Sexual Misconduct Allegations against Neil deGrasse Tyson Reveal the Complexity of Academic Inequality


Accusations that the astrophysicist harassed women remind us that racial and gender bias continue to harm science and scientists

Sexual Misconduct Allegations against Neil deGrasse Tyson Reveal the Complexity of Academic Inequality

In 2014, a woman named Tchiya Amet accused Neil deGrasse Tyson of raping her while they were both graduate students in astronomy at UT Austin, ultimately leading to her dropping out of the program. In the aftermath, I encouraged journalists at mainstream outlets to pursue it. But they told me that they ran into problems convincing their editors to allow them to publish what details they could find—for example, confirming that Amet was indeed enrolled in the program. The story was picked up by a blog on the religious commentary site Patheos in October of last year, and I reached out to journalists again, with a similar response.

I have, since I first learned about them, felt that Tchiya Amet’s allegations merited a response, and I waited, for years, for one. Another post from Patheos last week featured an interview with Amet along with stories of alleged sexual harassment from two other women, an astronomy professor and a Cosmos production assistant. (Buzzfeed also had a subsequent article citing a fourth woman with similar claims).

Tyson was finally prompted to respond this week with a Facebook note (which I assume, based on his celebrity and the nature of these accusations, was vetted by both a lawyer and a publicist). He admitted to engaging in behavior that he felt had been unintentionally misinterpreted—except the rape, claiming all sexual contact between him and Amet was consensual.

But he also said, “A few years later…I learned that she had dropped out of the program” and I saw what I believed to be a lie immediately. When I discussed it with my daily Black scientist chat group, they agreed. Would he really have us believe that in the 1980s, in a field where there are almost no Black people, he hadn’t noticed right away that the only other Black graduate student had dropped out of the program? It wasn’t credible.

The truth is that Black academics (Blackademics) usually know what’s up with Black people in departments across campus, even when they hate each other. It’s also the case that Blackademics are often loath to air our dislike of each other in front of white people. We know that the bar for being seen as “good” is higher for us than others, and we tend to be forgiving of people who may not be our favorites.

My first memorable lesson about Blackademic solidarity was from Tyson himself. At the 2003 National Society of Black Physicists (NSBP) meeting, he explained during a keynote why it was important to have meetings for Black physicists. During a previous NSBP, he and a group of Black men exchanged nerdy chit chat about physics until slowly the conversation turned to being pulled over for driving while Black. One by one, he said, they went around and recounted a story of being afraid for their lives during an unnecessary police stop. At no other conference, Tyson told us, could Black physicists find community where conversation could range so freely across all of their intellectual and social experiences.

I recently recalled this important lesson about identity and community during a conversation with fellow Black women academics that began as a discussion about history of science and technology (the subject of the conference we were attending) but eventually turned to another unfortunately common experience: each of us had been sexually harassed and/or assaulted by a fellow Black male academic. Each of us felt like it was necessary to protect the men involved and/or didn’t think that we would be believed if we told the truth.

Last week’s renewal of the conversation about Tyson’s alleged sexual misconduct against women academics got me thinking about another memory of him. I had met Tyson the day before his speech at that 2003 conference. I was a star struck 20-year-old college senior who had never stayed in a five star hotel before and attempting to make conversation, so the best I came up with was, “Wow this conference is so fancy! Who is paying for all of this?” Neil responded, “Didn’t you read the conference program? Where’s your conference program?” Before I knew it, there was The Neil deGrasse Tyson going through my backpack, taking various items out and making me laugh as he told jokes about the contents.

The following year, I was a graduate student in astronomy and feeling a bit lost in a small, very white town on a campus where not only was I the only Black graduate student in my department, but I was one of only about 10 across the entire university. I e-mailed Tyson looking for advice. While I have very little recollection of what happened on the subsequent phone call, I do remember I felt so encouraged that Neil deGrasse Tyson had taken time out of his day to call me, and I remember distinctly that he said what I most needed to hear: that I could do it. Tyson was, yet again, an encouraging role model.

But all of the men who have harassed or assaulted me have said similarly encouraging things, so the fact that I have had multiple positive interactions with Tyson over the years doesn’t make it harder to believe that he is guilty of serious misconduct. I’m extremely conscious of the fact that the United States has a tendency to punish Black people more severely than white people accused of the same crime, and I expect that Tyson won’t be defended the way other scientists accused of harassment, such as Geoff Marcy, Christian Ott, and Lawrence Krauss, were.

Over the years, hating on Tyson has become a public pastime that inspired such irrational levels of passion that it seemed evidently racist. As the news of these latest accusations came out, people came out of the woodwork to tell me how not surprising it was. “He said something sexist once,” and, “He always gave me the creeps.” None of these comments were made to me about white astronomers who in the last three years have been publicly accused of chronic sexual misconduct.

But my own experience—backed by data—teaches me that Black patriarchy is real and the harm specifically to Black women is significant. In this case, the harm is multidimensional: I believe Amet is the victim, and to a lesser extent, so are all of the Black people who found inspiration in Tyson’s visible presence as the world’s most well-known Black scientist. So too were Native Americans when Tyson referred to a “Native American” handshake in his response to one of the more recent accusations, as if Native Americans all come from a single culture that can be used as a shield against sexual harassment allegations.

In his Facebook note, Tyson notes that “long after dropping out of astrophysics graduate school, [Amet] was posting videos of colored tuning forks endowed with vibrational therapeutic energy that she channels from the orbiting planets. As a scientist, I found this odd”—as if her spirituality somehow impeaches her believability. It’s ironic that he makes this case while also arguing another sexual harassment accusation comes down to a misunderstood attempt to share “spirit energy.”

While some will be celebrating the inevitable damage these accusations do to Tyson’s public image, I cannot. I will instead worry about what will happen to the Google search results for “Black scientist.” I will instead be reminded that the United States is a place where there are a multitude of visible white men science superstars, but only one Black person could get his foot through that door. I will wonder how different things might go in a society where taking responsibility was encouraged by a foundational investment in restorative justice.

I will also feel angry at Neil. It’s true that some details of these allegations have yet to be corroborated, and both Fox News and National Geographic have launched investigations. But in my view, I believe the claims are credible, which means he directly harmed multiple women, most egregiously by allegedly raping a member of his own already marginalized community. Tchiya Amet is a Black woman who will never join me on the list of African-American Women with PhDs in Physics. She deserved better. Our whole community did.

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Neil DeGrasse Tyson Defends Elon Musk, Saying He’s “The Best Thing We’ve Had Since Thomas Edison”


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Are you on team Elon?

 

 

Neil deGrasse Tyson defended Tesla CEO Elon Musk in an interview with TMZ, calling him “the best thing we’ve had since Thomas Edison.”

Tyson defended Musk’s conduct in an interview last week with Joe Rogan in which Musk was filmed smoking marijuana. (Recreational use of marijuana is legal in California, where the interview was filmed.)

“Can they leave him alone? Let the man get high if he wants to get high,” Tyson said.

Before his interview with Rogan, Musk told The New York Times in August that marijuana hurts one’s ability to work.

“Weed is not helpful for productivity. There’s a reason for the word ‘stoned.’ You just sit there like a stone on weed,” Musk said.

Tyson also addressed the process by which Musk explored the possibility of converting Tesla into a private company, saying Musk had to be accountable to the public since Tesla is traded on public markets.

“He’s got to obey the SEC, clearly. But if he doesn’t want to obey the SEC, then he’s got to have a private company, then he can do what he wants,” Tyson said.

Musk attracted controversy in August over his statements about wanting to take Tesla private, which raised questions about the certainty of funding Musk referenced in a tweet and where exactly that funding would come from.

Fox Business and The New York Times reported that the SEC had sent subpoenas to Tesla concerning Tesla’s plans to explore going private and Musk’s statements about the process. Musk ultimately said Tesla will remain a public company.

Tyson later said he’s a fan of Musk, suggesting that he’s among the most innovative people working today.

“Count me as team Elon,” Tyson said. “He’s the only game in town. He’s the best thing we’ve had since Thomas Edison.”

Neil DeGrasse Tyson Gives 3 Reasons Why Humans Are Still So Ignorant About The Universe


How did we even get here?

We have nanobots that swim inside our bodies and monitor our vital organs. We have autonomous robots that work alongside human doctors to perform complex surgeries. There are rovers driving across the surface of Mars and, as you read this, thee humans are orbiting high above you, living in the cold vacuum of space.

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In many ways, it seems like we’re living in the future. But if you ask Neil deGrasse Tyson, it seems like we’re little more than infants trying to clutch sunbeams in our fists.

At the 2018 World Government Summit in Dubai, Tyson gave a presentation to an enraptured audience. The topic? How humans will – most definitely not – colonize Mars (Tyson, if you aren’t aware, is an eternal skeptic).

It seems fitting then that, following his rather depressing speech, he took the time to discuss how humans are, in many ways, entirely ignorant.

Here are three things that, according to Tyson, show just how far we have to go:

Dark matter

A portion of our Universe is missing. A rather significant portion, in fact.

Scientists estimate that less than 5 percent of our Universe is made up of ordinary matter (protons, neutrons, electrons, and all the things that make our bodies, our planet, and everything we’ve ever seen or touched).

The rest of the matter in our Universe? Well, we have no idea what it is.

“Dark matter is the longest standing unsolved problem in modern astrophysics,” Tyson said.

He continued with a slightly exasperated sigh, “It has been with us for eighty years, and it’s high time we had a solution.”

Yet, we aren’t exactly close.

The problem stems from the fact that dark matter doesn’t interact with electromagnetic radiation (aka light). We can only observe it because of its gravitational influence – say, by a galaxy spinning slower or faster than it should.

However, there are a number of ongoing experiments that seek to detect dark matter, such as SNOLAB and ADMX, so answers may be on the horizon.

Dark energy

Dark energy is, perhaps, one of the most interesting scientific discoveries ever made. This is because it may hold the keys to the ultimate fate of our Universe.

Tyson explains it as “a pressure in the vacuum of space forcing the acceleration of the [expansion of] the Universe.”

Does that sound confusing? That’s probably because it is.

If you weren’t aware, all of space is expanding – the space between the galaxies, the space between the Earth and the Sun, the space between your eyes and your computer screen.

Of course, this expansion is minimal. It’s so minimal that we don’t even notice it when we look at our local Solar System. But on a cosmic scale, its impact is profound.

Because space is so vast, billions of light-years of space are expanding, causing many galaxies to fly away from us at unimaginable speeds.

And if this flight continues, eventually the cosmos will be nothing more than a cold unendingly dark void. If it reverses, the Universe will collapse in on itself in a Big Crunch.

Unfortunately, we have absolutely no idea which will happen, as we have no clue what dark energy is.

Abiogenesis

We know a lot about how life evolved on Earth. About 3.5 billion years ago, the earliest forms of life emerged. These single-celled creatures dominated our planet for billions and billions of years.

A little over 600 million years ago, the first multicellular organisms took up residence. The Cambrian explosion followed soon after and *boom* the fossil record was born.

Just 500 million years ago, plants started taking to land. Animals soon followed, and here we are today.

However, Tyson is quick to point out that we don’t understand the most vital component of evolution – the beginning.

“We still don’t know how we go from organic molecules to self-replicating life,” Tyson said, and he noted how unfortunate this is because “that is basically the origin of life as we know it.”

The process is called abiogenesis. In non-scientific jargon, it deals with how life arises from nonliving matter. Although we have a number of hypotheses related to this process, we don’t have a comprehensive understanding or any evidence to support one.

There we have it. The biggest mysteries of the cosmos just happen to be some of the most important and fundamental. So, when will we finally figure out these scientific conundrums and move out of our infancy? Tyson refuses to make a prediction.

If there’s one thing he knows, it’s how very little humans actually know: “I’m not very good at predicting the future, and I’ve looked at other people’s predictions and seen how bad those are even among those that say ‘I am good.’ So I can tell you what I want to happen, but that’s different than what I think will happen.”

Neil deGrasse Tyson Has a Critically Important Message for Americans


In Brief

Neil deGrasse Tyson posted a four-minute clip on Facebook that he claimed contains what might be the most important words he has ever spoken. In the video, he warns that science denial could cause our democracy to collapse.

Tyson highlights issues that have somehow become highly controversial despite overwhelming scientific evidence that should stamp out any such dispute: human-caused climate change, evolution, and vaccinations, for example.

He then points out that some of the people who both understand science the least and deny it the most now hold the most power in our society, and he calls this catastrophically dangerous situation out: “That is a recipe for the complete dismantling of our informed democracy.”

Scientific Literacy on the Brink

Could climate change transform Earth into Venus? [Infographic]

The scientific method is more important than ever in this era of “alternative facts.” Tyson explains the elements of the scientific method — hypothesis, experimentation, and how they work even more effectively when rivals employ them — in the space of about 30 seconds. Applied properly, these tools lead to emergent truths, and they do it more effectively than anything else. “The scientific method does it better than anything else we have ever done as human beings,” explained Tyson.

Emergent scientific truths don’t care about your opinions; they are true regardless of your beliefs about them. “And the sooner you understand that, the faster we can get on with the political conversations about how to solve the problems that face us,” said Tyson in the video.

That is why scientific literacy is more important than ever in this age of lightning-speed innovation. Each moment of science denial only delays the potential solution. The end result is the same problems, worsened by neglect and ignorance. Tyson wants citizen-voters to understand how science works so we can make more informed decisions. As Tyson asserts, we are the only ones who can: “It’s in our hands.”

Neil deGrasse Tyson on Science Denial, Political Biases, and Personal Beliefs


It’s no secret that Neil deGrasse Tyson has strong feelings when it comes to the intersection of science and belief. Science, he says, is objective. It’s not something that you believe or do not believe; it’s something that you accept or don’t accept. It remains true regardless of your personal beliefs.

At the opening day of the World Government Summit, which took place this weekend in Dubai, Tyson spoke with Futurism about the current state of our world, why some nations refuse to accept science, and the dire consequences we’ll face if those nations continue to reject the truths science reveals.

When asked about how governments around the world are doing in terms of science, whether they are doing right by their citizens and supporting a sound science education, Tyson said the state of affairs is, sadly, “highly unequal.” He continued by noting that, globally, how much investment there is in science and technology varies according to how much available funds a nation has.

“I think it may be considered a luxury to fund scientific research if it’s not completely obvious how that research will help you,” he told Futurism. Though, as he went on to point out, it’s exactly that kind of inquiry — knowledge for the sake of knowledge — that makes scientific advancement possible. Oftentimes, advances come because of random happenstance.

He’s right: from lasers to electricity to X-rays, scientific developments aren’t always the result of someone knowing exactly what it is they are doing. That often comes far, far later. To that end, Tyson noted that it is important for nations to invest heavily in science whenever and wherever they can, as it always pays in the longrun.

“You cannot care about an economy and not simultaneously take investments in STEM fields very seriously.”

“Innovations in science and technology, we’ve known forever, are the engines of tomorrow’s economy,” Tyson said. “You cannot care about an economy and not simultaneously take investments in STEM fields very seriously.”

The conversation then turned to the situation in the U.S., where the current (and often controversial) sociopolitical climate is having a demonstrable influence on the ability of scientists to make progress in their research.

“One of the problems — I know the United Stated the best — is that most of our government, most of our elective government, stands for reelection every two years,” Tyson said. “So, if there are people coming in that don’t know science or appreciate it or understand it, then we are susceptible to having them cancel a project that might need a ten-year horizon or a twenty-year horizon to bear fruit.”

This, he noted, is obviously a less than ideal situation. To that end, he suggested that, perhaps, nations should have a dedicated budget set aside for research and development — a dedicated budget that is not subject to the whims of each new politician.

When discussing how nations can overcome the hurdle that exists where personal or cultural beliefs meet science — as happens when talking about gene editing, evolution, and a host of other topics — Tyson took a strong stance.

“It’s only a hurdle if your belief system is in denial of objective reality,” he said. “If you have a belief system that wants to say that something that an emergent scientific truth has established is somehow not true, then you should just give up at that point….if you cannot simultaneously allow both to co-exist, and one has to fight the other, you will have problems.”

Fortunately, there are alternatives to giving up. What has happened in the past is belief systems have adapted.

It is easy to see this throughout our history books. Religion used to say Earth was the center of the universe. Religion used to say that evolution was a myth. Some religious individuals may still cling to these beliefs, but many do not. The solution, it seems, is to simply wait for people to accept the objective reality that is presented to them — to let it speak for itself.

True, at times, it seems like deeply ingrained belief systems that contradict or deny scientific fact are unmovable pillars of life in the United States; stumbling blocks to progress that we simply have to put up with. Still, significant progress is being made around the world by countries willing to make a change. Though some may scream “communism,” India and Scotland are experimenting with a basic income. Sweden has taken powerful steps toward becoming carbon neutral, despite the fact that some think climate change is “fake news.” And advances are being made in embryonic stem cells, though they remain controversial.

As Tyson so eloquently explained, humanity is fully capable of shifting its paradigm. The evidence exists throughout history, and in modern times, we just need to remind ourselves that our beliefs can be molded to facts — not just the other way around. Sometimes, it just requires waiting.

“I see some successes and some reverses on successes. I think there are enough countries that recognize that science matters that are up-and-coming that they might be the shining example for other countries that are still trying to debate it — and that’s always a good sign.”

When asked if he was hopeful about the future and government’s ability (or willingness) to change its tune, Tyson laughed. “I’m neutral,” he said, but quickly added, “I see some successes and some reverses on successes. I think there are enough countries that recognize that science matters that are up-and-coming that they might be the shining example for other countries that are still trying to debate it — and that’s always a good sign.”

The Real Science of the God Particle in Netflix’s ‘The Cloverfield Paradox’


Even if you’re not a particle physics buff, you may have noticed that the plot of Netflix’s surprise Superbowl Sunday release, The Cloverfield Paradox, relies heavily on a huge physics discovery that was in the news a few years ago: the Higgs Boson particle.

The Cloverfield Paradox

Also known as the “God particle” — which happened to be the working title of the new J.J. Abrams film — the Higgs Boson was first observed directly by scientists in 2012.

Gratuitous spoilers for The Cloverfield Paradox ahead.

In the midst of an energy crisis in the year 2028, scientists are struggling to use a massive space-based particle accelerator to help efficiently produce energy. When they finally get it to accelerate particles, they suddenly find themselves on the opposite side of the sun from the Earth. Chaos ensues: Worms explode out of a guy. Someone’s arm rematerializes on the other side of the ship with a mind of its own. Standard body horror nonsense.

Long story short, we’re led to believe that this botched experiment is what brought monsters to Earth in the first Cloverfield film — which, given the crazy science that goes on at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN), is not totally absurd.

Cloverfield Paradox Monster
In ‘The Cloverfield Paradox,’ we’re led to believe that a particle accelerator experiment gone wrong in 2028 messed up the multiverse and caused a monster attack in 2008.

Any good science fiction story has some basis in reality, and it’s clear that The Cloverfield Paradox drew heavily on conspiracy theories that sprung up around CERN and its efforts to find direct evidence of the Higgs-Boson particle using a 27-kilometer circumference accelerator, the Large Hadron Collider.

 The particle’s discovery was a big deal because it was the only one out of 17 particles predicted by the Standard Model of particle physics that had never been observed. The Higgs Boson is partly responsible for the forces between objects, giving them mass.

But it wasn’t the particle itself that conspiracy theorists and skeptics worried about. It’s the way physicists had to observe it.

Doing so involved building the LHC, an extraordinarily large real-life physics experiment that housed two side-by-side high-energy particle beams traveling in opposite directions at close to the speed of light. The hope was that accelerated protons or lead ions in the beam would collide, throwing off a bunch of extremely rare, short-lived particles, one of which might be the Higgs Boson. In 2012, scientists finally observed it, calling it the “God particle” because “Goddamn particle” — as in “so Goddamn hard to find” — was considered too rude to print.

Critics and skeptics argued that colliding particles at close to the speed of light increased the potential to accidentally create micro black holes and possibly even larger black holes, leading to wild speculation like that in Cloverfield Paradox.

cloverfield paradox
Ah yes, the elusive Hands Bosarm particle.

This has never happened in real life, of course, and there’s also strong evidence that it couldn’t happen. Check out this excerpt from an interaction between astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson and science skeptic Anthony Liversidge that Gizmodo reported on in 2011:

NDT: To catch everybody up on this, there’s a concern that if you make a pocket of energy that high, it might create a black hole that would then consume the Earth. So I don’t know what papers your fellow read, but there’s a simple calculation you can do. Earth is actually bombarded by high energy particles that we call cosmic rays, from the depths of space moving at a fraction of the speed of light, energies that far exceed those in the particle accelerator. So it seems to me that if making a pocket of high energy would put Earth at risk of black holes, then we and every other physical object in the universe would have become a black hole eons ago because these cosmic rays are scattered across the universe are hitting every object that’s out there. Whatever your friend’s concerns are were unfounded.

Liversidge may be on the fringe with his argument, but he isn’t alone. As Inverse previously reported, Vanderbilt University physicist Tom Weiler, Ph.D., has hypothesized that a particle created alongside the Higgs Boson, called the Higgs singlet, could travel through time through an as-yet-undiscovered fifth dimension. If Weiler’s hypothesis is correct, then it seems possible that interdimensional travel, as depicted in Cloverfield Paradox, could be possible, though his model really only accounts for the Higgs singlet particle’s ability to time travel.

'The Cloverfield Paradox' is forever the most important Cloverfield.
In ‘The Cloverfield Paradox,’ a particle accelerator plays a central role.

The reason the Cloverfield Paradox scientists were trying to fire up a particle accelerator in space is just as speculative. While particle accelerators take a massive amount of energy to accelerate their beams to near light speed, some physicists argue that under certain conditions, a particle accelerator could actually produce energy. Using superconductors, they argued, it would be possible for a particle accelerator to actually produce plutonium that could be used in nuclear reactors. So in a sense, the science of the movie is kind of based on maybe possibly real science.

That being said, this space horror film takes extreme liberties, even where it’s based on real science. Even on the extreme off-chance that any of the hypotheses outlined in this article turned out to be true, the tiny potential side effects of particle accelerators are nothing like what we see in The Cloverfield Paradox.

The 25 Most-Read Inverse Science Stories of 2017: Wild, Wonderful & Strange


This year will be remembered for its immense cultural and social upheavals, both good and unbelievably, Earth-shatteringly bad. But what appears to have remained consistent, at least judging by the science stories that Inverse fans read, interacted with, and shared, is a healthy curiosity about the the weird and wonderful, the science of our own bodies and minds, and scientific discoveries that push the limits of what we currently consider reality. That, and an obsession with whatever Neil deGrasse Tyson has to say about anything.

To celebrate a strange and sensational year in science, here are the 25 science stories that Inverse readers loved the most.

A Hamer individual from Ethiopia who took part in the study. Many alleles associated with light skin originated in Africa, not in Europe.

25. Genetics Researchers Just Disproved a Long-Held Racist Assumption

As racial tensions escalated this year in America and around the world, scientists found hard evidence that many of the assumptions people make about people with dark skin are completely, utterly unfounded. Many people still act as if people born with dark skin are less human, a behavior inherited from Middle-Age Europeans who believed the African people they encountered were not the same species as them. In October, scientists revealed they — and the people who continue to promote those beliefs — were completely wrong, showing that the human genes for dark and light skin all originated in Africa.

Read more about the racist theory debunked by science.

24. Drake Equation Revision Hugely Ups Odds of Intelligent Alien Life

The Drake Equation, written in 1961 for the first meeting of SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence), is a seven-variable equation that calculates the odds that there are any active civilizations beyond Earth. In 2016, scientists decided it was a bit outdated, and so they updated it to include new data on exoplanets collected in the 50+ years since the equation was written. The new probability that there isn’t any other intelligent life out there is 10 billion trillion — making it extremely likely that there is something else out there.

Read more about your chances of meeting aliens in this lifetime.

23. Science Explains the Marijuana Hangover

The marijuana hangover — replete with headache, fatigue, fogginess, and dehydration, — has long confused pot users, who are more likely to associate the symptoms with alcohol. Scientists chalk the tired feeling up to the restless sleep that ensues when you get too high, and the dehydration you feel is caused by weed shutting down saliva production, which is what also causes the dreaded “dry mouth” while smoking.

Read more about the psychological and physical downside of a pot brownie binge.

22. Humans Have Been Having the Same Nightmare for Thousands of Years

Over the centuries, humans have come up with countless, often absurd, explanations for the phenomenon known as sleep paralysis. When it strikes, sleepers find themselves suddenly awake but unable to move, pinned to their bed as if a heavy weight is sitting on their chest. Scientists think the phenomenon has its roots in our brains, which actively paralyze us during REM sleep so that we don’t act out our dreams. If we’re suddenly interrupted during that phase, our brains sometimes “wake up” before our bodies do, leading to the terrifying nightmare-like experience.

Read more about sleep paralysis, which led to the evolution of the “Night Hag”.

Fossils found in submerged tunnels in Mexico might be the oldest human artifacts found in the Americas.

21. A Stolen Human Skeleton Might Be America’s Oldest

An investigation of the spoils from a plundered underwater cave in Tulum, Mexico, turned up an unlikely guest: the most ancient human skeleton ever found in the Americas. The Chan Hol II skeleton, which was first discovered in February 2012 and was actually stolen shortly after photos of it went public, was recovered by scientists who showed, using carbon dating, that it was 13,000 years old.

Read more about the very first Americans, who were actually in Mexico.

20. Diarrhea Is Evolution’s Immune System Drain-O

Poop will never not be funny for readers. It’ll also never not be interesting to scientists. This June, they discovered that diarrhea serves a critical purpose for animals, having evolved over millennia of evolution. As much as it sucks to get the runs while traveling or after eating an adventurous meal, having to rush to the can is much better than not getting diarrhea. The uncomfortable bowel movement, the scientists reported, is your body’s way of flushing out all of the potentially life-threatening toxins in your gut before they get into the rest of your body.

Read more about the biological reason diarrhea is good for you.

19. 20 Years After the Great Lego Spill, They’re Still Washing Ashore

In 1997, a container ship called the Tokio Express bound for New York was hit by a wave so huge that it knocked an enormous container full of 4.8 million pieces of Lego into the water. While at the time it didn’t seem like the miniature blocks would ever make it to their final destination, in July of this year residents of Cornwall, United Kingdom reported that the pieces are still washing up on the beach, suggesting there’s still a chance they may float to the other side of the Atlantic.

Read more about Lego pieces posing a hazard to barefoot British beach-goers.

18. Reddit Study on Ideal Penis Size Consistent With Dick Science

Despite all the changes that took place this year, our fascination with penis size did not waver. In July, the results of a small Reddit survey on penis size were presented in graph form, showing an upside-down U-shaped curve spanning lengths from four to ten inches. While this survey only incorporated self-reported data from 761 users, the results actually matched up well with what scientists already know about average peen size: like Reddit’s dicks, most dongs are about six and seven inches long and five to six inches around.

Read more about the average penis size and girth, on Reddit and elsewhere.

17. Neuroscience Reveals How the Brain Changes as it Watches Porn

We’re watching porn at record-breaking rates, and all that visual, er, stimulation has scientists wondering what it’s doing to us on an individual and a societal level. So far, we’ve learned that porn acts in many ways like a drug, causing our brains to release the pleasure-tr iggering neurotransmitter dopamine, and it may also activate the amygdala, the part of the brain linked to emotional behavior and motivation. Word’s still out on whether casual porn watching is problematic, but some scientists worry that very frequent porn viewing might be linked to certain psychological issues.

Read more about what all those late-night Pornhub visits do to your brain cells.

16. The Real Story Behind ‘Roanoke’ Is Creepier Than ‘AHS’

The sixth season of American Horror Story, centered on the historical real-life tragedy of the lost American colony at Roanoke, premiered in 2016, but it continued to intrigue Inverse readers well into 2017. Scientists have used lasers, magnometers, and radar to uncover rare objects that survived the 400 years since the colony was founded, but these still haven’t cleared up whether the colonists succumbed to disease, a violent uprising, or something even more sinister.

Read more about American Horror Story and the even more horrific Roanoke legend behind it.

15. China Transmits Data Into Space Using Quantum Entanglement

Around the world, scientists are making huge leaps in the field of quantum teleportation, which could revolutionize quantum computer security. China’s researchers are leading the pack, this year succeeding in transporting a quantum particle 870 miles into space — breaking the former distance record of 62 miles.

Read more about China’s supremacy in the quantum teleportation race.

14. Human Mini-Brains Growing Inside Rat Bodies Are Integrating

We’re living in the age of farmed organs, but scientists are still working out the kinks. These days, they’re growing human mini-organs inside animal bodies using stem cells that can be coerced into turning into livers, hearts, and brains. The brains are proving to be a bit problematic: in November, scientists reported that human brain cells grown inside rats are starting to transfer blood and nerve signals, giving the researchers pause: might these rat-brain hybrids become conscious?

Read more about whether hybrid rat-human brains will ever wake up.

13. Conspiracy Theorists Have a Basic Cognitive Issue, Say Scientists

Conspiracy theories abounded this year, which is perhaps not surprising, as previous studies have shown that increases in such beliefs tend to correlate with rising mistrust in authority structures. In October, scientists discovered what’s different about the way that people with these beliefs actually think: people who tend to believe in conspiracy theories, they explained, see patterns that don’t actually exist, and it’s this “illusory pattern perception” that causes them to believe in bizarre explanations for those imaginary patterns.

Read more about what’s different about the brains of conspiracy theorists.

12. Here’s Scientist Bill Richards’s Playlist for Tripping on Mushrooms

Psychedelic researchers have had a big year, using mind-altering drugs to treat psychological illness and thereby mitigating decades of stigma against them. Studies on the effects of the drugs, however, must be meticulously designed so that they will be considered legitimate, and so Bill Richards, Ph.D., a Johns Hopkins University researcher, used science to create a seven-hour playlist to maximize the experience of a psychedelic trip.

Read more about how to listen to music during a mushroom trip like a psychedelic scientist.

11. The Crazy Flat Earthers’ Theory That Trees Don’t Exist Isn’t Completely Crazy

The Flat Earth Movement drew criticism from Bill Nye, Neil deGrasse Tyson, and pretty much every other rational mind out there, but one of their bizarre theories actually kind of made sense. Kind of. Some Flat Earthers believe that what we call trees are actually just the tiny remnants of a world where trees were as wide as mountains and were so tall they scraped the sky. In the “no forests” theory, the present-day world represents the sad, small remains of what the Earth once was — which, as Inverse argued, is not altogether untrue.

Read more about the flat-Earther “no forest” theory and its somewhat compelling argument.

10. Indonesia Sea Monster Has Been Identified (It’s Not a Giant Squid)

In May, our appetite for the grotesque was satiated when news broke about a “sea monster” that had washed up on the shore of Indonesia’s Maluku Islands. This 50-foot-long blob of flesh was so badly decomposed that it was unidentifiable, and the giant bones that pierced through it only deepened its mystery. But about a week after it washed up, experts finally determined that it was the corpse of a type of baleen whale, misshapen because of the hot gases that bloated up inside it during decomposition.

Read more about the huge, dead sea animals mistaken for sea monsters.

9. Genetic Analysis Shows Early Humans Avoided Inbreeding, Incest

This year marked the penultimate season of Game of Thrones, which was as rife with incestuous themes as any other season. A study published in October echoed those themes, suggesting that our ancient human ancestors were a lot less genetically reckless than the inhabitants of Westeros. In the Science study, archaeologists showed evidence that humans buried together in Russia 34,000 years ago were no closer than second cousins, suggesting that even these humans knew not to bone their closest relations.

Read more about why incest is best left to the characters on Game of Thrones.

8. Scientists Discover Super-Massive Black Holes Just Outside Our Own Galaxy

We’re comfortable making movies about black holes because they’ve long seemed so far removed from real life, but a study published in January suggested that they’re a lot closer to us than we think. In an announcement from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, scientists reported that they’d found evidence of two super-massive black holes in two of the Milky Way’s neighboring galaxies, 39 million and 176 million light years away from us.

Read more about your friendly neighborhood super-massive black holes.

7. Long-Term Marijuana Use Changes Brain at the Cellular Level, say Scientists

Weed smokers have long noticed, anecdotally, that long-term marijuana use tends to change people’s behavior, but it wasn’t until October of this year that scientists started to notice the cellular changes underlying those behavioral shifts. Using rats that were administered daily doses of marijuana, researchers publishing in JNeurosci showed that the GABA neurons in the brain were unable to properly regulate the amount of dopamine swimming around, causing abnormally drawn-out good feelings of reward — which is the mechanism that’s thought to lead to addiction.

Read more about marijuana’s long-term effects on your brain.

6. Upper Body Strength Is Biggest Factor in Male Attractiveness

Scientists behind a controversial study, published in December, used the results of a questionably designed experiment to argue that women, by and large, find strong-looking men attractive because those men look like they can fight. The ability to fight, in turn, is said to be appealing because ancient women needed men to protect them, and some vestige of that preference remains today. The researchers’ explanation, however, didn’t take into account the fact that perhaps the women involved in the study were not necessarily hard-wired to find those men attractive and rather were subject to a number of other influences, including their own personal choice.

Read more about why male attractiveness isn’t all about being swole.

5. Neil deGrasse Tyson Slams Flat Earth Theory With a Single Picture

Astrophysicist and notorious know-it-all Neil deGrasse Tyson could not resist sharing his thoughts on the rising Flat Earth conspiracy theorist movement, tweeting a sick eclipse-related riddle in November that was guaranteed to stump even the staunchest “globalist” truther.

Read more about Neil deGrasse Tyson’s admittedly clever addition to the flat Earth debate.

4. What Never Leaving Your Hometown Does to Your Brain

Written in 2015, this scientific investigation on the psychological effect of staying in one’s hometown remains a perpetual Inverse Science favorite. It’s not surprising, considering that migration rates among American youth are at a historic low and that more and more people are choosing to put down roots in the states where they were born.

Read more about the psychological effect of never leaving home.

3. Nanoparticle Scientists Warn Tattooed Folks: Ink Doesn’t Stay Put

A report from nanoparticle scientists in September, published in Scientific Reports, cast doubt on the permanence of ink tattoos, revealing that tiny particles from certain kinds of inks actually swim away from the skin and wind up in the lymph nodes. In particular, they found elevated levels of titanium dioxide, a white compound that’s often added to other pigments, in the lymph nodes of the four cadavers they used in their small study. It’s not clear yet whether the escaped compounds pose any danger to people with tattoos, but it’s certainly something scientists must consider.

Read more about the troubling impermanence of seemingly “permament” tattoos.

2. Surgeons Remove Over 28 Pounds of Feces From a Constipated Man

It was hard for readers to resist the horrific photo of an enormous colon, clogged with nearly 29 pounds of feces, cradled like a small animal in the arms of a surgeon. It belonged to a 22-year-old Chinese man in Shanghai who, suffering from an ailment called Hirschsprung’s disease, was unable to expel the majority of waste in his body for his entire life. He’s fine now, thanks to a team of surgeons who removed 30 inches of his swollen colon during a 3-hour operation.

Read more about what happens to a body when it never gets to poop.

1. Scientists Have Found the ‘Holy Grail’ of Physics, Metallic Hydrogen

Kicking off the year, in January, was a monumental announcement by Harvard physicist Isaac Silvera, Ph.D., who claimed to have created metallic hydrogen — a theoretical state of matter that scientists never thought would be possible. Silvera reported in Science that he had forced elemental hydrogen into that state using immense amounts of pressure and extremely cold temperatures, noting that, if produced in large enough amounts, metallic hydrogen could be used as a form of fuel for deep space travel. Other scientists in the narrow field, however, did not mince words when the time came to publicly criticize Silvera’s work.

Neil deGrasse Tyson Says This Is His Most Important Message Ever.


Famed astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson released an emotional new video in which he passionately implores Americans to reconsider how they are increasingly relating to science.

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In the post accompanying the video on his Facebook Page, Tyson wrote that this video contains “what may be the most important words I have ever spoken”.

He explains that innovation through science is how America, a “backwoods country,” became “one the greatest nations the world has ever known”.

“Science is the fundamental part of the country that we are,” says Tyson

But something has been changing in the way some Americans view science and it’s greatly worrisome to Tyson. When it comes to making decisions about scientific topics, he sees that “people have lost the ability to judge what is true and what is not.”

Case in point – American politicians.

“When you have people who don’t know much about science, standing in denial of it and rising to power, that is a recipe for the complete dismantling of our informed democracy,” warns Tyson. [1:00]

This stark statement is followed by an archival clip of then-congressman Mike Pence saying that evolution should be taught as a theory not fact.

The video, directed by Sarah Klein and Tom Mason, proceeds to show news clips of science under attack, with people questioning vaccines, GMOs and climate change.

Today’s America is “not the country I remember growing up in,” laments Tyson.

He brings up the 60s, the 70s, and the civil rights movement to point out that he doesn’t remember any time in recent American history when people were denying what science was, implying that this is what’s happening today.

Tyson defends science as an “exercise in finding what is true”. The scientific method involves testing hypotheses and peer review. Out of such a process rises what he calls “emergent truth” which is “better than anything else we have ever come up with as human beings”.

Science is “not something to toy with,” according to Tyson. You can’t choose to believe an equation like E=mc^2. Of course, he may be overstating there. You could very well propose an alternate equation as such is the way of science.

He forcefully says that the “emergent truths” arrived at through science are “true whether or not you believe in it”. And what is important is for people to understand that and move on to political conversations on how to solve our real problems.

Tyson focuses on climate change as an issue that is demanding our agreement – people need to get on the same page that this is a serious problem and work to solve it. He alludes to “carbon credits” or tariffs as possible topics for a political conversation that should have been had years ago, but keeps getting delayed because too many are in “denial”.

He calls upon Americans as voters and citizens to become scientifically literate to be able to make intelligent decisions about the issues.

“Recognize what science is and allow it to be what it can and should be in the service of civilization,” says Tyson.

Watch the video discussion. URL:https://youtu.be/8MqTOEospfo

Source:http://bigthink.com

Whatever, We’re Probably Living In A Hologram Anyway, Says Neil deGrasse Tyson


Look around you. Your shoes, that tree, the Starbucks cold brew you’re clutching—it’s all very much right here in the real world. But what if the “real world” we live and move around in is just a computer simulation? Neil deGrasse Tyson, everyone’s favorite astrophysicist, thinks there’s a very high chance that everything we know is just a hologram. He’s just one of a growing number of people who believe it.

 

Philosopher Nick Bostrom proposed the simulation hypothesis in 2003, and the belief has only snowballed since then. Most notably, Elon Musk and astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson have jumped on the nothing-we-know-is-real bandwagon. Tyson hosted the 2016 Isaac Asimov Memorial Debate at the American Museum of Natural History, which addressed this question head-on: Is the universe a simulation? At the event, Tyson was joined by panelists Lisa Randall, a theoretical physicist at Harvard; Max Tegmark, a cosmologist at MIT; David Chalmers, a professor of philosophy at NYU; Zohreh Davoudi, a theoretical physicist at MIT; and James Gates, a theoretical physicist at the University of Maryland.

The opinions on the simulation hypothesis varied (Chalmers had a real mind-boggler: “We’re not going to get conclusive proof that we’re not in a simulation, because any proof would be simulated.”). Tyson himself said, “I think the likelihood may be very high. […] it is easy for me to imagine that everything in our lives is just a creation of some other entity for their entertainment.” But whether or not everyone is in agreement about the matter, the concept is legitimate enough for the top minds in theoretical physics to meet on and parse out.

It’s Time To Meet Your Simulator

 Okay, let’s play along. Say nothing is actually real and we’re all just a bunch of cosmic holograms living out our lives in someone’s elaborate computer simulation. Who is that someone? Martin Savage, a physicist at the University of Washington, has some thoughts. Savage, along with two colleagues, published a paper that explores this issue in November 2012. In a conversation with Talk Nerdy To Me, Savage explains that the simulators may be our own descendants from the far future. Whoa. In the same way archaeologists dig up bones and other artifacts to piece together our past, perhaps future generations will have the ability to recreate simulations of how their ancestors (us) once lived. Yes, maybe your great-great-great-great-great-grandkid is studying you right this second. Hi, kiddo!

2016 Isaac Asimov Memorial Debate: Is the Universe a Simulation?

Watch the video discussion. URL:

Source:curiosity.com

Neil deGrasse Tyson Seems Skeptical of Elon Musk’s Mars Plans


IN BRIEF

Famed astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson candidly shared his thoughts on SpaceX during a recent Reddit AMA. While he seems wary of Elon Musk’s plans to send people to Mars, he spoke very positively about SpaceX’s demonstration of a reusable rocket.

Renowned astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson is a little wary of Elon Musk’s ability to send humans to Mars, but he does like what he’s seeing from SpaceX overall.

Invaders From Earth!: How Elon Musk Plans to Conquer Mars

During a recent Reddit Ask Me Anything (AMA) session, Redditor patopc1999 asked, “Hi Neil! Just wanted to know your thoughts on SpaceX’s Falcon 9 relaunch and landing, and what do you think it means for the future of space travel?”

Tyson replied that “any demonstration of rocket reusability is a good thing,” and he even asserted that “reusability is arguably the most fundamental feature of affordable expensive things.”

The Redditor also wanted to know if Tyson would ever consider joining a future one-way trip to Mars, which prompted a less optimistic response: “I really like Earth. So any space trip I take, I’m double checking that there’s sufficient funds for me to return.” He candidly added, “Also, I’m not taking that trip until Elon Musk send[s] his mother and brings her back alive. Then I’m good for it.”

Elon Musk’s SpaceX recently made history by successfully launching and landing a used Falcon 9 rocket booster for the first time. The CEO has announced his intent to bring humans back to the Moon, as well, and SpaceX is looking to add hundreds of new employees to its ranks to help Musk make all these projects happen.

Given Musk’s track record for actually coming through on his plans, it could be simply a matter of time before Tyson boards a SpaceX rocket, with or without Musk’s mother riding one first.

source:futurism.com

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