One doesn’t normally get into astrophysics for the fame. But sometimes one gets famous anyway, as has astrophysicist Neil DeGrasse Tyson, Director of the Hayden Planetarium at the Rose Center for Earth and Space. But that title doesn’t even hint at the scope of his public-facing ventures, from the columns he’s written in magazines like Natural History and StarDate to his hosting of television shows like NOVA and the sequel to Carl Sagan’s Cosmos to his podcast StarTalk and his high-profile social media presence. Has any other figure in the annals of science communication been as prolific, as outspoken, and as willing to talk to anyone and do anything?
Here on Open Culture, we’ve featured Tyson recommending books, giving a brief history of everything, delivering “the greatest science sermon ever,” chatting about NASA’s flyby of Pluto with Stephen Colbert, “performing” in a Symphony of Science video, inventing a physics-based wrestling move in high school, looking hip in grad school, defending science in 272 words, breaking down the genius of Isaac Newton, talking non-Newtonian solids with a nine-year-old, discussing the history of video games, creating a video game with Neil Gaiman and George R.R. Martin, selecting the most astounding fact about the universe, explaining the importance of arts education alongside David Byrne, pondering whether the universe has a purpose, debating whether or not we live in a simulation, remembering when first he met Carl Sagan, interviewing Stephen Hawking just days before the latter’s death, and of course, moonwalking.
Now comes Tyson’s latest media venture: a course from Masterclass, the online education company that specializes in bringing big names from various fields in front of the camera and getting them to tell us what they know. (Other teachers include Malcolm Gladwell, Steve Martin, and Werner Herzog.) “Neil DeGrasse Tyson Teaches Scientific Thinking and Communication,” whose trailer you can watch above, gets into subjects like the scientific method, the nature of skepticism, cognitive and cultural bias, communication tactics, and the inspiration of curiosity. “There’s, like, a gazillion hours of me on the internet,” admits Tyson, and though none of those may cost $90 USD (or $180 for an all-access pass to all of Masterclass’ offerings), in none of them has he taken on quite the goal he does in his Masterclass: to teach how to “not only find objective truth, but then communicate to others how to get there. It’s not good enough to be right. You also have to be effective.”
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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.