ASU’s Origins Project, which is directed by Krauss, sponsored the panel as part of a series of weekend events celebrating science, reason, and stories. (Disclosure: ASU is a partner withSlate and the New America Foundation in Future Tense, and Krauss is a regular Future Tense contributor.) As part of the festivities, the radio show Science Friday broadcast live from ASU, and there was also a Friday night screening of and discussion about The Unbelievers, a documentary following Krauss and Dawkins as they travel the world to promote atheism and skeptical thinking. Cameron Diaz, who appears briefly in The Unbelievers, even took to the stage with Krauss, Dawkins, and authors Ian McEwan and Cormac McCarthy to discuss the film. (Upon introducing Diaz to the audience, Krauss remarked that he initially met her at World Science Fest a few years back—and during their first conversation, he apologized to her for having been surprised to see her there.)
In his opening remarks at “The Science of Storytelling” on Saturday, Krauss said, “One of the things I like to tell students … not all the problems are solved. There’s still an incredible need to understand things in the universe.” By telling the human stories behind the science, we can stop making it feel like something that was “done by dead white men.” Accordingly, each panelist told a tale (or several) about science—and that’s where Tyson’s shirt comes in.
Tyson was riffing on a familiar theme: art’s relationship with science. For eons, he said, artists had a responsibility to paint primarily what they saw. But with the advent of photography—science!—“it was no longer the obligation of the artist to capture reality.” That’s when he shucked his beige button-down to display a T-shirt bearing Van Gogh’s Starry Night. (Tyson’s office at the American Museum of Natural History boasts both a Starry Night print and a Starry Night pillow, which he showed off in a Science Friday video in March 2012.)