Remembering Carl Sagan

Dec 27, 2016

By Joel Achenbach

Carl Sagan died 20 years ago Tuesday, at the far-too-young age of 62. He had many strong beliefs, none greater than his conviction that science was a candle in the dark.

There’s a lot of darkness these days — science denialism in its various forms. It’s certainly not a novel development, but it’s a bigger problem than ever given the scale of our scientific and technological challenges. The world has 7 billion of us now, and we need to be smart and correct and wise. We need to be wary of bunk. Technologies that spread knowledge also spread nonsense and abet charlatans. When Sagan died, the World Wide Web was only a few years old, search engines were just getting going, and social media and smart phones were a decade in the future. Climate change was already a big topic, one that incited anti-scientific arguments, but the issue had not yet become completely and hopelessly politicized. The Lancet had not yet published a notorious anti-vaccine study that would later be retracted.

The list of scientifically mediated, politically divisive issues is a long one, and Sagan would have been a busy man these last 20 years.

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