Thursday, May 24, 2018

Carl Sagan, Making Science Accessible

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Carl Sagan [born in 1934 in New York City–died in 1996 in Seattle, Washington] in 1980 when space exploration was still popular among the public, capturing its imagination with the possibility of discovery and the possibility of other worlds besides ours. Sagan worked and taught at Cornell University for almost 30 years, having gone up to Ithaca after Harvard University denied him tenure in 1968. Sagan, who held a doctorate in astronomy and astrophysics from the University of Chicago, made science popular, interesting and fun. In this regard, I remember Cosmos (1980), the 13-part series originally broadcast on TV (“A Personal Voyage;” PBS). At the heart of Sagan was a curious and questioning mind, inquisitive but also cautious, as I would think a scientist ought to be. In his last book, The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark (1995), Sagan writes: “Science is more than a body of knowledge; it is a way of thinking. I have a foreboding of an America in my children’s or grandchildren’s time—when the United States is a service and information economy; when nearly all the key manufacturing industries have slipped away to other countries; when awesome technological powers are in the hands of a very few, and no one representing the public interest can even grasp the issues; when the people have lost the ability to set their own agendas or knowledgeably question those in authority; when, clutching our crystals and nervously consulting our horoscopes, our critical faculties in decline, unable to distinguish between what feels good and what’s true, we slide, almost without noticing, back into superstition and darkness.”  As much as this is true, there is even more to say on this subject, found in, for example,  Richard C. Lewontin’s review (“Billions and Billions of Demons;” January 9, 1997) in The New York Review of Books, on how Science (and its scion, Technology) today also over-reaches and makes spurious claims. Money and the desire for fame, which brings more money, often makes “rational” people do funny things. For more, go [here] and [here] and [here] and [here] and [here] and [here]. 
Courtesy: Wired