Neil deGrasse Tyson on why ‘Cosmos’ is even more important in the coronavirus era

Neil deGrasse Tyson carries on in "Cosmos" where Carl Sagan left off.

Science begets more science, according to Neil deGrasse Tyson. 

The celebrity astrophysicist is promoting the third installment of “Cosmos,” the space-themed documentary series started by Carl Sagan in 1980 and revived with Tyson in 2014. He didn’t expect to be doing so amid an international public health crisis that puts scientists in major headlines daily. 

“We are in the middle of a big experiment. That experiment is, will people finally listen to scientists?” Tyson said in a (virtual) USA TODAY Editorial Board meeting Monday. “One of the themes in ‘Cosmos’ (is that) the power of science is unique in our culture because of its capacity to predict future events, not only based on rhythms of the past as ancients have done but also on modern understandings of how nature works and what our interaction with nature is.

“Do people put their head in the sand? Do they say, ‘I choose not to believe that,’ not realizing … that nature is the ultimate judge, jury and executioner of your ideas? So we’re in an experiment. And when we come out on the other side, we may be better off for it, but it’s quite costly to have gotten there.”

Speaking on a Zoom call from Long Island, New York, Tyson explained the lessons the public can learn from the new “Cosmos” (National Geographic, Mondays, 8 EDT/PDT), which theorizes a future off the planet Earth, that can help in the middle of the coronavirus crisis.

“Another DNA thread of ‘Cosmos’ has been how seamlessly it blends the branches of science that when you were in school were all separated by different professors and teachers and books,” he said. “It seamlessly goes to biology, geology, chemistry, physics, engineering. It is one story, blended together.” 

Tyson hopes that once the pandemic ebbs, governments will be motivated to fund all areas of science, because you never know what could lead to a world-changing discovery.

“To say let’s just fund this subject … that is historically naive with regard to how revolutionary discoveries are actually made,” he said. “They are actually made when you have cross pollination of fields. So for me, it’s an appeal to say, ‘Hey, all of science matters.’ Because at the end of the day, you cannot predict how one science is going to plug in to another science.”

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