Monday, March 10th, 2014
So, to much fanfare, Neil DeGrasse Tyson is remaking Carl Sagan’s astronomy-and-a-bit-of-science TV show. Is television any way to learn science? Did Sagan’s Cosmos really turn anybody on who wasn’t already turned on, or about to be turned on? Is, as the Babysitter-in-Chief would have it, a passion for truth and bold thinking about new problems and limits really part of our national character at this point? Is it even tolerated, let alone promoted, by anybody in power?
Whatever your answers to these questions may be, ponder the more elementary fact that Tyson’s show is commercial, while Sagan’s was public. Hence, you have to wonder how much Tyson truly embodies his mentor’s spirit. Before giving up on PBS (not that it is anything like truly public), Tyson might have gone back and pondered the fact that Sagan fought an extended legal battle to prevent Apple from using his name to sell its products.
In any event, thanks to its commercialization, the first institutional task of the new Cosmos is greenwashing. In the coming weeks, we’ll discuss some of the details of what things like “the Chrysler Brand” gain from such campaigns. We’ll also keep notes on how the sponsors impose limits on what makes it into Tyson’s scripts. Don’t expect much fearless talk about the main tasks of science at this point in human history.