Famed astrophysicist and TV host Neil Degrasse Tyson took the stage at Manhattanville’s Reid Castle on Sept. 9 as a part of the school’s ongoing Castle Conversations series.
By James Pero
One of the first things that famed astrophysicist Dr. Neil Degrasse Tyson did upon taking the stage for a lecture at Manhattanville’s Reid Castle was temper any undue expectations.
“So, I’m just alerting you in advance,” he said, addressing the fully-packed auditorium. “There will be no song or dance; I don’t play the piano.”
What Tyson did offer, however, was his perspective.
“This is an exercise in looking at the world through the lens of an astrophysicist,” he said. “When I read the newspaper, maybe I see it a little differently from how you see it.”
On Sept. 9, as a part of Manhattanville’s continuing lecture series, Castle Conversations, Tyson—a famed astrophysicist, author, and TV host of Fox’s Emmy award-winning series “Cosmos”—took the stage, not to awe the audience with his vast knowledge of our universe, but to engage attendees in a category just about everyone is familiar with: the news.
The chapel at Manhattanville College was sold out, moving many attendees to the upper balcony to watch the show. Photos/Sirin Samman
“News stories, politics, society, there are things that happen and you’ll see how I saw them,” said Tyson.
Throughout the course of his hour-and-a-half long lecture, Tyson stayed true to his mission, weaving through topics both personal and universal. In one of Tyson’s opening subjects, he tackled the fervent public blowback “Cosmos” experienced after announcing that his reboot of the original series, which was hosted by Carl Sagan in 1980, would appear on Fox in March 2014.
“I told people I’m going to host ‘Cosmos,’ and people said ‘Oh, that’s great! Is it going to be on PBS?’ I said no. ‘How about Discovery Channel?’ No. ‘Science Channel?’ No. ‘Well, where?’ And I said, on Fox,” Tyson proclaimed to a roar of audience laughter. “That’s when the liberal folks started shaking and frothing at the mouth.”
Tyson went on to explain that although Fox has come to be known for the “acerbic” conservative commentary featured on Fox News, it is also the same company—or conglomerate of companies—that gave audiences everything from the movie “Avatar” to beloved shows like “The Simpsons.”
One of Tyson’s biggest laughs from the audience came after a joke about how hot the chapel was. “We’re in this chapel and everyone is sweating and waving fans, I feel like there should be gospel music playing,” he said.
This reality, he explained, referring to the notion that “Cosmos” would be broadcast on one of the most diverse networks on TV, is “an extraordinary fact.”
“It meant that science was no longer relegated to the science ghetto channels of the high numbers,” Tyson said. “If there’s one thing we wanted ‘Cosmos’ to do, it was [to] reach the widest audience possible, and that would not have happened on other channels.”
In many ways, Tyson has, in recent years, enjoyed a success similar to that of Fox’s “Cosmos.” He has successfully—where many academics of his caliber have failed—brought a passion for science and the universe to the masses.
For proof of that, “Cosmos’” critical acclaim isn’t the only barometer; there’s also Tyson’s Twitter account, which boasts a whopping 4.2 million followers—a number that Tyson will gladly explain is exponentially larger than the likes of any of his kin.
However, Tyson’s academic background isn’t the only force driving his unprecedented mainstream appeal. Underlying that success has always been his hallmark mixture of wit and candor that, at times, seems to boil over into borderline contempt—especially for those on the wrong side of science.
In one moment during Tyson’s Reid Castle lecture, he scolded journalists for spreading misleading information about “super moons,” which he explains, to scale, are like ordering a “super” pizza which is 8.03 inches as opposed to 8. In the next moment, he catapulted the audience into laughter by pointing out the absurdity of U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, the Republican chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on Space, denouncing the existence of manmade climate change.
Neil Degrasse Tyson spent much of his lecture at Reid Castle sifting through popular news and sorting the truth from embellishment.
More than anything, Tyson successfully instilled in the audience the same yearning for empirical knowledge that he, as one of very few astrophysicists in the world, has made a career of.
In the midst of a tirade concerning the safety concerns of genetically-modified foods, or in his opinion, a lack thereof, Tyson took a rare pause from his animated lecture.
“You can choose to not want [them],” he said. “But do so from an informed position.”