At RJMetrics, our mission is to inspire and empower data-driven people. So, on Fridays, we’re going to try something a little fun (because data is fun). We’re going to run The Data Byte — celebrating and examining the many ways data is surfacing in culture.

Neil Degrasse Tyson

useNeilDTysonThis guy! He’s the rockstar astrophysicist of the millennial age. He’s in millions of homes evangelizing for science every Sunday with Cosmos, he’s in your kid’s Superman comic, he demoted a planet.

What makes him important?

Neil deGrasse Tyson is a constant, opinionated advocate for the cosmic perspective. For him, it’s all about contextualizing our place in the universe as loudly as possible. If you take a moment to remember that you are made of starstuff, that you’re breathing the same air and drinking the same water as Napoleon and Cleopatra, that one day our Sun will supernova — if you take a moment for awe, isn’t the world a more marvelous place? And in this marvelous world full of facts, we can stuff our brains. Here’s some more things Neil deGrasse Tyson would like you to remember:

  • The night sky is full of ghosts. The farther away a star is, the longer it took for its light to reach us — long enough to have outlived the star itself. What we see is not what currently exists.
  • We share 90% of our DNA with trees
  • There are more stars than there are seconds of the Earth’s existence

Knowing things isn’t only a way to pepper your dinner party with “did you know” conversations. It’s also a way of keeping a fact-based understanding of life. We’re built to act on instinct. Our wiring prefers gut decisions to reasoned responses. Remembering reason grants us the ability to make better, more informed decisions across all aspects of our lives. To slow down and consider the possibilities means we’ll understand ourselves — and each other better. In doing this, the universe also becomes a far more beautiful and fascinating place.

GZA

gzaWho deserves to be fascinated by science? Everybody. But statistics show that nationally, kids aren’t faring very well with the sciences in school. This is especially true in urban schools. This is where GZA, of Wu-Tang Clan comes in.

What does GZA have to do with science?

The hip-hop artist isn’t just the creator of many must-listen albums, he’s a science enthusiast. As a little kid, like most us, he was inherently interested in what makes the sky blue, or why you shouldn’t stick your finger in an electrical socket. But as he got older, he lost interest in school. His passion didn’t take off again until he was well established as a musical star. Now he wants to capture city kids at that critical high school age and get them deeply engaged with science.

GZA has teamed up with Dr. Chris Emdin, associate professor of science education at Columbia University, to meet kids on their common ground with an initiative called Science Genius. Together, they’re helping kids write raps about science. It’s a comprehensive project introducing teachers to hip hop culture, introducing kids to eminent scientific scholars (and GZA), and smashing everyone together to help create the next generation of scientists.

Wordplay doesn’t work without knowledge and creativity. Using rap to teach science changes the traditional formula for learning — and reaches a crucial audience.You can see his teams’ success featured in this TEDXTeen talk.

Who else is combining music and science?

We hope you’ve already seen Commander Hadfield’s beautiful rendition of David Bowie’s “Space Oddity” actually filmed in space. It’s exquisite, making Hadfield seem simultaneously vulnerable and a master of the universe.

Commander Chris Hadfield

Chris_Hadfield_2011That quality is what makes his work so important. While he was onboard the International Space Station (as the first Canadian to be in command), he captured the imagination of children and adults alike. Through Twitter and YouTube, he made science a subject of daily playground and water cooler conversation.

He covered topics like using toothpaste or toilets in space. And in doing this, he made the science of how things work approachable. He wasn’t just the one guy out of seven billion who got to command a space station, he’s also the guy explaining the basics of space plumbing.

GZA and Chris Hadfield aren’t the only people at the crossroads of music and science. Check out these other collisions of music and science:

Science in your Facebook feed

If you spend time on Facebook, and the evidence shows you do, you’ve probably seen the somewhat this somewhat crudely named group’s postings in your feed.

I F***ing Love Science

I F***ing Love Science occupies the same space as cat videos, baby pictures, and the hamburger pictures your friends keep posting. Except the IFLS stream is filled with entreaties to reason (or to explore, or to wonder). Their posts are addictive.

ifls-bacteriaThese memes have been so explosively popular, boasting over 10 million fans, that the page is about to become its own TV show. It’s going to be hosted by late-late host Craig Ferguson on the Science Channel, featuring a mix of live-action, animation and re-creations that demonstrate the random manifestations of science that connects us. That’s coming a long way from being the neat side-project of British biology student Elise Andrew.

And that’s what’s so amazing about the world of science and data. Anyone can explore it.

Who did we miss?

That’s all for this week’s Data Byte. Come back next week for more fun with the everyday world of data. In the meantime — do you have another smash-up of science and music? Who’s your favorite science advocate? Let us know in the comments!

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