[box]This is a guest post from Beth Kelly, who is a freelance writer and blogger. Born and raised in Michigan, she moved to Chicago to attend DePaul University where she graduated in 2011. She lived in Krakow, Poland briefly before moving to South Korea to teach English. She writes most frequently on health and technology topics. You can follow her on Twitter @bkelly_88.[/box]
Carl Sagan, a science fiction fan from the start, had once dreamed of living on the planet Venus. But as a young doctoral student in the early 1960’s, he was the first to confirm the planet’s extreme temperatures and inhospitable nature. Using rudimentary data tables, he established that a “very efficient greenhouse effect” was at work, continually emitting prodigious levels of CO2 into the atmosphere and eliminating any potential for life.
As the host of the original Cosmos series, a program responsible for inspiring legions of scientists-to-be, one wonders if he would be a leader in today’s discussions concerning climate change. The greatest “science communicator” of his generation, Sagan appeared regularly on the Tonight Show, and had twenty bestselling and critically-acclaimed science books to his name. But, today his influence can also be detected someplace else – in his contemporary counterpart, the inimitable Neil deGrasse Tyson. The two once spent an afternoon together during Tyson’s college search. Of that meeting, he remembered thinking, “I already knew I wanted to become a scientist. But that afternoon, I learned from Carl, the kind of person I wanted to become.”
Even before the premiere of his Cosmos program, deGrasse Tyson was seen as Sagan’s heir apparent. While serving as the director of the Hayden Planetarium, he also hosts a popular radio program “StarTalk”, where “science meets comedy” and his co-hosts range from other members of the scientific community, like Bill Nye, to celebrity comedians like, Kristen Schaal. He is a powerful figure in pop culture – his Twitter account reaches approximately 3.16 million followers, and on a recent speaking tour his tickets sold out quickly, going for over $225 a pop.
At times, it’s easy to be discouraged when considering the future of the planet and other scientific endeavors. Politicians continue to deny the reality of climate change, and green energy providers are routinely shot down in favor of the interests of Big Oil. But, when the nation’s most famous scientist outsells the even the most popular rock stars, someone’s doing something right – and perhaps there’s still reason for hope.
As Sagan said himself in Pale Blue Dot, astronomy is a humbling profession. In this great vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves. It is up to us to not only determine the fate of humanity, but the fate of the planet we call home. Unfortunately, many Americans lack the know-how to reach even the most basic scientific conclusions. It’s been reported that 1 in 4 Americans believe the sun goes around the Earth. We are in the midst of a dark era of scientific illiteracy.
When public schools are doing little to ameliorate the problem, who becomes responsible for the “intellectual health” of a nation? Encouragement to put empirical data to use for our planet’s benefit is sorely needed. Who will call us to rational arms?
For now, deGrasse Tyson might have to do. Part of a new brigade of scientists using social media to spread ideas related to astrophysics, green energy, and everything in between, they are the next generation of “science communicators”, armed with the facts if only we are willing to listen.