May 22, 2018

#18: A new science foundation in America

#18: A new science foundation in America
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In Episode 18, Quinn & Brian try to build a more flexible, approachable, and fun new science foundation in America. But they don't know where to start.

Enter the legendary Phil Plait, the “Bad Astronomer”. He's an astronomer (obviously), author, and science communicator extraordinaire and we chat about rebuilding the foundations of American science.

And that, friends, starts with enthusiasm. Science — fuck yeah!

Want to send us feedback? Tweet us, email us, or leave us a voice message!




Phil Plait on Twitter

Phil’s blog

Phil’s newsletter

The Science and Entertainment Exchange

Global Weirding

Crash Course

314 Action

Trump’s Book Club: The Madhouse Effect by Michael E. Mann and Tom Toles

Quinn Emmett on Twitter

Brian Colbert Kennedy on Twitter

Intro/outro by Tim Blane

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Ok that’s enough good lord


Quinn: Welcome to Important, Not Important. My name is Quinn Emmett.

Brian: Is it? My name is Brian Colbert Kennedy.

Quinn: You know, that's what they ... Anyways. They told me that's what my name was. Welcome to Episode 18, and today we're talking to the great Dr. Phil Plait, The Bad Astronomer. He is an astronomer and author. Science communicator extraordinaire. And we're talking about rebuilding the foundations of American science.

Brian: And where does it start? 

Quinn: Enthusiasm.

Brian: En-thu-thu-thusiasm.

Quinn: Yeah, science!

Brian: Fuck yeah!

Quinn: Fuck yeah!

Brian: Love that.

Quinn: Um, yeah, man. Anyways, this one's awesome. It's nerdy.

Brian: Super nerdy.

Quinn: Fun. Angry. Excited. It's great. We're very thankful that Phil spent that time with us.

Brian: Yeah. Pretty awesome. He is a goofball and I love it. He's a very convo.

Quinn: I'm super into it. Goofball who know more-

Brian: A lot.

Quinn: So much. So many things. 

Brian: Hey, what's goin' on Woo Woo? What's goin' on with the store?

Quinn: The store's killin' it. Everything's great. Important, Not ... .com/store.

Brian: Yeah, yeah.

Quinn: God damn it.

Brian: Whatever. I'm wearing the new shirt.

Quinn: Yeah, the new t-shirt. People love it. Everyone's asking questions. They go, what does that say? And then you tell them, and they go, I'm gonna do that. And then they go, I'll download the podcast, you go, no. Do it now.

Brian: Just right now. I'll stand right here and wait.

Quinn: Do you have your phone? 'Cause the answer is you do.

Brian: Definitely do. 

Quinn: Open up the thing. It's built in.

Brian: It's so easy [crosstalk 00:01:33]-

Quinn: Okay. And you just download it for them. It's like you used to give people your phone number, now you take their phone and you just put your phone number in.

Brian: Yeah, and you just add it in.

Quinn: Yeah, just go in and subscribe to the podcast.

Brian: Take people's phones ...

Quinn: And subscribe to the podcast. Just people you don't know. They will appreciate it, and then the world won't die.

Quinn: It's going great. Pick up some summer gear. And we're coming up on a few other things, aren't we?

Brian: Yeah. The summer's gonna be exciting.

Quinn: Like Issue 100 of the Newsletter is coming [crosstalk 00:02:00]-

Brian: Insanity. I can't believe that.

Quinn: That's crazy. So many words. So many words. But our SEO people say that's a good thing.

Brian: I know what SEO means.

Quinn: What does it mean?

Brian: Security Enforcement Officer.

Quinn: That's ... We have people that do that.

Brian: We have that. We're very important. And people that follow us around 

Quinn: Yeah. That's Teddy.

Brian: Yeah.

Quinn: That's Teddy.

Brian: You have to.

Quinn: Look, Teddy.

Brian: Little Ted.

Quinn: Teddy, kill. He's got ... He literally has like the cutest sticker stuck to his hair fur.

Brian: Life as toddlers. 

Quinn: Yeah.

Brian: Poor guy. 

Quinn: Anyways. We got summertime. Very exciting. Again, not trying to make this too timely, but we got some cool stuff coming up.

Brian: Yeah, [crosstalk 00:02:35] no, we're just excited and so we want to talk about it, that's all.

Quinn: Teddy's doing great.

Brian: He's such a cutie. I'm always so much happier when he's here. Not that I'm not happy when it's just me and you. But when he's here, it's like an extra level of-

Quinn: Sure.

Brian: Excitement and happiness.

Quinn: So how fun was he to see on your motorcycle?

Brian: I don't know, so great. Usually people don't recognize me through my helmet. Teddy does.

Quinn: Yeah, he's smarter than that. He's smarter than people generally. 

Quinn: What else is going on? Again, not to get too timely but this is kinda what it's all about. Brian, we got some primaries happening. 

Brian: We sure do. Currently, and upcoming.

Quinn: So, traditionally, American, you don't participate in primaries.

Brian: Yeah, real hideous turnouts.

Quinn: Even less than regular voting, which is shocking and difficult to do.

Brian: Yeah.

Quinn: But this is it, Brian, it's fucking starting.

Brian: Yeah-

Quinn: Now-

Brian: This is like for real what we need to do, honestly.

Quinn: So really what we've been building up to. This is what's starting. It's not just November 6, we gotta put the people in the right positions [crosstalk 00:03:23]-

Brian: Nothing's gonna change if we don't do any-

Quinn: November 6. Please people, get informed. Get out there. And just please vote. Use your voice, use your vote. It's in the Constitution. For some of you, they've been trying to take that away for quite a while-

Brian: A long time.

Quinn: Or you didn't have it at first, because of your particular color or gender.

Brian: Now you do, so maybe take advantage of it, I don't know?

Quinn: Please, let's do it. Check out places like 314 Action.

Brian: Yep, yep.

Quinn: Find candidates near you who understand science and reason, and are ready to rebuild our fucking society on those principles. On evidence, on long-term concern for humanity and the planet's well-being. All those things go together.

Brian: Yeah, it's all connected.

Quinn: This is it.

Brian: I feel like I speak for other ... I'm certainly saying this for me, and I speak for others often. But the reasons I was not involved in this, was because I felt like I didn't know. And it's easier than ever to find out anything you want to find out now.

Quinn: So hard not to know now.

Brian: If there's ... Think of an issue that you think is important and you're passionate about, go look up who is running where you live and agrees with you. And then just go fucking vote for them.

Quinn: Right. Please, please ... And again, we get into this a little bit today, and we've talked about on other episodes ... You're not gonna agree with anybody on everything.

Brian: Right, right.

Quinn: Especially these people running for office. They're pulled in so many different directions.

Brian: Yeah.

Quinn: But there's a few things that we can't escape from that are kind of important that if you could just find a way, whatever your values are-

Brian: Right.

Quinn: To settle with them on that. And then we'll get to the other stuff.

Brian: Yeah. We're not gonna fix all of the problems right now.

Quinn: No. And you're not gonna grant everything ... That's the way it works, especially in a broken two-party system.

Brian: Right.

Quinn: However, there's a few things, like putting science and evidence-based decision making back into the houses and the positions of the institutions-

Brian: Right.

Quinn: That decide for our country and have a heavy influence on the world. We need those people in there.

Brian: Yeah.

Quinn: And then we'll deal with everything else.

Brian: Let's start there.

Quinn: Let's start there. 

Quinn: On that note, let's go talk to Phil.

Brian: We should talk to Phil.

Quinn: 'Cause he's got some shit to say. Let's do this.

Brian: Bye.

Quinn: Our guest today is The Bad Astronomer, Phil Plait. And together we're going to discuss building a flexible, approachable, and fun new science foundation in America.

Quinn: Phil, welcome.

Phil Plait: Thanks.

Quinn: Phil, tell us real quick, who you are and what you do?

Phil Plait: Who I am is Phil. That grammar came out a little odd. My name is Phil Plait. I'm an astronomer, classically trained with a Ph.D. and all that nonsense. And over the years, I have become more of a science communicator. I don't do research so much anymore, but I do love science, and I love talking about science. I like talking about not just the science itself, but how we do it. Why it's important. How it's affected by politics, all of that stuff. And I've been doing that now, oh, for a long time. Oh my. And I've written books and I got a blog and I do TV shows and all that kind of stuff.

Brian: Awesome.

Quinn: That's awesome, man. We have seen, and we're gonna talk about this a lot, growing prevalence of folks of the scientifically-minded/educated/doctored like yourself, have taken it upon themselves either more recently this year to become more of a communicator, to just straight up run for office.

Brian: Yeah.

Quinn: Talked to a bunch of those folks. Folks like you ... You said have been doing it for quite a while and have sort of galvanized this movement of taking advantage of new technologies and interest to hopefully build science enthusiasm and defend real science across the world.'

Brian: Yeah. So let's set up our conversation for today. Phil, we're big believers in questions that promote action.

Phil Plait: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Brian: We want to get to the bottom of today's topic so everybody actually really gets it. And then because these times call for action, formulate some steps that we can take and all the listeners can take to hopefully make a little dent in the world.

Quinn: Does that sound good?

Phil Plait: Yes.

Quinn: Awesome. So we start with one important question that kind of gets to the heart of why you're here today. And again, that's both on the podcast and existentially. So instead of saying like, tell us your life story, we like to ask, Phil, why are you vital to the survival of the species?

Phil Plait: I'm not. 

Brian: Oh, quick. 

Quinn: We get that quite a bit. 

Phil Plait: You got anything else?

Quinn: Why do you get out of bed in the morning?

Phil Plait: 'Cause I wake up. These are easy questions.

Quinn: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Brian: Is he gonna be like this next? [crosstalk 00:08:17]-

Phil Plait: I have a daughter, and she is over 21, so my usefulness as a human as far as my DNA goes, is done. We're gone. I'm just riding on inertia at this point. But I'm hoping to help the world ... That sounds more grandiose maybe than it deserves ... But I'm trying to make the world a better place on my own by telling people about science. And honestly, a lot of folks have the wrong idea about it. What I want to convey is that the natural world is really cool.

Quinn: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Phil Plait: It doesn't care what we believe politically or religiously or anything like that. It's gonna keep doing what it's doing. We need to be aware of it. We need to understand it. We need to have the right tools to process this information. Predict the consequences of our own actions and what's going on around us so that we can continue to make this planet habitable, and our species viability insured for as long into the future as we can.

Quinn: I love it. See, that wasn't so hard.

Brian: You're supposed to be here, Phil, see?

Phil Plait: Not for you, you just listened to it. I had to actually say that stuff.

Quinn: And this is a total sidetrack, talking about all the different things you've done. Among your many multimedia contributions, from books to TV shows and such, we learned you're an advisor on the movie "Arrival", yes?

Phil Plait: Vaguely, yes. 

Quinn: I, as a nerd and as ... My primary gig is a screenwriter ... I loved that movie and thought Eric did a phenomenal job of adapting it to the screen. I was just curious your experience and involvement on [crosstalk 00:10:02]-

Brian: Awesome film.

Phil Plait: Well, yeah, I really liked the movie, too. It's a good flick. And I do enjoy time travel when it's handled well. 

Quinn: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Phil Plait: Or in a way when you're watching it going, what am I watching? And it takes you a little while to figure it out. I love that kind of thing.

Quinn: Sure.

Phil Plait: The entire story of how I got involved with it is long and complicated. But in the end, I saw a version of the script. It wasn't quite final yet, and they asked me for my opinion on it. And I sent a page of notes in to the company, the production company basically. And most of it was fairly vague, describing the aliens and maybe how they think and how they move, given that they're symmetric. For those of you that haven't seen the movie, this is gonna make no sense. Just go watch the movie. [crosstalk 00:10:52]-

Brian: Cover your ears.

Phil Plait: But the one contribution ... And this is so ridiculous. Jeremy Renner's character is a scientist.

Quinn: Uh-huh.

Phil Plait: And when they tell him about the aliens, and he asks, "Are they sending us any information? Are they trying to communicate with us?" And he says, "Have they sent us any Fourier series?" And the Fourier series isn't like a series of numbers. It's not like one, two, three, four, five. It's a mathematical process that you use to analyze signals, images, sounds, things like that. And so what he meant was a series of numbers they could have sent us as a way of universal communication.

Quinn: Decode [inaudible 00:11:35].

Phil Plait: Basically, yeah. And I changed that. I said I wanted to keep it with something that started with F. So I said, "How about the Fibonacci series?" Which is a series of numbers. And you can look that up. There's all kinds of things that go on with that. And it's reproducible in nature, but it's not the kind of thing you would expect a signal to be comprised of. Nobody would send a series of numbers in the Fibonacci sequence.

Phil Plait: So that would be a way of them saying, hey, we're here. We're intelligent, we have math. And this is gonna be the basis of how we understand each other. So that was literally my contribution to the movie ... Is I changed one word that Jeremy Renner says.

Quinn: Well, that's exciting!

Brian: [crosstalk 00:12:17] to another guest [crosstalk 00:12:18]-

Phil Plait: Well, I got my name in the credits, so hey.

Quinn: Yeah. That's awesome, man.

Brian: That was very cool.

Phil Plait: It's also very silly, but there you go.

Quinn: Hey, look man, you know, there's this ... Maybe you've heard of it. There's this great organization called The Science and Entertainment Exchange, which is so amazing and doesn't get enough play. It's basically an organization of scientists that have volunteered to essentially help out screenwriters to make science in entertainment better,

Brian: Accurate, yeah.

Quinn: You know, storytelling is always gonna have to take precedence in the very end, and a lot of times it's not up to the screenwriter or director. But, you know, for the screenwriters out there that haven't ... Or aspiring writers of any sort that haven't heard of it, check it out. And we thank all the scientists that volunteer their time. It's amazing, you can literally email and say, hey, I got a question on you know, astronomy. And they'll say, cool, we've got a couple of people that can talk to you. And they'll help you work over your story. And it's great. And we appreciate contributions like that. That's-

Phil Plait: I will second that. I've been working with them since literally their inception.

Quinn: Oh, that's awesome.

Phil Plait: And in fact, that's how I got the "Arrival" gig. I was in L.A. and they ... Sometimes I will visit the town. And for a day The Science and Entertainment Exchange will arrange for me or someone else to visit production companies, writers, whatever and talk to them about productions they're working on, or maybe ideas they have, something like that. And that's what happened. I actually was visiting a producer about a different script, but he was also involved with "Arrival", and that's how I saw it.

Quinn: Oh, that's so great. Well, I love to see [crosstalk 00:13:58]-

Phil Plait: Yeah, I love those guys. They're great.

Quinn: And you got one word in the movie and that's [crosstalk 00:14:01]-

Brian: Yeah, thanks for the Fibonacci series line [crosstalk 00:14:02]-

Quinn: But hey man, they could [crosstalk 00:14:03]-

Phil Plait: Well, in fact [crosstalk 00:14:03]-

Quinn: They could make or break it.

Phil Plait: Yeah. In that case, no. But in some cases, they'll say something and you'll go, oh no. 

Quinn: Yeah, right.

Phil Plait: And so what I love about The Exchange, too, is that it's not just that they want to get the science right, they want the portrayal of scientists to be better.

Quinn: Yes.

Brian: Oh.

Phil Plait: And I'm super excited about that. That's a really, really important ... I might even say critical factor. When you look at the way scientists are portrayed, that can guide the public's attitude about science-

Quinn: Sure.

Phil Plait: It really can. I mean, how many people watched a Marvel movie in the past ten years?

Brian: A lot. A lot of people.

Phil Plait: Probably several.

Quinn: Sure. Sure.

Phil Plait: Several people have done that. And when you look at the way scientists are portrayed in that movie, typically they're pretty good. They're funny, interesting-

Quinn: Often heroic.

Brian: Yes.

Phil Plait: And heroic. Yeah. It's ... Bruce Banner is a very warm human being. 

Brian: Right.

Phil Plait: Maybe Tony Stark isn't. But now I'm forgetting the guy's name who's in the Thor movies. Scar scarred. Uh ... Eric something. I can't remember. And I've been watching-

Quinn: Oh yeah-

Phil Plait: All the movies [crosstalk 00:15:10] so I could get ready for Infinity War. But I can't remember his name. But all of these characters ... Oh, and Jane Foster, right? [crosstalk 00:15:19] Natalie Portman's character.

Quinn: Yeah.

Phil Plait: And so we have more women in these movies. More people of color in these movies. We have scientists who are human. And I love that so much.

Quinn: Oh yeah, I mean [crosstalk 00:15:28]-

Brian: That really caused [crosstalk 00:15:28]-

Quinn: You know ... Sure. I don't know if you saw "Black Panther" yet, but-

Phil Plait: Yeah.

Quinn: Shuri is a revelation. I mean, that role in itself and their portrayal of her in that movie-

Brian: Yep.

Phil Plait: Yeah, she's great.

Quinn: Might enable like a generation of women of color to become scientists. And that's incredible.

Phil Plait: And that's not an exaggeration. 

Quinn: No.

Phil Plait: If you ask a lot of people of ... Well, like me. Scientists and nerds what inspired them when they were a kid, and they'll give you answers like "Star Trek". 

Quinn: Yeah, a hundred percent.

Phil Plait: In my case, you know, it's not "Next Generation", case I'm older than that, it was the original series and re-runs.

Quinn: Sure.

Phil Plait: "Lost In Space".

Quinn: Yeah. 

Phil Plait: "Space 1999", which a lot of people haven't even heard of nowadays.

Quinn: "Space 1999"?

Phil Plait: It was a huge show in the 1970's. Those shows inspired me, and the scientists on those shows inspired me. Now, a lot of the scientists looked like me.

Quinn: Right.

Phil Plait: White guys-

Quinn: Sure.

Phil Plait: Basically. But now, we're getting more diversity. We're seeing people who look like other people. And I love it. We're ... I don't want to throw away ... Right away half the population by not encouraging women to be interested in science. And when I was a kid, that was not something that was done. And now it is.

Quinn: Yep.

Phil Plait: I mean, the encouragement, not the discouragement. And a movie like "Black Panther", come on. That was a huge movie. It's got a lot of representation in it for African-Americans. And that's wonderful. There's so many people out there who may not ... They don't have to become scientists, but if they're inspired to learn more about science-

Brian: Yeah [crosstalk 00:17:05] be enthused-

Phil Plait: If they see somebody like them who's ... It doesn't even have to be science. Just seeing people who are enthusiastic about learning. People who are enthusiastic about technology.

Quinn: Yeah.

Phil Plait: That's all wonderful. That's all inspiring.

Quinn: Yeah, we'll take it. 

Phil Plait: I think the world in 15, 20 years, hopefully is gonna be a lot different than what it was when I was a kid. 

Quinn: Yeah, you hope so. And on the other side, you know, similar representation was "Hidden Figures", where I think a lot of people ... That movie did so well, and it was so well done. And I think a lot of folks looked at it and went like, I didn't even know that story existed.

Phil Plait: Right.

Quinn: I didn't know those women were real or that was possible. And hopefully similarly makes them go like, well, shit, why isn't that possible for me? Like, I could do that, you know? Those women-

Phil Plait: Yeah [crosstalk 00:17:56]- 

Quinn: Did it in much more difficult circumstances.

Brian: Yeah.

Quinn: And yes, they were incredibly smart, but they were portrayed as they were, which was also incredibly driven. And-

Phil Plait: And just as interesting to me is how we don't have celebrated stories about women like that until now. Or we didn't have them until now. When I was a kid, no way. No way would I have seen any stories about them in the newspapers or in the news or in movies, really. Especially as a white kid living in the suburbs. But also just in that time, that era.

Quinn: True. True.

Phil Plait: And now, we're seeing lots of stuff like that. And the idea that there were women astronauts training at the same time of the men. But you didn't hear about those stories at the time-

Quinn: No we didn't.

Phil Plait: I lived through the Apollo era. I was really, really young. But I watched Apollo 11, and I actually saw the Apollo 15 launch. We went to Florida and I stood there and watched it.

Brian: Aw, wow.

Quinn: Fucking awesome.

Phil Plait: So yeah, it was ... The Saturn V was amazing. And I can't wait to see some of these SpaceX and Blue Origin rockets, these big ones-

Quinn: Oh no, [crosstalk 00:19:01]-

Phil Plait: When they launch-

Quinn: The big ones that are coming, I'm a hundred percent bringing my children to them. It's just-

Phil Plait: Yeah.

Quinn: It will change your life. I saw one Space Shuttle launch and I was like, oh, well, that changed my life. And again, [crosstalk 00:19:11]-

Phil Plait: Yeah, I saw one, too. It was pretty cool [crosstalk 00:19:12]-

Quinn: I didn't become a scientists 'cause I'm not nearly smart enough, but oh my God, what it can do to you.

Brian: There's still something about it.

Phil Plait: And it's not ... It's not that I want to drive 80 percent of the population to get Ph.D.s in science. We don't have the grant money for that [crosstalk 00:19:24]. But just having people ... A woman I know on Twitter, I've never actually met her in real life, she's an astronomer as well ... Was just tweeting about this today, saying it's not that we want everybody to become scientists. We want everybody to become appreciative of science. To learn how to think critically. To analyze evidence, come to conclusions. To be able to say, hey, is what I'm thinking right or not? Maybe it's not. 

Quinn: Right.

Phil Plait: And what does the evidence show? 

Quinn: Yep.

Phil Plait: And to be able to discern garbage science from real science. And that is-

Quinn: Right.

Phil Plait: I mean, not to get too political, here, but the reason we are in so much trouble right now ... The reason Donald Trump is President is because people aren't looking at the evidence ... I hate to say rationally, because that makes it seem like they're being ridiculous about it. It's ... No. The problem is they're looking at it emotionally. 

Quinn: Sure

Phil Plait: Which is in many cases a good way to look at life.

Quinn: Sure.

Phil Plait: But when you're making decisions and the evidence is like, this guy is a racist, xenophobic misogynist, maybe that evidence is something that you should be paying attention to.

Quinn: Yeah, no shit.

Brian: Maybe.

Quinn: And well, it's not even just not looking at it rationally, but it's also being manipulated and played to their weaknesses.

Phil Plait: Well, there's that as well. Absolutely, there's that. You want to be able to look at the evidence critically. And when I say rationally, I mean rationally as opposed to emotionally. Not like the opposite of emotion. Just two different ways of looking at it. 

Phil Plait: And you have to use your emotions to make decisions, you know? If you're gonna buy a car or a house, I don't know, something like that ... Some big decision. You wanna get something that's gonna ... Oh, this one has the best mileage, and its safety ratings are good and you look at all that stuff rationally. That's great. But then you have to say, you know, am I gonna enjoy driving this car?

Quinn: Sure.

Phil Plait: Is it gonna be fun? Is it gonna do what I need it to do? Is it gonna satisfy me emotionally? That's a fine thing to do. If you have two things, and all things being equal, and one of these decisions makes you happier than the other, then yeah. Hey, you know, that's something to factor in. But if you're making a decision on whom I should elect for President, certainly you need both of these things. 

Quinn: Yes.

Phil Plait: Not just ... If somebody rubs me the wrong way for a lot of different reasons, even if I agree with them, that can make it more difficult for me to vote for them.

Quinn: Sure.

Phil Plait: I'm a human being. If somebody's trying to convince me of something, and they're calling me a jerk and they're yelling at me and telling me I'm stupid, I'm less likely to listen to them than if they're nice.

Quinn: Sure. Sure.

Phil Plait: And so that's just being human. So we have to consider that.

Quinn: Yeah, you can't escape that.

Phil Plait: Yeah. It's something we have to consider when we are listening to somebody. But also when we're talking to somebody. And that's ... If you want to convince somebody of something, belittling them is generally not the best way to do it.

Quinn: Yeah. And you know, we had a little sort of trilogy of conversations with conservative climate activists ... Who are real people that exist. And there's more of them [crosstalk 00:22:49]-

Brian: Yeah, Katharine Hayhoe.

Quinn: Yeah, I've-

Phil Plait: Oh, interesting.

Quinn: Just the best. We've got her coming up soon.

Phil Plait: Good.

Quinn: And part of their point was ... And again, what we try to do with each of these is like build a point of view at the end of the episode where we can identify some actual actionable steps that people can take. And you know, one of them was like, stay out of the way, let us do our job. You know, the messenger at times is more important than the message, because nobody wants Greenpeace yelling at them anymore. That's not gonna change their minds, you know? And just spitting facts at them. Often the story is ... And how it is told, and how it is presented to appeal to their beliefs and wants and desires and values ... As long as it's still grounded in the science, will make the biggest difference.

Quinn: 'Cause like you said, nobody wants people yelling at them. It's gonna make you turn off. No matter how big the [crosstalk 00:23:38] implications are [crosstalk 00:23:38]-

Brian: Yeah, but are they gonna hear the message?

Phil Plait: Yes.

Quinn: Alright. Well, listen-

Phil Plait: I agree. Okay.

Quinn: We're gonna come back to this stuff. Let's dig into it a little more. Again, we're gonna set up a little context for today. A little segment we call Context One-on-One with Professor Brian, which is often off-course, oversimplified, hopefully never wrong. But we've got a resident astronomer here to correct us. 

Brian: Thank God.

Phil Plait: We'll see about that, right?

Quinn: Again, some of our conversations have been digging into the science of carbon capture. We're not gonna do that as much today. We're gonna ... So it's less of a learning curve. It's more sort of the history of sort of science communication and the tools and devices and audiences behind it for the past 25 years or so. So Brian, yo.

Brian: Alright, so what are we doing today? We're setting up, you know ... Trying to figure out a way to build a new fund ... Science foundation, and you know that happens in little bits all around somewhere between the classrooms and you know, fucking around online at Khan Academy or Coursera. And there's a huge wave of fun and you know, informal ways to access every day. Like on YouTube and Instagram. The Physics Girl we mentioned earlier-

Phil Plait: Yep.

Brian: She's pretty awesome. There's all ... I Fucking Love Science and NatGeo and AsapScience. All kinds of fun stuff online.

Quinn: And National Geographic Instagram feeds ... I tell everybody ... Are some of the best things you can possibly follow [crosstalk 00:25:04]-

Brian: They're so beautiful-

Quinn: And no one ever believes me. And then you go, oh my God, they're incredible.

Brian: Uh, yeah, they're fantastic.

Quinn: Anyways. It's the stuff that gets people hooked, right? Little daily [crosstalk 00:25:11] right. Right. Little daily like bite-size reminders that science is awesome and inspiring and important and full of ... What are those things? 

Brian: Oh, facts?

Quinn: Oh, yes. Facts. Yes. Right. Facts aren't cutting it, which is super fucking clear. So maybe pretty pictures will, and storytelling has to be a part of it. And that's why folks like Phil here are so attractive and meaningful. And that's exactly how I meant it to come out.

Brian: You don't sound like a creep at all.

Phil Plait: Again, I can't disagree with you.

Quinn: Yeah. But anyways in the classroom-

Phil Plait: Right, there's the more formalized battle, right? In the classroom?

Quinn: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Which is totally another story. I mean, you know, the next generation is for sale. I mean, I guess the classroom has always been politicized. From nuke threats and Communism to our current existential threat, climate change.

Phil Plait: Right.

Quinn: And you thank God for warriors like Don Duggan-Haas who wrote the new textbook ... Like literally wrote the new textbook for science in the classroom. 

Brian: Episode 8.

Quinn: Oh, so good. And you know who fights for objective, comprehensive coverage of things like climate change?

Phil Plait: Right.

Quinn: And then the young people. The ones that are actually in the classrooms who have basically said, fine. Okay, I'll do it myself. You know, because adults are just failing us. [crosstalk 00:26:26].

Brian: Like Therese and Jay we talked to with Don-

Quinn: Yeah.

Brian: Who are ... It's not necessarily I'll do it myself, it's like, fine, I'll carry this burden because you people have fucked it up so much and are trying to poison the classroom. And they go and sue themselves. The kids that are suing the Federal and the State governments-

Quinn: Yep.

Brian: Over climate change, you know? And the parents ... The awesome parents who let them do that.

Quinn: Yeah, I support them.

Brian: So-

Quinn: Yeah. What's the question?

Brian: Well, you know, how do we inspire more and more of these people to love and embrace and champion science?

Quinn: And I think those are the levels, right? You gotta think-

Brian: Yeah, yeah.

Quinn: This picture from National Geographic's pretty cool. And then you kind of get into science. And then you start to champion science. And like Phil said, maybe you become a scientist, but we don't everybody to become a scientist.

Brian: Yeah, but be enthused. Be excited about it. Talk about it.

Quinn: Give a shit about it, right?

Brian: Yeah. Yeah. And you know, go from making it a part of your casual everyday life to perhaps drowning yourself in those facts we were talking about.

Quinn: Right.

Brian: And the reasons-

Quinn: Reasons.

Brian: You know, going into science yourself maybe. 

Quinn: Right.

Brian: Not everybody, some of you.

Quinn: Okay. So that's kind of a barebone explanation of where we're going. So again, the topic is like, how do we help build a more flexible ... And I think it's becoming more flexible, and approachable, and accessible ... And fun-

Brian: Yeah.

Quinn: Because you can't just be Yelled At Science Foundation in America. So ... Phil, you've been championing real science. Empirical, proven science online and everywhere else, like you said, in books, since basically CompuServe. Prodigy, apparently, right? 

Phil Plait: [crosstalk 00:28:01] Maybe before then. Yes.

Quinn: God. Three-quarters of our audience isn't gonna know what that noise is.

Brian: Isn't that weird? Ahh.

Quinn: I made a Oregon Trail joke the other day, a bunch of people didn't understand what I was talking about [crosstalk 00:28:13]-

Brian: Nobody got it?

Quinn: That was very sad. Anyways ...

Phil Plait: I have the opposite problem. I'm after that time.

Quinn: Oh, wow. Well ...

Phil Plait: Or I should say before that [crosstalk 00:28:22]. By the time Oregon Trail came out, I was already like in you know, college. So [crosstalk 00:28:27]-

Brian: But don't make any Oregon Trail jokes [crosstalk 00:28:27]-

Quinn: It was very important.

Phil Plait: You kids get off my trail!

Quinn: Yeah, right. Phil died of dysentery.

Quinn: Alright, I mean, look. You wrote ... I love it. You've done everything. You had a website back in the day ripping on unproven science. You've got your blog, you've got your fancy new newsletter that I love. You wrote a book. And again-

Phil Plait: A whole book.

Quinn: It seems like everything has been from the perspective of like, hey, isn't science awesome? But the perspectives and the way you've attacked it ... Like the death from the skies, is so great, right? It's hey, the universe is indisputable and doesn't give a shit about you and is probably gonna kill us. But science is so cool.

Phil Plait: You're referring of course to my Penguin book, "Death From The Skies", available at booksellers online-

Quinn: A hundred percent.

Phil Plait: And brick or mortar stores all around. 

Quinn: It's going right in the fucking show notes. And I by the way, I actually never knew that you did a book with Zach Weinersmith. I just finished the book he just wrote with his wife, "Soonish", which is [crosstalk 00:29:26]-

Brian: Ah, it's sitting here right in front of me.

Quinn: Which is so great.

Phil Plait: "Soonish" is amazing, yeah.

Quinn: It's so fantastic, I want to give it to everybody. But you guys wrote a book about nerds getting bullied and how to respond to them. That's amazing.

Phil Plait: I wouldn't describe it that way. It's not like a-

Quinn: I haven't read it. This is what I got off of Amazon.

Phil Plait: Oh ...

Quinn: I read "Death From The Skies", but this was your description, and I was like, that's amazing.

Phil Plait: No, it's not like that. It's actually 128 nerd insults. They're basically yo momma jokes translated-

Brian: What?

Phil Plait: Into nerdspeak.

Quinn: Wait, that's amazing. 

Phil Plait: Because your momma jokes are-

Quinn: Perfect.

Phil Plait: Not cool [crosstalk 00:30:04] anymore-

Quinn: Right.

Phil Plait: Well, they weren't ever cool. But it's not the kind of thing you want to write now, so we turned them into ... If you're in some sort of ... I don't know, East Coast/West Coast nerd throwdown-

Quinn: Mm-hmm (affirmative). That happens all the time.

Phil Plait: So we put together 128 of these. Why 128? Because it's two to the seventh power.

Quinn: Ah, God.

Phil Plait: And 64 wasn't enough, and 256 was way too damn many.

Quinn: Sure. Sure.

Phil Plait: And it's just a lark. Zach started tweeting these things, and I was responding with more. And then we started chatting, and it's like, this would be a good book. So we did it.

Quinn: Ah, I love it.

Phil Plait: We did it ourselves. We self-published it.

Quinn: Oh, that's awesome. 

Brian: This is incredible.

Phil Plait: Yeah.

Quinn: Alright. Look, the point is, you're all over the internet-

Phil Plait: And this a little bit off the Oregon Trail, there so-

Quinn: That's what we do is veer completely off course. The point is, you've been around the block, right?

Phil Plait: A few times.

Quinn: How has the landscape changed? As someone who's been involved using proactively all the tools for all this time? How do you feel like sort of outreach and communication has changed? Pros and cons since you've been doing this up until now?

Phil Plait: That's an interesting question. And your metaphor is interesting, the landscape. The landscape hasn't changed at all. The path has changed. So what I mean by that is, when I was a kid you got your science by watching NOVA on TV-

Quinn: Sure.

Phil Plait: You'd go to the library and check out books. Or you'd have a science class taught by an actual science teacher-

Quinn: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Phil Plait: Which is a dying breed these days, too. So that path I guess is still there. But we have all these other methods of delivering science now. We have a million cable channels, and a lot of them are dedicated to science. Discovery and Science, a few others.

Brian: NatGeo.

Phil Plait: So that's one way. The internet, which is like a ... I don't know. Some sort of like a highway that's super in some way.

Quinn: That's so-

Phil Plait: But I mean [crosstalk 00:32:18]-

Quinn: If only someone would [crosstalk 00:32:18]-

Phil Plait: But I was thinking-

Quinn: That down.

Phil Plait: Yeah. I mean, the internet is such a broad term. We've got blogs, and social media, streaming videos. There's a million ways, you know ... Podcasts, for example ... Of consuming science that didn't exist of course when I was younger.

Phil Plait: Having said all of that, the landscape itself , and by that I mean the sort of the background ... The attitudes about science, the people that you're trying to blaze this trail toward, I don't know if that's changed? A lot of surveys show that ... I hate to use the word belief, but trust in science and scientists hasn't changed that much. The belief in anti-science may change a little bit. Horoscopes, you know, astrology-

Quinn: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Phil Plait: Creationism, these sorts of things, they go up and down. But typically they're ... I mean, they fluctuate a little bit, but typically they hold relatively steady. There may be a rise locally in specific topics. For example, people who think the moon landings were faked. That had a huge spike in 2001 because Fox TV aired a terrible TV show about it, and-

Quinn: Really?

Phil Plait: And it was ... The internet was young and this information spread like wildfire. But that's kind of fallen back down into a background noise. Right now you've got people who think the Earth is flat. These folks, for whatever reasons, they believe this. A lot of them are sort of fringe religious types. I've seen some videos of some of the folks who are really beating the drum for this, and they're-

Quinn: Right.

Phil Plait: Like Biblical literists ... Literalists, excuse me. One of them is a huge anti-Semite, too. 

Brian: Oh-

Phil Plait: And the more you dig into these folks-

Brian: Checking all the boxes.

Phil Plait: Yeah, it's really, really fascinating. This will pass. I'm not saying we just have to sit back and let it go-

Quinn: No.

Phil Plait: But I'm saying in ten, 15 years, you know, we'll have moved on to some other dumb thing. Look at vaccines. This was sort of a background noise, people who thought vaccines were bad. And then Andrew Wakefield in England, published this terrible article in a journal that was retracted. He was drummed off the register in the UK-

Quinn: Right. But once it's out there ...

Phil Plait: Yeah. I mean, when you find out about this guy, he was huge conflict of interest. He was developing his own alternative vaccine-

Quinn: Right.

Phil Plait: The study he did was unethical. It just goes on and on and on. But that was a huge spike. And now we're dealing with this. So people that don't think the moon landings are real, or think the Earth is flat, that's bad and I'll get back to that in a second. But it's things that have a direct impact, like anti-vaxxers.

Quinn: Sure.

Phil Plait: Babies are dying because of whooping cough [crosstalk 00:35:14]-

Quinn: Oh, we got into [crosstalk 00:35:15]-

Phil Plait: Or they're getting measles-

Quinn: My ... I brought a three ... I have three young children who are very close in age. I brought a newborn baby home, and the next week my one anda half-year-old daughter got whooping cough.

Phil Plait: Oh gosh.

Quinn: And we had to-

Brian: Unbelievable.

Quinn: And we had to quarantine the entire house. And I already had such an issue with anti-vaxxers, and I pretty much lost my fucking mind. 

Phil Plait: Well, I can imagine. I don't have to imagine, I mean, I'm a parent [crosstalk 00:35:40]-

Quinn: And by the way, she's the lucky one. She's the lucky one. Because a lot of kids are dying from it. And it's fucking insane.

Quinn: So that's the other point, right? Is ... So these tools have become more available, and they're mostly free and they're easier to use, and there's a dark side to all of that, right? Some folks don't choose to use their powers for good, right?

Phil Plait: That's right [crosstalk 00:36:03]-

Quinn: What I mean though-

Phil Plait: That's kind of what I mean. There's a direct impact on things like health.

Quinn: Right. 

Phil Plait: And climate change, which is a global issue. It's probably the biggest threat-

Quinn: Probably the biggest issue.

Phil Plait: Facing us. 

Quinn: Right, and like you said, there's certain things ... We're gonna go through the moon landings, or vaccines ... We're getting back over that. Some of these things are gonna be a little longer-lasting, and it turns out your vote does fucking count.

Phil Plait: Yeah. And I guess the point I'm making is that there are specific immediate things. And there is sort of a background hum.

Quinn: Right.

Brian: Right.

Phil Plait: And the background hum is important. Because it's basically based on people not understanding science. Or not thinking critically about the evidence they're presented. 

Quinn: Well, and that's kind of [crosstalk 00:36:44]-

Phil Plait: And it's-

Quinn: Yeah, right. Exactly [crosstalk 00:36:46]. Even when something is manipulated, there is ... It seems we're at a place now where like you said, people can't look at it rationally, and like you said, in the scientific sense, and say like, wait a minute, that's not right. That's not correct.

Phil Plait: That's right. And look, you know, I'm a scientist. I'm a critical thinker. All of that stuff. And yet I get bamboozled on occasion. I will see stuff on Twitter and I don't check it as thoroughly as I should. A couple of times I've retweeted stuff or whatever that turned out to be wrong, and I've had to apologize for it. But that's part of the process, right? Is admitting you're wrong, and going, yeah, oops.

Quinn: Sure.

Phil Plait: And here's what I screwed up. I didn't look at the date on that article, or I didn't check to make sure that picture actually is what it said it is.

Quinn: Right.

Phil Plait: And so what I'm trying to do is basically say A, everybody's fallible and two, here are the tools you need to make sure that you don't make this same mistake.

Quinn: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Phil Plait: And that way we all learn from everybody's mistakes.

Quinn: And you know, you were looking for ... Like you said, the internet means so many different things now. It's really just a backbone empowering all these other things. 'Cause the two things that have really changed more than anything ... That it's created are this connectivity and amplification, and how those those two things go together to the point where, like you said, someone like you, who is so well-educated and well-versed and is a skeptic, can accidentally quickly, without triple-checking resources that they're aware of and they know of and they trust ... And then the power that that has, right?

Quinn: But if you don't do ... Not once in a while, but rarely, but it happens ... Everyone else that isn't well-versed or hasn't even educated or embraced science in some other way, or been taught rational thought or scientific skepticism ... I mean, Jesus, you know? It's just like the foundations are not there. And that seems to be a big issue.

Phil Plait: Yes, that's important. And I don't want to downplay that at all, but it's also-

Quinn: No, tell me it's wrong, please.

Phil Plait: Well, no, It's not. But there's more to it. There's this tendency to cleave unto beliefs we already have. So you know, it's no shock to anybody who follows me on social media that I'm a progressive. And so if somebody posts a claim that something happens, that some Republican said this, I'm more likely to believe it in general than if it were something like this Republican Senator wants to fight climate change.

Quinn: Sure.

Phil Plait: That's something I would be more skeptical about. And there are two reasons for that. One is that you know, we're tribal, and we wanna believe what our tribe believes.

Quinn: Right.

Phil Plait: Also experience. There just aren't that many GOP Senators who are actually gonna speak out about climate change in a scientific sense. They exist, they're out there. I'm not trying to over-generalize. It's just an example. But the point is it's very easy for your higher level brain functions to sort of give it up to the amygdala and let all of those more basic instincts take over. And so it's very easy to hit the retweet button when you're angry.

Quinn: Right.

Phil Plait: As opposed to checking it out and making sure it's right.

Quinn: A thousand percent. But there's certain things, like you said, are built in that we cannot change. It's gonna be very hard to change tribalism, as much as it's almost getting out of control. It's-

Phil Plait: We have all the facts.

Quinn: Yeah.

Phil Plait: The facts are out there. There's almost literally nothing new I can tell you about climate change, except for some tendencies like sea level rise, carbon dioxide going [crosstalk 00:40:39] that sort of thing. When there's some new record or some change, or some very small, or I should say very subtle effect that is now becoming more important, like hurricanes. The strongest hurricanes are getting stronger, for example. That's an effect of climate change. 

Phil Plait: Those may be new, but all the basic facts are out there. So clearly the problem is not simply saying, well, here are the facts.

Quinn: Right.

Phil Plait: If I just hand these to you, it's not ... The issues now are not scientific. They are political and psychological.

Quinn: Sure. All I mean is like there are certain endemic things in literally in humans that we're gonna have to program around if we're gonna try to rebuild these foundations in the smartest way. Which is like, people are gonna be tribal. And we can't get around too much of that. And again, speaking to the conservative climate activists, you know, that was part of their point is, they don't want to hear this from people like us. They're like-

Phil Plait: That's exactly right.

Quinn: They're like, just donate money and let us do our job. And we're just of the opinion now where we're just like whatever the means are that get us to the end?

Brian: Yeah.

Quinn: Great. Sure. Like whatever helps us win over those folks, sure. Great. That's fine. We just have to accept that. You're not gonna turn these people into progressive liberals. That's just not gonna happen. But if you-

Phil Plait: That's correct.

Quinn: And you're gonna disagree on 59 other fucking things. But if you can get us to agree on that one thing in some way, Jesus, we might survive this thing. Maybe.

Phil Plait: I agree. We're in the kind of the triage part of this now, where we have to analyze where we are and say, what is the most important thing? What is the thing I need to spend my time on? What is the thing we need to do to get, for example, this problem of global warming fixed? Now, Katharine Hayhoe, to bring her name up again, is a climate scientist. A vocal climate scientist. She makes these wonderful videos called Global Weirding-

Quinn: They're so great.

Phil Plait: And I've first heard of her a couple of years ago, I guess. I don't remember exactly. I exchanged some emails with her. We've chatted back and forth. She also happens to be an Evangelical Christian. Now I don't know where she stands politically, 'cause she doesn't talk about politics.

Quinn: Right.

Phil Plait: She talks about climate change and she talks about her religious beliefs. And so she and I might disagree on a lot of things. But I tell you what we don't disagree on, and that is global warming and the climate change that is coming from it are a huge, critical, existential threat to not just humans, but to life all over this planet. And so I'm not going to squabble with someone like her about politics or religion or anything like that. It's quite the contrary. 

Quinn: Right. Why?

Phil Plait: Like you said, she can go into an Evangelical church in rural Texas, and they'll listen to her. And that's not even a place I could get my foot in the door.

Quinn: Oh God no.

Phil Plait: So I love what she's doing, and I support her a hundred percent.

Quinn: Right. You know, it's like how do we empower that as much as humanly possible?

Brian: Yeah, that's all that we want.

Quinn: Yeah. Alright. So let's talk about the ways that America's science fundamentals are suffering. Our international rankings for whatever they're worth, are not wonderful, you know. International math and science assessments show that we're ... In the U.S., students are like right in the middle of the pack. Behind like many other advanced nations.

Phil Plait: Sure.

Quinn: Alternative facts, Facebook, drastically reduced work visas ... Are any of those ... Or is something else, you know, our biggest weakness?

Phil Plait: Well, depending on what you mean weakness. Yeah, I mean, that's a problem. If the Russian government can come in and manipulate enough people in our population to sway the vote, they can put a science-denying, racist, xenophobic, misogynist into the White House. I may have mentioned that earlier.

Quinn: No, tell us more.

Phil Plait: Yeah. So here we are. We have a handful of these folks who can be the gatekeepers of all of the actions that we need to take.

Quinn: Right.

Phil Plait: There's ... Of the hundreds of things that ... For example, Trump has done, or his Administration has done ... Although actually very little policy has been changed ... Has had huge leverage.

Quinn: Right.

Phil Plait: And at the very least, even though a lot of the things he's trying to do, he can't get done because they're illegal or not Constitutional, the climate is changing. Suddenly, Nazis aren't afraid to talk about their awful, awful thoughts. And we have Breitbart and Daily Caller and these terrible quote unquote news sites that are misogynist, racist, just awful things being said there. And they're infiltrating the mainstream media. The mainstream media will not say that Trump lies. They won't say this person is a white supremacist, or things like that. 

Phil Plait: I know that this doesn't sound like science, but it is.

Quinn: All applicable, though. Because [crosstalk 00:45:56]-

Phil Plait: When people say that science isn't political, that's baloney. Of course science is political. It's done by people.

Quinn: Right.

Phil Plait: And when you have the fossil fuel companies coming in and buying politicians to deny the science ... I mean the guy's running the freaking EPA is a climate change denier. And he's changing the rules to poison us. To make it easier for fracking. Ways to get into our water. For pollutants to get into our air. For chemical poisons to leech into our ground and the water we drink. This is all political and it's all science. And it's all because we've been manipulated.

Quinn: And you know, a little bit of it comes back to there's certain scientists who still feel like science shouldn't be political. But we have to be done with that mindset. Because across the board, whether it's that side or the other ... And like you said, it affects ... It's the people we put into office who then nominated unelected officials to run the EPA or the Department of the Interior. I mean, you know, it's affecting funding for The National Institutes of Health, you know? It's affecting funding for basic science in the country. And everybody goes, why do we fund basic science? And it's like, oh, you know what, you're right. Let's just forget it. Forget it. We just won't do that.

Quinn: And let's look at all the different things that affects. It's completely insane, but ... So to me, you know ... Again, coming back to how you've tried to ... Your ... At least as far as I can tell, and I've always appreciated your take on this, which is like science is awesome. And it starts with enthusiasm. And I don't think anybody's gonna become a scientist or appreciate scientists or proactively vote for it or ask questions about it in a city council meeting, or someone who's running for their local district in Congress. That's not gonna be the first question they ask unless they have at least ... Maybe not even a lifelong enthusiasm for science. But you can't become a scientist, you can't advocate for it, you can't embrace it, unless it starts with an enthusiasm for it. And then being inspired by it.

Quinn: And from that front, now that we've torn apart America's failed science fundamentals-

Brian: Uh-huh.

Quinn: You know, what are our strengths? What are the things we can build on in 2018 going forward to re-write that? So that, you know, when your daughter, whose technically eligible to be President in 19 years, and my children who are a little further behind ... You know, so it is a different atmosphere and a different environment and hopefully sea level rises haven't taken everything down at that point. What are our strengths? What can we build on, Phil?

Phil Plait: Well, assuming that the current Administration doesn't lead us down the path to the world catching on fire, whether through global warming or nuclear war-

Quinn: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Both very possible.

Phil Plait: There are a lot of strengths. We do have an extremely strong scientific framework within this country, between universities and research institutes and that sort of thing. We are producing a lot of scientists. We are producing a lot of great research. We have a very strong space agency.

Quinn: We're sending a lot of those scientists back to their home countries as well.

Phil Plait: Well, that's always been true. Even when I was in school, there were people coming from other countries to get their degree and go back.

Quinn: Yeah.

Phil Plait: And maybe there's more now. I actually don't have any ... Know about that. But we're still ... And even if that's the case, we're still producing a lot of American science. And I don't mean it's science that's only true to Americans. I mean Americans who are doing science.

Quinn: Right. Right.

Phil Plait: We are doing better representing science I think on television. I wish there were more ... Was more time spent talking about things like climate change on the news programs.

Quinn: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Phil Plait: Given how important an issue this is, it gets almost no time.

Quinn: And that's really wild.

Phil Plait: That's a bad thing. But like I said, there are dedicated channels to science. Our storytelling has a lot more science in it. We talked about that. The movies that we go to see that have science in them are doing a better job typically portraying science and scientists. That's crucial. It might be easy to poo poo that and say oh, it's just a movie. But in fact, these are stories and humans relate to each other through stories. We are storytelling animals.

Brian: Oh yeah. There's no denying that.

Phil Plait: And I don't want to downplay that. In fact, I think it's time to champion this.

Quinn: Right.

Phil Plait: And to say yeah, our greatest weaknesses and our greatest strengths are two sides of the same coin. They always have been. How we tell these stories can be used for , you know, good or evil. 

Quinn: Yeah-

Phil Plait: And-

Quinn: You come back again ... Like Shuri in "Black Panther", right? Some young girl is going to dress up as her for Halloween. If it's affordable and now hopefully it is, maybe that kid gets a microscope and you can say all you want. We don't know how much you can measure that, but that kid probably wasn't going to get a microscope for Christmas the year before, you know? 

Phil Plait: Yeah.

Quinn: And you've no idea what's gonna come from that.

Phil Plait: And we have a much better team of people getting the word out about science now than I think we ever have. When I was a kid, you didn't have a lot of huge names doing science communication. Carl Sagan, David Attenborough, James Burke. They were all men, they were all white.

Quinn: Yep.

Phil Plait: Just having my friend Neil Tyson out there-

Quinn: Sure.

Phil Plait: Is such a wonderful thing. And we're seeing more women doing this. And when you go to social media, you're seeing a lot more scientists communicating directly with the public. And Katie Mack is a cosmologist and astrophysicist. Theoretical cosmologist, you're talking about sort of the highest plane of difficulty in science. And she has a ton of followers on Twitter. She has people listening to her when she says stuff. And that's fantastic.

Quinn: Yeah.

Phil Plait: So you see all these different things. And I could go on and on. Diane Cowern, who does Physics Girl, I think it's Physics Girl [crosstalk 00:52:25] just blanking on it for a second-

Quinn: Yeah, she's amazing. I think it's The Physics Girl.

Brian: Yeah.

Phil Plait: Yeah. Simone Giertz, who makes the terrible robots, she's done a TED Talk. She's great. And just all these people doing these various channels of science communication may be our saviors. They may be the ones that are promoting science to younger folks ... I mean, I used to be young, but I'm not anymore, you know? I'm getting up there, and I'm part of this aging, middle-aged white guy cabal who's controlled everything forever.

Quinn: Terrible people.

Phil Plait: And yeah, basically. And now we're seeing younger people who don't look ... Again, who don't look like me, and they're gonna be able to get this message out to a lot more folks than I ever could. 

Quinn: Yeah. It's really impressive. It's exciting, and again, you hope that enthusiasm just starts to translate ... I hate to say like more tangible-

Phil Plait: Right.

Quinn: But translates into the institutions being reinforced and reinvented as they need to be wherever they may [crosstalk 00:53:37]-

Phil Plait: Yeah, you know, now that you say that, the terrible 8mm or whatever they used to show us when I was in school, and that they make fun of on The Simpsons or whatever ... Now we're gonna watch a short film about zinc. And it was somebody talking like this the whole time and you just wanted [crosstalk 00:54:00]-

Quinn: Why did they talk like that?

Phil Plait: To go into a coma.

Quinn: Yeah.

Phil Plait: Now, go on YouTube and look at Hank Green's videos. The Crash Course videos. I made a Crash Course Series. Again, Diane Cowern who's doing these The Physics Girl videos that she makes. I could go on and on and on naming these things. There's enthusiasm. There's passion. And there's joy. Which is not something you really got a feeling for in the classroom or in documentaries or stuff when I was a kid. Now, it's an essential ingredient of making videos that are powerful.

Quinn: And that translates.

Phil Plait: And that to me may be more hopeful than anything else I'm seeing. 

Brian: Yeah.

Quinn: I love that. So that's all those people. You've-

Brian: What about you?

Quinn: You've been ... As established, you've [crosstalk 00:54:53] been around since the actual Oregon Trail. What do you see as your role now in 2018 besides your fancy new newsletter and further going forward?

Phil Plait: Which you can get at

Quinn: Yep. Going right in the show notes.

Phil Plait: Okay.

Quinn: Do you feel like the Grail Knight at the end of "Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade"? Like you've been here forever, you're super tired, but you still got your sword ready? You know, what's the plan going forward?

Phil Plait: Gosh, I hope not. That's actually an interesting analogy. Some wizened old person sitting in a cave waiting to be discovered. And just waiting for the next arrogant bonehead to turn into a mummy.

Quinn: Look, it was a great movie. The analogy wasn't perfect. Let's just roll with it.

Phil Plait: No, but I kind of like that. Because that's not what I wanna be, right?

Quinn: Right.

Phil Plait: I don't ever want to be irrelevant. I certainly don't want to be a gatekeeper, which that guy almost literally was in that movie.

Quinn: Quite literally. What do you want to be?

Phil Plait: Back in the day ... I don't want to use that phrase-

Quinn: Oh boy.

Phil Plait: Necessarily, but it's like, when I was a kid ... Not like that. But you know, when the web was starting and there was a new thing every day, I remember when I was ... How old was I? I was pushing 40 working at Sonoma State University in California, and I was telling the undergrads about podcasts.

Quinn: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Phil Plait: They're like, what's a podcast? And I'm like, oh, this is a really cool thing. It's like a radio show but you can just do whatever you want. And that's sort of been why I've been able to keep my head above the water, is because I ... Talk about not mixing a metaphor but having it mixed anyway.

Quinn: No, let's do this.

Phil Plait: I kept my head above the water because I've been able to ride that wave.

Quinn: Wow.

Brian: Keep it going.

Phil Plait: Remember, I write words for a living.

Quinn: Yeah.

Brian: This is going great.

Phil Plait: But it's really been true. Whenever there was something new that would come along, I would either do it or be a part of it somehow. Doing podcast interviews or streaming video. I used to do live Q & A. 

Quinn: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Phil Plait: People could just you know, ask me a question about astronomy and I would answer it the best that I could live. That was fun. But that's been the way, right? Is doing a website. Doing a blog. Doing ... Now I've got this newsletter, which cracks me up, because newsletters were big in the early 2000's. And then they kind of went away.

Brian: Making a comeback.

Phil Plait: But now they're coming back. And so ... I think I gave the wrong address. It's You can find it. Just look up bad astronomy [crosstalk 00:57:18]-

Brian: Oh yeah, it'll be in our notes.

Phil Plait: There's a free version and a paid version. But anyway, you know, that's a way for me ... That fills a niche for me that I couldn't quite fill. For the blog, I want to do a little more in depth, you know? I wanna write 800 words, a thousand words on some topic. 

Quinn: Yeah.

Phil Plait: But every now and again ... And that might be investigating a Hubble image, or a satellite photo of Mars or something. But every now and again, there's just a cool picture. You know, look, here's a volcano erupting from space. And the infrared view shows the vegetation getting eaten by the ash plume or whatever.

Quinn: Sure.

Phil Plait: And that might be 200 words.

Quinn: True.

Phil Plait: So this is a everything old is new again. So I can use this newsletter to do that. So I'm gonna try new things. When-

Brian: Yeah, please do [crosstalk 00:58:06]-

Phil Plait: Pick this up again. When Hank Green and his crew approached me and said we wanna do Crash Course Astronomy. Do you want to write it and host it? I wasn't really that up on what he was doing. 

Quinn: Right.

Phil Plait: I knew about him and John, but then I looked into it and it's like, well, clearly this is the right thing to do.

Brian: Yeah.

Phil Plait: And now a couple of years later, it's got over 30 million views.

Quinn: Yeah, it's incredible.

Phil Plait: So you know, I hope I'm not this desiccated semi-corpse waiting for people to come to me. I'm still getting out there and doing my thing. Now I'm consulting more on TV shows. I'm consulting for a show called "Salvation" on CBS.

Quinn: Oh yeah.

Phil Plait: I've got a couple other hooks in the water. Irons in the fire.

Quinn: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Nope, keep it going [crosstalk 00:58:49]-

Brian: Any more? 

Phil Plait: Cards to be dealt-

Brian: Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes.

Phil Plait: Hot chocolates to be stirred? I don't know.

Brian: You gotta stir it. Otherwise it gets chunky at the bottom.

Phil Plait: But I'm just trying new things, trying new ways of branching out. Because like I said, you can't just simply give people facts. There has to be a story. There has to be [crosstalk 00:59:09]-

Quinn: To be a connection-

Phil Plait: A foot in their door-

Quinn: Yep.

Phil Plait: Whatever their tribe is. And so-

Quinn: That is the key.

Phil Plait: I will continue ... Yeah, and so if ... And I just keep trying new things and see what sticks. A lot of it doesn't, you know? I've tried things that haven't worked, and it's like, well, that was fun. But colossal waste of time. And now I'll go back to writing my blog. So you try new things and I want to get across the facts, but I want to get across the beauty of science and the natural world. I want to get across my passion for it. And again, the joy. Because scientists dedicate their lives to this. And now it's not poo pooed to show that joy. To wear it on your sleeve and to show it to people. And I love that. I love that there are scientists out there now who are doing that. Making their own videos, doing their own social media and just being happy about it.

Brian: I mean, yeah, that's what moves you and grabs you, right? When you can tell, when you know what the person is talking about, they're so incredibly passionate about it. Otherwise, why are you affected? 

Phil Plait: Right. And that's ... You know, again, it works on so many levels. Like, you have to start with getting people to give a shit. And there's plenty of people out there that do, but infecting them with the joy is the thing that's gonna make them go out there and start conversations at the bar with their friends. Or start conversations with a representative in their city council meeting and saying, what's our water health like? You know? And those are two levels, but they're not gonna have that unless they've got the joy and they feel empowered to do it. But like you said, the facts, but also the storytelling. And that could be the particular person they're bringing it up with at the bar or at their water cooler at work, I don't know.

Brian: I don't think that there's water coolers anymore.

Quinn: Wow, Brian.

Phil Plait: You know, but it's also the reason they know to talk to their city council member or their State representative. And this is part of the reason Congress is so fucking broken is because no one listens to their constituents. But the purpose of the House is more specific representation to talk to ... To understand and be able to translate and appropriate the message of their specific community. And to apply the science to that. 'Cause you're not going to go to your city council member and go off on climate change and how sea level rise is going to affect Miami. They don't fucking care. They're gonna care if you have a military base that employs half a million people or something like that. 

Phil Plait: And that's what's gonna help move the needle. But they're not gonna do that until they feel like they have the tools and the wind behind them. And I guess that's why folks like you are so important.

Quinn: Yeah, sure.

Phil Plait: Roll with it.

Brian: [inaudible 01:01:50].

Quinn: Yeah. When you end it with praising me, I'm like, what am I gonna say? Yes, of course, you're correct. 

Phil Plait: Yeah.

Brian: Okay, say nothing.

Phil Plait: That's kind of a funny bind to be in.

Quinn: Agree with him and sound like an arrogant jerk. Or disagree, and sound like a falsely modest jerk.

Brian: There's gotta be a middle ground there.

Quinn: No, honestly I do agree. And I think that I've got my role to play, and it doesn't have to be just me anymore. And for a long time, let me tell ya, online-

Brian: That's what it felt like?

Quinn: I'm not gonna say it was just me, but I was one of the few astronomers out there when the web was just starting out. Now, there's a lot of them. And that's good.

Brian: Oh, so good.

Quinn: So I'm happy about it.

Brian: So Phil, let's say I'm young and empowered. I might not be a scientist-

Quinn: Or become one.

Brian: You know ... Or maybe I would.

Quinn: Okay.

Brian: But like I fucking love science. And you know, I'm progressive and I'm fired up about this November 2018. But I want to express myself on a daily basis, too. 

Quinn: What's my first step? How do I start to join and lead this new movement? Who am I following? Who am I getting engaged with online?

Phil Plait: Oh, that's a really hard question, because there is just so much. Which is always kind of a problem, right? It's a fire hose of information. 

Quinn: Right.

Brian: Yeah.

Phil Plait: One thing to do is to simply go into Google and type in scientists running for office in 2018.

Brian: Love that.

Phil Plait: And there are a lot.

Brian: Yes there are.

Quinn: 314 Action. Check out 314 Action.

Phil Plait: 314 Action. Thank you. I was thinking 314, I couldn't think of the URL. Thank you for that.

Quinn: Yep. It's all I got.

Phil Plait: They have a pretty big list. I don't think their list is complete. I seem to remember a couple of people I've heard of running who weren't on it. But the point is, you can start there.

Quinn: Sure.

Phil Plait: And I know you've interviewed Jess Phoenix, who's running for Congress-

Quinn: Yes. She's so awesome.

Phil Plait: In California's 25th District.

Brian: Yeah.

Phil Plait: Yeah, she's a volcanologist. She's a real scientist running for office. And there are more.

Quinn: Yeah.

Phil Plait: So that's one way to do it. And one of the beauties of this, too, is if you get on Twitter and you follow a handful of scientists, even if you're just simply to go on Twitter and follow me on there, and go to my Twitter page and look at who I follow-

Quinn: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Phil Plait: 'Cause I have scientists I follow. 

Quinn: Sure.

Phil Plait: I have climate scientists I follow. That is a ... It's what we call a condensation nucleus in science.

Quinn: Uh-oh.

Phil Plait: It is a nugget of information upon which you can ... More things can condense. It's actually a term that's like dust in the atmosphere that water vapor can condense on and form a raindrop. So in this case, it's an information nucleus. If you can find one person who has information about other people, then your footprint grows very rapidly. And you can find out more and more about who's running and what the issues are and what you can do.

Quinn: Well, and like you said, it's a fire hose, but why not curate your fire hose? You know, a little bit, through these resources like that.

Phil Plait: Yeah. I do. And I ... When I read Twitter, I have different columns. I use an app and I have different feeds for personal friends versus people I just follow for information and that sort of thing. And you can do that with science. You can do it with climate science. You can do it with astronomy, you can do it with the science of politics and the politics of science. 

Quinn: Right. And by the way, it can seem like we're advocating to build a bubble, you know? 

Brian: Right.

Quinn: Which is to curate your news information sources. But one, my issue with this is like people have done this for eternity. You know, you listen to your tribe and that's where you get your news from.

Brian: Yes.

Quinn: It's much worse than it ever was before. But two, we're not asking you to do that. We're asking you to become better informed. And again if it-

Phil Plait: Yeah, our bubble is based on reality.

Quinn: Yeah, and again like look at ... Use the magical Katharine Hayhoe as an example. The number of things we disagree on are probably large and wide. But on this thing, there's nobody better to listen to, you know?

Phil Plait: That's right.

Quinn: She is going to lead us on the path where we can actually have a conversation about that other stuff later, maybe? But right now, everything else is going dark. So once people have done that, what do you feel like are steps that our listeners should be asking of their representatives? Once they're actually following these people? Whether it's tweeting at them online, or attending a meeting, or anything like that?

Phil Plait: Well, all of that. In fact, I haven't seen it as strongly now as I did a year ago. But when Congress was basically sabotaging things left and right, there were campaigns online. Especially on Twitter, to organize people to call their Senators and Congress folks to ... Here's the script. You don't have to follow it word-for-word, but you know ... And there's sites like-

Quinn: I don't know if this is what you're thinking of, but does a fantastic job-

Phil Plait: Fivecalls, thank you.

Quinn: There's literally a-

Phil Plait: That's the one I was thinking of.

Quinn: An app. I mean, it couldn't require less effort.

Brian: Right.

Phil Plait: That's right. Yeah, And it basically says are you interested in these issues?

Brian: Yeah, right.

Phil Plait: What's your zip code? Here are the folks you need to call.

Quinn: Press-

Phil Plait: Here's the script-

Quinn: Mash this button with your fat [crosstalk 01:07:04] finger. That's it.

Phil Plait: Yeah, basically it. And that's important. In my case in Colorado, I have a moderately progressive Democratic Senator and a far right Senator. And so the thing is, you know, one will always do the thing I agree with, and one will always do whatever he can to destroy the planet. So it's just [crosstalk 01:07:25] hard. But there's swing States. There are some moderate Republicans and moderate Democrats who can be swayed.

Quinn: Right.

Phil Plait: A lot of them aren't having town halls and they aren't having public meetings. But you can call them.

Quinn: Sure.

Phil Plait: You can email them. You can ... God knows, you can fax them. Some of them you actually have to-

Brian: You can still fax? [crosstalk 01:07:44]-

Phil Plait: I know, it's true. But that's important. And you don't have to go to the top. Like you said, go to your city council meetings. The school boards, I've been hearing about a tax on the school boards as much as I did during the Bush era. Especially when Texas was putting Creationists ... Stacking the State school boards with Creationists [crosstalk 01:08:05]-

Quinn: Well, one of the conversations we had was with I think we mentioned with Don Duggan Haas and a couple of kids out there, Therese and Jay, you know? They dealt with the Idaho issue a couple of months ago, and man-

Phil Plait: It's in a lot of States.

Quinn: Yeah.

Phil Plait: Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Louisiana-

Quinn: It's just mind-boggling.

Phil Plait: Are the worst. And in the case of Texas, they have so many students, they can actually sway the textbook industry.

Quinn: Right.

Brian: Oh my God.

Phil Plait: So in the 80's that was a ... Or the 2000's that was a big deal. So anything like that. You know, they say all politics is local, and what they mean is it really is. These folks that are Senators, Congress critters, all these folks, they started as town council, city council, State legislature. And that's where a lot of these rules are being made. And that has a lot of sway on federal and global politics. So get involved.

Brian: Get involved is like the major theme always. Alright, Phil, we're getting pretty close to time here. We cannot thank you enough for being here and chatting with us today.

Quinn: It's so great.

Brian: We would love to know [crosstalk 01:09:08]-

Phil Plait: Thank you for letting me soapbox for so long.

Quinn: Yeah, no, please.

Brian: Oh my God, thank you. Who else should we talk to if you want to suggest anybody? I mean, you've already mentioned a bunch of people.

Phil Plait: Across the spectrum?

Brian: Yeah, yeah.

Phil Plait: For what topics?

Quinn: Anything. Basically, again, our focus is ... And this was kind of a different episode 'cause it's a little more philosophical, but the topic is like is it an existential-ish thing that is either affecting our listeners now? Or will in the next five to 20 years? 

Phil Plait: I see.

Quinn: That either they know about or they don't know about. Again, could be positive and crazy like CRISPR, or less good, you know? So any of those things that will help. Again, kind of like we have today, we can develop some action around to empower ... For people to go out there and [crosstalk 01:10:02]-

Brian: Light a little fire under our asses.

Phil Plait: Yeah. The reason I asked is because, you know, I was curious if you meant ... Did you mean astronomy? Do you mean politics? Do you mean climate change?

Quinn: Will take any of it. And again, it's funny ... And I would love to talk to you a little about this. Is we don't catch shit, but sometimes space is the one where everyone's like, ah, no, I know, space is cool and sci-fi. And it's like, yes, however-

Brian: But-

Quinn: We need a redundancy plan, and we should be developing it simultaneously while we try to save this particular rock in space. 

Phil Plait: Right.

Quinn: So that's something ... We're gonna talk to some folks from JPL about you know, insight and about the fucking helicopter they just announced. People are like, oh, do we really need that? It's like well yeah, we need to figure out why Mars went wrong, and also if we can live there.

Brian: Right.

Quinn: Which seems insane, but again, is not going so well here.

Phil Plait: And that's a whole thing right now. There's a whole topic about the idea of colonization and how we need to rethink the idea of quote unquote colonizing another planet. And I agree with that. It's the wrong mindset. We need to be thinking about exploration. But be that as it may, depending on what you want to talk about, the thing I always tell people, is go to my Twitter page. Go to, click on my lists. I have five lists. Couple of them are locked, because they're just like personal things. But I have one called Sciency Folks. And those are going to be-

Quinn: That's very technical sounding.

Phil Plait: People who ... Yeah, and [crosstalk 01:11:33] but sometimes what you see is what you get. And when you think about it, these are people who are promoting science on Twitter, so right away they're gonna be the kind of people you're gonna want to talk about.

Quinn: True.

Phil Plait: They're gonna be the folks who are passionate about getting the word out. And I've got another one called Climate Folks, and these are gonna be climate scientists. And I'm sure you've already talked to a few of them. I know you've talked to Jess Phoenix. You said you've got Katharine Hayhoe on your list. My advice ... And this is something I've been getting more and more passionate about over the past few years, is I have this ridiculously big platform on Twitter because, like I said, I've always been sort of riding the wave. I've always been kind of on the forefront of whatever's working on social media.

Quinn: Sure.

Phil Plait: So over the years it's built an audience far beyond what I would have ever expected. But the beauty of this is that now I have a voice. I have a megaphone. A soapbox. 

Quinn: Sure. Sure.

Phil Plait: And if I can hand that megaphone to somebody else who has a different viewpoint than mine ... I've learned so much from people who aren't white, who aren't men-

Quinn: Sure.

Phil Plait: Who aren't cisgendered. Whatever terms, whatever sort of VENN diagrams you want to put me in. And that's really helped me understand a lot more. Sometimes I agree, and sometimes I don't. But the beauty of it is that I understand their viewpoints better. And even if we don't agree with other people, if we can understand where they're coming from, that helps a lot. So go to my list, look at these people-

Quinn: Awesome.

Phil Plait: Look at ones that don't look like me. And I don't need to give you anybody specific, you probably know all the same folks I do. But just looking down those lists, you'll see the people you need to talk to. And-

Quinn: Awesome.

Phil Plait: Whose voices need to be amplified.

Quinn: Awesome. Well, we will do that. And again, to summarize what our listeners, progressive and people of action, if you're not progressive, can do to do that ... Like you said, get involved in some way. Follow those sciency folks, follow folks like Phil and like you said, definitely follow people that don't look like him and don't sound like him. And aren't as old or have different perspectives or live in different parts of the world.

Brian: And vote.

Quinn: And just please vote, you know?

Brian: Please fucking vote.

Quinn: This is the thing, you know. All these statistics about how many young people turned out in 2016 and whether they will this year after all the organizing that's happened from gun control to science to women's rights and civil rights. And you hope so and there's actually been a ton ... A bit has reversed course on automatic voter registration, which is amazing and should happen everywhere. And that's great news, but people also have to go and vote. So please do that. Spend the next six months empowering yourself so you understand what your candidate is for and what they're against, and how that affects your neighborhood, and city and county, and your state and your country. And the planet, because we are all connected. A lot of these topics, we're all in it together, man.

Quinn: So do that. And even if you don't love science, be informed, because that can help you understand when you are being manipulated and led astray.

Brian: That was perfect.

Quinn: I'm just gonna take that recording of you saying that was perfect and just play it whenever my wife yells at me.

Brian: Not an endorsement.

Quinn: Awesome.

Brian: Cool. So Phil, we have a few last questions that we like to ask everybody. Sort of a lightning round if that sounds cool?

Phil Plait: Okay. 

Brian: [inaudible 01:15:03]. So number one. When was the first time in your life that you realized you had the power of change or the power to do something meaningful?

Phil Plait: There wasn't a moment. It was more of a dawning realization. Pretty much around the time of the moon hoax TV show that Fox put on TV. When I debunked it in a timely fashion, like the day after it went up ... That's a whole story ... I started getting tons of email. Hundreds and maybe even more than a thousand emails from people thanking me. Or arguing with me or whatever. And I realized you know, this thing that I'm just like hammering away on my keyboard in my underwear at home, actually is impacting people's lives.

Quinn: Right.

Phil Plait: And over the years ... You know, it's easy to forget that, because I'm still sitting at home in my ... Well, now I have my Captain America pajamas I wear-

Quinn: Sure. Sure.

Phil Plait: Still have a ... It's good to be reminded every now and again. I get email from people who say I saw you on this, or I saw something you wrote and it really opened my eyes about this topic that I'm now thinking about. And nothing makes me happier.

Quinn: Did that terrify you at all? Knowing you had that power?

Phil Plait: No, because I'm awesome.

Quinn: Sure. Got it. Check. Check. Check. 

Phil Plait: And happily, I'm always right. No, it's a responsibility. It really is. And I try to take it seriously.

Quinn: Sure.

Phil Plait: I mean, not a hundred percent seriously. I still joke and snark and be sarcastic and all that. But it's important. 

Quinn: Yep.

Brian: Yeah it is.

Phil Plait: And of course joking is part of that. If you like go into my Instagram feed, it's almost never about science. It's mostly about my goats. 

Quinn: Right. 

Phil Plait: So, there you go.

Brian: I love that.

Quinn: Yep. 

Brian: And number two, Phil, how do you consumer the news?

Phil Plait: Through the internet. Like almost every other human my age and younger. Actually, I use to watch the local news a lot, in grad school and that sort of thing. It was the only way to get the weather. 

Brian: Yeah.

Phil Plait: But now, it's mostly through links from mostly Twitter. I hate Facebook, and I try not to use it anymore. But I try to get that information from again, from people who don't necessarily agree with me or think like me so I can try to get the news from different viewpoints. But that's mostly how I get it. And that sounds terrible, because we always say, 92 percent of the people get their news from viral crap on Facebook.

Quinn: Right.

Phil Plait: But it's like, yeah, just be critical about it-

Quinn: Sure.

Brian: And look into it.

Phil Plait: You know. Yeah.

Brian: Question it.

Quinn: Right, like you said [crosstalk 01:17:28]-

Phil Plait: People I trust, and people I don't.

Quinn: Well, like you said. Make sure your bubble's based in reality. 

Phil Plait: Yeah. And I can tell you, there's a bunch of people on Twitter that when somebody quotes them, it's like ... It's not that I trust this person ... Well, in fact I do. I trust them to be wrong all the time. You know, I follow [crosstalk 01:17:46]-

Brian: I trust that I distrust them [crosstalk 01:17:47]-

Phil Plait: The House Science Committee right now [crosstalk 01:17:48]-

Quinn: Oh God-

Phil Plait: And they are as Orwellian ... Their tweets ...

Quinn: It's unreal.

Phil Plait: Right out of like ... Maybe not Stalin-era, but certainly there's a lot of Orwell and Joseph McCarthy going on. And ish, yeah. So you know, I follow them because I know that anything they say is not only going to be wrong, but it's gonna be purposely misleading.

Quinn: Well, and it's incredible, 'cause it just makes you go like, that's the official feed. That's not like some crackpot in the bathroom after the meeting tweeting his thoughts. Like man, [crosstalk 01:18:19]-

Phil Plait: Yeah, so that's-

Quinn: Wow.

Phil Plait: So I try to get my news that way. But I try to think about it carefully.

Brian: Right.

Quinn: Yeah.

Brian: Alright Phil, last one.

Quinn: Number three here. If you could Amazon Prime one book to Donald Trump, what would it be?

Phil Plait: You know, it doesn't matter, because he doesn't read-

Quinn: You know [crosstalk 01:18:41] A lot of people have said that-

Phil Plait: We get that response a lot [crosstalk 01:18:42]-

Brian: A lot of people have said that. And my answer is imagine someone reading it to him.

Phil Plait: Yes, right, It would have to be a cartoon book. 

Quinn: Sure, right.

Brian: We've gotten that answer before.

Phil Plait: It's not ... And just to beat this thing to death-

Quinn: Please do.

Phil Plait: I overanalyze everything. Assuming he would read it, and assuming it would have an impact on him, it would probably be Michael Mann and Tom Toles ... He's got a bunch of 'em. One of them's called "The Madhouse Effect". 

Quinn: "The Madhouse Effect"?

Phil Plait: And it's about climate change and it's got editorial cartoons in it by Tom Toles. Just a description of the attack on climate change that's been going on. And Michael Mann has been the epicenter of a lot of this for many years.

Quinn: He is amazing. Yeah, he co-wrote a children's book with this wonderful female author we had on the podcast, Megan Herbert from Australia-

Brian: That's so good.

Quinn: It's such a great kids' book.

Phil Plait: Yeah, I've got that one. I haven't read it yet. I've just got a pile of books to get through.

Brian: Yeah.

Quinn: Yeah. 

Phil Plait: His stuff is good.

Quinn: Good news is that it will take you about ten minutes [crosstalk 01:19:41]-

Phil Plait: Climate wars.

Quinn: But it's great. And he's obviously, you know, at the forefront of all of this.

Quinn: Last one, 'cause we haven't let you do this at all, but please tell us something awesome about space so we will ... Distract us from the entire rest of our day?

Brian: Yes. Last question ever.

Phil Plait: There's so much.

Quinn: But something new this week ... We're just like, holy shit. People should know about this.

Phil Plait: It's not something new-

Quinn: Okay, great.

Phil Plait: But something that still makes the hair on the back of my neck stand up every now and again when I think about it, is that when I was a kid there were nine planets.

Quinn: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Phil Plait: And you know, then there were eight.

Quinn: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Phil Plait: And we could do a whole talk about putting labels on stuff that don't need labels.

Quinn: Right.

Phil Plait: But for the past century or more, we've been looking for planets around other stars, and our technology wasn't up to it. And then almost overnight in the 1990's, that changed.

Quinn: Right.

Phil Plait: And we started discovering planets. Now we have-

Quinn: Tell us how many there are.

Phil Plait: Well, we've discovered thousands. There are about 3,000 confirmed planets orbiting other stars.

Quinn: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Phil Plait: Extrapolating from that, because we haven't looked at every single star, we've looked at a sample.

Quinn: Right.

Phil Plait: And you say, well, we've looked at this many stars, and they're this many stars in the galaxy.

Quinn: Right.

Phil Plait: So if we multiply the number of planets we found by how many planets are probably out there ... I mean by the number of stars that are out there, the number of planets you get probably outnumbers stars in the galaxy. So there are 200 billion stars maybe in the Milky Way, and that's just our galaxy. 200 billion stars. There are probably more planets than that.

Quinn: Sure.

Phil Plait: Not every star has planets, but most of them have multiple planets. Like the sun does.

Quinn: Right.

Phil Plait: And so there are, you know, hundreds of billions, maybe trillions of planets in our galaxy alone. 

Quinn: It's incredible to me. I read a whole personal blog post a few years about The Great Filter question-

Phil Plait: Yeah.

Quinn: And that shit just blows my mind all the time. It's incredible. And I don't know the answer whether we're beyond-

Phil Plait: I have my ideas.

Quinn: The Great ... Whether we're approaching The Great Filter at reckless speed, or whether we're past it or never gonna see it, or whether it exists, or whether there's other life out there. But just the numbers. And this is why I'm just ... Every time the James Webb Telescope gets delayed, I cry a little bit. Just 'cause what that thing could find is just incredible.

Phil Plait: I did work on it before it was ... When it was still just on paper.

Quinn: Wow.

Phil Plait: So I've been waiting a long time to see this thing get launched.

Quinn: And Phil, this has been so great. Where can our listeners follow you online?

Phil Plait: Everywhere. 

Brian: [crosstalk 01:22:20] of places.

Phil Plait: You can look up Bad Astronomy Blog. It's hosted on, My newsletter is I'm on Twitter as badastronomer. Instagram, I think it's just maybe badastronomer, I can't remember now. If you go to, I have all of my social media linked there.

Quinn: Awesome. Awesome. Perfect. Well, Phil, can't think you enough. Thank you so much for your time today.

Brian: So much.

Quinn: All you have done and will continue to do out there. We just pray that you keep taking us out there.

Brian: Yeah. It's been a pleasure, man.

Phil Plait: Well, thank you for helping amplify my voice so I can amplify others as well.

Quinn: For sure, man. That's the least folks can do in this, the most [crosstalk 01:23:06]-

Brian: We have to do.

Quinn: The most important year in our lives. 

Quinn: Awesome. Well, thanks so much, Phil. And hopefully we'll talk to you again soon, man.

Phil Plait: Alright. Thank you.

Brian: Take it easy.

Quinn: Take it easy.

Quinn: Thanks to our incredible guest today, and thanks to all of you for tuning in. We hope this episode has made your commute or awesome workout or dishwashing or fucking dog walking late at night that much more pleasant. As a reminder, please subscribe to our free email newsletter at It is all the news most vital to our survival as a species. 

Brian: And you can follow us all over the internet and you can find us on Twitter @importantnotimp. That's just so weird. Also on Facebook and Instagram at Important Not Important. Pinterest and Tumblr, the same thing. So check us out, follow us, share us, like us, you know the deal. And please subscribe to our show wherever you listen to things like this. And if you're really fucking awesome, rate us on Apple Podcast. Keep the lights on, thanks.

Quinn: Please.

Brian: And you can find the show notes from today right in your little podcast player and at our website,

Quinn: Thanks to the very awesome Tim Blaine for our jamming music, to all of you for listening, and finally, most importantly, to our Moms for making us. Have a great day.

Brian: Thanks guys.