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Neil deGrasse Tyson’s 272-word call to action for America

Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address is rightfully regarded as one of the finest and most influential speeches ever written. It sought to heal a broken nation and to pave a way forward, towards fulfilling the position of greatness that the United States of America was destined to achieve. Amazingly, Honest Abe managed to succinctly capture the essence of his message in just 272 words.

Early in 2015, the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library Foundation – aware of Lincoln’s passion for the sciences in illuminating America’s future – approached physicist and science communicator Neil deGrasse Tyson with a fascinating proposition. They wanted him to pen a reflective response to the Gettysburg Address, and to keep the length of his response to the same 272 words.

Dr Tyson tackled this with his typical gusto; the result being a brief but memorable call-to-arms. This would see Lincoln’s vision for politics being heavily influenced by science and innovation brought to life in the 21st Century.

Below is a video that features Neil’s narration of the speech, accompanied by beautiful animated visuals that seem to have been created by Bill Gates’ media team. Beneath the video is a full transcript of the 272-word mini opus.

TRANSCRIPT (care of the journal Science):

One and a half centuries ago, Civil War divided these United States of America. Yet in its wake, we would anneal as one nation, indivisible. During the bloody year of his Gettysburg Address, President Lincoln chartered the National Academy of Sciences—comprised of fifty distinguished American researchers whose task was then, as now, to advise Congress and the Executive Branch of all ways the frontier of science may contribute to the health, wealth, and security of its residents. As a young nation, just four score and seven years old, we had plucked the engineering fruits of the Industrial Revolution that transformed Europe, but Americans had yet to embrace the meaning of science to society.

Now with more than two thousand members, the National Academy encompasses dozens of fields undreamt of at the time of Lincoln’s charter. Quantum Physics, discovered in the 1920s, now drives nearly one third of the world’s wealth, forming the basis for our computer revolution in the creation, storage, and retrieval of information. And as we continue to warm our planet, Climatology may be our only hope to save us from ourselves.

During the centennial of its charter, President Kennedy addressed the Academy membership, noting, “The range and depth of scientific achievement in this room constitutes the seedbed of our nation’s future.”

In this, the twenty-first century, innovations in science and technology form the primary engines of economic growth. While most remember honest Abe for war and peace, and slavery and freedom, the time has come to remember him for setting our Nation on a course of scientifically enlightened governance, without which we all may perish from this Earth.

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