Did you hear my interview with Neil deGrasse Tyson today?

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Did you year the interview with Neil deGrasse Tyson today?

If not, that’s OK, it’s a podcast.

But first, a hint for those of you who want to do interviews. There’s a trick to make it go well. Interview someone like Dr. Tyson, with his knowledge, enthusiasm, and experience in public media; Ask him a couple/few questions; Sit back and listen to all the good words that come out. Break occasionally for commercials if needed.

I did actually have a strategy, which was fairly simple: I wanted to avoid the most obvious topics that have been covered so often in interviews with a person who must be the most interviewed scientist around these days (or a close second to Richard Dawkins). Pluto was only mentioned in passing. The whole god/universe thing was skipped (though I’m sure this irritated some of the Mn Atheist audience, and for that I apologize, but really Neil is always asked this so his answers are everywhere available). I wanted to make sure we touched on the Charlie Sheen affair because it is new and fresh.

The podcast is HERE.

A few footnotes on our conversation (this may make the most sense if you listen to the podcast):

Filling in a detail on that 19th century philosopher, a quote from “Death by Black Hole”:

Among the more bone-headed statements made by armchair philosophers, we find the following 1835 proclamation in Cours de la Philosphie Positive by Auguste Comte (1798-1857):

On the subject of stars, all investigations which are not ultimately reducible to simple visual observation are … necessarily denied to us… We shall never be able by any means to study their chemical composition… I regard any notion concerning the true mean temperature of the various stars as forever denied to us (p. 16, author’s tran.)

I hope everyone knows what spectroscopy is now, and more generally, what a “spectrum” is as distinct from a range (of variation), a cluster, a flock, a dyad, a periodic table, a taxonomy or some other arrangement of things or energies. It wasn’t really explained in detail during the show but the importance of the concept was firmly underscored. You deal with spectrum-structured phenomena every day, several times. Call a friend on your cell phone (while stopped at a red light) to ask if it is better to cook a chicken in the microwave or the regular oven. Your next stop could be Wikipedia.

MESSENGER stands for Mercury, Surface, Space Environment, Geochemistry and Ranging.

Regarding Charlie Sheen, Neil deGrasse Tyson’s tweet, and a possible explanation for his recent behavior 🙂 see this (the blog post in question) and listen to the podcast after about 30 minutes.

A selection of some of the questions we did not cover:

What exactly is the difference between galaxies moving apart because they were thrust into outer-ness (of the Universe) by the big bang, vs. the galaxies moving apart because of expansion of the universe? On a relate topic, is there a reliable way to use the expansion of the universe to argue against a speeding ticket if the cops used radar to catch you?

What is the perimeter of ignorance, has it moved lately, and what large changes might we hope for over the next few years?

If you wanted to speed up physics so we would have been where we are now several decades ago, what one fact or observation would you carry back in time to convince which historical scientist of? (I.e, let Newton in on Plank’s constant, or tell Einstein about Dark Energy.)

What do you say to 9/11 “truthers” if and when you have the opportunity to speak with them?

What is your most interesting recent reasonably priced find. (Talking wine here.)

And many many more.

Neil deGrasse Tyson is the Frederick P. Rose Director of the Hayden Planetarium at the American Museum of Natural History. He is the author of countless essays and several books, including Death by Black Hole: And Other Cosmic Quandaries; Origins: Fourteen Billion Years of Cosmic Evolution, which accompanies a PBS documentary of the same name; a rather riveting memoir called The Sky Is Not the Limit: Adventures of an Urban Astrophysicist; and of course, The Pluto Files: The Rise and Fall of America’s Favorite Planet. Much of what we talked about during this interview corresponds to Death by Black Hole and The Sky is Not the Limit.

Very current items related to this conversation:

Exoplanet may have metal-rich atmosphere

At first glance, GJ 1214b is just another of the growing number of the super-Earth class of exoplanets. Discovered by the MEarth Project in 2009, it orbits an M dwarf in Ophiuchus in a tight orbit, swinging the planet around every 1.6 days. Late last year, GJ 1214b became the first super-Earth to have a component of its atmosphere detected when astronomers compared its spectra to models finding broad agreement with water vapor present. New work, done by the same team, further refines the atmosphere’s potential characteristics.


NASA’s humanoid robot unveiled on space station

The first humanoid robot ever launched into space is finally free. Astronauts at the International Space Station unpacked Robonaut on Tuesday, 2 1/2 weeks after its arrival via shuttle Discovery. NASA broadcast the humorous unveiling ceremony Wednesday.


Students train like astronauts in Mission X challenge

Fourth-grade students in the College Station Independent School District (CSISD) in Texas have completed six weeks of a NASA health and fitness challenge known as “Mission X: Train Like an Astronaut.”


Have you read the breakthrough novel of the year? When you are done with that, try:

In Search of Sungudogo by Greg Laden, now in Kindle or Paperback
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7 thoughts on “Did you hear my interview with Neil deGrasse Tyson today?

  1. Just listened to your podcast. Good interview, Greg, and thanks for your balanced coverage of my “Sheen” posts on “scientific literacy.” I remain skeptical, with all due respect to Dr. deGrasse Tyson.

  2. I did. The Atheists Talk podcast from last week came up on my iPod while I was doing dishes and I realized that you were about 10 minutes into the show. I missed a lot of it, though, because I kept running out of the room to tell my wife about the cool things being said. So I’m looking forward to the podcast.

  3. No, I didn’t get a chance to.

    The way it works, for reasons that I don’t understand, is that we don’t talk to each other during the commercials (the in studio people and the guest if the guest is on the phone). So the guest just listens to the commercials. Then, when we chat after the show, it is usually about the commercials because they are pretty funny.

  4. Just listened to it. That interview could have been 10x longer and still there wouldn’t have been enough time. 🙂 I hadn’t heard about the Sheen thing but whatever.. it seems that when someone is labelled a villain, you’re not allowed to say anything even remotely positive about them or else the world has a fit. I love hearing Dr. Tyson talk and was much more engaged by the non-sheen parts of the interview.

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