not come as far in communicating with non-scientists. I've met some really smart scientists who tried very hard to communicate the excitement & wonder of what they did, and failed miserably. And I don't think it was for lack of hard work. "Gifts", though, are a starting place, not an ending point. Without investing the time and effort, they don't get anyone very far. Tyson probably did start with some natural talents, and invested the time and hard work to become a scientist, and an amazing science communicator. I think he's absolutely right in valuing hard work over "gifts", but I'd say it's something like 95% hard work and 5% talent, not 100% hard work alone.
From:paulshandy
Date:March 5th, 2014 05:18 am (UTC)

Re: Gifts & Hard Work

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Maybe in his background he talked with lots of people who didn't care about science and got his practice that way; most of what I learned about teaching came from helping people with their homework back when I was just a student myself.
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From:nancylebov
Date:March 5th, 2014 03:45 pm (UTC)

Re: Gifts & Hard Work

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He mentioned being very sociable as a kid, so that's at least a beginning-- he didn't have to get over being uncomfortable talking with people.
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From:nancylebov
Date:March 5th, 2014 03:46 pm (UTC)

Re: Gifts & Hard Work

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Those scientists tried very hard, but what did they actually do? For example, did they study people who were good at communicating about science?

The Sports Gene has more than somewhat about the relationship between hard work and innate ability-- the usual versions of 10,000 hours are not based in a lot of research, and what you need to excel in a sport isn't obvious. For example, baseball players with excellent batting averages have ordinary reflexes but extraordinary eyesight.

Edited at 2014-03-05 03:50 pm (UTC)
[User Picture]
From:witchwestphalia
Date:March 6th, 2014 04:34 am (UTC)
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Agreed that "trying hard" doesn't necessarily imply that one is following a good strategy to success. Studying good science communicators would be a good strategy & I don't know that the people I was thinking of had done that. I was more making the point that a modicum of talent plus a lot of well directed hard work is the route to success.

I had always suspected that "10,000 hours" is more mythology than fact. Nice to know my suspicion is correct. Interesting fact-oid about batting in baseball. Suspecting there's some talent involved in success at a given endeavor doesn't suggest what talent is involved.
From:paulshandy
Date:March 5th, 2014 05:17 am (UTC)
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He seems like a guy with his head on straight, but I have to admit by his definition of a good teacher, I'm only halfway there. I'm good at explaining things to B students so they can become A students (or C students become B students) but not so hot with students who care so little about the class that they are failing.
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