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'Science drives economies' - Astrophysicist urges Jamaicans to develop a culture of the discipline

Published:Friday | November 30, 2012 | 12:00 AM

ASTROPHYSICIST AND and science communicator, Dr Neil deGrasse Tyson, is challenging Jamaicans to develop a culture of science as it will help move the country forward.

"Science drives economies," he said. "If you want to actually step into tomorrow, you will require innovation in science and technology," said Dr Tyson, who was giving a special talk at the United States Embassy, St Andrew, on Wednesday.

"You just need one stimulant," he said, noting that people were more interested in track and field now because of the successes of the country's athletes.

"The force a successful change can bring can't be measured," said Tyson

However, he felt the onus was also on governments.

"The system has to enable it to happen even in the smallest way," Tyson said.

"There is no excuse anymore. Essentially everyone has equal access (to the necessary information)."

He warned that enlightened leaders with vision were essential to the process, because funding 'basic' science, does not deliver immediate returns.

Though his talk, witnessed by several secondary school groups, did encompass aspects of the past, present and future of space, Tyson mostly focused on showing how "science matters in the movement of nations".

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Using a specially designed world map, Tyson showed how the area of countries would be different if we were using the level of their science work to measure them.

It showed continents like Africa would be virtually non-existent, while Jamaica was roughly the same size.

However, in terms of development of science and technology over the last decade, the US shrunk while countries like Japan had swollen considerably. Jamaica also lost size.

Tyson decried the intellectually illiterate for giving inaccurate information to the intellectually under-informed and opined that media could do more science pieces.

He suggested media entities link those stories to pop culture, for example, matching the concept of exoplanets (planets outside our Solar System) to the hit movie Avatar.

"That way, you get the advertising for free," he said, noting the movie sells itself.

Tyson is the director of the Hayden Planetarium at the Rose Center for Earth and Space and Research, the same place he first got interested in science as a child.

He encouraged parents to introduce their children to the range of professions, not just the typical lawyer or doctor. Tyson challenged them not to admire the gadgets they have now for too long, but think about how to improve them for years to come.

Tyson is an associate in the Department of Astrophysics at the American Museum of Natural History. His professional research interests include star formation, dwarf galaxies and the structure of our Milky Way.