The often hilarious show links complicated scientific ideas with pop culture, pairing blockbuster stars and athletes with academics (the season’s first episode, for example, brings together Lance Armstrong with experts on the energy of bicycling and sports ethics).
Future guests range from Jane Goodall, Katie Couric, and Stephen Hawking to Stephen Colbert, who Tyson says digs into fake news and “the importance of facts in an informed democracy, because scientists are in the business of knowing what is true.” More than that, though, Tyson says he sets out through his show to discover his guests’ hidden connections to science. He learned, for instance, that Colbert’s father “was a medical doctor in the Deep South, and not everyone around him had this exposure to the rational thinking of a learned man of science, so we talked about what that felt like in school.” These kinds of stories, Tyson says, make it clear how just often science touches all of our lives.
Tyson spoke with GOOD about why this gives him hope for America — along with his thoughts on what can be done about climate change and our political future, as well as whether the solar eclipse was really a big deal or not.
Neil deGrasse Tyson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Photo by Brandon Royal/National Geographic Channel.
There are many, but let me give the top two. One of them had to do with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. People who are fans of his know he actually cameoed in a couple of movies. Part of him always wanted to be an actor, and I said, “Look, dude, you're 10 feet tall. There’re no roles for you.” “Yes there are.” I said, “What?” He said he wanted to play Chewbacca on “Star Wars.” And I said, “Of course!” That is the role for him. This is him revealing a little bit of geeky underbelly that he was a “Star Wars” fan, and he wanted a little piece of that action, so I was delighted to learn this.
The second has to do with Katy Perry — I was delighted to learn how curious she is as an adult. Curious — not as in weird but as in childhood curiosity. Childhood wonder about the unknown. She had a very sincere and honest sort of curiosity that I was delighted to see, and I made it clear to her that when you have that kind of curiosity and you carry it into adulthood, you're basically a scientist. That's what scientists are: Kids who never really grew up. But we did grow up, and we just have more expensive tools to satisfy that curiosity — the microscope, the telescope, the particle accelerator, the space telescope, the Petri dish, the geologic survey, whatever it is. And so, this is a woman who’s in her mid-30s. Her last year in school was when she was 15, having graduated with a GED. And you wouldn’t think that someone that many years out of school who stopped at a GED would have that level of curiosity. I was delightfully surprised.