"Who is Carl Sagan?"

Sep 12 2010 Published by under Activism, Uncategorized

Sci doesn't usually dip her toe in the water with regard to metabloviation on science outreach and science communication (though she does a lot of both outreach and communication). While I love to run with and develop and perform and output new ideas in science communication and outreach, I find the controversies and discussions surrounding it difficult to break into. I simply don't have the background, and thus any time I try to say anything, I usually end up looking stupid. Sci doesn't like looking stupid (sure, we should all have stupidity in science, but not the kind that makes you hang your head in shame), and so I generally don't like taking it on, though I follow the conversations with a great deal of interest.

But something happened to me today that I wanted other people, who might do more with the ideas around modern scientific communication, to hear about. Who knows? They may have already encountered something like this themselves.

And it started with the question above.

"Who is Carl Sagan?"

The girl who asked me, a friend of mine, looked totally lost and puzzled. We were playing a game of "apples to apples" which is a card game where you pick nouns to match adjectives, and one person picks the best, which is really a lot more entertaining than it sounds (for example, we had two adjectives of "perfect" and "horrifying", and the final winner was "Spam", though I really think it should have been "Cher"). The card which had the name "Carl Sagan" had simply some dates and the phrase "an exobiologist".

I was the only person there who knew who Carl Sagan was, and the only one who had a good guess as to what an "exobiologist" was.

But here's the thing. The person who asked me who Carl Sagan was was incredibly bright. She is very talented. She's a generally great person to be around.

She's a pharmacist, and she's taken piles of science courses, including biology, a lot of chemistry, some physics, etc. And she had no idea who Carl Sagan was. She had never heard of "Cosmos".

Now some of you might GASP in horror and say "well, obviously she's not a good scientist/pharmacist/educated person". I would beg to differ, this girl is great at her job, well educated, and generally an interesting person to be around.

But it really made me pause. What does it mean that she didn't know about Carl Sagan? Was it because she wasn't really interested in science outside of medicine? Was it because she didn't get into science until she was older?

Or was it merely because she was under 30?

When we talk about science communication and the future, we often say we need another Carl Sagan. But is the model of Carl Sagan really relevant anymore? Who else is inspirational? Do we need another Bill Nye? Another Mr. Wizard? More Mathnet? What does it mean that model we have always thought of as reaching the scientists of today may not in fact have reached them at all?

I don't know the answers. I don't even know if I'm asking the right questions. I'll even be totally honest. I've never seen "Cosmos" myself. I have never seen Carl Sagan in action and I can certainly not say I've been inspired. I heard it's still being shown on science channels, but I don't watch a lot of TV, and so that sort of thing doesn't get to me. Does this make me a bad scientist? Does it make me a bad science communicator?

For all I know, other people have asked these questions and this whole post is irrelevant. But I want to know what you all think. What does it mean that some (or many) modern day scientists don't know who Carl Sagan is? Is that good or bad? What does it mean for science communication in general?

And if we need a modern Carl Sagan, what would they look like? What would they DO? And how would they capture the hearts and minds and imaginations of millions?

And if I'm being stupid about this, please let Sci know. She's tough and she can take it. And I will certainly learn.

38 responses so far

  • Joanne says:

    I suppose in comparison to those we hold in high regard on TV for relaying science nowadays (Jamie and Adam of Mythbusters-neither of whom are scientists), Sagan stood out as someone with the depth of knowledge of science and the incredibility ability to communicate it plainly to the general public. Just what we need of scientists today. His personality made science quite accessible to all. I think his gentle and diplomatic approach made science less frightening to those who might find it intimidating. Subsequent popularizers focus on the fact that science is fun (and flashy), which is true, but what we in science also know about is that science requires a contemplative nature. Sagan displayed this, but this aspect is rarely shown on TV anymore. It would be nice to see someone like Sagan return to show that science is not just about what is cool, but also aims to show that science aims for something higher than a visceral thrill.

  • Dr Becca says:

    A) You don't look stupid (how is this even possible??)
    B) I don't know the answer to your question re: Carl Sagan.
    C) Apples to Apples is THE BEST!!!! So so so much fun.

  • 20tauri says:

    The Carl Sagan "model" is certainly relevant today, it's just that very few have been able to follow through with the same eloquence and authority that Sagan did. I think perhaps the big difference these days is that we live in a world where small sound bytes trump larger conversations about science and society, and where entertainment created for TV ratings trumps deep thinking about topics that might not involve explosions or blood or gore. Bill Nye, Neil Tyson, Phil Plait, all these folks are trying to do the science popularization thing...all the while selling their books or their TV shows or ads on their blogs. None of these folks are real practicing scientists the way Sagan was, the way someone like Richard Dawkins is (although Dawkins has certainly hurt his chances at being "the next Sagan" with his unabashed and constant attacks on religion). I think there are people out there who can follow more directly in Sagan's footsteps, and I do think we need more folks like this to spread the gospel of science to the masses. It will take people who have enough experience and credibility as scientists and as communicators to be able to make some of the decisions on media appearances; less than that and you'll have the networks calling all the shots, which is most likely a recipe for disaster. One to watch out for is planetary scientist Carolyn Porco, who has often spoken on science and society - and who is actually somewhat of a disciple of Sagan's. Stay tuned :)

  • David says:

    Watch Cosmos! It's available on Netflix instant, and I believe it's still on Hulu as well (if you don't mind commercials). It is most definitely worth it, and it opened my eyes to why he's such a beloved figure. It's subtitled "a personal journey" for a good reason. I'm 33 and just watched Cosmos for the first time this year. I've watched a few of the episodes twice since then.

    Do we need another? I tend to think so. I think we need many, and not just middle aged white guys. We have some good ones, like Neil De Grasse Tyson. The paleontologist Scott Sampson seems like he's heading that way with his PBS kids show Dinosaur Train. Sagan was lucky, in a way, to have been coming up at the time of the space race and the moon landing. I think that has a lot to do with his popularity. He did well to capitalize on the good will science earned in the sixties. When I think about the next Sagan, I think it requires a major pursuit like the space race. Maybe the Mars mission? Maybe green energy? Stem cell research? Just tossing out ideas here.

    The much-talked-about studies about how much the public distrust science are really discouraging, and I think some sort of big project, with charismatic ambassadors, is essential.

    You're not bad or stupid, of course! There's TOO MUCH STUFF to keep up with. If you have the time, I really think that Cosmos would be worthwhile. Also, the movie based on his novel Contact, which I watched tonight on Netflix instant. I already had Sagan on my mind when I saw this post come up. Thanks for asking this question.

  • Robert says:

    Ever since I bought the Cosmos DVD box set, I've been inflicting it on anyone who has even the slightest chance of watching it. With some people, I just say "just watch the last episode."

    As long as DVDs (or Bluray, or whatever) of Cosmos are available, as long books like Pale Blue Dot are available, Sagan will continue to inspire.

    As for a successor: the nearest we have at the moment is, I think, Brian Cox. He's the sort of British equivalent in many was of Michio Kaku; he pops up whenever someone needs a physicist. That's not to denigrate him (or Kaku, for that matter). Watching the episodes of Horizon he made, and especially the series Wonders of the Solar System, you see in him a lot of stuff that made Sagan so brilliant an exponent of the scientific method.

  • Ka says:

    "But is the model of Carl Sagan really relevant anymore? "

    I think it's easy to take him out of context and say things like "is he relevant anymore"... but think about it in comparison to other current culture:

    Are The Beatles still relevant? Yet how many people under 30 know who they are, could name them, or could name 5 songs?

    I agree that temporal and cultural relevance are a major part of the issue... and they are also part of the model. The other part of the issue is media and public values. I'd say that we probably have another Carl Sagan in the person of Neil deGrasse Tyson, an excellent communicator, but the other part of that is that he doesn't get the media coverage that Sagan did.

    Perhaps it isn't that these model science communicators lack social relevance, but that science itself is considered lacking in social relevance.

    People these days take advances in science for granted. Back in Sagan's day, it was still novel, we are on the verge of revolution and change in science discovery and space travel. The public was open to hearing about science and Sagan stepped up and told them.

    Now a-days many people don't want to hear. It makes it more difficult for people like Tyson and Hawkings to find a public platform from which to speak.

    I'm over being dismayed that young people, even young scientists don't know who Sagan and Fossey are. And even now with all her activity that so many young people don't know who Jane Goodall is.

    I expect it somewhat. That they have no clue about their foundations and potential heros any more than they know who Elvis is.

    What dismays me is if after being introduced to these figures, they don't go back and learn about them.

  • I wouldn't say it's good or bad for science itself , maybe they found some other inspiration to be part of all this. Each one of us have a personal 'hero', someone who made us fall in love with science, there are many people who can produce that in my opinion. You can be in practice a very good scientist, even if you don't know who Carl Sagan was. The only issue I see is that we should know a bit about history, pioneers. If we don't know our people, then there's little chance that the rest of the world will. Science is culture.

  • perceval says:

    I would take some time out to watch Cosmos - this will tell you why we need another Carl Sagan. I saw it aged 6, so am at the tail end of those who have been directly affected by it.

  • idlemind says:

    Sagan doesn't stand out in my mind as a scientist or even so much a scientific communicator as a humanist (a term admittedly more in vogue then than now). It suffuses all of Cosmos and is quite explicit in his writings.

  • marius says:

    Knowing, or not knowing, one specific fact is a bad estimator of scientific literacy. There are also people who do not live under rocks and still don't know who Elvis is. (Apart from the question of whether we can actually know who someone is.) The name 'Carl Sagan' did sound familiar, but I had to look him up. Perhaps my not being an American has something to do with that. I do not feel more sciency now.

    I'd say good science communicators are always welcome and come in many shapes and colors. Their success also in part depends on what media they use. In these days, Carl Sagan would either use the internet or not reach as many people as he did.

  • "Shecky R." says:

    Sagan did more than Cosmos; he wrote several books, did a plethora of TV/radio interviews, founded the Planetary Society, active with SETI, won awards, and of course published professionally. Not sure, but his original concept of "nuclear winter" may have even been the first notion to put the idea of human-caused climactic change on the popular radar.
    It's hard for me to imagine that there are scientists who don't know who Sagan was, even if not directly familiar with his work. But maybe science has become SO highly specialized today that there are indeed great scientists/communicators in one field who are unknown to those in another field. That seems unfortunate. Specialization itself, has many pluses and minuses.

  • Jim Thomerson says:

    It is interesting that you have not seen "Cosmos". I think a lot of scientists are very narrow in education. Not all of us have had the experience of teaching introductory biology courses, which require some breadth of knowledge. I think many scientists have never concerned themselves with what science is, or how one should do it. Mostly monkey see, monkey do. I also think we need to emphasize history of discovery more than we do.

    • scicurious says:

      As a reply to everyone...I've never really WANTED to see Cosmos. I guess I will, but honestly, space is not that interesting to me and never really has been. Y'all may then tell me that I'm obviously not a good scientist because everyone who has an inquiring mind MUST be interested in the big questions like space. But would you tell a highly educated historian of Japanese Culture that he's a bad historian because he's simply not very interested in the Crusades?

      As far as a narrow education...yes I think it's very possible to have a very narrow education in science, but I don't know that teaching intro Bio requires "Cosmos". And I think that good scientific progress CAN be made without large amounts of philosophizing on the nature of scientific inquiry (though I also think that knowledge of the nature of scientific inquiry would definitely be a plus).

  • Torbjörn Larsson, OM says:

    Since science communication has diversified (as science blogs are examples of), I don't think that one persona fits all, if it ever did.

    Historically people have hold up Sagan, Bronowski and Attenborough, of which I only know the later and think is a great story teller. To add to that sort of gentle and thoughtful discussion I would put Dawkins, who has the additional advantage of being a practicing (and excellent!) scientist as 20tauri notes. As regards the rest on Dawkins 20tauri seems to have lost it, or at least me, since criticism of religion isn't 'attacking' it. Certainly no one who has taken time to read or listen to Dawkins' on the subject would call his criticism unabashed or constant but as thoughtful as his writings on science and interleaved with his other writings. And what have religion to do with science, pray tell!?

    So Dawkins, which will reel in a certain grown up audience that likes to think and will take to his calm analysis. But also the New Scientists, those unabashed, constant bloviators on the explosively visual and/or dangerous side of science, like Mythbusters and Plait. There is a point that dinosaurs and astronomy drags many kids of both genders to inquire into science and to a a priori positive attitude. Today's visual science (not only in astronomy but as exemplified by this blog's banner, most other sciences) will expand on those hooks.

    Brain Cox (but not the odious Kaku!) would be in between analysis and explosions, I imagine. Porco is certainly accessible on the web, so if her visible presence is as good, she could get into that slot too.

    It would be interesting to see statistics if science fare well in the internet "big bang". I wouldn't be surprised.

  • 20tauri says:

    @Torbjörn Don't get me wrong...I greatly admire what Dawkins is doing to promote rational thinking, and I agree with him 99.9 percent of the time. What I meant was simply that his take-no-prisoners approach has won him many detractors, and that this hasn't helped as far as his becoming the kind of universally loved science communicator that Sagan was. (I mean, Dawkins is known as "Darwin's rottweiler," for cryin' out loud!) Sagan, while certainly critical of religion in many respects, was in my opinion able to reach a much wider audience by being more respectful of people's various beliefs and traditions.

  • David Orr says:

    @Torbjörn - That mention of "dinosaurs and space" reminded me of an insightful blog post at the Ethical Paleontologist from July. It made me think about how to get children interested in science in a much wider way.

    http://www.ethicalpalaeontologist.com/2010/07/dinosaurs-in-space-how-not-to-get-kids.html

  • Coturnix says:

    You may be interested in the discussion in the comments section here ;-)

  • [...] Quick Links Posted on September 12, 2010 by Bora Zivkovic| Leave a comment It’s still weekend, right? Who is Carl Sagan? [...]

  • Miles says:

    Thank you for taking the time to ask a genuine and honest question! It seems so rare that anyone is willing to do that! It reminded me of that passage in Pirsig's Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance where one instructor comes in to ask what the uproar is all about and the main character says something to the effect, "We've come upon a genuine question and we're not really sure what to do about it."
    I wish I had an answer commensurate with the delight that this post invoked, but I simply do not. But that said, I think it's a great thing that there are at least places on the internet where a question like that can be posed and pondered; the posing of the question might even be its own, partial, solution - at least in the long run.

  • Jeff Wilson says:

    Around 1990 I discussed evolution in an Intro Psych class, as I always do. A student who clearly for the first time was hearing that this "monkey story" might be true, and from an authority figure yet, spent some time asking me questions after class. She wondered if there was a book she could read about it, and I suggested Sagan's "Dragons of Eden," accessible and relevant to brain/behavior issues. We talked a bit longer, then she asked, "What was that book again?" I told her, and she then said, "Oh, yeah, by Pagan." I did correct her, but I do not know if she ever read the book. Sagan was a bright man and a brilliant communicator. He is missed.

  • David Orr says:

    @sci - The thing is, Cosmos is MUCH more than a space series. It deals with science history, evolution, skepticism, philosophy of science, the environment... He's using the phrase cosmos not to mean "space" but in its most general sense of an "ordered world." It's an understandable mistake - there is plenty of space stuff - but there's much more to it.

  • Dustin says:

    In Canada we have David Suzuki. He is an excellent ambassador for science. He has hosted "The Nature of Things" for over 35 years. He had written numerous books and is involved in many conservation organizations. But I guess his reach is limited to mostly Canada.

  • Kengi says:

    David Orr is correct. Cosmos did have a fair amount of space stuff, but usually as an example of a larger issue Sagan was trying to expound upon. Since he was an astronomer, his examples often involved astronomy. Cosmos is still a very relevant program today since the purpose of the series wasn't to teach how stars worked or which space probe was doing what in the solar system.

    Watching the series should make you excited about the process of discovery and the role that humans can play in the universe. It might make you cry about the lost knowledge of Alexandria's library or fill you with hope about the future of humanity.

    There are some great science communicators who have been mentioned, yet none seem able to generate the emotional impact about a rational subject that Sagan was capable of.

    Of course I may be wrong. You might watch Cosmos and think "that astronomy stuff is just too boring".

    I think we do need another Sagan. Not necessarily to inspire a new generation of kids to become scientists, but perhaps to inspire a new generation of tax payers to feel some emotional attachment to supporting scientific programs.

    Several years ago I was working at a university and found myself on the main campus during a solar eclipse. Almost every department was outside with setups. Physics, Chemistry, Engineering. Biology and Anthropology was out in force. Even the maintenance staff had all of their welding masks out for people to look through. It was exciting.

    I got back to the downtown campus, where Business and Law were and no one even knew there was an eclipse.

    Neil deGrasse Tyson, Carolyn Porco, and all who have been mentioned are great communicators explaining their area of expertise to people who already have an interest in science. Sagan appealed to a wider audience.

    I can't put my finger on how he did that and couldn't say what traits a new Sagan should have in the 21st century. But it's certainly worth giving some more thought to.

  • Sazzad says:

    I haven't watched COSMOS, but I've read it. It's a great book to read but that doesn't mean one must read this in order to become a scientist.

    In my opinion, if we can feed newbies the books like COSMOS they would definitely be evolved for better communication.

  • SimonG says:

    I don't think that the media environment is right for another Sagan.
    When great programmes such as Cosmos were first broadcast, there weren't so many TV channels around. That meant that the potential audience for them was much higher than it is now. If you've only got a choice of a handful of channels - I can remember when there were just two here in England - any programme is going to get a lot of attention. People would watch Cosmos, or The Ascent of Man because there wasn't anything else on. Of course, those were good enough that people would come back to them next week regardless of what else was on.

    These days, there's so much more choice for a lot of people. Those who want to watch science and nature programmes can watch Discovery or whatever. The big "general purpose" channels aren't so likely to finance really big, sweeping factual programmes.

    I think there was an element of public service involved which is difficult for modern broadcasters to justify. Even for the likes of the BBC, with their explicit public service remit.

    There are some really excellent science programmes being made. "Inside Nature's Giants" is fantastic. Brian Cox has been mentioned, and I also rate Jim al-Khalili ery highly. But I don't think that we'll see any single presenter to match Sagan in the future.

    Daid Attenborough is possibly the last of that type. He got a start when there wasn't too much competition and became a big enough name that he can continue with fairly big programmes even now but I don't see any way for a newcomer to have that sort of impact now.

    We also need to consider that Cosmos may have been an exception: the best of its kind over many years. Over however long you want to look, a few programmes will be the best and Cosmos was one of those. It's unrealistic to think that every programme since, or even a small minority can match it.

  • Zen Faulkes says:

    Sci, i know the following were probably rhetorical questions, but what the hey!

    "What does it mean that she didn’t know about Carl Sagan?"

    That she might one day lose a game of Trivial Pursuit.

    "Was it because she wasn’t really interested in science outside of medicine? Was it because she didn’t get into science until she was older? Or was it merely because she was under 30?"

    I suspect the latter. This is why every year, faculty at universities often get a chain email that says, "This is the mindset of your first year students." In a few years, first year university students won't have clear memories of the destruction of the World Trade Center.

    "But is the model of Carl Sagan really relevant anymore?"

    Gee, I wrote a blog post about this, which you quoted! No. The media environment has changed.

    "Who else is inspirational?"

    The teams on Mythbusters. I contend they have done a lot to foster the idea of empiricism, at least in North America.

    "Do we need another Bill Nye? Another Mr. Wizard? More Mathnet?"

    All of the above, and more.

    "What does it mean that model we have always thought of as reaching the scientists of today may not in fact have reached them at all?"

    I don't know that there is a widely accepted model of reaching prospective scientists. Career paths and choices are a strange, idiosyncratic thing.

    "I’ve never seen “Cosmos” myself. ... Does this make me a bad scientist? Does it make me a bad science communicator?"

    No, and no.

    "What does it mean that some (or many) modern day scientists don’t know who Carl Sagan is? Is that good or bad?"

    I'll take option three: None of the above. Or indifferent. There are so many fine scientists, one cannot be expected to know them all. For instance, last week there were many tributes to evolutionary biologist G.C. Williams, following his death. I ostensibly know something about evolutionary biology, and recognized the descriptions of his work, but I wouldn't have been able to name him to save my life.

    "What does it mean for science communication in general?"

    Not much, because science communication has changed so much (again, there's that blog post I wrote).

    "And if we need a modern Carl Sagan, what would they look like? What would they DO? And how would they capture the hearts and minds and imaginations of millions?"

    I'll say it again: Mythbusters. What they do that is so important is that they live and die by the evidence. They test questions in such a way as to show results with visible certainty. And, maybe most importantly, they change their minds based on criticism and new experiments.

    I think it's not going to be long before you start seeing people with doctorates who will talk about Adam and Jamie and Kari, Grant, and Tori in the same way that older scientists might talk about Carl Sagan.

  • Zen Faulkes says:

    Dustin: David Suzuki is very well known and respected in Australia - and probably many other countries - besides Canada.

  • Kengi says:

    I really hope that the public isn't getting their impression of what science is from Mythbusters. Most of the time they take so many shortcuts in their approach to getting a solution that luck plays a huge role in the results. They have also been known to get the actual science wrong.

    The team has done well in the promotion of skepticism, but they never claimed to be scientists and make little effort to be scientifically rigorous. If the public thinks that is how science works I can understand why so many people are "skeptical" of science. If I had been deluded into thinking that Mythbusters was science, I would think that scientific conclusions were often just based on luck.

    The focus of Cosmos was the process of discovery and the human role in that process. Perhaps Zen is right that the media has forced such changes that Cosmos could never be repeated. Each episode would take more than one week to produce. You wold be hard pressed to have 150 episodes.

    But even in this new media environment we still have exceptions. HBO, for example, will still put massive efforts into a mini series like "The Pacific" or "From the Earth to the Moon".

    Perhaps, in this new environment, a blog will become the next Cosmos. While no Carl Sagan Ethan Siegel writes with the same sense of grandeur, though, unlike Cosmos, limits himself to physics.

    One thing a new Carl Sagan does NOT have to be is an astronomer. I could be a biologist or geneticist. But I really don't see the comparison of Mythbusters to Cosmos. To say that the modern media environment is preventing anything better than (a very entertaining) Adam and Jamie is short changing the culture we live in.

  • Zen Faulkes says:

    Kengi:

    To me, the point of this discussion is about inspiration.

    Adam Savage and Jamie Hyneman visited our campus, and spoke to thousands of people. And you can see the influence of Mythbusters in Phil Plait's Bad Universe and others. The Mythbusters show is inspiring people.

    Do I hope that there are other shows and communicators who can inspire people (and maybe even be more scientifically accurate)? Sure. Do I see other formats with that level of success as Mythbusters right now? Not really.

    It is possible to fret too much about whether people get the wrong idea. CSI inspires people to pursue science. So does science fiction. So do lots of other things that pay much less attention to scientific detail than Mythbusters. The inspiration will get them to the door. If they're inspired, they'll stick it out and learn the difference between an entertaining hour of television and the grunt work to do science.

  • Kengi says:

    Zen, thanks for the replay and I agree with you about inspiration.

    CSI is an excellent example of the harm which can be done by promoting bad science. Much of the general public now believe that things like blood splatter and tooth-mark analysis are science. This lack of understanding permeates our legal system and people are wrongly prosecuted based upon non scientific "scientific analysis". My fear with Mythbusters is that the typical taxpayer, who will never pursue a career in science, will start to believe that what Jamie and Adam do is typical of science.

    A smart, non science educated person watching the show can spot errors in testing and may assume that is why scientists are so "wrong" about things such as evolution and vaccines.

    I think, Zen, that we are simply talking about difference in who is inspired. I agree that "Cosmos" has inspired people to pursue science as a career or learn more about astronomy. I believe that an even greater impact was the effect it had on people who didn't necessarily want to become scientists or study more science, but helped them understand the role science plays in society. It did this while exposing everyone to fundamentals such as the scientific method and why such methods are important to everyone.

    Cosmos not only inspired future science enthusiasts, it was a bridge between science and people who wouldn't normally have thought about science. It gave science relevance to everyday life without dumbing it down or making sacrifices to accuracy.

    One more thought. Only certain types of science fiction tend to inspire an interest in science. Most Star Wars fans I know, for example, are very anti-science. You can often tell if a person will be anti-vax or anti-evolution by first asking them if they prefer Star Wars or Star Trek. My unscientific polls seem to show the expected correlation. Of course since the pollster (me) is biased and the questioning isn't blinded or language neutral, I may be introducing my biases into the results of my study. ;-)

  • Janne says:

    I think this is simply a case of overgeneralizing your own experiences. I'm around 40, I'm a scientist with a curiosity stretching far beyond my own field, and I know nothing more of Carl Sagan than the name and, now, that apparently he had a tv show. Similarly, the other names you dropped - Bill Nye, Mr. Wizard, Mathnet - are completely unknown to me.

    I guess that people that venerate him were all of a certain age, and living in a certain place where they got exposed to his tv show. They got hugely influenced by it, they saw many of their friend s get influenced by it, so now they naturally assume that everybody has been similarly exposed. But if you're a different age, or live in a different place, or came to science from a different direction you're unlikely to have heard of him.

    If there's any media personality that's influenced me it must be David Attenborough and his BBC tv series, beginning with "Life on Earth". But I have no expectation that other people not growing up at the time and place I did would have heard about him.

  • Jason Dick says:

    Well, my response wouldn't be close to, "well, obviously she’s not a good scientist/pharmacist/educated person," but rather, "Oh, wow! Now I've got something really cool I can show you that you're going to love!"

    Because really, the Cosmos series was truly fantastic!

  • Sagan's TV programmes were fantastic and have aged pretty well but I'd have to say the one,, single, absolutely required piece of his work is The Demon-Haunted World. It remains by far the best book on skepticism and critical thinking I've ever read and I'm constantly recommending it to friends, family and colleagues. Figureheads come and go but this book deserves to be in every scientist and freethinker's bookshelf.

  • TKW says:

    The Demon Haunted World is simply excellent.

    Sagan was no less critical of religion than Richard Dawkins, but he was also a better communicator. Watch clips of Pale Blue Dot, it's evident that he not only delivers criticism as sharp as anything Dawkins has ever written, but worded in a way that makes people think.

    Sagan's books mostly take the angle of a gentle tour guide and I daresay are written with a very personal tone.

  • [...] idea out there that science needs rock stars. The name bandied about as an example is usually Carl Sagan who seems to be beloved and deified by people of certain age, geography and socio-economic status. [...]

  • Daniel says:

    This exact situation happened to me in early December; the adjective was "refined" and I chose Carl Sagan. The person who threw the card out had no idea who it was, and neither did anyone else at the table. Since we were playing the game at a part with alcohol, I only managed to get out a half a sentence about Voyager 1 before everybody lost interest and began talking over me.

    I actually found this because I started re-watching Cosmos and was reminded of that situation but couldn't remember the name of the card game.

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