Wayne Allen Brenner: Fantastic. And, finally, on a more serious note: What do you think about UT’s College of Natural Sciences defunding its own natural history museum?
Neil deGrasse Tyson: Ah, this is the first I’ve learned of it. What’s their motivation?
WAB: Um, the motivation is that the college needs to save money somehow, to invest it differently? And I think – according to the article that we ran here in the Chronicle – that they need to focus, they say, on attracting better professors, more esteemed – ah, I’m not sure exactly what, but they’re definitely taking the money away from the natural history museum: The outreach programs are going away, the public-oriented programming, the amount of employees working on that are dwindling to almost nothing. So how does a person, especially someone who’s a science communicator like you, how does a person deal with colleagues who don’t seem to recognize the connection between communicating science to the public and the funding structure that pays for researchers to do science – not to mention the benefits it brings to future generations of students?
NdGT: I work at a natural history museum.
WAB: Well, yeah – the natural history museum.
NdGT: And over the past five years, at the American Museum of Natural History in New York, we’ve had record attendance. So if the university deems that the public has lost interest in a natural history museum, it’s because the university isn’t presenting it the way it ought to. They’re blaming the public, rather than themselves, for the lack of success for that institution, for that branch of the university. And inexperienced educators tend to do that. They’d say something like “Well, these kids just don’t wanna learn.” An experienced educator finds out how they learn, and then communicates that way to them – and transforms the learning space for having done so. So if we have record attendance at our natural history museum, and UT is ready to close theirs – something’s wrong. Now, if all natural history museums were failing around the world, I’d say, “Go ahead, I can’t help you there.” But they’re not. And we’re using the natural history museum to stimulate interest – in all the sciences. And this is a time when we want to promote interest in science – so, you know, get the money from somewhere else.