They’re Redoing Cosmos. What Could Possibly Go Wrong?

Note for newcomers: I love science and technology. That love makes me hate distortions and lies about my beloved. Which has resulted in me being a little put out with Sagan. And in writing an endless stream of blog posts here about the misuse of Science! 

It seems there will be a new, updated Cosmos series. The interviewer speaks in reverent tones about Sagan’s legacy. I’m hoping they don’t mean Carl’s legacy of making sh*t up if it furthers his two key goals of increasing his Q-rating and gee-whizzing the peons into a properly pliable state. But I fear that’s exactly what they’re after.

So now when you see Cosmos, it doesn’t just affect you intellectually, as it should, but also emotionally and spiritually. Spiritually with a small “s” — the awe and wonder of looking up. Because of this we have high expectations for the potency of the series.

I may throw up.

Absolute perfection. Do his fans understand it? That Carl is the magical hero of his own fantasy universe? A universe where a thin veneer of science-y looking magic is glued over an attempt to gain political power? I kind of doubt it.

Ooookay. Sounds like they are planning to follow Carl’s model of treating science as the religion that’s simply better than all other religions in every way. 

Note also the interesting turn of phrase: “high expectations for the potency of the series”.  Like it’s a kind of drug. At the very least, they expect the series to *do* something. We can only hope they use their powers for good an not for evil – they did hire the guy who filmed the Matrix and Spiderman, so there’s that.

Then, again:

But then I said, “Wait a minute, Fox is 20th Century Fox and Fox Searchlight Pictures, they brought Avatar and Slumdog Millionaire to the screen. Yes, there’s Fox News, but also the Fox Network which has acerbic liberal commentary of The Simpsons and Family Guy. And there’s Fox Sports. I realized Fox has more demographics of American culture going through their portfolio than any other network. And so, I concluded that there’s no better place to be than on Fox.”

Wow. He even seems to believe he might be able to entice the knuckle-dragging troglodyte demographic into putting down their fried pork rinds and tearing themselves away from professional wrestling (and Fox news) long enough to get a little Science! beat into them. Because his demographic is already on board, right? They can be counted on to do and say what the right kind of experts tell them to on anthropomorphic climate change and the need to save the planet and stop frakking at any cost. But don’t take my word for it – go on down to the probiotics aisle at your local Whole Foods and just ask them.

 It’s not that space itself is what will be our savior. It’s that when you go into space, it stimulates an interest in the STEM fields. It’s the stimulated interest that promotes innovation in science and technology that leads to the 21st century economy. It’s not “let’s go to space because space does all this.” It doesn’t do it directly. It does it indirectly. And you get to make discoveries along the way. That’s the fun part.

Reminds me of a quote from a real scientist:

I was a little surprised when I was talking to a friend who was going to go on the radio. He does work on cosmology and astronomy, and he wondered how he would explain what the applications of his work were. “Well,” I said, “there aren’t any.” He said, “Yes, but then we won’t get support for more research of this kind.”

– Feynman, Cargo Cult Science

So, we’re presumed to be looking for a savior? That’s what  this program is about? And there are people stupid enough and ignorant enough of history to think *science* can be that savior? Which science? Eugenics is making a comeback. Or is metallurgy or chemistry or nuclear physics going to take all of us on its broad shoulders and lift us to the brave new world?

No, I think technology is mean here, although moderns rarely make the distinction – for example, notice the quoted paragraph, wherein Tyson, faced with the actual distinction between the pure science of cosmology and useful technology, reflexively closes the gap by claiming that cosmology necessarily results in useful technology. What a relief! Bet he’d squirm if he was required to defend cosmology on the basis that the truth is good in itself, better, even, than Tang.

What is our control over natural forces so we don’t have disasters like tsunamis and hurricanes? Do we run away from them? Or do we find a way to tap the energy of a hurricane and have that energy drive the city that the storm would have otherwise leveled? This is a whole other frontier that would be addressed if we go into space, because space involves hardware, people, going places you’ve never been before, life support, a knowledge of the solar system and the sun, and I see that as a transformative force that can turn a sleepy nation into an innovation nation.

That’s some weapons-grade hubris right there. Wake up, Nation! We need to start using hurricanes to supply our energy needs! Or something! All I can say about the leaps of faith and logic here is: Whoa.

But, to give credit where credit is due:

If you ask me what was around before the Big Bang, I have no idea. What’s at the center of a black hole? I have no idea. What is dark matter? Dark energy? I have no idea.

Now, if he would just expand his acknowledgement of ignorance a tinsy-tiny bit more…

On the names dark matter and dark energy:

[I]f I say “dark matter” you say “What kind of matter is that?” Well, we don’t even know if it’s matter. It’s really dark gravity. Dark matter is a misleading term. There is so much first impression in the word. People ask “What do dark matter and dark energy have in common?” because they sound the same.

If I called them Fred and Wilma you wouldn’t ask what they have in common. You’d ask about them separately. But because they both have the word “dark” in them, people think they’re related. Maybe they are, but at the moment there’s no evidence that’s at all the case.

I propose calling them ‘epicycles’, a name with a long tradition for patches to your model that have no other reason to exist.

Anyway, maybe I’ll catch this series when it makes it to Netflix. Let’s hope they hire a fact checker for the history and philosophy parts. But that might suggest that there’s valid fields of expertise outside physical sciences – and we can’t have that.


Author: Joseph Moore

Enough with the smarty-pants Dante quote. Just some opinionated blogger dude.

2 thoughts on “They’re Redoing Cosmos. What Could Possibly Go Wrong?”

  1. Synopsis of Episode 1:
    Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey – Standing Up in the Milky Way
    Season 1 Episode 1
    Giordano Bruno’s spiritual epiphany about the universe; a compressed version of the cosmic calendar.

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