Smart Science Talk

YouTube hosts a wonderful gem in which Stephen Colbert* interviews Neil DeGrasse Tyson, Director of the Hayden Planetarium and in the same class as Carl Sagan when it comes to explaining complex science topics to a general audience. The result is a smart, funny, and very entertaining discussion.

They cover a variety of topics but I especially love Tyson’s assessment of our academic system.

Our academic system rewards people who know a lot of stuff, and generally we call those people “smart”. But at the end of the day, who do you want, the person who can figure stuff out that they’ve never seen before, or the person who can rattle off a bunch of facts? At the end of the day, I want the person who can figure stuff out.

During the audience questions, someone asks about how he would improve the scientific literacy of American society. His answer includes the advice that parents need to allow and encourage their children to experiment and explore the world around them, even if it does get a little messy at times.

In the schools, I don’t have a problem with the fact memorizing, but don’t equate that with what it is to be wise or what it is to be smart. Smart should be some combination of facts, yes, but also what is your lens on the world? How do you figure things out? You promote that by stimulating curiosity.  I don’t see enough stimulating curiosity in this world.

The whole thing (from January 2010) is well worth an hour or so of your time. Watch.


*As himself, not Stephen Colbert the character

Winning at the SAT Game

Sound advice (and some far-too-close-to-reality satire) about the SAT and test prep companies from last night’s Colbert Report.

If you take enough of their math classes [Princeton Review], you may even learn their formula for turning children’s fear into cash.

Some English teachers may not want to hear what Stephen has to say about essays.

Remixing Colbert

Last Thursday on the Colbert Report, Stephen’s guest was Lawrence Lessig, who argues in Remix, his current book, that something is wrong with our intellectual property policies in this country.

Totally failed war. For ten years we’ve been waging this war. Artists have gotten no more money, businesses have not gotten more profit, and our kids have been turned into criminals.

Society, Lessig argues, should instead be encouraging and celebrating the remixing of media and all kinds of creative ideas.

In the course of the discussion, they differed about who owns the recording of that particular segment, with Lessig claiming joint ownership.

And, as co-owner, he said that anyone had the right to remix the segment. Which, of course, is just what happened.

The lawyers at Viacom must be going nuts.