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Neil deGrasse Tyson’s strategy for the spreading of scientific knowledge


How can we let more and more people benefit from the findings of science?

The development of human culture may seem admirable, but it’s also always apt to be improved and perfected. On the one hand, we can recognize that achievements have been reached. But it’s no less true that this progress has been historically irregular, and this in turn has left plenty of areas where civilization still needs to be resolved.

One of the crucial areas for improvement is in access to the knowledge and developments derived from human research into the physical world. In our immediate reality, it’s possible to find people with levels of knowledge so radically different from our own that they seem to belong to different epochs. One lives in the present and is a participant in the findings of our time while another holds ideas which may have been valid in another era but whose validity has been either long questioned or refuted.

How do we close this gap? The dissemination of science (and culture) plays a fundamental role in this task, especially now that media have expanded their reach through digital technology. Why not take advantage of this enormous opportunity for diffusion for the benefit of a form of knowledge that helps us to understand the world better? It encourages our curiosity and ultimately teaches us to think, ask and, perhaps, even to free ourselves from false beliefs.

Neil deGrasse Tyson is probably one of the best-known disseminators of scientific knowledge of our time. His place is undoubtedly next to that of Carl Sagan. He might be considered an heir, not only due to their field of common academic interest (astrophysics), but also because, like Sagan, Tyson has taken on the task of making known the wonders of scientific discoveries with sympathy and simplicity. He does so beneath the premise that science is not from some other world.

In this video made for the internet portal Big Think, the scientist explains his fundamental strategy for relaying scientific knowledge to the general public. It consists of two simple points:

1) Take advantage of popular culture.
2) Trust in your ability to be amazed by knowledge.

In the first point, Tyson has found a useful, efficient way to initially capture the attention of thousands or even millions of people and, in the second, he puts science close at hand. Starting with the knowledge that most of us have around us –sports, a TV series, the biographical facts of a famous person, etc.– Tyson uses any reference to popular culture to create a connection between that and the scientific sphere. This we usually believe is far away from everyday life (even further in the case of astrophysics). One of his best examples was in explaining the effects of the rotation of the Earth after a field goal was scored during an NFL game. The goal would not have been successful if not for the Coriolis effect (that same effect which causes hurricanes in the northern hemisphere).

Sometimes though, scientific knowledge doesn’t need an additional “hook” to draw an audience’s attention. Sometimes it’s amazing enough to be seductive in itself, even to those less interested in science. After all, the universe has captivated people since the very birth of consciousness and perception, and its fundamental mystery has yet to be extinguished. Quite the contrary, the mystery survives every time we look up to the sky, at the stars, the clouds or at the immensity in which we’re suspended. When someone begins to explain what seems inaccessible, do we not immediately begin to listen?

“Science Literacy is not only about what you know, it’s about your depth of curiosity, and your capacity to evaluate evidence,” Tyson wrote recently. It’s an accurate synthesis of the purpose of both strategies.

Also in Faena Aleph: A Brief Manual of Skepticism, Courtesy of Carl Sagan

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