In pop culture there are two general stereotypes that the public has about scientists. There is the crazy scientist of comedy and Hollywood fame, the chapel monster whose desire to conquer reality and life itself often drives him into discoveries that cause widespread destruction, including his own. Then it is the more positive image of the tweedy nerd, whose enthusiasm for knowledge and discovery can sometimes be dissuasive, but is often only contagious.
Neil deGrasse Tyson, astrophysicist who has found fame as a science educator and hosted for the reboot of Carl Sagan's television series "Cosmos" is perhaps the most famous live example of the other public image of a researcher. His noble abundance is more than deserved by his breadth and depth of knowledge, not only about astrophysics but about the history and culture of science. In his hands, science seems fun, happy and not at all threatening.
"The universe is both the ultimate limit and the highest of high reasons," writes Tyson and Lang. "Shared by space explorer and space warrior, it's a laboratory for one and a battlefield for the other."
The book traces the story of this enchantment between starred scientific research and the more immediate underworld of warfare. As the authors lay out, militants have invoked astronomers since the beginning of history, depending on the star charts to create maps as generals and especially seaports used when they hit battles. Since then, the world's astronomy and war trade have spoken to each other and the people in each have worked closely together and lean on their common needs ranging from telescopes to GPS satellite technology to rockets.
In an interview week for Salon Talks, for example, he disputed the popular version of Albert Einstein who painted him as a pacifist.
"He was all for the bomb," explained Tyson. "He wrote a letter to Roosevelt saying that we have the power, we should make the bomb because Hitler is bad."
The letter is known as the Einstein-Szilárd letter, as it was written by Hungarian physicist Leó Szilárd and signed by Einstein. Einstein warns that "it may be possible to establish a nuclear reaction in a large mass of uranium through which large amounts of power and large amounts of new radium-like elements would be generated" and that the German army is on this fact and is quite likely to investigate the possibility to make a weapon out of this research. He recommends "any permanent contact between the government and the group of physicists working with chain reactions in America", a recommendation that led to the Manhattan project and the development of the first nuclear weapon.
As Tyson told Salon, Einstein had complex feelings about the bomb and spoke against its use in Japan. But it is also difficult, as Tyson claims, to break the motivation that led Einstein to warn Roosevelt in the first place. In other words, the war is complicated ̵
Tyson writes that "the vast majority of my astrophysics" do not like to think too much of this reality, and instead "recoil the prospect of war."
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The book opens with a story about Tyson, who was in a presidium committee with a focus on the space industry during the second Bush administration, who participated in a space foundation symposium that occurred while the Iraq war began. Tyson was deteriorated with anti-war protesters outside the event, provided they were "politically naive". But inside, he found that the screens were sympathetic to the coverage of the invasion of Iraq, and the scene made him more sympathetic to the protesters.
Every time a weapon was described, he tells the reporters "announcing the names of the companies that made it," and every time "a company was identified as a manufacturer of a particular instrument for destruction, its employees and leaders in the audience broke into applause. "
The illusion that scientists can easily float over the death and destruction that their discoveries contribute to – or ignore the military industrial complex that feed in science funding and knowledge that helps grow – was dumped.
To be clear, the crazy scientist is the figure Frankenstein and all other Marvel movies on the market are nowhere to be seen in this book. Even researchers who were closely involved in the development of technologies directly destined to kill people, such as nuclear weapons, have not been the clandestine sociopath of B-movie entertainment. But neither does Tyson readers want to imagine that researchers are innocent children, unaware of the consequences of working so closely with the military industry in developing their own work.