Home > education, women in math > Neil deGrasse Tyson at NJPAC

Neil deGrasse Tyson at NJPAC

December 3, 2014

Last night I went to the New Jersey Performing Arts Center (NJPAC) with my 12-year-old son to see Neil deGrasse Tyson, whom we both love from the Cosmos series. I also loved this rant on women and blacks in science:

So here’s what he talked about last night, which was stimulating and interesting. I’m not covering absolutely everything, of course, and I am doing my best to summarize what he said:

  • You can follow scientific progress by who gets to name things, because naming follows discovery.
  • For example, looking at the history of the discovery of the periodic table, you learn a lot. Except for Sweden, which just had a lucky break with some weird cave.
  • By this token, from 800 AD to around 1100 AD, mathematical and scientific advancements were happening in the Middle East (see for example the history of algebra and mathematician Muḥammad ibn Mūsā al-Khwārizmī, who invented the terms algebra and algorithm). Then some imam decided it was anti-religious to do anything like that, and progress – scientific and otherwise – stopped.
  • Cultures that embrace science have more growth.
  • In the U.S., about half of the people don’t acknowledge evolution, and that’s a bad sign for our future.
  • In fact we are a hugely prolific scientific force, like Europe and Japan, but unlike them, our power is shrinking rather than expanding.
  • We should go back to the 1960’s, at least in terms of the way we promoted and dreamed about scientific progress, and bottle up the energy and enthusiasm, and bring it back to today.
  • Space flight is a great thing and we should reinvest in it as an inspiration for science in this country and in the world.
  • We should stay curious, and investigate things we don’t understand, and talk to people about their beliefs even if we don’t agree. Childlike and insatiable curiosity and wonderment is the goal.
Categories: education, women in math
  1. December 3, 2014 at 8:24 am

    I was always fascinated by the women behind the men, the women who could not get appointments at universities, but did the actual work, with husbands often taking credit. Also the women and Jews who were excluded from PhD programs at schools like Princeton since their advisors claimed that there would be no jobs for them afterwards. And my all time favorite is the story of Norbert Wiener and how a major school in Cambridge, MA would not hire him, which led him to a then minor school in Cambridge, MA and how that school became a major tech school thanks to institutional bigotry along the Charles or along Mass Ave.


  2. daviddlewis
    December 3, 2014 at 8:31 am

    The segment in the video you’re thinking of starts about 1:01:30. Agreed, it’s fantastic.


  3. farbod
    December 3, 2014 at 2:11 pm

    “Then some imam decided it was anti-religious to do anything like that”

    Is this really what he said? I am quite familiar with the history (especially, when it comes to math) in that part of the world. This cannot possibly be true.


    • December 3, 2014 at 2:17 pm

      Yes, pretty much, although he did name the imam and he had a picture. I cannot remember the name, unfortunately. He even added a very strange sentence along the lines of “and now they are flying planes into buildings”. It seemed outrageous to me, because obviously only a very few people are doing that. On the other hand, his main point, which he said repeatedly, is that the billion or so muslims today would be greatly contributing to scientific advancement had their culture had different values. Which is an interesting point.


      • farbod
        December 3, 2014 at 4:37 pm

        Like you, I had huge respect for him. I never watched cosmos, but his rant on blacks and women in science is just priceless. It’s really hard to believe a person I admired (from distance) can be so wrong (and outrageous) at such a basic level.


        • Ted
          December 4, 2014 at 12:15 am

          Get used to it. Muslim-Americans are the new Japanese-Americans during WWII and demonizing them is the new hip thing with liberals. I’m still waiting for Bill Maher to just say “Maybe internment camps weren’t such a bad idea…”


      • Auros
        December 14, 2014 at 3:26 pm

        Are they talking about the originator of Wahhabism / Salafism? It does seem to be true that the rise of an extrem fundamentalist version of Islam, particularly when that movement started getting funding from the Saudi royals, has been extremely bad for science education in the Muslim world, the same way extreme Evangelical Christianity is bad for science in the US (because they reject the science in various areas — evolution, reproductive health, cosmology — and want to defund and persecute anyone that does research on those topics). Dawkins is definitely guilty of over-simplifying this history, though. It’s sad, I really admired him when I was younger, first learning about evolutionary theory and such. But, people can be complicated. Dawkins certainly seems like less of a jerk than Watson, at least. 😛


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