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

How to Be a Better Learner

The business magazine Forbes recently posted a rather odd piece called How to Be More Interesting. Created by Jessica Hagy, the illustrator and writer behind the always inventive blog Indexed, the mix of humor and far-from-traditional advice just seems very out of place from such a conventional source.

However, I was also struck by how much of Jessica’s advice could be applied to being a better learner, and teacher.

1. Go exploring. Explore ideas, places, and opinions. The inside of the echo chamber is where are all the boring people hang out.

2. Share what you discover. And be generous when you do. Not everybody went exploring with you. Let them live vicariously through your adventures.

3. Do something. Anything. Dance. Talk. Build. Network. Play. Help. Create. It doesn’t matter what you do, as long as you’re doing it. Sitting around and complaining is not an acceptable form of ‘something,’ in case you were wondering.

7. Give it a shot. Try it out. Play around with a new idea. Do something strange. If you never leave your comfort zone, you won’t grow.

So, does being a better learner make a person more interesting? I suppose it’s possible.

Anyway, go enjoy the whole thing, especially Jessica’s Indexed cards that accompany each item.

The Strange Holiday Mix, 2011

A little later than in past years, here’s the holiday-type music now in heavy rotation on all the iDevices. A little more traditional, maybe just slightly mellower, than in past years but still with enough oddities to keep things interesting. And, as always, totally and completely Glee-free.

1. Christmastime Is Here – Vince Guaraldi Trio
2. Fifty Kilowatt Tree – The Bobs
3. Christmas This Year – TobyMac (featuring Leigh Nash)
4. A Marshmallow World – Dean Martin
5. Snowflakes – Jeremy Fisher
6. Silent Night – Sixpence None The Richer
7. Cool Yule – Louis Armstrong & The Commanders
8. Ain’t Nothin’ Like Christmas – Shelby Lynne
9. The Christmas Waltz – She & Him
10. Toy Packaging – Sara Groves
11. Cold December Night РMichael Bubl̩
12. You’re a Mean One Mr. Grinch – Thurl Ravenscroft
13. Peace On Earth / Little Drummer Boy – Jack Black & Jason Segel
14. Christmas Lights – Coldplay
15. Holiday – Vampire Weekend
16. I’ll Be Home For Christmas – Tony Bennett
17. Getting Ready For Christmas Day – Paul Simon
18. Christians and Pagans – Dar Williams
19. Christmas Day – She & Him
20. Christmas (Baby Please Come Home) РMichael Bubl̩
21. Yuleman Vs. The Anti-Claus – The Bobs
22. Valley Winter Song – Fountains of Wayne

Revealing the Science Conspiracy

In a well-written and very funny six minutes, Daily Show correspondent Aasif Mandvi demonstrates why the best efforts of science educators are being undermined by adult stupidity.

Why does any thinking person listen to that woman? Oh, yeah, I forgot. She’s on Fox “news”, where science is whatever the script writers say it is.