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Can Cosmos Get People Talking about Science Again?

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.


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So much has changed in space since Carl Sagan’s Cosmos TV series first aired in 1980. We discovered dark energy (but still have no clue what it is). We launched the space shuttle and built a football field-sized space station in orbit. We’ve found about 1,000 exoplanets orbiting other stars.

Cosmos

Credit: Fox

What hasn’t changed, the producers of the new incarnation of Cosmos hope, is humanity’s curiosity about the universe, our thirst to understand where we came from and where we’re headed. A rebooted version of Cosmos premieres this Sunday on Fox (9 p.m. ET), hosted by the modern era’s Carl Sagan—Neil deGrasse Tyson. Tyson, an astrophysicist and director of the American Museum of Natural History’s Hayden Planetarium, worked with executive producers Seth MacFarlane and Ann Druyan, Carl Sagan’s widow, among a larger team, to update Cosmos for today’s viewers.

The show is impressive. Current visual effects can do a lot to illustrate the wonders of the universe that the graphics technology of the 1980s wasn’t up to. Cosmos makes good use of the visual splendor of images from the Hubble Space Telescope, which was still 10 years away from launching when Cosmos first aired. Tyson is an affable, accessible and intelligent host. If the whole of cosmic history was 365 days long, he explains, recorded human history would fit within the last minute. “It was only in the very last second of the cosmic calendar,” he says, “that we began to use science to reveal nature’s secrets and her laws.”

Tyson himself is a testament to the impact Carl Sagan had on previous generations. Toward the end of the first episode of the reboot, Tyson pulls out Sagan’s day calendar from 1975, showing a Saturday where Sagan had scrawled “Neil Tyson” on his to-do list. The astronomer had invited Tyson, then a “17-year-old kid from the Bronx with dreams of becoming a scientist,” in Tyson’s words, to spend the day with him in Ithaca, N.Y. He even inscribed a book to him, writing to “Neil, a future astronomer.”

If anyone today can spread passion for science like Sagan did, it’s Tyson. And if any television show can start a modern conversation about science and the universe, this is it. The series is being broadcast in more than 170 countries and 45 languages, on Fox and on the National Geographic Channel, giving it television’s largest global opening ever.

Yet a smaller portion of American households are watching broadcast networks—especially live during prime time—than in the 1980s. Our attention these days is divided between apps, emails, TV, podcasts, internet news, cell phone games and a host of other stimulations. Can any series be an event the way Cosmos was three decades ago?

I hope so. We live in an age where a quarter of the American public thinks the sun orbits Earth, and only three in 10 Americans say that “dealing with global warming” should be a priority for the president and Congress. A national, or even global, conversation about science and the scientific method sounds like just what the doctor ordered. As Dennis Overybye wrote in the New York Times, “we all need a unifying dose of curiosity and wonder.” Ad astra, Mr. Tyson, and take the rest of us with you.

Clara Moskowitz About the Author: Clara Moskowitz is Scientific American's associate editor covering space and physics. Follow on Twitter @ClaraMoskowitz.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.





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  1. 1. tuned 10:06 am 03/7/2014

    Mostly about outer space, which is pretty low on the useful scale.
    I still don’t even have anything with a GPS, big deal.
    There is absolutely NOTHING in near space (satellites) I did not grow up without. Easily.

    Link to this
  2. 2. bgrnathan 10:10 am 03/7/2014

    SCIENCE SHOWS THAT THE UNIVERSE CANNOT BE ETERNAL because it could not have sustained itself eternally due to the law of entropy (increasing net energy decay, even in an open system). Einstein showed that space, matter, and time all are physical and all had a beginning. Space even produces particles because it’s actually something, not nothing. Even time had a beginning! Time is not eternal.

    The law of entropy doesn’t allow the universe to be eternal. If the universe were eternal, everything, including time (which modern science has shown is as physical as mass and space), would have become totally entropied by now and the entire universe would have ended in a uniform heat death a long, long time ago. The fact that this hasn’t happened already is powerful evidence for a beginning to the universe.

    Popular atheistic scientist Stephen Hawking admits that the universe had a beginning and came from nothing but he believes that nothing became something by a natural process yet to be discovered. That’s not rational thinking at all, and it also would be making the effect greater than its cause to say that nothing created something. The beginning had to be of supernatural origin because natural laws and processes do not have the ability to bring something into existence from nothing. What about the Higgs boson (the so-called “God Particle”)? The Higgs boson does not create mass from nothing, but rather it converts energy into mass. Einstein showed that all matter is some form of energy.

    The supernatural cannot be proved by science but science points to a supernatural intelligence and power for the origin and order of the universe. Where did God come from? Obviously, unlike the universe, God’s nature doesn’t require a beginning.

    EXPLAINING HOW AN AIRPLANE WORKS doesn’t mean no one made the airplane. Explaining how life or the universe works doesn’t mean there was no Maker behind them. Natural laws may explain how the order in the universe works and operates, but mere undirected natural laws cannot explain the origin of that order. Once you have a complete and living cell then the genetic code and biological machinery exist to direct the formation of more cells, but how could life or the cell have naturally originated when no directing code and mechanisms existed in nature? Read my Internet article: HOW FORENSIC SCIENCE REFUTES ATHEISM.

    WHAT IS SCIENCE? Science simply is knowledge based on observation. No one observed the universe coming by chance or by design, by creation or by evolution. These are positions of faith. The issue is which faith the scientific evidence best supports.

    Some things don’t need experiment or scientific proof. In law there is a dictum called prima facie evidence. It means “evidence that speaks for itself.” Of course, in the complexities of human society and relationships, prima facie may not always be what it seems.

    An example of a true prima facie would be if you discovered an elaborate sand castle on the beach. You don’t have to experiment to know that it came by design and not by the chance forces of wind and water.

    If you discovered a romantic letter or message written in the sand, you don’t have to experiment to know that it was by design and not because a stick randomly carried by wind put it there. You naturally assume that an intelligent and rational being was responsible.

    I encourage all to read my popular Internet articles: NATURAL LIMITS TO EVOLUTION and HOW FORENSIC SCIENCE REFUTES ATHEISM

    Visit my newest Internet site: THE SCIENCE SUPPORTING CREATION

    Babu G. Ranganathan*
    (B.A. Bible/Biology)

    Author of popular Internet article, TRADITIONAL DOCTRINE OF HELL EVOLVED FROM GREEK ROOTS

    *I have given successful lectures (with question and answer period afterwards) defending creation before evolutionist science faculty and students at various colleges and universities. I’ve been privileged to be recognized in the 24th edition of Marquis “Who’s Who in The East” for my writings on religion and science.

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  3. 3. FiftiesScientist 10:29 am 03/7/2014

    It’s interesting to note that now-discredited science blogger (and former SA blog editor) Bora Zivkovic derided the idea of “rock star” scientists. He was particularly snide in his remarks about Carl Sagan, instead idolizing the Mythbusters for (supposedly) inspiring interest in science. Bora’s lengthy article followed his own interview of Jamie and Adam, so one wonders whether Bora himself was not a tad star-struck. In any case, I for one am a huge admirer of Neil deGrasse Tyson. If anyone can fill Carl Sagan’s astronomically sized shoes, it is Neil.

    BTW, here’s Bora’s article, if you have time to read it.
    http://scienceinthetriangle.org/2010/09/mythbusters-in-town-and-why-we-love-them/

    Link to this
  4. 4. Jerzy v. 3.0. 10:56 am 03/7/2014

    Television is quickly becoming obsolete medium.

    If these things were free, and possible to watch in 5 minute pieces whenever people have time, maybe.

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  5. 5. wx2013 12:40 pm 03/7/2014

    Thank you Tyson and the team! This is one of a much need actions when people care too much about making money and care too little about the fundamental research these years. There have always been cut and cut on researches if there’s no immediate application foreseen. People tend to forget the biggest jumps of human knowledge have always been from these fundamental researches. People needs to be waken up now so that we will not fall back to dark ages later on.

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  6. 6. SAULT18 12:49 pm 03/7/2014

    bgrnathan,

    Please spare us your Creationist rants. Your novel-length comment contains so many innaccuracies that leads me to guess you just don’t know what you’re talking about.

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  7. 7. solspot 2:40 pm 03/7/2014

    Tyson may succeed at inspiring science interest, as long as he continues to distance himself from the anti-religion camp of scientists. He could serve the cause of science much better if he encourages more tolerance among those scientists for the beliefs of other. I hope that he supports the goals of the AAAS/DoSER group that encourages such tolerance in scientists via open discussions on matters of faith and science. But if he inserts any anti-religious views into the COSMOS script, he will undermine the chances of making COSMOS a success in mainstream America.

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  8. 8. plswinford 3:05 pm 03/7/2014

    Scientists have noting to say about religion, because religion has no use for falsifiability, which is at the core of science.

    Link to this
  9. 9. bolonkib 5:14 pm 03/7/2014

    All the unanswered questions about the universe are answered.In “Living Systems” by Dr. James Miller, he made the basic statement that, “There are two things in the universe: energy; and, information, which is the conformation of energy. It is obvious that energy is the “one substance” of the universe. It is also obvious that in one substance motion can only be in closed circuitry, that there be something to move out of the way and fill in behind. Some of these closed circuits have been called “magnetic fluxes”.
    It is also obvious that these basic closed circuits would only slip by one another, and no one would be conscious of anything, if there wasn’t the granuality of Planck’s volumes to provide a frictional grip. Planck’s volumes are moving in closed circuits of Planck’s volumes in the background composed of Planck’s volumes.
    This is how information is differentiated from energy. Dr. James Miller called matter “alpha code information”. I have seen these concepts printed elsewhere around the internet. I am writing this in my own words from what I remember, much of which is unforgettable, especially the scheme of compulsory and inevitable manifestation.
    The perpetual and eternal mechanisms of manifestation are: The infinitesimal point nothingness, . , is rastered by time into timespace, U , that exerting its oneness in one direction, / , stirs closed circuitry, O , that all going the same way, vO^XvO^ , clashes (a Big Bang), X , forcing confluency, = , undifferentiating individual closed circuits into nonexistence. The energy that maintained their differentiation is released as photons.
    Closed circuits being turned by that “exertion of the oneness of the one substance”, energy, on apparently both sides is allowed by one side being in timespace with a value of pi different from the other side, as this manifestation of a world expands, also fifth dimensionally. This fifth dimension was defined for science by Harvard University professor of quantum physics, Dr. Lisa Randall, in her book “Warped Passages”.
    The counterclockwise and clockwise of these closed circuits are the basic opposite polarities. Structure, maintained by orthogonality, is the cause of the separation of opposite polarities. Now we take the variously bent timespaces into consideration, that Scientific American has written about before.
    As we leave the rigid orthogonality of flat timespace, where the value of pi is 3.14159265…, like, for example, by accessing globally bent timespace by the mechanical velocity analogues in electricity, current, and thermodynamics, entropy production rate, etc., we depart from that rigid orthogonality of flat timespace that maintained the separation of opposite polarities, so that individual closed circuits may undifferentiate into nonexistence. `
    We wouldn’t be conscious if differentiation didn’t cause consciousness. Reciprocally, all the differentiations have caused energy itself to be eternally conscious. As you know, everything is “trying” to run down, or is being built up by that which is running down. In other words all differentiations are being pushed to undifferentiate. To undifferentiate is the actual true will of every differentiated thing in the universe.
    Descending into globally bent timespace matter acquires a tenuousity that has been called “spirit”, and as we descend into globally bent timespace it gets more and more flexible until, especially with the fast polarity cancellation rate allowed there, all is literally flames. But, undifferentiating being pleasure, undifferentiating into nonexistence is the attainment of the satisfaction of all desires.
    The Second Law of Thermodynamics indicates that in our infinite universe, also including what has been called the “multiverse”, the reunion of previously associated Planck’s volumes back into their original closed circuits is impossible so that the attainment of total undifferentiation is the eternal satisfaction of all desires.
    It can also be said that there are three things in the universe: entities, properties, and relationships. In the one substance, energy, a sphere can manifest as a closed circuit. A sphere can turn on itself. That could be called a particle. We know we are entities. “I hurt therefore I am”.
    Our entity is a closed circuit of the one substance, energy, in the one substance, energy, that is a ring, that qualifies to be called a unit of “dark matter”. Dark matter is composed of all those closed circuits that don’t qualify to be called particles. Remember, we are the information, not energy. If we were energy we would never sleep.
    Thinking you could figure that an entity “being almost everywhere” is a hyperdimensional view, I neglected to explain this phenomena, for, the great quantum physicist, Dr. Hugh Everett, already explained this. He said that for every possibility there is a “parallel universe”. Actually, these “parallel universes” can be called probability time lines sideways in time. This direction, sideways in time can now be called the sixth dimension.
    So, we have all the entities, and their “similarities”, in all their possible probability time lines. We can call them “similarities” rather than duplicates, though MIT professor of quantum physics, Dr. Max Tegmark, revealed that in the infinite eternal universe, that he calls the “multiverse”, each entity has an infinitude of exact duplicates, hyperdimensionally.
    “The fact that an entity is a closed circuit, its shape is a property, and the rate of its circulation, counterclockwise on one side, and clockwise on the on the other side are also properties, etc. Counterclockwise and clockwise circuits, ^OvvO^ , able to go confluent when face to face, is a relationship. Side to side they draw other entites in like a ringer, which pushes them apart, of course, also by closed circuit configurations.

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  10. 10. captainred 5:14 pm 03/7/2014

    I can’t wait! I saw Sagan’s Cosmos as a kid and it changed my life. Never before has someone been able to clearly impart the sheer wonder of the universe around us. I’m glad there are folks out there like Neil deGrasse Tyson still trying to carry the torch of popularizing science, but Carl really was one of a kind. I just hope my Sagan / Slayer shirt gets here in time for our viewing party Sunday: http://monstersofgrok.com/design/sagan/

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  11. 11. hsemab 9:45 pm 03/7/2014

    As long as,we learn about the marvels and wonders of the cosmos;not only make us more eager to learn,bu also faithful to the great Oneness.

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  12. 12. Pcygnii 1:29 pm 03/8/2014

    I believe that the new series will continue on an old tradition: Those who truly THINK, will resume or continue with the conversations and those who DON’T just won’t continue to not bother. There are too many out there in zoomie-land who will never pay that much attention to whatever detail, and there are those who will. Sad but still true. Thank you for the forum presented by Sci-Am, as this IS the only forum/place to learn from and about anything worth learning. Too many of our fellows will NEVER see beyond their eyebrow ridge, as it requires too much effort. Cynicism may be what that train of thought is considered, but its truth cannot be ignored… Ciao

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  13. 13. jdiezcom 5:00 pm 03/8/2014

    Hope it is a big success! However, too much competition from multimedia out of Classic TV.
    At the time of COSMOS v 1, there was no other show like this.
    Right now, you have tons of great science docs everywhere.
    The BBC has many superb like The planets,etc.

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  14. 14. Owl905 1:04 am 03/10/2014

    First time I’ve ever seen IMDB give a rating of a perfect 10 out of 10. Buzz Lightyear’s iconic action-cry “To infinity and beyond!” may get bounced back by an even older action-cry, “You ain’t seen nothing yet!”

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  15. 15. charlesd 1:45 pm 03/13/2014

    i have seen a few lengthy religious rants here. please give it a rest, people. this is a science related article. that said, they did a great job on the new cosmos. good show.

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  16. 16. msebahar 10:31 am 03/19/2014

    http://www.sodahead.com/united-states/does-the-new-cosmos-tv-series-promote-blind-faith-in-evolution-as-creationist-groups-say-or-do/question-4234439/

    Link to this

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