This clip was highlighted, without comment, at Sean Carroll’s Preposterous Universe website. I’ll post it, too, but add a comment:
It shows Tyson losing it in a science discussion with Brian Greene, Richard Dawkins, Lawrence Krauss, Tracy Day, Ira Flatow, and Bill Nye. The discussion was at an Arizona State University panel on “The Storytelling of Science” (you can see the full discussion here), where Tyson reacted rather violently when Krauss suggested that manned space exploration is driven mainly by the spirit of adventure rather than a search for scientific answers. I happen to agree with that, since the answers are about just as easily obtained with unmanned ventures.
In fact, I think that when John F. Kennedy first announced, in an address to Congress in 1961, that the country would try to send people to the Moon by the end of the decade (a prediction that proved correct), he explicitly referred to adventure—and also alluded to a race with the Russians. Speaking at Rice University in 1962, Kennedy famously said this: “We choose to to to the Moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard.” Shades of Edmund Hillary! But he’s right, for that speech kindled the American spirit, making it seem as if every American were participating in a marvelous adventure.
Tyson, promising to keep silent while Krauss speaks, can’t contain himself, and blurts out a stentorian stream of incoherence, asserting that manned space exploration was never driven by either exploration, science, or curiosity. Rather, Tyson claims, it was driven by the search for immortality (?) and for wealth. I don’t get that at all. When the Large Hadron Collider is mentioned, Tyson leaps from his chair and has to be restrained by Bill Nye.
This doesn’t seem to be a joke to me, or a James-Brown-like moment of fictional restraint. Rather, Tyson is simply ticked off. I have to say that, while applauding Tyson’s contributions to science education, I don’t share my readers’ enthusiasm for him. I dislike his weasel-words approach to admitting his nonbelief, and underneath his veneer of cordiality there seems to be a stream of anger. And of course there was the incident of Tyson withdrawing David Albert’s invitation to an American Museum of Natural History debate on the origins of the universe.
Give me Carl Sagan any day.