This is probably not news to anyone who has seen him speak before, but I’m pretty well convinced that Neil deGrasse Tyson, director of the Hayden Planetarium at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, is the new Carl Sagan.
I watched some of the videos from Beyond Belief 2006 meeting, which as far as I can tell was an attempt by evangelical atheists to convert other academics to be evangelical atheists, so that eventually everyone in the U.S. will become evangelical atheists. (By the way, this plan gives a whole new spin to the term “delusion”, as the skeptical anthropologist Melvin Konner pointed out in his rambling, disorganized, but ultimately wise critique of the get-rid-of-religion folks.) The meeting was written up by the New York Times today, and the ID blogs are all happily clucking with disdain about it.
Neil deGrasse Tyson gave the final talk of the meeting, and thankfully, instead of bitter sniping at academics who have any empathy for religious people, which seems to have been the main activity of this meeting, Tyson took the only realistic route that scientists actually have to increase public support for science, and that is to explain why science is so important, cool, and amazing. I had only previously seen Tyson on PBS a bit, and recently on The Colbert Report, dissing Pluto and other pitiful iceballs.
While mocking iceballs is good fun, that short clip doesn’t get you the full picture of Tyson in action. Give him 30 minutes and a lecture hall, and watch him remind you what science is really about. (Link to huge mp4 file.)
(Note: Tyson’s talk is about the last third of the last mp4 file on this page. The mp4 file is 218 MB, so Right-Click, Save As to download, and give it a good 10-20 minutes. Maybe some friendly tech wizard could stop by, extract the Tyson lecture, put it on YouTube, and link to it in the comments.)