viernes, 7 de marzo de 2014

Neil deGrasse Tyson on Why Cosmos Will Be Better Than Ever

Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson will host the new Fox series Cosmos: A Space-Time Odyssey, blasting off in March. Peter Yang

Before Carl Sagan, science and TV didn’t get along too well. Then, in 1980, the man in the turtleneck blew our minds with his PBS miniseries, Cosmos. Sagan took a nar­rative approach to science, inviting viewers to explore the universe and discover their own place in it. Thirty-four years later, the sequel has finally arrived: Hosted by astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, Cosmos: A Space-Time Odyssey hits Fox in March. It’s far from Tyson’s only gig; while nominally the director of the Hayden Planetarium at New York’s American Museum of Natural History, he has become our most visible champion of science, thanks to numerous appearances on The Colbert Report and shenanigans like his (viral) Twitter fact-checking of the movie Gravity. Sagan may be busy somewhere among the heavens’ billions and billions of stars, but Tyson talked with WIRED about inheriting the man’s mantle, what the new Cosmos hopes to teach us, and the future of science and education in the US.

You’ve spent the past year working on Cosmos: A Space-Time Odyssey. You’re no stranger to television, but this is the first time you’ve been involved in a project of this magnitude.
It was a surreal experience for me as an academic. Everything about it was novel. Everything. A particular pleasure was working with people who felt strongly about Cosmos at a time when the country most needs an injection of science literacy. I don’t know if love overstates it, but people came to the project with a commitment to making something bigger than all of us.

The first series was associated very closely with Carl Sagan.

As a matter of fact, it was subtitled “A Personal Voyage.”

How do you build on Sagan’s legacy, then, without letting your series be defined by it?
Well, it depends on how you think of the old Cosmos. If you think of it as “the Carl Sagan show,” then it can’t be redone with anyone else. But if it’s “Carl Sagan presenting the universe,” and the universe is the subject and he’s your guide, then it works just fine—and that’s how we’re proceeding.

What are some differences we can expect to see?
We have a cinematic dimension this time: People working on the show have brought tools from cinema and are applying them to tell the story of the universe. Think about how potent and powerful things like camera angles and scene development are. In a stereotypical documentary, somebody sets up a camera and somebody walks in front of the camera and just talks to you, and then you go to some other thing and then you come back. With this, I think, the viewer will walk away with a much more complete encounter.

How has the current climate around science in the US informed the new series?
Cosmos was conceived and filmed in the midst of the Cold War. The exploration of the solar system was still considered an odd thing that, maybe, if you had no other problems in the world, you might undertake. Then Cosmos airs in 1980, and its entire mission statement is all about a cosmic perspective, understanding things on the largest scale possible. Today there’s the issue of what we are doing as a species to the environment on a global scale. The environmental movement really started out at a very local level.

Cosmos: A Space-Time Odyssey features a “cosmic calendar” that helps viewers make sense of the universe’s vast history.  Courtesy of Fox

That all changed when photos from Apollo 8 showed Earth as an object in space.
As Sagan is famous for saying, “Molecules don’t have passports.” The idea that your influence on a local environment has global consequences is something I don’t think we could’ve arrived at were it not for Apollo 8. Climate change has influenced the modern Cosmos in the way nuclear proliferation influenced the previous one.

In addition, at least in America, science has been treated sort of cavalierly, not only by the public but also by government. The idea that science is just some luxury that you’ll get around to if you can afford it is regressive to any future a country might dream for itself. Innovations in science and technology are the engines of the 21st-century economy; if you care about the wealth and health of your nation tomorrow, then you’d better rethink how you allocate taxes to fund science. The federal budget needs to recognize this.

It seems like right now, we’re leaning on the private sector to pick up that slack, with for-profit companies like SpaceX, for example.

The private sector requires quarterly reports and annual returns on the investors’ capital. It’s not a 20-year baseline. It’s not even a five-year baseline. If you really want to invest in the long-term health of a nation, the government needs to step in for the long-term returns on those investments.

The Idea That Science is a Luxury is regressive to any future a country might dream for itself.”

In the 1920s, the government was investing huge amounts of money and physicists’ brainpower on understanding the atom. What emerged was the birth of quantum physics. If you were around back then, you might have said, “Look at all the smart people just wasting their time. Why are we even doing this?” But the information technology revolution has at its foundation techniques for the creation, storage, and retrieval of information that would not have been possible without an understanding of quantum physics.

So corporations engage in applied science, while pure science requires the ongoing support of the state?
Exactly. As history has shown, pure science research ultimately ends up applying to something. We just don’t know it at the time.

But in an era where science is low on many people’s priority lists, do you think there’s also enough hunger from viewers to sustain a show like Cosmos?
The top two shows in all of television are The Big Bang Theory and NCIS. The Big Bang Theory has received plenty of criticism for its caricatures of scientists, but what comes out of their mouths and what’s on the whiteboards is real science. At the same time, I have 1.6 million followers on Twitter—all of this tells me that there’s an appetite.

An appetite for scientific information, or just for the human stories around it?
Whoever said you couldn’t communicate science by way of stories? Cosmos is an occasion to bring everything that I have, all of my capacity to communicate. We may go to the edge of the universe, but we’re going to land right on you: in your heart, in your soul, in your mind. My goal is to have people know that they are participants in this great unfolding cosmic story.

By Rachel Edidin

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