Last week, Chris Mooney interviewed astronomer and science communicator Neil deGrasse Tyson on the podcast Point of Inquiry. Neil is among the best of the people on Earth in showing the public just how amazing science is (Brian Cox is another who comes immediately to mind).
It’s a wide-ranging discussion, and well worth your time to listen in its entirety. But Neil said one thing in particular in the podcast that really made me smile (and was pointed out by Chris in The Intersection as well):
It’s not a predetermined path….Look at for example Phil Plait. Phil Plait is a professional astrophysicist, and then he had a blog, and the blog became a book, and a lot of interest in the book, and he saw the need for skepticism to be addressed in society, and he became a big part of that movement–you don’t pre-script that. It’s hard to prescript it.
My career path–you just don’t pre-script it. You do what you do best, and what you like the most, and you figure out along the way how that best fits into the opportunities of culture and the greater society.
First, thanks to Neil for the shout out!
But he makes a good point. I get emails all the time from people asking me how they can write a blog, how they can communicate science to the public as a career — and they ask me because I’ve been doing it for a while and have made a name for myself. The thing is, Neil’s right: you can’t plan on doing it the way I do. You’d have to be bug-nut insane to set about having a career like I have; it’s been really accidental, just me doing what seemed right at the time, and now here I am (and someday I’ll have to expound on that).
But "accidental" doesn’t mean "impossible". It’s more like "stochastic": an underlying path that’s been punctuated by random events that led to my current position*. But those random events would’ve been ineffective had I not worked pretty hard over the years to get here; you have to be able to grab them when they pop up.
You have to lay the groundwork to do that, and as Neil says one really good way to do that is through writing. It’s a great way to organize your thoughts, and to collect ideas. As you get better, you keep your eyes open and wait for the opportunities that will (hopefully) come along. I’ve actually let a few go by because I wasn’t ready for them at the time, but when they come by and you are ready, boom! It’s a pretty cool feeling.
In fact, I wrote about this over the weekend:
…the equation for luck is really just (hard work + preparation) x (time) x (statistical fluctuations).
In other words? You make your own luck. So you wanna get lucky? Go out there and get to work.
It looks like Apollo 17 Moonwalker and climate change denier Harrison Schmitt will not be stepping in to run New Mexico’s Department of Energy, Minerals, and Natural Resources. How about that?
As I wrote a few days ago, Schmitt was appointed to be the head of that department. Given that he is a well-known denier of climate change, Schmitt was an, um, interesting choice by the NM Governor. Things really hit the fan a few days ago when it became clear that in a report about the climate written by Schmitt, he used obviously wrong (at best, cherry-picked) data to say that the arctic sea ice extent in 2009 was back to where it was in 1989. In reality, arctic sea ice extent has dropped since then, and the volume of ice has dropped dramatically.
As Chris Mooney reports at The Intersection, it’s hard to believe the blogs had much to do with Schmitt’s name being withdrawn, but it’s curious. The Washington Post reports that Schmitt refused to sign a waiver dealing with a background check by a private investigator. I must admit I’m scratching my head over that one; Schmitt was a NASA astronaut and for a term was a U.S. Senator for New Mexico, so getting hung up on red tape for a background check is weird. I don’t like to speculate on such little info, but I am not convinced we’re getting all scoop here.
Either way, this particular climate change denier won’t be running the NM department responsible for energy, so in my book that’s a good thing. However, the governor of New Mexico, Susana Martinez, already has a history of being a climate change denier herself (a quick search reveals loads of info, like, say, this), so I expect whoever she appoints won’t have progressive ideas about it. We’ll just have to see what the next move is.
My congratulations to my
Hive overmind Discover Magazine co-blogger Chris Mooney for being appointed to the Board of the American Geophysical Union, a premier society of scientists and engineers!
They brought on Chris (as well as Floyd DesChamps, a policy advisor on climate change to the Senate for more than a decade) to advise the AGU on how to better and more effectively communicate with the public and lawmakers in Washington. Sounds like a good idea to me, since it’s something we obviously need quite desperately right now.
You can read the official announcement on the AGU site, which has more details. Again, congrats to Chris!
Many times, when I post about political antiscience, I get some people who are very upset that I don’t point out when liberals or Democrats attack reality. While I do disagree with some or even many of the Democrats’ planks, they typically are not the ones rabidly attacking science. For the most part these days, those on the left are more supportive of science than those on the right. Stem cell research, evolution, climate change, cosmology… these are not generally targets of those on the left.
So it was with some grim amusement that two articles came up one after the other recently in my RSS feed reader: one from Chris Mooney at The Intersection, where he points out that attacks on global warming come almost exclusively from Republicans (and you can read more from Chris about this on DeSmogBlog), and the other by Josh Rosenau at Thoughts from Kansas where he frets — and rightfully (haha) so — about Eric Cantor’s gearing up to attack science en masse when Congress reconvenes.
I have a lot of worries about the new Republican majority in the House, and you can get a taste of them in an earlier blog post. Everything I’ve read and seen in the few days since I’ve posted that hasn’t exactly been reassuring, either: John Boehner just announced that when the Republicans take over, they’ll dismantle the House Select Committee on Global Warming.
Science is cool. I know that, and you know that. But how do we get other people to know it too?
We need to market it. I don’t mean we need to dumb it down, or slap a coat of paint on it or anything like that. But what we can and should do is tie it in with stuff the public already likes, and give it some associated cool. And what’s the coolest thing of all?
Rock and roll, baby.
Thus, Rock Stars of Science. This was an effort started last year by the designer Geoffrey Beene, who honestly loves science. He sponsored articles and some great photo shoots featuring scientists fooling around with rock musicians. 100% of the proceeds went to charity like medical science research. My Discover Magazine co-blogger and buddy Chris Mooney is also behind this event (he wrote about it last year) because, like so many of us, he’s passionate about science and about getting the public to love it as much as we do.
So it’s happening again this year: 17 scientists* are posing with rock stars (including Debbie Harry, B.o.B., and Keri Hilson), and an article about it will be in the December issue of GQ. I love these quotes:
Says Rock icon Debbie Harry of the scientific lifestyle: "You have to be very tenacious, very dedicated. And that kind of mind, that kind of specialness is incredible, and we should all be aware of it." Another featured artist, Jay Sean (@jaysean), commented: "I went on to study medicine. I was halfway through my degree; it’s when my first record deal presented itself…But I’ll always be a fan of science."
And the photos of the scientist and musicians are amazing. How can you not love a picture like this?
I can only wish I were that cool. And yes, I am insanely jealous. I love Heart, and had a bit of a crush on both Ann and Nancy Wilson when I was in high school. And, um, maybe I still do, a little. But c’mon! Barracuda! Crazy On You! Magic Man! Awesome sauce.
And that’s exactly how we should be thinking of leading scientists, too.
That’s why I support this campaign. I certainly know how cool a lot of scientists are, and how amazing their work can be. In the geek community we cherish these men and women. It’s about time that attitude spread to the world at large.
Over at The Intersection, Chris Mooney has an interesting discussion about why science is still so massively under attack right now, even though Bush’s anti-science regime is gone, and Obama promised to restore science to its rightful place.
Chris notes things have changed. In an interview he did he notes that before, it was a top-down attack, orchestrated by the White House. Now, we’re seeing more of a bottom-up effort to suppress science. I agree, though I’ll add that a lot of Congresscritters are pushing hard against science; I could easily name a half-dozen Senators and Representatives who are virulently antiscience. But we are seeing it at all levels, from school boards up to state legislatures (and Attorneys General) up to Congress.
There are too many attacks to even list coherently, ranging from climate science to evolution and stem cell research. It’s the same old list, in fact, but a lot of the names have changed since 2008. With this election today, I certainly hope things get better, but if anyone from the Tea Party is elected it certainly won’t help.
I implore everyone reading this to find out where your candidates stand on important issues. Not just taxes and health care and all that (which has become so polarized it’s obvious where people are just by what party they claim as their own) but also on science topics. I am hardly a single-issue voter, but where someone stands on things like global warming and the teaching of creationism is pretty important to me, too.
I did an interview with my old friend Chris Mooney for Point of Inquiry, and it’s now live. We talk about the end of the Earth, punching Buzz Aldrin, Hollywood science, and other topics astronomical and hysterical. Enjoy!
My Hive Overmind co-blogger Chris Mooney was on the Morning Joe show with Dr. Nancy Snyderman to talk about all the recent news about vaccines and autism. They hit all the high points: there is no connection, the science is unequivocable, the antivaxxers are letting emotions take over when they should be looking at the evidence, and how hostility toward science is making this worse.
It’s really good to see the mainstream media not only taking on this issue, but doing it correctly too: no antivaxxers spreading their lies to give a notion of "balance", just calm, clear, rational discourse on a critical issue where the noise tends to swallow up the signal. Well done!
With my friend D.J. Grothe taking the helm of the JREF, the question came up with what would happen with his old podcast, Point of Inquiry, that he did for the Center for Inquiry. The solution is interesting, and doubles your skeptical outlets: D. J. is doing a new podcast for the JREF, and PoI has been handed over to some new folks… with familiar names.
First, D. J. is now podcasting for the JREF on For Good Reason, an appropriately-named ‘cast where he interviews, as usual, leading lights in critical thinking. The premier episode was with Randi hisself, the second with Daniel Loxton (who wrote a kid’s book on evolution I really liked), and the latest is a talk with Richard Dawkins. It’s a good podcast, which is no surprise! You can subscribe to it via iTunes too.
Point of Inquiry is continuing on as well, with new hosts Robert Price and my friends Karen Stollznow and Chris Mooney (who blogs here at the Hive Overmind at The Intersection). The first installment is Chris interviewing Paul Offit on the evils of the antivax movement. I have that one cued up in my iPod and I’m looking forward to listening to it when my schedule allows. I actually don’t have a lot of time to listen to podcasts, but these two are definitely on my subscription list.
If you’re a skeptic, and especially if you’re not, you should give these shows a listen. They may make you laugh, or make you angry… but they’ll definitely make you think.