Communication: The Final Frontier


Neil deGrasse Tyson released his latest book, Space Chronicles: Facing the Ultimate Frontier, on Feb. 27, so now he’s promoting his book all over the place. He’s done interviews with Popular Science, National Public Radio, and the Daily Show With Jon Stewart . Lots of authors make the rounds to promote new books, so what makes Tyson so special?

Well, he’s popular and he’s a scientist. Dubbed a “science communicator,” Tyson is the director of the Hayden Planetarium and his specialty is astrophysics — which is not an especially easy subject to explain to a general audience.

He’s also fairly controversial. His latest book staunchly advocates increasing funding for space exploration. In a sluggish economy, many people think that money should be spent here on Earth, not on expanding the frontiers of space.

But Jena McGregor, leadership blogger for the Washington Post , explains why people want to listen to Tyson and trust his opinions: “For one, he makes the reasons for space exploration accessible, putting its importance into simple and often humorous terms.”

An example of this talent appears on page 9 of the prologue to Space Chronicles: Facing the Ultimate Frontier by Neil deGrasse Tyson:

Here’s an experiment worth conducting. Sneak into the home of a NASA skeptic in the dead of night and remove all technologies from the home and environs that were directly or indirectly influenced by space innovations: microelectronics, GPS, scratch-resistant lenses, cordless power tools, memory-foam mattresses and head cushions, ear thermometers, household water filters, shoe insoles, long-distance telecommunication devices, adjustable smoke detectors, and safety grooving of pavement, to name a few. While you’re at it, make sure to reverse the person’s LASIK surgery. Upon waking, the skeptic embarks on a newly barren existence in a state of untenable technological poverty, with bad eyesight to boot, while getting rained on without an umbrella because of not knowing the satellite-informed weather forecast for that day.

Tyson explains to Rebecca Boyle of Popular Science why space exploration is good for the U.S. economy and higher education: “When the government embarks in a major science activity, such as what we did when we went to the moon, everybody knows about it. And everybody becomes a participant in some way. Either an actual participant, by choosing to major in science because they want a taste of that frontier, or an emotional participant, because they embrace the activity — even though they become English majors.”

Tyson excels at communicating his message. His education, experience, and expertise make him credible — but his communication style makes him influential.

Click here to read excerpts from Tyson’s new book. Tell us what you think about it.