NDT on Science Communication, Pursuing Astrophysics

Below is a truly great video of an interview with Neil deGrasse Tyson of the American Museum of Natural History, talking about a time when his path to being an astrophysicist was almost derailed by comments made by a weightlifting team member. I’ve pulled out some of my favorite quotes.

Tyson’s teammate, a black upperclassman interested in the economics of inner-city neighborhoods for those who were economically disenfranchised, told Tyson:

The black community cannot afford the luxury of someone with your intellect to spend it on [astrophysics].

This (luckily for us all) did not dissuade Tyson from pursuing science. He says:

I still had some discomfort about whether I was doing the right thing culturally. I knew I was doing the right thing personally. But you want to make a difference in the world…

Nevertheless, his “responsibility as an educated member of society was eating away at that ambition.” He continued with his studies, and eventually had his first TV interview. It was at that point that he found his answer to his teammate’s question.

I had an epiphany, a revelation… It was 1989. I had never before in my life—and I believe to this day that that was the the first such occasion ever—but I had never before in my life seen an interview with a black person on television for expertise that had nothing to do with being black, holding aside of course interviews with performers and musicians, or atheletes, I’m talking about experts, [an] intellect… The guy didn’t ask me, well how do black people feel about this plasma coming from the sun? What does your community feel about this?

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