Respect for our science popularizers
Science and math have never been my favorite subjects. In school, those were the classes I was most likely to struggle with. I still have traumatic memories of freshman-year algebra, with all of those infernal x’s and y’s.
After completing a few required science and math courses during my first couple years of college, I gladly moved on with the rest of life knowing that I would never be required to solve another quadratic equation or find helium on the Periodic Table of Elements.
Of course, you can never completely escape math, especially when you consider the essential role of basic arithmetic in everyday life. Science is also unavoidable, particularly in a job like mine where you occasionally have to explain things like water and sewer treatment or phosphorus runoff.
I have recently gained a new appreciation for the science-and-math scene with the help of a popular YouTuber known as Vsauce. His real name is Michael Stevens, a highly engaging geek who likes to do “deep dives” on topics such as never-ending mathematical patterns and scientific anomalies. His videos feature such attention-grabbing titles like “How to count past infinity” and “What if the moon was a disco ball?”
All of this material comes from a guy with degrees in psychology and English literature of all things. He’s not a physics professor at MIT or a NASA scientist; he’s just some guy with a knack for explaining complex topics in an entertaining way. He talks pretty fast, so sometimes you may have to pull back the video’s progress bar a few times to catch all the details, but it’s definitely worth some repeated playbacks.
I first wrote about Vsauce about a year ago, after I first viewed his video on “Zipf’s law,” which basically explains how written language follows the same universal pattern based on the frequency of different words. Statistically speaking, I and every other writer in the world uses certain words at the same exact frequency, regardless of how “unique” we think our writing style might be. This is both highly fascinating and maybe a little depressing.
I revisited Vsauce’s channel this past weekend, and found myself spending my entire Saturday exploring topics like the brain science behind fear and the tendency to hear words within random noise. Vsauce would likely be considered a science “popularizer,” someone who is able to explain complicated concepts to a mass audience without compromising accuracy. Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson is another well-known “popularizer.” These guys deserve a lot of credit for getting people like me to pay attention to subjects I usually avoid. Simply put, the world needs more popularizers.
OUT FOR A WALK