Seth MacFarlane has been quietly working on a reboot of Carl Sagan’s documentary series about space, Cosmos, for years now, which is at least a little bit weird, but also fair enough, why not, and if anyone can get a thing done it is that guy. And now FOX has announced that the show has found its host in Tumblr-celebrated astro-physicist Neil Degrasse Tyson. From the Los Angeles Times:

At their upfront presentation Monday at the Beacon Theatre in New York City, the network announced plans to reboot “Cosmos,” Carl Sagan’s massively popular documentary series. The new, 13-episode version will air sometime in 2014.

In one of the more unlikely pairings in recent memory, it is produced by Seth MacFarlane and will be hosted by astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, the director of the Hayden Planetarium and a popular recurring guest on “The Daily Show.”

I’ve actually been thinking about Neil Degrasse Tyson a lot lately (no astro) because he’s such a unique and odd celeb. Can you think of the last PhD holding museum director who regularly sells out shows at the Bell House with Eugene Mirman and is often featured in viral, inspirational YouTubes, and whose old photos circulate widely in hunk comment threads? If anything, it is surprising that he is only just getting his own TV show now, considering all of the HEAT that has been on this guy over the past couple of years. But that’s part of it, too, he’s obviously been a pretty smart astro-physicist and had the same face for his entire career, but it is only in the past couple of years that he has suddenly emerged as this whole thing. Why? Well here, I postulate, is the thing about Neil Degrasse Tyson:

HE ACTUALLY KNOWS STUFF.

And we are officially living in an era when NOBODY KNOWS ANYTHING.

It’s genuinely EXCITING to listen to someone talk about something and realize that they FOR SURE KNOW WHAT THEY ARE TALKING ABOUT. That is a rarity nowadays. Neil Degrasse Tyson is not riffing about science off the top of his head based on a casual Wiki search he did three days ago. He is not RECAPPING SPACE. Genuine knowledge gained through hard work and a keen intellect is not a MEME. We all have instant and constant access to the infinite range of human understanding, and it doesn’t mean anything because we wouldn’t even know what to do with it if we found it. But here comes a dude who actually does, and that, it turns out, is the neatest thing of all. I guess my point is:

Please RT.

Comments (58)
  1. Neil Degrasse Tyson is great and this post is great. I live in a country that is limiting scientific research and the voices of scientists every day so it’s great that someone out there is making science cool for the masses. Even if he has to partner up with Seth MacFarlane to do it, I can’t wait to see the new Cosmos. I love Carl Sagan and I think NDT is the man to make him proud.

    • You also live in Canada? I was talking with a friend who said the gagging of scientists is the thing that pisses him off most about this govt, and I was like “For me it’s the scrapping of the long form census. No wait, it’s the changes made to benefits for single mothers under the poverty line. No wait, it’s the tossing out of ratified bills allocating more money to Native education on reserves. No wait, it’s the oil sands. No wait…”

      • I live in BC, which just got shittier again last night! Now I have multiple governments trying to ruin my coastline and sell it out to oil companies. *misery high five!*

  2. “Neil deGrasse Tyson, the director of the Hayden Planetarium”

    I was wondering what happened to her after Heroes.

  3. I don’t believe Neil DeGrasse Tyson actually exists. He is a genius AND impossibly cool AND good looking. Nobody is allowed to be that awesome!

  4. “Videogum talking about science? This is more random than the time Seth MacFarlane rebooted ‘Cosmo’ with Neil DeGrasse Tyson!”

  5. I also like that Neil is agnostic without being a dick about it. He’s always like “Look, I’m a scientist. That’s it.” Shut up, Richard Dawkins.

  6. Say what you will about Seth McFarlane but he sure has a knack for making things happen out of highly successful, well-known, already established ideas.

  7. Disagree!

    I think the whole NDT worship thing is dumb and bad! I think it’s this weird fetishization of science the same way people do with like, martial arts and bacon. NDT comes out on stage and he blows your mind by saying “the universe… is inside out!” and then they stuff him back in a bag and tony hawk comes out and does a 1080.

    NDT is not an active scientist. He wasnt an important scientist when he was active. There are active, important scientists out there, if we actually valued science and knowledge we would be listening to those guys, like Nima Arkani-Hamed and Juan Maldacena and Ed Witten. Not to mention all the many brilliant people who work on things besides high energy particle theory.

    Having NDT be the face of science is like having detlef schrempf be the face of basketball

    • At least Detlef cares!

    • Who should be the face of science? (Real question.)

      • (not Real answer)

      • So I’m fine with there being a place for a guy who is a born TV entertainer and happens to have a PhD. That for sure makes sense. But if we actually care about being brought up to science’s level and not science being brought down to ours, I don’t think an entertainer is the right person.

        I think even the concept of a “face of science” is problematic, but I’ll throw out David Griffiths. His physics textbooks are probably the most widely used in advanced undergraduate coursework. Also, there’s like 5 new science nobel laureates every year and nobody books those guys on leno.

        • Both of my parents are scientists, they went to school with scientists, and many of their friends are scientists. I’ve found with my vigorous scientific method of spending time with those people, that the more “brilliant” they are, the more likely they are to have, if not a mild form of aspergers, then severe social awkwardness. Obviously i’m overgeneralizing here, but there’s a difference between doing amazing work in a lab and then explaining those results so that us normies can understand.

        • The problem with this reasoning is that most people don’t have a knowledge of science past high school. You *have* to bring science down to their level to get them interested in it. You want to bring people up to science’s level, that’s great! But first you need to make it accessible and give them a boost because it is way too fucking far up there for most of us to get a grip on it. Hopefully people are getting excited about science because of the NDTs of the world, and using him as a stepping stone to learn more than they ever would have had they not been given a push in the first place.

      • I can say a lot of scientists aren’t exactly skilled at explaining complex scientific ideas to the broader non-scientific populace. Many of my colleagues are incredibly smart, but if you ask them to distill their project or area of study down to 2-3 sentences, they’ll give you 2-3 pages (aside: get me out of here, why did i choose a career in the sciences, these people are smart but no fun). So even though Tyson may not have a plethora of publications behind him, he’s got the education and the ability to take what the researchers are saying and translate it into plain conversational English.

        In my childhood and early teens, the only “scientists” that were appearing on TV were Bill Nye and Beakman’s World. Fun shows, but I doubt they made science appealing to anyone who didn’t already have a prior disposition toward studying it. Tyson, with his combination of smarts and social skills, is a nice change of pace. What we need is someone like Tyson to use those skills to take our lawmakers to task on enacting legislation that protects our environment and personal health.

        • To dispel your doubts, I am a creative writing major, which is about the farthest you can get from a scientist, and Bill Nye and Beakman made science appealing to me. Bill’s show on eyes makes me wish my brain worked in the way scientist’s brains work, because AU Flanny is an optometrist. (Man, good story. That major is REALLY coming in handy!)

    • I upvoted because you’re right to an extent and your comment was well thought-out and lol@tonyhawk, but my initial reaction was to downvote because if he is getting people interested in and caring about science, who cares if there are better scientists out there? Science has a rock star and it’s getting people jazzed about learning. Bill Nye is another example. Anything that motivates people to get curious and learn about the world around them is certainly not “dumb and bad”

      • I fully agree with fatima, including the part about upvoting because of the 1080.

        Also, I think it’s nice that one of the coolest black men on the internet is a rad fucking scientist. He’s a visible black male role model AND it’s good to know that we don’t just memeify black people to laugh at them.

      • The problem is that they don’t get people jazzed about learning. They get people jazzed about jazz. It’s marzipan in the shape of a vegetable.

        • 1, if you have anything bad to say about marzipan you can pack your bags and leave right this minute, mister.

          2, I respectfully disagree. I have friends who I know for a fact never studied science or cared about the natural world beyond maybe going tree planting one summer who are “liking” natural science tumblrs and subscribing to “I fucking love science” on fb. Is it super intellectual? No. Are they claiming to be scientists or going back to school to get their PhDs? No. But they are absorbing little sound bites of information, and they are actively seeking out more because it’s suddenly become “cool”. Science is no longer this grey, dry bore in a labcoat that you have to suffer through to graduate high school It’s a cool, crazy rock star with the top 2 buttons of his shirt undone and suddenly everyone wants to be a part of that.

        • …couldn’t you just as easily argue it’s a vegetable in the shape of marzipan (I know, it doesn’t fully flesh out…bare with me though)? Forget adults who need science “brought down” to them, what about really smart kids? Stuff like Mr. Wizard and Bill Nye and I would have to imagine NDT if I was still 10 were what got me super into science to begin with. They were entertaining as hell, and I felt that the world was being explained to me. So what if it was dumbed down a bit? It turned out to be something I pursued as an adult, where the super dry complex stuff came in.

    • Yeah, agreed. (with old man fatima) Sparking the passion is all that really matters nowadays. I work with a lot of brilliant scientists who I won’t name-check but are passionate people who wouldn’t work on TV because they are nerds who can’t handle an onscreen persona.

    • I see your point. Unsung heroes and all, but being deeply active in the field and being good at communicating and advocating for the field are often two very different things. I don’t know enough about astrophysics to know whether he’s the misleading kind of pop science-y, but if he’s not, and it seems like he’s not, It’s always going to take a balance between charisma and knowledge to reach a wide audience, not just pure excellence in science. Him being all meme-y makes me squirm too, and your comparisons are apt, but put down the baby, and gently pour out the bathwater…

    • I agree that science is enjoying a nice little run right now thanks, largely, weirdly, to Tumblr, but I don’t think that’s dumb or bad! I don’t know *anything* about science, so I don’t know which scientists should be popular and which shouldn’t, but I know that people like me are so brain dead about plain, simple, honest truths about the universe we live in that it’s time for desperate measures. If an inactive scientist and the creator of Family Guy is what it takes to get this country talking about anything besides HIMYM‘s big reveal, then that’s what it takes!

      TL:DR We are definitely at the point of needing a Hail Mary when it comes to actual science (climate change deniers, being the easiest example) and that might be what this is, but then so much the better that it’s actually happening.

    • I think having NDT be the face of science is more like having Elizabeth Warren be the face of the consumer. Sure there are lots of people who do more important work helping regular people day in and day out, but she was in the position to be elected and appointed into positions that highlighted her pet issues. And when it comes down to it, she’s probably not going to be the person to end corporate greed and pro-poverty policy in this country, but she may help amplify the message to rally everyone else who is invested and passionate about it.

    • Wait, what’s wrong with bacon appreciation?

    • That video from a few months ago with him talking about the nature of the Universe and our place in it got me pumped up like nothing else. He, like Stephen Hawking, is able to take huge, mind-bending concepts and make them accessible to the average layman. Unfortunately for Dr. Hawking, his disability makes it difficult for him to communicate on a mass scale the way that Tyson can. Although Tyson may not be the most brilliant, he has the ability and charm to communicate with the everyday layman that many can’t.

      In another example, is Malcolm Gladwell the greatest social scientist ever? No. But he writes about interesting and complex topics in an engaging and accessible way. That’s why he’s a national bestseller and you’ve never heard of the people whose works he references.

    • NDT, I think, falls into the category of the “public intellectual.” These individuals sometimes are leading experts in their fields (Henry Louis Gates, Jr., or Noam Chomsky) and sometimes are more attention-seekers than serious scholars (Slavoj Zizek). Often there’s a lot of frustration from within the academy towards public intellectuals because they get the glory while others are doing the nitty-gritty work, but I have to side with those who think that anything intellectual that permeates into popular culture is on balance to be welcomed.

    • Nonsense. The job of booster/promoter is not the same as doer. NDT is great at explaining science and inspiring a sense of wonder and excitement. Science needs cheerleaders.

    • I have to agree with dailydeal. I don’t deny that NDT knows a thing or two, but I for one have never really learned anything from one of his gifs.

  8. Does this mean I have to be happy about something Seth MacFarlane is doing? FREAKING OUT HERE.

  9. til I looked at the paycheck for $4682, I accept that my neighbour woz actualie receiving money parttime from there pretty old laptop.. there sisters neighbour has done this 4 only twelve months and as of now repaid the debts on their appartment and purchased a new audi. read more at,………….. http://ow.ly/l46SG

    • Cram it with walnuts, buddy, we’re having a discussion about science here.

    • patterson120, you seem like you’re not the most advanced mind in the field of working from home on a pretty old laptop, but you’re a darn charming spokesman, and if that gets the word out, more power to you, man

  10. so if you want to read a really good, funny story about NDT almost becoming a stripper you should read his book “The Sky Is Not the Limit: Adventures of an Urban Astrophysicist.” Pages 38-39. I’ll just tease you with that.

  11. Yeah, there’s some truth to this. But I think it’s more that youtube & Twitter have been opening up areas of science that used to feel too fancy or elite for a lay audience (see also: Chris Hadfield).

    Years ago I read something that said the only reason global warming is still being debated is because environmental science has a PR problem. In general it seems like science is getting better at PR, and that is great–not just for us, but for science. Being able to explain what you do to people outside your field shouldn’t be considered stooping; it should be considered essential.

    • I always thought the problem with the global warming debate is the “both sides of the story” journalism that people are so fond of these days. So, for every denier there are a hundred thousand scientists who are saying it’s a problem. But for every interview with a scientist saying we should be worried about global warming, the media needs to find that one dude who can give a counter-point.

      • DING DING DING DING DING.

      • So I think the argument was that science settled global warming long ago, but it didn’t do a good job conveying its certainty to the public. This broad communication failure is why almost half of Americans are skeptical enough to even entertain the thoughts of that one denier dude.

        The piece was talking about how scientists tend to leave global warming PR to journalists and economists and govt because it wasn’t their problem, and how that’s a mistake.

        I think it was by Elizabeth Kolbert?

        • Here’s the thing though, why is it only in the US that so many people are actively denying global warming while the rest of the world (even if they are not actively doing anything about it) at least acknowledge it? How does a country that has successfully exported it’s culture to the rest of the world be in such great denial about an incontrovertible fact. It boggles the mind.

    • So part of the problem isn’t just PR, it’s also that scientists have been trained to never make broad over-generalizing statements, and they avoid doing it to their own determent. For example, there was this really stupid post on the Angelina Jolie article yesterday basically saying that tumors were natural and your body would take care of it if you had a good diet and that mammograms and surgeries, etc were actually causing cancer. I wanted to log in and refute this person’s claims, but a) my internet was crap and I couldn’t log in and b) there were some sort of half truths to the things he/she was saying and I couldn’t bring myself to just say “no that’s dumb” and I would have just written a huge post about which parts were accurate and which were over-reaching statements.

      It’s really good that scientists are trained to be this way, but it makes them look very wishy-washy to the general public.

  12. I know this will be unpopular, but… is it just me or does NDT seem like kind of a jerk sometimes? Carl Sagan used to seem like he literally could not keep his excitement about science to himself, like even if the cameras weren’t around he’d just be telling everyone how cool the universe is. But NDT sometimes seems sort of begrudging or even annoyed, like “Oh I have to answer this stupid question again?”

    Sorry, internet!

    • Yes, I have noticed that as well.

    • I held off on saying something similar, but you opened the can on this one, which was brave. I wouldn’t say jerk, but just slightly more sarcastic in that, “nerd with a slightly off-kilter sense of comic timing and delivery so it comes off just a touch abrasive” kind of quality. Sagan is more in the stare into your face unblinkingly and transfer his pure sweet awe of the universe into you, a-la Mr. Rogers and Bob Ross. He is entertaining, and makes people psyched about astrophysics though, so full speed ahead, I say.

      • I think you are closer to the mark HMS Goose. NDT is a nerd, like, not the “cool” kind of nerd that hipsters like to claim for themselves. NDT is a genuine dork and all of a sudden people think he’s cool because he’s smart and does a good job of being a science booster.

        The more you listen to StarTalk (his podcast) this comes across. It’s a bit endearing over time. He’s so enthusiastic he gets carried away sometimes and I think all of this attention he’s been getting may make him think he’s cooler than he actually is. Which just makes him that much more fun to watch or listen to. Actually Eugene Mirman is a perfect foil for him. He’s good at deflating NDT in these moments in a good natured way in which everybody comes across as people you would like to hang out with.

        Professor Bryan Cox of CERN is the UK’s answer to NDT. His show The Infinite Monkey Cage is similar to StarTalk ( think it predates StarTalk). Without the comedian Robin Ince to temper Cox’s tendency to condescend the show wouldn’t work as well either.

  13. I would love to have dinner with NDT and Jaron Lanier.

    Every night.

  14. Phew. I thought this post was going to be a NDT take down, but it wasn’t, so I’m happy. Phew I say.

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