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Neil deGrasse Tyson: ‘Many Americans Are Born Into Ignorance’

Astrophysicist and science advocate Neil deGrasse Tyson recently, and at great length, discussed the importance of scientific literacy on Moyers & Company with host Bill Moyers.

Moyers began the three-part interview by reminding public broadcast television viewers of a recent Gallup poll in which 46 percent of Americans espoused the belief that “God created human beings pretty much in their present form at one time within the last 10,000 years.” Moreover, a Pew Research poll showed that two-thirds of evangelical Protestants, “the bedrock of the Republican Party, reject altogether the idea that humans have evolved.”

Belief in the theory of evolution rose among Democrats to 67 percent.

Tyson attempted to explain this partisan divide in scientific literacy by discussing the role of the democratic process in science education. Because what’s taught in classrooms is handled at the state level, many Americans are “born into” ignorance, he said.

He says this is a “self-correcting” phenomenon, because “nobody wants to die. We all care about health. Republicans, especially, don’t want to die poor. So educated Republicans know the value of innovations in science and technology for the thriving of an economy and business industry.”

So, he believes, eventually even they won’t want to see something “that is not science in a science classroom,” because that “undermines the entire enterprise that was responsible for creating the wealth that we have come to take for granted in this country.”

There is only so long, he says, that Republicans will allow the United States to “fad[e] economically.”

“[S]ome Republican is going to wake up and say, ‘Look guys, we got to split these two, we have to, otherwise we’ll doom ourselves to poverty.”

It’s “just a matter,” he says, “of electing into office people who know…how money gets generated.”

He went on to discuss the many ways in which American students lag behind their counterparts in the rest of the world in scientific literacy, blaming the “culture of testing” for teaching students how to take tests instead of imparting basic knowledge of scientific principles.


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