science-equals-money 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.

9 Replies to “Micro-Cosmos”

  1. Yeah to some of this, but there is also a strong anti-religious flavor to the prinicpals (and principles) behind the show, and Tyson has every right to go to Fox instead of the egregious, potted plant NPRism of PBS. “Cosmos,” from the reviews, is a far, far superior product to the corporate shithead productions of recent vintage PBS. Sometimes, commercialism comes with top-notch special effects and producution design – just like all that old money bought some incredible gardens and outbuildings.

  2. Yes, do keep notes, this is worth following.
    I was just about to mention, as Martin does, some of the questionable attitudes exhibited by supporters – and Tyson himself. In some of his public appearances, his attitude towards and way of handling religion are indistinguishable from Richard Dawkins’s. I’m an atheist myself, but I still don’t think that juvenile, simplistic put downs are a way of engaging with religion, which, whatever its institutional pathologies, is forever going to be an important way of humanity’s engagement with the world.

    Dawkins (and Tyson, and Bill Nye etc.) are a clever way to commodify and disguise the middle class aspiration to power and influence – “we luvs science, therefore we gots to rule over those religious rednecks from the south”.

  3. Martin, I don’t disagree with you that there are some advantages to commercialism, especially given the lack of alternatives and the super-pathetic nature of PBS. And I also quite like Neil DT. I just find the institutional constraints to be equally important.

  4. I know we have staked out position in TCT-c lands – and I should have been more clear that “anti-religious” is high, high praise from me. Richard Dawkins is a hero of mine – no that’s an inside TCT-c joke, but I applaud him for bravely advancing the righteous cause of atheism into a strong cultural current flow, whereas before it was a trickle.
    There is a tepid backlash, a weak backwash, within the atheist diaspora, against the atheist anti-religionists and anti-spiritualists. Tremulous quasi-atheists are dusting off their acid trips or high culture “sacred”s or envious high-falutinisms to advance their pet affection for religion, after all. Barbara Ehrenreich is self-enraptured with the “Other.” Paul Kingsnorth hugs a tree and finds it “sacred.” Frans de Waal picks a fight in a book abut bonobos with some faraway tribe called “nNew Atheists.” Former seminarian turned atheist turned bitter pecknsiff Joseph somebody blogs incessantly against his former mates. Alleged intellectuals like Marilynne Robinson and Terry Eagleton and tenured rapturists like Mark C. Taylor blither on about some long-discredited concept a step above haruspicy.
    But godbothering backwash will go down the drain – atheism is still fun and growing, and Tyson is a commendable figure for putting some high tech science forth on the Murdoch machine. However, I don’ expect much in the way of ratings from it, but if Seth MacFarlane can put his gazillions from Family Guy behind this project, maybe he will put on an animated TCT series next?

  5. If it (religion) is not treated with respect, it will certainly come back to bite. No one ever got inspired to broaden their horizons after being told he is an idiot (especially without a good reason), which is all Dawkins and his tribe are capable of – the way they treat religion suggests that they are essentially uneducated.

  6. Sometimes flim-flam just deserves ridicule, and the disgust can be just as “effective” as accommodationism – witness the real surge in self-designated “non-religious” folks in polls.
    And atheists are actually often supremely well-informed on even the most arcane twistings of religions and spiritualisms – a fact that the Onion makes trenchant fun of, noting the incongruity of being well-versed in something you profess no interest in. “Respect” ? – hell, half of them want to string you up for even beginning to question their supreme knowlede of divine command, so why are we so worried about offending them? P.Z. Myers has a lot of fun bashing accommodationists in his blog, but perhaps you seem some class snobbery afoot. I don’t think we are going to move the divide greatly here in TCT-c, but it’s worth a few minutes of attempted communication, given the integrity of the host, whose posts, even the un-commented upon, are reliably thought-worthy.

  7. By “respect” i meant engaging with religion at a much deeper intellectual level, the way it was meant to be – not the lukewarm “you’re ok, i’m ok” bull. So this certainly doesn’t mean patience for religious bigotry. However, I don’t see *any* difference between “omg, you going to hell cuz ur gay” and “omg, these idiots think earth started 6,000 years ago and evolution is wrong”.

    This is why I truly mean it when I call Dawkins & co uneducated – to ramble about religion not being “true” about the minutia of empirical life is to not understand what religion is to begin with.

    As for some of the truly devoted being ready to knife me for.. whatever. Well, good for them. The possibility and the implications of having convictions of such a strength is at least worth thinking about. It is not clear the tepid, rational, probably middle class, Joe is doing much better in life having never known such passions.

    If poetry and art can teach you some things about life that science can’t teach you, then why can’t religion?

    A complete, philosophical worldview would necessarily have to connect all of this together.

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