Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson Busts 5 Myths at Drew
Drew Forum speaker pokes fun at specious stories on science.
October 2017 – Add myth buster to the list of descriptors for Neil deGrasse Tyson, the astrophysicist who leads the Hayden Planetarium, guests on TV talk shows and popularizes the cosmos for the masses.
Tyson, in a talk at Drew University that playfully skewered questionable media stories about science, debunked myths about everything from the moon and Pluto to body heat and the fate of the earth. Along the way, he projected slides on a big screen, paused for comic effect and sighed at the inanity of what passes for science news today. And he had plenty of material to work with.
About 2,000 filled Drew’s Simon Forum for the talk, the first of six in the University’s Drew Forum speaker series for 2017-18. Upcoming speakers include satirist Samantha Bee and former Vice President Joe Biden.
Tyson, whose appearance was sponsored by the Blanche and Irving Laurie Foundation, Jordy Research Scholarship Lecture Series and William C. Campbell Colloquium in 19th-Century Science and Society, lightheartedly challenged the audience to think as much as laugh. Here are the top five myths that he busted.
Behold the Super Moon. Do you know the size difference between a large full moon and a “super moon?” About five hundredths of an inch, according to Tyson. The notion of a super moon is “just baloney,” he said. Same goes for a story about how to see it: “It’s a full moon! Do I need an article?”
The Dark Side of the Moon. Not withstanding the title of Pink Floyd’s biggest selling album, “all sides of the moon receive sunlight,” Tyson noted. Still, the album art certainly made a nice glow-in-the-dark felt poster. All right, all right, all right.
Bed Warmers. Holiday Inn advertises a new bed warming service with a photo of a guest sitting up on a bed between a man and a woman, each wearing robes. The good news is they won’t sully your sheets, given their protective clothing. The bad news? Robes block the transfer of heat. “This was an entire ad campaign invented by people who knew nothing about physics,” Tyson quipped. “And I worry for the future.”
Pluto as a Planet. While an astronomer was instrumental in demoting Pluto from a planet to a dwarf planet, Tyson vocally supports that conclusion—so much so that he, not CalTech’s Mike Brown, is credited with the status change. Yes, Tyson understands the public attachment to Pluto, due largely to its association with a certain Disney character. Nevertheless, he says—in big white letters on the black screen—“It’s still not a planet. Get over it.”
The End of the World As We Know It. Conspiracy theorist David Meade predicted that life on earth as we know it would end in a rapture on Sept. 23. One problem: it never happened. Bigger problem: Newsweek ran a follow-up story, saying that Meade pushed back his prediction to Oct. 15. Double sigh.
After the talk, Tyson answered a handful of questions from the audience, including one wondering why more scientists don’t put as much effort into communication as research, particularly given the need to secure and justify public funding for science. After all, Tyson is living proof of the effectiveness of articulate discourse—as 2,000 at Drew could surely affirm. Indeed, after just an hour, he got them thinking that there may be a better way forward for science.
As Tyson put it, “There’s a lot of crazy, non-scientific stuff going on out there right now, including a resurgence of people who think the earth is flat. So, before we end up back in the caves, take a look at all the ways you can put yourself out there as a culturally literate scientist so that you can communicate why science is important for the health, the wealth and the security of this country and the world.”