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March for Science: Sagan fan on how the “Carl Sagan” culture ruined science

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From Robert Tracinski at the Federalist:

I am a Carl Sagan fan from way back. His 1980 TV miniseries “Cosmos” hit me at just the right age and inflamed a lifelong love of science. But we’ve had nearly 40 years to assess the long-term effects and see how Sagan unwittingly contributed to a trend that muddled public understanding of science. This weekend’s so-called “March for Science” is a perfect example of what went wrong.

Fact morphed into narrative:

If you don’t really need science so much as the narrative, then what you get is our own era’s official replacement for Sagan: Neil deGrasse Tyson. As the decades pass, Sagan’s imitators become less thoughtful and more propagandistic, less interested in conveying the actual scientific method and more concerned with just telling the public what to think. It’s also about making those who accept the approved “pro-science” political agenda feel they are superior to all of those ignorant, knuckle-dragging bigots who disagree with them. It equates science, not just with the politics of the Left, but with the Left’s attitude of smug condescension. That’s how you get Tyson’s fake-but-accurate narratives or the meme-swapping superficiality of the IFL Science crowd.

Popularizers like Sagan ended up achieving the opposite of what they set out to do. But every failed experiment is just an opportunity to learn something, and what we learned here is that science cannot be promoted by turning it into a political narrative—not without losing its distinctive virtues. More.

Could we dial it back to Hello, facts? Where facts matter again? Objectivity is not sexist?. and engineering is about what works, not about what meets SJW approval.

Good luck trying. In a bureaucratic age, correct failure is more desirable than incorrect success.

See also: The New York Times Thinks You Are Too Stupid to Understand “Margin of Error” (or at Least Hopes You Are)

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4 Replies to “March for Science: Sagan fan on how the “Carl Sagan” culture ruined science

  1. 1
    GBDixon says:

    Fun and true Sagan anecdote that speaks directly to Sagan’s popular science meme:

    Remember the start of the Cosmos program where the camera pans through the Big Dipper starfield eventually arriving at Earth?

    That graphic was generated by the Evans and Sutherland planetarium projector, the premier planetarium tool of the time that contained all visible stars in a huge database. A view of our visible universe from any perspective within it could be generated.

    So the Sagan folks (not Sagan himself…he only attended the party at the end) asked the engineers at E&S to generate a perspective that would be like panning from behind the Big Dipper to the Earth.

    The E&S machine was programmed to do this. When the result was shown to the show producers, they were flabberghasted—Where was the Big Dipper? The stars didn’t look familiar at all!

    The E&S engineers politely pointed out that because each of the stars in the Big Dipper were at vastly different distances from earth, there was no location behind it where it would look like the Big Dipper. The stars would have to all be at exactly the same distance from Earth (like holes punched in a blanket covering the Earth) for the Big Dipper to appear as such from behind.

    This would not do. The engineers had to reprogram the stars’ locations so they looked like the Big Dipper from behind.

    And there you have it. Science done rite.

  2. 2
    goodusername says:

    Remember the start of the Cosmos program where the camera pans through the Big Dipper starfield eventually arriving at Earth?

    Is it part of the intro to each episode? I’m watching what I think is the intro but don’t see anything resembling the big dipper.

    If the story is true, it’s a bit ironic, because the book actually explains that the constellations (using the big dipper as an example) look very different from different vantage points due to the fact that the stars are drastically different distances from the earth.

  3. 3
    GBDixon says:

    Yes, the story is true as far as the engineers having to change star location, but I have not seen the intro so maybe they used the more correct version.

  4. 4
    mike1962 says:

    Sagan was a propagandist speaking far outside of his expertise with that blind watchmaker ideology. I never had much respect for the guy.

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