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Neil deGrasse Tyson

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Neil deGrasse Tyson in 2005.
The poetry of reality
Science
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We must know.
We will know.
A view from the
shoulders of giants.

Neil deGrasse Tyson (born 1958) is an astrophysicist and public intellectual. Tyson is one of the most prominent advocates of science and science education in the United States today.

Tyson attended public schools before going on to earn a BA in physics from Harvard University and a PhD in astrophysics from Columbia.[1]

Legend has it Tyson was instrumental in downgrading Pluto to dwarf planet status. However, this is vehemently denied by Tyson.[2]

Carl Sagan[edit]

Tyson met the famous astronomer Carl Sagan while in high school, and credits him with being an important influence in his life. He says Sagan suggested he attend Cornell University. Tyson describes something of his experience with Dr. Sagan in the first episode of the 2014 television series Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey. Tyson, as host of the series, reprises the role of Sagan from the original 1980 series: Cosmos, A Personal Voyage. Near the end of the episode Tyson casually presents Sagan's 1975 desk calendar to his audience. Written in, on a day in 1975, one might see the name "Neil Tyson". The renown astronomer had invited Tyson, a Bronx high school student interested in astronomy, to spend a day with him in Ithaca. Tyson reports that after their day together Dr Sagan drove him to the bus station, and out of genuine kindness, offered to put him up for the night if his bus didn’t come. Dr. Tyson said, that day “I learned from Carl the kind of person I wanted to be.” [3]

On television[edit]

In 2014, Tyson hosted a sequel to Carl Sagan's Cosmos: A Personal Voyage, titled Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey.[4] Unfortunately for viewers and historians all over the world, Tyson never decided to pursue a minor in history, so he is prone to gaffes like the myth that people in the 'Dark Ages' didn't know the Earth was round[5] or that lead pipes killed the Romans.[6]

He has also hosted the show NOVA ScienceNOW on PBS, which discusses recent topics in science.[7]

He has also made frequent appearances as a guest on popular television shows, including The Daily Show, The Colbert Report, and Real Time with Bill Maher.

In an interview on MSNBC, Tyson expressed his worry that we might be witnessing the "unraveling of an informed democracy." [8]

Religion[edit]

Despite frequent claims that he is an atheist,[9] Tyson professes to being an agnostic (particularly disliking the "in your face" attitude of New Atheism), stating: "The only 'ist' I am is a scientist."[10] Blasphemy!

However, he still professes methodological materialism as necessary to scientific advancement:

The day you stop looking because you're content Goddidit, I don't need you in the lab. You’re useless on the frontier of understanding the nature of the world.
—Responding to a rather famous mouthspewing from Bill O'Reilly.[11]

Public life[edit]

Tyson is well-loved by the Internet, and is the driving force behind a popular meme sarcastically calling out Internet tough guys.[12]

He is also all over the YouTube.

Tyson also qualifies for this himself, as he was an accomplished Greco-Roman wrestler. He went undefeated in high school and served as the captain of the Harvard wrestling team.[13]

Neil is also known for occasionally battling pseudoscience, and was targeted by rapper B.o.B. in January 2016 after Tyson responded to erroneous statements the rapper had made in which he claims the Earth is flat. After B.o.B. wrote a song aimed at Tyson, Tyson and his rapper nephew Stephen responded by releasing a song titled "Flat to Fact", which debunked every point made by B.o.B. Tyson also appeared on The Nightly Show, where he stated in response to B.o.B., "It's a fundamental fact of calculus and non-Euclidean geometry. Small sections of large curved surfaces will always look flat to little creatures that crawl upon it… And by the way, this is called gravity", dropping his mic.[14]

False accounts of history, mathematics, and physics[edit]

Tyson is known for embellishing his stories and making fallacious factual claims. This has resulted in at least one edit war in his Wikipedia page between the regular editors who preferred not to take sides and some of his fans who wanted to safeguard his reputation.[15]

Bush and Star Names story[edit]

For eight years Tyson gave an account of President George W. Bush's 9-11 speech where Bush "attempted to distinguish we from they."[16] When Bush's actual speech was a call for tolerance and inclusion.[17] It turns out that Tyson conflated Bush's eulogy for the Space Shuttle Columbia astronauts with his 9-11 speech. However in neither speech did Bush attempt to distinguish Christians from Muslims.

At first Tyson was adamant his eye witness account was accurate. However with some arm twisting he admitted his error and apologized to Bush.[18]

Story about Newton[edit]

Tyson tells a story about Sir Isaac Newton where a friend asked Newton about elliptical orbits. Newton went home, invented integral and differential calculus and the returned two months later with the answer. And then Newton turned 26.[19] Edmund Halley's question about elliptical orbits is famous and well documented. When Halley visited Newton at his home in Woolsthorpe, one of the topics they discussed was whether or not an inverse-square law gives rise to elliptical orbits. Newton confidently said yes, and stated that he proved it, but could not find his proofs. He promised Halley he would find them and publish his findings, which he did.

This conversation between Halley and Newton occurred in the summer of 1684.[20] Newton was born in late 1642 according the Julian calendar or early 1643, according to the Gregorian calendar, which we now use. It seems Newton was a little older than 26 when this happened.

Tyson also credits Newton with discovering the laws of optics.[19] While Newton did demonstrate white light can be split by a prism, creating a rainbow, and studied Newton's rings, he did not discover the laws of the optics. Uncovering these laws had been going on for millennia prior to Newton and laws were discovered by many individuals.[citation needed]

Orders of infinity[edit]

When talking about orders of infinity, Tyson told Joe Rogan there are more transcendental numbers than irrational numbers.[21] An irrational number is one that cannot be represented as a quotient of two integers; a transcendental number is one that cannot be represented as a solution to an algebraic equation with integral coefficients. However, the set of irrational numbers and the set of transcendental numbers have the same cardinality.[22] The correct statement would be, the cardinality of the set of transcendental numbers is greater than that of the irrational algebraic numbers.

He also stated there are five orders of infinity.[21] This is not true. The greatest order of infinity does not exist.

Deflategate[edit]

Tyson accused the New England Patriots of cheating by under inflating their footballs. However, Tyson plugged gauge pressure into the ideal gas equation instead of absolute pressure.[23] This was a serious and public accusation and Tyson had plenty of time to review his physics and check his work. Another noted scientist who is not a Patriots Football fan to have made false statements about Deflategate is Bill Nye,[24] who also dropped the ball.

Evolution and biology[edit]

In May 2016, Tyson tweeted: "If there were ever a species for whom sex hurt, it surely went extinct long ago."[25] This simplistic view of evolution is questionable, and indeed there exist some examples of species having sex that can involve pain, body damage, or death. Wired compiled a list of candidates in response to Tyson's tweet.[26] Less seriously, Tyson also tweeted, "If Batman wants so badly to be a bat, he might be more intriguing if (like Marvel’s Daredevil) he were also blind, like a Bat."[27] But bats are not blind, and their sight can be up to three times better than that of humans.[28]

Accusations of sexual misconduct[edit]

In 2018, Tyson received allegations of sexual misconduct caused by a blog post published on Patheos.[29] He is being investigated by Fox and National Geographic Networks, which broadcast the show Cosmos.[30]

Three women have accused Tyson of sexual misconduct:

  • Tchiya Amet, a "musician, healer, and teacher"[31] said she studied Galactic Astronomy in the graduate program at the University of Texas in Austin and she wanted to become the first black female astronaut. She claimed she was a grad student at the same time Tyson was there, and that he drugged and raped her. She also said Tyson was the reason she failed to realize her dream of becoming an astrophysicist, and accused him of telling students they could pass Astronomy 101 if they gave him a blow job.[32]
  • Dr. Katelyn N. Allers, Associate Professor of Physics and Astronomy at Bucknell University[33] said that she was "felt up" by Tyson at an after-party following a meeting of the American Astronomical Society (AAS) in 2009. Precisely, she said that: "Tyson was there, and he was dancing and drinking and all of that at the party, so a friend and I decided to get pictures with him [...] After we had taken the picture, he noticed my tattoo and kind of grabbed me to look at it, and was really obsessed about whether I had Pluto on this tattoo or not… and then he looked for Pluto, and followed the tattoo into my dress." AAS didn’t have a mechanism for reporting sexual harassment at the time, but Dr. Allers says she probably would report the incident if it had happened today.[29]
  • Ashley Watson, a former assistant and driver of Tyson said she quit her job due to what she considered to be inappropriate behavior on his part.[34]
  • An anonymous woman told BuzzFeed News that in January 2010, she joined her then-boyfriend at a holiday party for employees of the American Museum of Natural History and Tyson, drunkenly approached her, making sexual jokes and propositioning her to join him alone in his office.[35]

After these accusations, Fox Entertainment Group and the producers of the television series "Cosmos" said they were investigating the celebrity astrophysicist.[36] Tyson denied the accusations[37] and said he would cooperate fully with an "impartial investigation."[34] No evidence for any of these accusations has been presented.[32]

See also[edit]

External links[edit]

References[edit]

  1. Bio and Curriculum Vitae, Hayden Planetarium
  2. http://www.theverge.com/2012/3/26/2903224/dr-neil-degrasse-tyson-killing-pluto-on-the-verge
  3. "A Successor to Sagan Reboots 'Cosmos'". New York Times. March 3, 2014. http://www.nytimes.com/2014/03/04/science/space/a-successor-to-sagan-reboots-cosmos.html?_r=0. Retrieved March 17, 2014. 
  4. Cosmos Will Get a Sequel Hosted by Neil deGrasse Tyson, Wired
  5. https://www.reddit.com/r/badhistory/comments/44rs9z/neil_degrasse_tyson_or_how_to_fight_the_flatearth/
  6. https://www.reddit.com/r/badhistory/comments/23pdkk/raskhistorians_debunks_cosmos_repeating_the_lead/
  7. About the Series Host, PBS
  8. Neil deGrasse Tyson: We Are Witnessing the "Unraveling of An Informed Democracy." MSNBC. September 20, 2017.
  9. Including all of us here for over a year.
  10. Neil deGrasse Tyson: Atheist or Agnostic?, Big Think (with transcript)
  11. Neil DeGrasse Tyson Destroys Bill O'Reilly
  12. "Neil deGrasse Tyson Reaction" on Know Your Meme
  13. 11 Reasons Why Neil DeGrasse Tyson is a Badass
  14. Lauren Said-Moorhouse (2016-01-29). "Neil deGrasse Tyson fires back at B.o.B with epic mic drop". CNN. http://www.cnn.com/2016/01/29/entertainment/neil-degrasse-tyson-bob-flat-earth-twitter-spat/index.html. Retrieved 2016-01-29. 
  15. What makes an accusation Wiki-worthy? The Washington Post. September 24, 2014.
  16. Dr Neil DeGrasse Tyson - The Amazing Meeting 6. ChristopherHitchslap. January 3, 2012.
  17. "Islam is Peace" Says President. Remarks by the President at Islamic Center of Washington, D.C. September 17, 2001.
  18. [1]
  19. 19.0 19.1 Neil deGrasse Tyson: My Man, Sir Isaac Newton. Big Think. June 3, 2011.
  20. [2]
  21. 21.0 21.1 Joe Rogan Experience #919 - Neil deGrasse Tyson. February 21, 2017.
  22. Sets with cardinality of the continuumWikipedia's W.svg
  23. [3]
  24. http://physicsbuzz.physicscentral.com/2015/01/bill-nye-drops-ball-on-deflategate.html
  25. https://web.archive.org/web/20181111184726/https:/twitter.com/neiltyson/status/708427052433678336
  26. "Hey, Neil deGrasse Tyson, These Animals Have Sex That Hurts". 
  27. https://web.archive.org/web/20190202121853/https:/twitter.com/neiltyson/status/713432818865418240
  28. "6 Bat Myths Busted: Are They Really Blind?". 
  29. 29.0 29.1 Two More Women Accuse Neil deGrasse Tyson of Sexual Misconduct. Patheos. Blogs. No Sacred Cows. November 29, 2018.
  30. Neil deGrasse Tyson investigated by Fox, NatGeo Networks. Associated Press. November 30, 2018.
  31. https://tchiya.wordpress.com/about/
  32. 32.0 32.1 "Neil DeGrasse Tyson Accused of Raping a Former Student". Patheos. October 25, 2017. 
  33. https://www.eg.bucknell.edu/~kna003/
  34. 34.0 34.1 Neil DeGrasse Tyson Rejects Claims Of Sexual Misconduct. NPR. December 2, 2018.
  35. "Nobody Believed Neil deGrasse Tyson's First Accuser. Now There Are Three More". BuzzFeed News. December 5, 2018. 
  36. "Neil deGrasse Tyson under investigation after accusations of sexual misconduct". Washington Post. December 1, 2018. 
  37. "On Being Accused". Neil deGrasse Tyson's Facebook page. December 1, 2018.