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Why Neil deGrasse Tyson wants to fix the adult curiosity problem

Neil deGrasse Tyson says he is like a “smorgasbord of science food” -- he’s recognized hundreds of times every day and people are always hungry for more knowledge. DeGrasse Tyson, who spends much of his professional life encouraging science literacy in adults, gives his Brief but Spectacular take on bringing the universe down to Earth.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Finally, we turn to another installment of our weekly "Brief but Spectacular" series. Tonight, author and astrophysicist, Neil DeGrasse Tyson.

    For more than two decades, he has served as director of the Hayden Planetarium in his home town of New York City. Tyson's latest book, "Astrophysics for People in a Hurry," is available now.

    (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

  • Neil DeGrasse Tyson:

    What I think actually happened, was that the universe chose me. I know that's not a very scientific sentence, but that's what it felt like. The universe said, come, Neil, join us. And yes, I never looked back, back at earth. I kept looking up.

    I was star struck at age nine. A visit to my local planetarium. Having been born in the Bronx, I thought I knew how many stars there were in the night sky, about a dozen.

    Then you go into the dome of the planetarium and then thousands of stars come out. I just thought it was a hoax.

    By age 11, I had an answer to that annoying question adults always ask children, what do you want to be when you grow up? I said, astrophysicist.

    That usually just shut them up right there. Nobody knew anybody who was an astrophysicist and then I'd get back to the telescope.

    So, deniers are people who wish the world were a way that does not agree with the operations of nature.

    Believe what you want. I'm not going to even stop you. I would just hope you don't rise to power over legislation and laws that then affect other people who do understand how science works. That's dangerous.

    Skepticisms is I will only believe what you believe what you tell me in proportion to the weight of the evidence you present. If you start speaking in ways where no known law of physics supports it, then I'm going to be all over you with my skepticism.

    I'm recognized basically several hundred times a day. I wish I could put on a mustache and not be noticed but, of course, I have a mustache. They don't care about me, tell me about that black hole you mentioned a program I saw the other day. Or, will we ever travel through space?

    It's like, I'm just this, this smorgasbord of science food and I got them hungry from something I did before and they're still hungry and they want more. Most of my professional effort is trying to get adults scientifically literate. I think kids are born curious and if you fix the adult problem, the kids problem gets fixed overnight.

    Part of my confidence is I see this generation who's been born since 1995, teens, low 20s. That generation has only ever known the Internet as a source of access to knowledge. I have very high hope and expectations for what world they will create when they actually assume the mantles of power.

    It's the gap between when they do and what's going on now that concerns me. It's the adults that may have once been curious and forgot or there's a flame that has been tamped down and you want to fan that flame and reawaken a sense of wonder about this world that we so often take for granted.

    When I see eyes light up because that moment was reached, I'm done.

    I'm Neil DeGrasse Tyson, your personal astrophysicist, and this is my "Brief But Spectacular" take on bringing the universe down to earth.

    (END VIDEOTAPE)

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And you can watch more "Brief But Spectacular" videos online at pbs.org/newshour/brief.

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