CARL SAGAN, 1934-96 Carl Sagan, one of the world’s greatest popularizers of science, died

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CARL SAGAN, 1934-96 Carl Sagan, one of the world’s greatest popularizers of science, died today at the age of 62, after a long battle with a bone marrow disease. Sagan was one of America’s pre-eminent scientists, educators, skeptics and humanists. A laureate of the Council for Secular Humanism’s International Academy of Humanism, Sagan was also a very active supporter of the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal. Sagan’s award-winning 1980 TV series “Cosmos” turned the ebullient cosmologist into an international celebrity. The 13-part TV-series explored scientific understanding of 15 billion years of cosmic evolution from the Big Bang to the origin of life and human consciousness. Sagan’s presentation of his subject was so fascinating and comprehensible that “Cosmos” attracted an audience of over half a billion people in 60 countries. The book from the series spent 70 weeks on the New York Times best-seller list, including 15 weeks at number 1. Sagan’s career as a popularizer had begun in the early 1970s when he started publishing science books aimed at a lay audience and made the first of 25 appearances on NBC’s “Tonight Show”. His book “The Dragons of Eden: Speculations on the Evolution of Human Intelligence” won the Pulitzer Prize for Literature in 1978. He continued his work as a popularizer of science and critical thinking right up until the end of his life. His article in the March 1996 issue of Parade magazine, titled “In the Valley of the Shadow”, spoke movingly of his illness and his attitude to death as a non-theist and skeptic, “I would love to believe that when I die I will live again, that some thinking, feeling, remembering part of me will continue. But much as I want to believe that, and despite the ancient and worldwide cultural traditions that assert an afterlife, I know of nothing to suggest that it is more than wishful thinking.” “The world is so exquisite with so much love and moral depth, that there is no reason to deceive ourselves with pretty stories for which there’s little good evidence. Far better it seems to me, in our vulnerability, is to look death in the eye and to be grateful every day for the brief but magnificent opportunity that life provides.” Despite Sagan’s fame as popular writer and TV personality, his main career was in Academia. From 1971 until his death Sagan was Professor of Astronomy and Space Science at Cornell University. He also worked for NASA and was responsible for NASA Space Probes Pioneer 10 and 11, and the Voyager I and II craft contained interstellar messages, and he also worked with the Mariner and Viking planetary exploration craft. Sagan actively supported the work of Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal and was a great fan of CSICOP’s magazine Skeptical Inquirer. In 1987 he was the recipient of CSICOP’s “In Praise of Reason Award.” In 1994 CSICOP created the Isaac Asimov Award to honor Asimov for his extraordinary contributions to science and humanity. The first winner of this award was Carl Sagan. The award was presented at the 1994 CSICOP Conference in Seattle. The award is in recognition of an individual who throughout his or her life has shown outstanding commitment and ability in communicating the achievements, methods, and issues of science to the public. When told that the award would be presented to Carl Sagan, Janet Asimov said, "There is no one better qualified for the CSICOP Isaac Asimov Award that his good friend and colleague Carl Sagan. Isaac was particularly fond of Carl. He was also in awe of Carl's genius, and proud that he was so adept at communicating science to the public through speaking, writing, and the visual media." In his keynote address at the CSICOP Seattle congress, Sagan spoke to an audience of over 1000 skeptics. In this talk Sagan spoke about his love of science and the importance of popularization of science: "Science is still one of my chief joys. The popularization of science that Isaac Asimov did so well-the communication not just of the findings but of the methods of science-seems to me as natural as breathing. After all, when you're in love, you want to tell the world. The idea that scientists shouldn't talk about their science to the public seems to me bizarre." On learning of Carl Sagan's death, Paul Kurtz, chairman of the Council for Secular Humanism and of CSICOP, and a personal friend of Sagan, said, “Carl Sagan was one of the leading scientific skeptics in the world and a critic of anti-scientific and irrational attitudes, and perhaps the leading proponent of the scientific outlook and the methods of science. His untimely loss is deeply felt by the scientific and academic community.” In his last book, The Demon-Haunted World: Science As a Candle in the Dark, Sagan wrote: "I worry that, especially as the Millennium edges nearer, pseudoscience and superstition will seem year by year more tempting, the siren song of unreason more sonorous and attractive. Where have we heard it before? Whenever our ethnic or national prejudices are aroused, in times of scarcity, during challenges to national self-elf-esteem or nerve, when we agonize about our diminished cosmic place and purpose, or when fanaticism is bubbling up around us-then, habits of thought familiar from ages past reach for the controls. "The candle flame gutters. Its little pool of light trembles. Darkness gathers. The demons begin to stir." I am afraid the world has just become a bit darker. Carl Sagan was survived by a wife and five children. He will be fondly remembered and sorely missed. Donations in Carl Sagan's name can be made to: The Children's Health Fund of New York 317 East 64th Street New York, NY 10021 or The Carl Sagan Memorial Fund The Planetary Society 65 N. Catalina Avenue Pasadena, CA 91106 Matt Cherry December 20, 1996


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