Carl Sagan used to be America’s best-known science popularizer.
Now, I am wondering if it’s not Neil Degrasse Tyson?
Along with Bill Nye — perhaps best known for his childrens’ Science Guy program — Tyson has become a very visible face for science, through numerous guest appearances on popular cable programs, an appointment during the Bush administration, and as host for the excellent Nova spin-off series: Nova Science Now.
Unlike its parent, Nova Science Now does not focus down on a singular topic during each episode. Instead, each hour of Nova Science Now is broken up into several different topics, many of them entertaining or otherwise geared towards humor and/or everyday experience.
Due to my weekly time crunch, I am often unable to read many of the good science publications, like Scientific American, with the regularity I’d prefer. Which is a drag for me because this is how I like to germinate the seeds of SF story ideas. However, Nova Science Now nicely fills that gap. Moreover, because the topical spectrum of the series is aimed at a common audience, you don’t have to be a PhD. to take what you’re seeing on Nova Science Now and weave it into a story.
I’m not sure how much say Tyson has in the kinds of stories covered, or if he’s actively working to guide production. As host, he’s a pretty engaging guy and isn’t afraid to play around; with props, with himself, with other people. It’s a little bit like Good Eats and Alton Brown, only instead of cooking food, Tyson is cooking science. And making it a lot of fun in the process.
He’s also spotlighting a lot of other scientists, engineers, and fascinating people around the country and around the world. In an era where one wonders if America can get dumbed down any further, it’s heartening to see so many bright, talented, disciplined people working on all kinds of projects, from the new NASA Ares system, to robotics, computer intelligence, medicine, you name it. These are the people working on it. Humbling and inspiring, all at once.
Nova Science Now is a PBS production — yay PBS! — so I believe it’s available even if you don’t have cable. Check your paper or the internet for listings. A great show, with a good host.
EDIT: Neil appears to have lost a good bit of weight since last season. Good for you, Neil! Never capitulate to the spare tire!!