By Mick Krever, CNN
Science, technology, engineering, and math will be the “engines of tomorrow's economy,” astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour on Thursday.
“I want to explore because I think it's fun and I like learning something different and new tomorrow that I didn't know today. But I can't require that of everybody.”
“So if you needed a pragmatic reason to explore, the best one out there is innovations in science and technology are the engines of tomorrow's economy,” Tyson, who is director of the Hayden Planetarium in New York, said.
“We've known this certainly since the Industrial Revolution. But even before then, those nations that invested in exploration and discovery would lead the world in almost every metric that mattered in anything that we call civilization today.”
NASA this week announced the discovery of 715 new planets, the largest single batch ever announced, by far. By way of comparison, about 1,000 planets total had been identified in our galaxy before Wednesday.
“It's not like they discovered them all last night and then it got reported this morning,” Tyson said. “They've been lined up for a while until the confidence in the detection was high enough to then present it all as one release.”
Four of the planets announced are in the so-called “habitable zone,” meaning they could theoretically support life.
“You could ask, are we alone? Is the solar - our solar system unusual? Is it - is it common? And that's one of the great questions we always ask about ourselves, and we've been asking it since we came out of the caves.”
American children, for one, may be scratching their heads at what it all means. U.S. students rank 27th in science and 35th in math among developed countries, according to the OECD.
“As an American, I would like to have America on the frontier. But as a scientist, science doesn't know national boundaries,” deGrasse Tyson said.
“One of my worries is that here we are, a country with this great legacy, that it'll fade and then what happens to the future of this country?”
deGrasse Tyson is trying to himself stimulate interest in science and math with a reboot of astrophysist Carl Sagan’s famous series “Cosmos,” first broadcast in 1980.
His continuation of the show is called “Cosmos: A Space-Time Odyssey.”
“Cosmos, we think, has the power to motivate anyone who is watching it to want to become scientifically literate, or at least embrace how and why the methods and tools of science can tell us about our past, present and future in this universe,” deGrasse Tyson said.
“People say, well, can it influence the next generation of kids? Yes. But adults outnumber kids five to one – five to one, in the industrialized world.”
“And so I say to myself, maybe the problem today are not scientifically unmotivated kids, it's scientifically unmotivated adults. Because adults are in charge. Adults wield resources. Adults create or destroy opportunities.”
Nowhere is that power more apparent than in the climate. Human-created climate change is “now more certain than ever,” a new joint paper by American and UK scientists has said.
Nonetheless, the doubters continue their crusade against empirical science.
“There are people who have politicized science,” deGrasse Tyson said. “You know, science is apolitical.”
“The truths of nature are the truths of nature. You can stand in denial of it, I suppose, but what kind of country are you making … if that's how you're going to base your policy, because you don't want it to be true?”
“I mean, it would be like blaming gravity because you're gaining weight.”
The goal of “Cosmos,” he said, is to show how much science has shaped the world in which we live.
He wants people to walk away from the series saying, “‘this is why I understand what a truth is, and here's how I can detect when people's philosophies are interfering with the dissemination of those ideas and that knowledge.’”