COOPER, Iowa, Nov. 2, 2013 — So a fellow named Neil deGrasse Tyson spoke at Drake University’s Knapp Center arena this past Wednesday night, and he packed the place. That’s 7,000 or more people, isn’t it? I was astonished for two reasons: 1) he is an astrophysicist who I’ve now learned often draws big crowds for his lectures, and 2) I had never heard of him. Clueless in Cooper, again.
I feel like I’m pretty well-read, particularly about news, politics, business and sports. I’m regularly in touch with people who come from many different careers, cultures and special interests. Even so, I seem to be getting increasingly frequent reminders about how much I just do not know.
Some of that is undoubtedly my rising age, 66, which I am very happy to be, by the way. A lot of it is that I watch so little television — in fact, don’t own one, don’t want one and am thrilled to be without one.
The latter reason, I’m sure, is why I’d never heard of Professor Tyson, the astrophysicist. After Googling, I now understand that he is a highly acclaimed and respected scientist. Educated at Columbia and Harvard, he is now director of the Hayden Planetarium at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City.
Neil deGrasse Tyson is turning on the public, especially young people, to the “fun” of science.
But he has also quickly become an icon of pop culture from his hosting entertaining scientific series of programs on public TV and in other media, including the cult-like following he apparently has in the social media. I’m embarrassed I haven’t run into him “out there,” since I’m active in social media myself.
Actually, I think it is a hopeful sign about our society that someone like Tyson can draw crowds like he is drawing — to hear his messages about the importance of education, about how fun science can be, about holding oneself open to new experiences and theories.
My wife Carla Offenburger had never heard of Tyson, either. But she had a ready defense for us.
“Remember, we are literature nerds,” she said. “So, we didn’t know who a scientist was. But in the last couple of weeks, we went to hear Doris Kearns Goodwin speak at UNI, and Bill Bryson speak at Iowa State.”
Do we get a few points for that?
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