Neil deGrasse Tyson’s existential crisis on the role science has played in advancing war


In his science education efforts on programs like “Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey”, astrophysicist and Hayden Planetarium director Neil deGrasse Tyson has typically taken an upbeat, curiosity-driven approach to the topic of scientific discovery. But on “Salon Talks” and in his new book, “Accessory to War: The Unspoken Alliance Between Astrophysics and the Military,” co-authored by researcher Avis Lang, Tyson takes a darker look at the development and use of scientific knowledge.

The book explores the way that the history of astronomy and astrophysics is inextricably tied to the history of warfare, starting with the use of astronomical mapping and telescope technology in ancient and medieval times to the GPS satellites and missile technologies of today.

Lang and Tyson demonstrate, through this painstaking history, how militaries have long turned to scientists for help in winning wars, and in turn, scientists rely heavily on militaries for funding and technological development that can lead to scientific discovery.

On “Salon Talks,” Tyson makes it clear that while this history is distressing, he came around to realizing, through his research, that simple pacifism isn’t the answer to the ethical quandaries faced by scientists worried that their work contributes to death and destruction.

He argues that while many wars are wrong-headed or quagmires, scientists should also be glad that their work helped, for instance, defeat the Nazis in WWII.

These questions are only becoming more pressing with government officials like Donald Trump and Mike Pence pushing for the American military to create a Space Force. Although, Tyson admits, “Just because it came out of Trump’s mouth doesn’t make it a crazy idea.”

Watch the video above to hear more on Tyson’s ideas for how humanity can move towards the future in a more responsible fashion — and ideally one where there’s less war.

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