Eric Peterson is a high school science teacher and a content creator from California. He is widely known on TikTok and YouTube as Planet Peterson. He is best known for talking to flat Earthers, evolution deniers, and other science deniers online. His new book Rational Answers to Stupid Questions takes approximately one hundred of the most common arguments used against mainstream science and debunks them all. The subjects in the book include evolution, astronomy, physics, geology, geography, biology, genetics, and more.
Joe: Hi everyone! I am joined by Eric Peterson, also known as Planet Peterson – author of the new book Rational Answers to Stupid Questions. Honestly, this is one of my favorite titles that I’ve heard in a long time. Thanks for being here and I’m excited to chat with you about your new book.
Eric: Yeah, thanks for having me.
Joe: Let’s get right into it. So, tell me. What is your book about?
Eric: So, the book is structured like a handbook to combat anti scientific claims. That was my idea for writing the book. I have been talking and debating online for years now with people about science, and eventually, after doing so many hundreds of those conversations, I thought I should just compile this into a book.
I wanted people to be armed with that knowledge, to be able to provide that for people, because it’s hard to respond to a series of talking points, especially when somebody just comes out and says something is impossible.
Well, what if you don’t know the reason why what they’re saying is false? Now, suddenly it looks like they’re right just because you didn’t know what to say. So, my book it arms you with the ability to eviscerate that with actual science and evidence.
Joe: Yes, and in the age of social media and internet “experts”, it’s good to have a book that shares the reality of things and backs it up with true scientific data. I’m so curious – without any spoilers – what would you say are the most relevant topics that you cover?
If you could choose – and it doesn’t have to be a set number – what stands out to you the most about the key takeaways?
Eric: Evolution. It makes up about a third of the book. It is by far the most contentious scientific idea that I regularly deal with. There’s a huge number of claims and arguments and evidence against those claims. Evolution is the big one.
The book is broken down into six parts. Evolution begins it. Then there is the Big Bang. And the Big Bang is one of the most wildly misunderstood scientific ideas out there. It’s not necessarily one that people talk much about. But when they try, they rarely understand it. But I also talk about science in general – because people seem to really misunderstand philosophically and pragmatically/practically how science is done.
People will say that some areas of study don’t even count as science. When it comes to science, there is so much to unpack.
Joe: If people follow you on TikTok or YouTube, they know that you carry yourself a certain way. You are funny and witty. You have a unique way of engaging with people. So, I’m curious – even though your book is comprised of so many scientific facts, do you sprinkle in your sense of humor into it? How do you mix humor with facts?
Eric: Oh yeah. The book is funny. Early on, I say that I take the truth seriously. I take education very seriously. I’m a teacher, but you know that I don’t take myself all that seriously. I think we can all benefit a little from not taking ourselves so seriously. So, you can trust all the information in the book. I had multiple PhD scientists read it and check everything. Multiple other scientists who worked in labs and in different fields have checked it too. Trust the information for its accuracy and authenticity. I have about 150 citations marked throughout the book. But also know that it is not dry. Being a teacher, I know how to engage with teenagers, so I do have a sense of humor. So, there is some wit and charm in it.
Science is important, and therefore it is interesting. I want people to get interested and excited about what is in there. That just comes naturally to me because I am passionate, and I truly love this.
Joe: I love that. And using me as an example – I’m someone with limited scientific background. I studied English Literature, but I’ve always been interested in science. And from following you and reading your work, I see that you have a wonderful ability to engage people of all different backgrounds. Whether you have a background in science, or literature, or history, etc., you make it interesting for all people. I think you being a teacher really is a big factor in that.
Connecting with people and making things interesting is part of your job. And don’t forget, you have this huge following online! How did these two worlds come to be? How did Planet Peterson emerge out of the classroom?
Eric: It’s kind of a long story but also simple. It basically happened because of the pandemic. Like a lot of people, I was bored, and I downloaded TikTok. Also, my students were going to school online so I began to create educational YouTube videos for them to consume while we couldn’t be in the classroom together.
So, that’s how I began to start my journey of becoming an influencer/online creator. On TikTok, I started doing livestreams and would invite people to come chat with me. At first, I was nobody on the platform. Then randomly a couple of videos – some funny some not – would get hundreds of thousands of views. Then I built my following.
I was able to generate content by talking to people online. People really love to learn. I get messages all the same thanking me for the content I put out there. But in addition to the science, we have fun doing it. We goof around and there’s an entertainment aspect to it. There are viral moments but most times it’s just combating misinformation, and people appreciate that.
Joe: Absolutely. And you are very good at it. You have a great ability to blend education, humor, and entertainment to bring people together. And as someone who has a background working in education, I know how much work it is. How challenging is it for you to balance these two different worlds – being a teacher and an influencer?
Eric: Oh, they are completely different. Being a content creator is pretty much a part time job. I would say I spend 15-20 hours per week doing it. In addition to my regular job, I have an hour commute. So, my schedule is basically Monday-Friday 6am-5pm. I just must schedule and plan things. I’m meticulous and methodical so I have my routine.
I always dedicated a portion of my morning to creating stuff and getting it ready. And then there are hours in the evening that I’ll set aside for content. I do post every day – oftentimes multiple videos per day. A lot of the success comes down to having a ruthless routine that I stick to. It is very time consuming – but the rewards have been pretty good for me.
Joe: I could imagine that even though it’s so time consuming, it helps that you are so passionate about this work. When you’re grinding and working, it is always easier when you are doing something you genuinely love. How did this passion and love for science and education come to be?
Eric: Teaching science for me has been weird. I have multiple science credentials. I can teach every subject and have taught every subject. I’ve taught anatomy and physiology. I’ve taught biology, earth and space science, chemistry, physics, and chemistry. My degree is in biology and I’d say that is where I have the most knowledge.
But in terms of my passion for science – a lot of it came from this book [right here]. I can vividly remember as a kid just laying down in the living room with this book open. I’d flip through it and read everything. I wanted to learn the next thing and then the next thing. I was fascinated by the natural world, especially the animal world. I threw myself into everything I could. I just knew at an early age that this is something I love. I read books, watched TV shows, and couldn’t get enough of everything science-related.
Joe: I love that! And you still have the books handy. That’s the power of books. And who knows, maybe your book will be like that! Some kid might be holding onto Eric Peterson’s book as the catalyst for their love for science. Have you thought about the big picture for your book yet? Any aspirations?
Eric: I don’t really. Basically, I want to just arm people with the actual evidence for science. Although I talk to people who don’t believe in certain claims, I don’t think I’ve ever met someone who dislikes science or doesn’t think that it is important. So, for anyone who shares that passion and wants to defend science against silly talking points and misinformation, this is the book for you. We have a complex society and one that doesn’t understand science at a certain level – it can be catastrophic. It leads to famines, wars, and all kinds of catastrophes. We need science. We depend on it. I hope my book helps people understand science just a little more.
Joe: So true. There is a true interconnection with science and all modalities in the world. Your book is awesome, and I’m stoked to read it. I really appreciate you coming on here to talk about it and share your own background. I appreciate learning about you, and your journey from the classroom to becoming this popular online creator. Before we go, can you just share your social channels?
Joe: Amazing. Again, thank you for your time and best of luck with the book!
Eric: Thanks for having me.