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Neeeeeeeeerd! We mean that the good way, of course.


Cosmos host, science-popularizing superhero (that is not a bad thing!) and all around Geek Icon Neil deGrasse Tyson is touring the nation with a nifty media-lecture presentation called "An Astrophysicist Goes to the Movies," tickets for which will run you roughly the same as a midrange concert (say Tony Bennett or Barry Manilow. Way less than Beyoncé, way more than They Might Be Giants). Totally worth it, not just for the lecture and the Basking In Celebrity-Scientist aura, but also for the little girl sitting in the front row of the balcony with a model of the Solar System woven into her hair.

Tyson is no doubt making really good bank on this, and that's fine with us. The man provides a public service by keeping science in the public eye, and for squooshing pseudoscience like a common Periplaneta americana under his shoes. Which, by the way, he takes off when he's onstage, because he's Neil deGrasse Tyson, and are you going to tell him he has to wear shoes? No you are not. The talk runs a good two hours, and if you've read his loving nitpicks of science in movies on Twitter, you largely know what to expect: a dedicated geek's enthusiasm for both entertainment and depictions of science that get it right, and amused scorn for those times when movies get it very, very wrong.

Tyson has a simple standard for science in movies, taking his cue from Mark Twain: "Get your facts first, and then you can distort them as much as you please." He also insists he's misunderstood: When he points out science flaws in movies, it's not because he's trying to ruin the movie magic. He tweets because he thinks the movies are at least worth taking seriously enough to critique.

Tyson likes movies that are really entertaining but hilariously indifferent to realism, like Armageddon. Entire introductory physics courses have been designed around what that movie gets wrong, he says. And he likes movies which make an effort to get science right, and mostly do, with some fun "didja notice that?" exceptions. Gravity, for instance, did a fine job of depicting how a catastrophic chain of space debris collisions could trash satellites in orbit. But for all the impressive microgravity special effects, they forgot to make Sandra Bullock's bangs float away from her forehead like a real astronaut's would. And (Spoiler alert!) if George Clooney let go of the tether he's holding on to, he'd just float there next to it, not go flying off into the void. Sandra Bullock could have rescued him with a tug, then they could have floated romantically toward each other until their spacesuit helmets' faceplates collided and shattered, killing them instantly. SNL had some fun with Tyson's tweets on the matter:

Sadly, there were no "Gravity Falls" questions during the Q & A session. To make up for it, there were adorable science questions from adorable nerd kids who may want to grow up to be astrophysicists themselves. An 11-year-old girl asked if The Martian was plausible when it had Matt Damon growing plants in Martian soil by "using his own feces" for fertilizer. Tyson congratulated her for saying "feces," and added that while he knew he wanted to be an astrophysicist when he was 11, he would have said "poop," then and now. As to whether adding one person's poop to Mars's probably-inorganic soil could actually provide enough organic matter for plants to grow, he confessed she should probably ask a biologist. So it's OK 1) not to know things, 2) to go find experts who do know, and 3) to say poop when you're talking about poop.

All in all, it was a thoroughly fun evening with America's biggest geek and most popular science popularizer. You'll learn more about science watching Cosmos again on Netflix. But it's a hell of a lot of fun to catch some movie trivia with your buddy Dr. Tyson, too.

Doktor Zoom

Doktor Zoom's real name is Marty Kelley, and he lives in the wilds of Boise, Idaho. He is not a medical doctor, but does have a real PhD in Rhetoric. You should definitely donate some money to this little mommyblog where he has finally found acceptance and cat pictures. He is on maternity leave until 2033. Here is his Twitter, also. His quest to avoid prolixity is not going so great.

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