A decade

Ten years. I remember that morning ten years ago when the clock radio woke me up by telling me Carl Sagan had died. It was local news; he was here, at the Hutch; we knew he was here, and why, and we exchanged worried gossip. I knew people who knew people who said things looked grim. Then I woke up to the radio that morning – I remember the fury, the no no no no, the damn and hell.

He’s a sort of parent of B&W, Carl Sagan is. As is Dawkins. The two formed a kind of pair in my mind in the mid-90s, and I was oddly pleased to see what Dawkins said of Sagan in his tribute in Skeptical Inquirer:

My candidate for planetary ambassador, my own nominee to present our credentials in galactic chancelleries, can be none other than Carl Sagan himself. He is wise, humane, polymathic, gentle, witty, well-read, and incapable of composing a dull sentence.”…I met him only once, so my feeling of desolation and loss at his death is based entirely on his writings. Carl Sagan was one of the great literary stylists of our age, and he did it by giving proper weight to the poetry of science. It is hard to think of anyone whom our planet can so ill afford to lose.

Just what I thought. Especially right now, we could and can ill afford to lose him. (Look how bad things have gotten since then! So you see what I mean. Never mind about correlation and causation; you know what I mean.)

It was The Demon-Haunted World, especially, that was a kind of parent of B&W. It got a lot of attention, and Sagan did a lot of interviews. I taped a couple of them, on ‘Fresh Air’ and ‘Science Friday’; they were small educations in skepticism by themselves. The book and the interviews coincided with various encounters with New Agey people I kept stumbling into around that time, and the result was a heightened interest in pseudoscience and woolly thinking that has stuck to me like glue ever since. (Thus it is a little dizzying to see that Little Atoms is doing a special tribute broadcast this Friday with Ann Druyan and A C Grayling and several associates of Sagan’s. I’ve been on Little Atoms, thinks I to myself. Full circle, kind of thing.)

A lot of people date the beginnings of their interest in science to a tv programme or book or magazine column of Carl Sagan’s. He got a lot done in 62 years.

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