Neil DeGrasse Tyson Talks About His New Show And The Importance Of Science

"It's time for people to sort of sit back and reassess what role science has actually played in our lives and note and learn how to embrace that going forward, because without it we will just regress back into the cave."

CNN's Reliable Sources had America's favorite astrophysicist on to talk about his new Cosmos series. Host Brian Stetler asked him how to deal with the war on science:

BRIAN STETLER: Many Americans agree with him, but many other Americans see science as an attack, an attack on their values or on their religion or on what they believe to be true.

Which brings me to my next guest, I am so excited he's here today. He may just be the man who can end the war on science, at least he's got a better chance than you or I have. He's Neil deGrasse Tyson, an astrophysicist and director of the Hayden Planetarium in New York. And tonight Fox will be premiering his new series Cosmos.

Can you imagine a prime time network television show all about science? Pretty amazing.

Neil, welcome to the program.

NEIL DEGRASSE TYSON, DIRECTOR, HAYDEN PLANETARIUM: Thanks for having me.

STETLER: I want to talk all about Cosmos in a moment. But I first want to ask you, do you think there is a war on science the way I'm describing? And if so, how do you think we can broker a peace?

TYSON: Our civilization, our civilization is built on the innovations of scientists and technologists and engineers who have shaped everything that we so take for granted today. So some of the science deniers or science haters -- these are people who are telling that to you, while they're on their mobile phone, they're saying, I don't like science. Science is -- oh, GPS just told us to go left. Yeah. OK.

So I don't -- so it's time for people to sort of sit back and reassess what role science has actually played in our lives and note and learn how to embrace that going forward, because without it we will just regress back into the cave.

STETLER: Cosmos seems like an example of using television, using the media for good when it comes to science.

I talked recently on this program about climate change and how there aren't two equal sides when it comes to climate change and yet sometimes the television and media pretends it is that way.


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What responsibility do you think members of the media have to portray science correctly?

TYSON: I think the media has to sort of come out of this ethos that I think was in principle a good one, but doesn't really apply in science. The ethos was, whatever story you give, you have to give the opposing view, and then you can be viewed as balanced. In the clip that you showed of the president, you don't talk about the spherical earth with NASA and then say let's give equal time to the flat Earthers.

Plus, science is not there for you to cherry pick. You know, I said this once and it's gotten a lot of Internet play, I said the good thing about science is that it's true whether or not you believe in it, all right.

I guess you can decide whether or not to believe in it, but that doesn't change the reality of an emergent scientific truth.

STETLER: Give me an example of how you on this show tried to show the truth of science.

TYSON: Well, so -- no, I mean everything is the latest scientific understandings of everything. That's just a given. That's just a given. The real messages of the show is now that you see the what the science is, how does it matter? How and why does it matter to you? In what context?

So the science is contextualized if you will. So, for example, one of the most stunning visuals is the cosmic calendar where we take the 13.8 billion year history of the universe and lay it on to a football field sized year at a glance calendar and the value of that is, we all know what a calendar is. We know how far into the year June is, or July is, we have a sense of that. So, if I say the big bang was January 1 and it today is December 31 when was our galaxy formed, the Milky Way, that was formed on March 15.

STETLER: Let's actually play a clip from the calendar, because I love the special effects you use. Let's take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TYSON: Let's go back as far as we can to the very first moment of the universe. January 1st, the Big Bang.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STELTER: When the original "Cosmos" came on the television 30- some years ago, we could have only dreamed about graphics like this. I'm wondering how you take advantage of technology to present scientific truths in the way that the original "Cosmos" couldn't?

TYSON: Well, first, that's a flameproof suit that I was wearing.

(LAUGHTER)

TYSON: Just so you know. And that is the only moment I don sunglasses, because if you have to do it for anything, the Big Bang would surely be it.

STELTER: That would be the thing.

TYSON: But the real takeaway is not just this how stunning the visual effects are, it's at the end and during each program, there's a thread that moves through it. And by the end of the program there's a tapestry woven. And that tapestry has you in the center of it.

STELTER: What sort of pressure do you feel, though, to make sure it's entertaining, to make sure people actually tune in for something like this?

TYSON: The very nature of that question presumes that the real science and real entertainment cannot be the same thing unless one compromises to the other.

STELTER: Ah, that's fair.

TYSON: That -- the question presumes that. But I can tell you that every night I look up at the universe, I'm entertained. Every time I see Saturn and imagine surfing its rings, I am entertained. Every time I think of the gruesome death of falling into a black hole, becoming spaghetti-fied, I'm entertained.

STELTER: I'm entertained just hearing you describe it, actually.

(LAUGHTER)

TYSON: So I don't think of them as, what do you have to give up for one to get the other? I think it's just maybe the story -- it hasn't been told the right way in the past.

STELTER: Do you think a program like this can heal the divide that exists in the country about science?

TYSON: I think what it will do is it will give people the proper understanding of what science is. There are people who already like science. We've got them. And power to them. Then the people who don't know that they like science, all right?

They have a little flame inside of them of curiosity in which we're going to fan that flame and it will rise up within them. But then there's another category of people, the people who know they don't like science. They've got no flame at all.

So we're going to go in there, light it, and just show them the majesty and the beauty and the glory of science and how it has come -- how people, searchers for cosmic truths over the centuries and millennia, have arrived at our understanding of our place in space and in time.

And this is glorious knowledge that we should celebrate and not shun.

STELTER: And I know I'm rooting for you. I think a lot of people on television are rooting for you because they want to see a program about science succeed in a mainstream way.

Neil, thank you so much for being here and sharing that with us.

TYSON: Thanks for having me.

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