All forward-thinking people are supposed to be aggressively pro-science and super-STEM-y these days, to keep our children primed for competition in the global arenas of engineering and biomedical research. But I can’t keep quiet any longer: Science is boring! This is true, at least, of the nuts-and-bolts basics as presented by Dr. Neil DeGrasse Tyson on his much-vaunted Cosmos reboot. No matter how many soaring spaceships or rampaging dinosaurs the producers use to distract my attention, the show strikes me numb with boredom. It’s not particularly Dr. Tyson’s fault –– though he is a surprisingly dull host –– but it is a problem educators must cop to if they truly want to make science appealing to the masses. Basic astronomy, geology, biology, and anthropology –– they’re largely about measurements, quantities, qualities, causes, and effects. They’re about the painstaking early stages of gathering and observing raw data, laying the foundation so the imagination can develop and test hypotheses about the way our world works.
I’ve been avoiding the unpalatable obvious, but to put it bluntly, most sciences are about math. Dr. Tyson and his Cosmos cohorts might better spend their time making integers and eigenvalues sexy rather than trying to hypnotize kids with molecules and light years, concepts that are less dazzling than vague and slippery for most minds.
To use an elegant metaphor: If the natural world was a Hostess snack cake, then people could be divided into two groups –– those who study Ding Dongs, and those who eat Ding Dongs. The Ding Dong theorists fetishize the recipe. They get deep into the quality and proportions of ingredients, the different origins of (cheap) chocolate used, the weird solid-liquid compound that comprises the cream filling, etc. The Ding Dong eaters don’t care about any of that. They’re not interested in whether the frosting contains leftover atoms from Paleolithic-era woolly mammoths, or if tiny subatomic strings vibrate to keep the cake moist. They want to open the package, breathe in the aroma, and sensually experience the Ding Dong until, to paraphrase a great writer, it can’t be un-Ding Donged.
That’s the team I’m on. Your job is to entice me to the other side, Dr. Tyson. Good luck.
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