Long Live Carl Sagan!
Thanks to Seth McFarlane and Neil DeGrasse Tyson, Carl Sagan’s legacy is getting a nice boost. I’ve been a Cosmos disciple for many years, have collected every edition in print, in addition to most digital file formats (txt, epub, pdf, wmv, mp4), and have read it so much it feels like a bible. I guess you could say I’m excited about the new movie!
You’ve spent the past year working on Cosmos: A Space-Time Odyssey. You’re no stranger to television, but this is the first time you’ve been involved in a project of this magnitude.
It was a surreal experience for me as an academic. Everything about it was novel. Everything. A particular pleasure was working with people who felt strongly about Cosmos at a time when the country most needs an injection of science literacy. I don’t know if love overstates it, but people came to the project with a commitment to making something bigger than all of us.
How has the current climate around science in the US informed the new series?
Cosmos was conceived and filmed in the midst of the Cold War. The exploration of the solar system was still considered an odd thing that, maybe, if you had no other problems in the world, you might undertake. Then Cosmos airs in 1980, and its entire mission statement is all about a cosmic perspective, understanding things on the largest scale possible. Today there’s the issue of what we are doing as a species to the environment on a global scale. The environmental movement really started out at a very local level. As Sagan is famous for saying, “Molecules don’t have passports.” The idea that your influence on a local environment has global consequences is something I don’t think we could’ve arrived at were it not for Apollo 8. Climate change has influenced the modern Cosmos in the way nuclear proliferation influenced the previous one.
In addition, at least in America, science has been treated sort of cavalierly, not only by the public but also by government. The idea that science is just some luxury that you’ll get around to if you can afford it is regressive to any future a country might dream for itself. Innovations in science and technology are the engines of the 21st-century economy; if you care about the wealth and health of you nation tomorrow, then you’d better rethink how you allocate taxes to fund science. The federal budget needs to recognize this.
So corporations engage in applied science, while pure science requires the ongoing support of the state?
Exactly. As history has shown, pure science research ultimately ends up applying to something . We just don’t know it at the time.
But in an era where science is low on many people’s priority lists, do you think there’s also enough hunger from viewers to sustain a show like Cosmos?
The top two shows in all of television [now] are The Big Bang Theory and NCIS . The The Big Bang Theory has received plenty of criticism for its caricatures of scientists, but what comes out of their mouths and what’s on the whiteboards is real science. At the same time, I have 1.6 million followers on Twitter—all of this tells me that there’s an appetite [for science today].
We’ve been anticipating Cosmos: A Space-Time Odyssey for some time now, but a new teaser on YouTube gives us a look at some actual footage from the upcoming Fox show — and it looks good. The 13-episode miniseries, which will premiere on March 9, updates the beloved 1980s Carl Sagan documentary series Cosmos: A Personal Voyage with 21st century visual effects and a new host: astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, a man who has been both praised in song by sci-fi rockers and honored with a DC Comics cameo in which he helped Superman find his home planet.