The Origins Project Brings Together Neil DeGrasse Tyson, Richard Dawkins, Lawrence Krauss, Bill Nye, Ira Flatow, and More on One Stage

It often seems, at least to me, that our cul­ture is slow­ly slid­ing back­ward when it comes to sci­ence edu­ca­tion. As a human­i­ties per­son, my obser­va­tions may not count for much, but I do find myself get­ting nos­tal­gic for pop­u­lar sci­ence com­mu­ni­ca­tors like Carl Sagan and Richard Feyn­man; peo­ple who could appear in America’s liv­ing room and enthrall even the most hard­ened and recal­ci­trant of minds. Sagan’s influ­ence peaked at the dawn of the cul­ture wars, and it doesn’t seem like any­one could fill his shoes.

But sev­er­al influ­en­tial sci­ence com­mu­ni­ca­tors have made sig­nif­i­cant strides in bring­ing sci­ence to a pop­u­lar audi­ence in the past few decades. Among them is the very affa­ble astro­physi­cist Neil DeGrasse Tyson, who takes Sagan’s man­tle in the Cos­mos reboot on Fox next year. There are media fig­ures like NPR’s Ira Fla­tow, Bill Nye the Sci­ence Guy, sci-fi author Neal Stephen­son, and Emmy-award-win­ning Tra­cy Day, co-founder of the World Sci­ence Fes­ti­val. Physi­cist and pop­u­lar sci­ence writer Bri­an Greene has done excel­lent work for NOVA, and sci­en­tif­ic heavy­weights Lawrence Krauss and Richard Dawkins reach mil­lions with pop­u­lar books and media appear­ances.

Now imag­ine all these peo­ple on the same stage togeth­er, trad­ing sto­ries, jam­ming, riff­ing like great jazz musi­cians, like some Jus­tice League of 21st cen­tu­ry sci­ence lovers. Well, you don’t have to, because this hap­pened, not on prime­time tele­vi­sion (alas), but at Ari­zona State Uni­ver­si­ty under the aegis of their “Ori­gins Project,” whose mis­sion is to fos­ter inter­dis­ci­pli­nary research, build sci­en­tif­ic part­ner­ships, and “raise the pro­file of ori­gins-relat­ed issues and broad­en sci­en­tif­ic lit­er­a­cy.” Ori­gins Project direc­tor Lawrence Krauss MC’ed the March 30th event, and the pan­el filled a 3,000-seat audi­to­ri­um for a two-hour ses­sion that focus­es on “the sto­ry­telling of sci­ence” (part one at top, part two above).

The event har­ness­es the slick, enter­tain­ing for­mat of TED Talks to demon­strate how cut­ting-edge research can reach a wide audi­ence eager for a fuller under­stand­ing of the phys­i­cal uni­verse. The first video up top opens with a quote from Michael Sher­mer: “Humans are pat­tern-seek­ing sto­ry-telling ani­mals, and we are quite adept at telling sto­ries about pat­terns, whether they exist or not.” The sto­ries that the mem­bers of this excit­ing pan­el dis­cus­sion tell are con­nect­ed to phys­i­cal real­i­ty through sci­en­tif­ic evi­dence that—without art­ful and com­pelling narrative—can seem bewil­der­ing­ly com­plex.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Neil deGrasse Tyson Unveils a Daz­zling Pre­view of the New Cos­mos

Richard Dawkins Makes the Case for Evo­lu­tion in the 1987 Doc­u­men­tary, The Blind Watch­mak­er

The Unbe­liev­ers, A New Film Star­ring Richard Dawkins, Lawrence Krauss, Wern­er Her­zog, Woody Allen, & Cor­mac McCarthy

Bill Nye, The Sci­ence Guy, Says Cre­ation­ism is Bad for Kids and America’s Future

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Wash­ing­ton, DC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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  • Hanoch says:

    We may indeed be “slid­ing back­ward when it comes to sci­ence edu­ca­tion”, at least in the US. But the indi­vid­u­als you cite in this post — I am think­ing most par­tic­u­lar­ly of Krauss and Dawkins — can only con­tribute to that prob­lem by aggres­sive­ly pros­e­ly­tiz­ing their athe­ism in the guise of sci­ence. When the vast major­i­ty of Amer­i­cans pro­fess a faith in God, it is hard to see how these indi­vid­u­als are help­ing the cause of sci­ence. Sci­ence would be in a bet­ter posi­tion if sci­en­tists actu­al­ly stuck to sci­ence, instead of attempt­ing to con­flate it with the­ol­o­gy.

  • Tondalaya Gillespie says:

    Wow and WOW! Would I love to have this group over for din­ner, but this is the next best thing.

  • nick skinner says:

    Thanks to all of you guys on the show. I real­ly, real­ly believe you are out­stand­ing in your work, even though I am a hum­ble sci­ence trans­la­tor and not a sci­en­tist by trade. Apart from show­ing us your human­i­ty and good nature and can­ny humour its was every­one’s appeal to the use­ful­ness of enquiry and com­mon sense that impressed me. so much so that there were some parts that sim­ply gave me a huge lump in my throat after think­ing to myself Yep, THESE are the GOOD guys; The rest is pure vudusim.
    I fell hon­oured to be liv­ing in a time when there are a few sane peo­ple around to off­set so many bil­lions of cra­zies.
    Thanks again

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