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Location: UFOUpDatesList.Com > 2011 > Apr > Apr 8

"Embrace Skepticism; Don't Buy Into UFO Hype"

From: Giuliano Marinkovic <giuliano.marinkovic.nul>
Date: Fri, 8 Apr 2011 01:05:36 +0200
Archived: Fri, 08 Apr 2011 11:43:45 -0400
Subject: "Embrace Skepticism; Don't Buy Into UFO Hype"

Source: Penn State College.Com


April 07, 2011

Neil Tyson At Penn State: Embrace Skepticism; Don't Buy Into UFO
by Adam Smeltz

Neil deGrasse Tyson speaks with reporters Wednesday. Image by
Curtis Chan provided via Penn State Live,
http://live.psu.edu.Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson didn't
come to Penn State to talk about astrophysics.

The university already has top-flight experts in that field,
faculty members who can shed light on and talk about cosmic
discovery any time, he said.

And so, Tyson - an Ivy League-educated author, researcher and
television personality - delved instead into what he called his
"brain droppings" Wednesday night at Eisenhower Auditorium.

He spoke for nearly two hours on "Brain Droppings of an
Astrophysicist", a part-science, part-comedy presentation that
emphasized the value of skepticism, critical thinking and
scientific grounding from day-to-day life to society at large.

Early on, Tyson brought a rhetorical knife to cut down popular
mythology over purported alien visits and unidentified flying

Imagine, he said, if you see "lights in the sky and don't what
they are."

"If you don't know what it is, you don't know know what it is.
You don't make stuff up" just to support theories that lack
evidence, Tyson said. "... The human brain is one of the most
deceptive data-taking (devices) there is."

After all, it's designed primarily to keep us alive, not to run
scientific analyses, he said.

One by one, he flayed subjects that have gained traction in
popular culture: astrology, Swami levitation, aliens on Mars,
the "supermoon" and conspiracy theories suggesting government
cover-ups of alien activity.

Tyson, who has served on federal commissions studying the
aerospace industry and space exploration, said he knows how the
government works.

"The government is really bad at keeping secrets", he said,
laughing off cover-up theories about alien activity. " ... The
government is not that organized. Look at how much we know about
President Clinton's genitalia... Think about it."

As his comedic high notes began to wind down, Tyson waxed more
philosophical. Humans aren't simply in the universe; the
universe is also "in us", he said.

"That fact alone - that fact alone - makes me feel large without
the baggage of ego", he said.

Human ego, Tyson said, shows through in those who believe that
we must be the only life form in the universe. He said stars in
the observable universe number one sextillion - a figure
involving no fewer than 37 digits.

An estimated 1,800 people attended and gave Tyson a standing
ovation at the free event, part of the Penn State Distinguished
Speaker Series and the Waynick Memorial Lecture Series. A native
of New York City, Tyson grew up in the city and went on to earn
degrees at Harvard and Columbia universities. His research has
centered in part on the formation of stars, on dwarf gallaxies
and on the Milky Way. Tyson also has served on the NASA Advisory

He may be best known for his nine books - including "The Sky Is
Not the Limit: Adventures of an Urban Astrophysicist" - and for
his work hosting "NOVA" and "NOVA scienceNOW" on PBS. Tyson is
the director of the Hayden Planetarium in New York City, as

In an opening riff Wednesday night, he said he "knew (State
College) was remote", but didn't realize exactly how remote
until he saw a front-page Collegian headline about cockroaches
having been found at University Park.

"I'm thinking: 'Why is this news?'" Tyson told the audience. "It
may be that this 300-million-year-old species finally found this

Earlier, in a pre-talk visit with local reporters Wednesday,
Tyson said he wanted his talk to illustrate the importance of
skepticism, including skepticism of those who are not skeptical
themselves. He lamented the relative lack of an information
filter in the Information Age, which he said makes it easy to
jump "into a sandbox with others who think exactly like you do."

"There's no way to provide assurance to know what you're looking
at has validity - unless you're equipped" with a healthy dose of
critical-thinking skills, Tyson said.

At the same time, he said, the Information Age provides people
with remarkable tools to investigate the gigantic, overarching
questions that people have pondered for centuries: What else is
out there? What's the meaning of it all?

Asked what he believes to be "the meaning of it all", Tyson was

The people who've found the greatest meaning in life, he said,
are those who've "created the meaning themselves."

And in his own life, he said, he finds meaning in spreading
knowledge and insight to others.

"One of my great goals has always been to lessen the suffering
of others", and that includes intellectual suffering, Tyson
said. "... I find my meaning by creating it around me."

Adam Smeltz

Adam is a senior editor and news reporter for StateCollege.com.
Follow him on Twitter at


or get news updates via Facebook at


Adam can be reached directly at



(814) 238-6201 Ext. 150

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