Pop Quiz: Billions and Billions of Cheers
November 9th is Carl Sagan Day, when self-described space geeks and science enthusiasts celebrate the contributions to science and science communication made by Dr. Carl Sagan during his lifetime.
Many people cite his award-winning series “Cosmos” as being a formative experience in their early years. Unfortunately, I didn’t come across the series until I was already an astronomy major in college, though I do still find it an excellent piece of science communication. When I was young, I was particularly inspired by his character of Ellie Arroway in “Contact” the movie. (Again, only later did I read the book it was based on.) The depiction of a smart, passionate, and capable woman as an astronomer really hit home for me and first gave me the idea that, hey, I can be an astronomer, too! Now, I haven’t gone on to discover a signal from extraterrestrial intelligence (sadly) but I have ended up in radio astronomy, even briefly working at one of the very facilities featured in the movie.
Carl Sagan’s book, “The Demon-Haunted World” also greatly influenced my interest in skepticism a little later on in life. His compassionate view of people dealing with alien abduction stories and experiences is a great lesson for all skeptics, and I no longer felt ashamed about my own previous belief in UFO stories back when I first discovered the internet.
People have often wondered who the “next Carl Sagan” would be, citing the broad impact he had on science communication in his time. I answer that we are ALL the “next” Carl Sagan, and that it is better to have a multitude of voices and a wide range of perspectives showing support for science and critical thinking. However, that won’t stop me from honoring the contributions made by someone who blazed a trail in public outreach back when scientists “didn’t do that.”
So, for today’s Pop Quiz let’s talk about the science communicators we treasure from the past and today. I could, for example, nominate every single person who helped with the recent DIY Science Zone at GeekGirlCon, especially its organizer, DrRubidium. I would also nominate Pamela Gay, who happens to be my boss, but who is also a woman I admire for her ingenuity and creativity in bringing astronomy education to new venues.
Who are your science communication heroes, past and present? Will you be celebrating Sagan Day with “Cosmos” and cosmos or apple pie?
The Pop Quiz is a question posed to you, the Scholars of Doubt. Look for it to appear Monday, Wednesday, and Friday afternoons. In American longitudes, anyway.