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Astronomer Phil Plait Brings Skeptics Students to Another Level
Paula Hong '16

Much of what society thinks it knows about space and the universe comes, for better or worse, from Hollywood. However, on Tuesday, October 17, Blair students will get to observe a much more realistic tour of some of the galaxy’s wonders including the Saturn system of moons and rings by astronomer, teacher and lecturer Phil Plait, who has been debunking myths on his blog Bad Astronomy for over 25 years.

“I have always been in awe of science and astronomy, ever since I was extremely young. Seeing Saturn through a telescope when I was five or six sent me on this journey in the first place,” shared Mr. Plait in a pre-event interview. “You never know what will strike you, what flavor of the world will wind up being what you dedicate your life to; it could be art, music, accounting, history...or it might be science. I am thrilled to be able to show these students what it was that impacted me, and hope that they, too, see the joy in it.”

An expert in astronomy, Mr. Plait obtained his doctorate in the field at the University of Virginia and found an opportunity to work on the Hubble Space Telescope as a NASA contractor at the Goddard Space Flight Center. In his free time, he started building a career in public outreach and education with his Bad Astronomy website, meant to debunk bad science and popular misconceptions. 

Today, he is also the proud author of four books, Nerd Disses, Under Alien Skies, Bad Astronomy and Death from the Skies!, hosted the TV show “Phil Plait’s Bad Universe” on the Discovery Channel in 2010 and served as the head science writer for “Bill Nye Saves the World” on Netflix, which was released in 2017. 

Of all of his adventures and accomplishments, however, he finds that one of the more, if not most, gratifying experiences is interacting with young minds. 

“For many, many years I have promoted the idea of critical thinking—to not just accept a statement, but to examine it, look at the evidence for and against it, try to determine if there’s a way to support or negate it, and to question any biases we might have that could sway our thinking without us knowing it,” shared Mr. Plait. 

“This is of fundamental importance, especially now with so much mis- and disinformation so freely available. Placing students in an environment where they question what they hear is critical, so that part of Skeptics appeals to me greatly.”

All are welcome to hear Mr. Plait speak in the forum of the Chiang-Elghanayan Center next Tuesday at 7 p.m.


History of Skeptics
 
The Society of Skeptics was established as a forum for students and faculty to discuss and debate important global issues; it has grown to become one of the premier high school lecture series in the United States. Each week, speakers from the political, social, scientific, economic and literary arenas share their unique perspectives with students, who are encouraged to engage with presenters, asking questions and debating points of view.

The program, which is funded in part by the Class of 1968 Society of Skeptics Endowment Fund, is an outgrowth of the Blair International Society, begun in 1937. Forty years later, former history department chair Elliott Trommald, PhD, Hon. ’65, established the modern Skeptics program as a regular forum for student discussion and debate; history teacher Martin Miller, PhD, took over in the mid-1980s and molded the program into a weekly lecture series, one that has since continued without interruption. Under the tutelage of Dr. Miller and his successor, history department chair Jason Beck, Skeptics has featured a wide variety of speakers who are thought-provoking, engaging, accomplished in their respective fields and often controversial. For a listing of upcoming Skeptics programs, please visit Blair’s website.

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