Reminder: Carl Sagan Day

By Phil Plait | November 6, 2009 2:00 pm

A quick reminder: the Carl Sagan Day celebration will be at Broward College in southern Florida on Saturday! Speakers include James Randi, Jeffrey Bennett, David Morrison, and me. There will be lots of stuff for kids and astronomy enthusiasts of all ages. Check my blog post from Monday for more info.

Also, there will be a reception that night at 8:00 p.m. as well. Requested donation is $10. I hope to see some BABloggees there!

MORE ABOUT: Carl Sagan Day, lecture

Comments (24)

  1. Phil, you gotta embed the Carl Sagan Glorious Dawn video into your blog! :) It’s a must see!

  2. I wish I could be there. If I weren’t saving for my birthday trip, I’d definitely be there. But, with any luck, we’ll make it to at least one TAM next year.

  3. Patrick

    My company, which shall remain anonymous is donating a product for a raffle for this.

    Hope whoever wins it has fun.

  4. SinisterBill

    Then I will resolve to finish reading Pale Blue Dot!

  5. Grand Lunar

    Oh I wish wholeheartly that I could attend!

    But alas, I lack transportation. :(

    So close, yet so far….

  6. Agreed Lewis! For all of you living in a hole in the ground:

  7. Before you worship at the Sagan Shrine perhaps you should check out his complicity in the ’50’s in forcing the Macmillan Publishing co.( the textbook publisher) to drop the contract on Velikovsky’s book. A egregious act of censorship. Whether or not you agree with the author’s conclusions, Sagan never forgave him for being correct on Venus’s temp. as opposed to Sagans estimate. Let’s not rewrite history.

  8. Brian

    Velikovsky argued that Venus was a comet that got shot out of Jupiter. This despite the fact that Venus has the most nearly circular orbit of all the planets, and a BAZILLION other facts that clearly point to the incorrectness of this idea, not to mention that near-impossibility of this idea occurring anywhere, anytime, period. Velikovsky cared nothing for facts and evidence, so whether or not he happened to correctly guess Venus’s temperature (I’ll take your word for it, for the time being) says little about how he came to that conclusion, and in any case was hardly the reason that Sagan (and several other scientists) disapproved of Velikovsky. They disapproved of him because he was spreading pure lunacy. They disapproved of the marketing of his book as non-fiction, when it was really a work of pure fabrication expertly dressed up to look like rational scholarship. In much the same way as folks like Randi have argued against the publishing of books about UFO abductions and pyramid power as serious non-fiction works. Or the way that Richard Dawkins refuses to debate creationists — because it gives the public the mistaken impression that creationism is a debate-worthy idea. The real fault of Sagan et al. was their naivete in thinking that this was an effective way to fight against Velikovsky’s goofball nonsense. It was a huge misstep on their part (though one that fortuntately they learned from).

  9. JenniferBurdoo

    I’m so glad I checked the blog this week! I live close by and intend to be there all day tomorrow. I got to meet Mr. Randi during a visit to the JREF last year but I am really looking forward to meeting Mr. Plait. And picking up another (hopefully signed?) copy of Death From the Skies!, as I gave mine for my Dad.

    As for Molly: I don’t see why Sagan would have had a problem with what was clearly a guess on Velikovsky’s part. It’s not like V. had any actual evidence for any of his claims, and even a stopped clock is right twice a day.

  10. Brian:Banning a book from being published leads to burning said book. Any kind of censorship is a slippery slope. We all know stories of scientists who were vilified for their theories only to be exonerated, even decades later. If you want to do some research try Harlow Shapley and Harold Urey, who, along with Carl Sagan, threatened the Macmillan co with a loss of business in the textbook publishing dept. if they published anything by Velikovsky. Doubleday agreed to publish because they had nothing to lose.
    Scientists used to be terrified of the idea of a dynamic, changing, and dangerous solar system, galaxy, etc. Homeostasis was the watchword and woe be to anyone who questioned it.
    I don’t agree with most of Velikovsky’s conclusions – too much new info these days – but at least he wasn’t afraid to question the “truth” of the day.

  11. Patrick

    Perhaps Molly, you can show *convincing evidence* that Sagan blackballed Velikovsky?
    Maybe a scan of an original letter and not wild retold heresay by Velikovsky groupies?

    If anything, I’ve seen Sagan say that blackballing him was the wrong move.

    You have been served:

  12. Patrick

    Molly where do you get this bunk about Velikovsky being right about Venus temps and Sagan wrong? Carl was the first person to know the temp of Venus, using radar returns, IIRC!

  13. joewanderlust

    I commandeered the scientific computing lab that I work at and played Cosmos. More than one student was quite happy about it.

  14. Brian

    We all know stories of scientists who were vilified for their theories only to be exonerated, even decades later.

    Velikovsky was not vilified because scientists were afraid of his theories. He was vilified because his theories were rectally generated without a shred of evidence to support them. (Nor did Velikovsky have any interest in looking at the mountains of evidence that flatly contradicted his theories.)

    Scientists used to be terrified of the idea of a dynamic, changing, and dangerous solar system, galaxy, etc. Homeostasis was the watchword and woe be to anyone who questioned it.

    Homeostasis was the preferred theory because, in the absence of evidence to the contrary, it was safer to assume that we did not occupy a special position, and therefore the universe looked largely as it did now. That idea went out the window quite rapidly once evidence arrived.

    The idea that scientists are, as a group, scared of having their theories overturned is simply not accurate. Any given individual has their moment of reactionary conservatism — we are all human and we all err sometime — but the whole process of scientific progress is fueled by people imaginging, and attempting, to prove each other wrong.

  15. JenniferBurdoo

    Hey, I apologize for it, but I have no idea why part of my above comment is blinking. Can’t wait for tomorrow!

  16. Ad Hominid

    Carl Sagan was 17 years old when threats of a boycott forced MacMillan to pull Worlds in Collision in 1952. Care to explain how he had so much influence at that stage of his career?

  17. Ad Hominid

    The correction I forgot to save: It was 1950 when MacMillan pulled Worlds in Collision and transferred it to Doubleday. Sagan was 15 and still in high school.

  18. The publishing company was just acting on good old market dynamics, they sell a lot more textbooks then they would with Velikovsky’s work, think boycott.It was other scientists who threatened the publisher but they were defending science from anitscience. Sagan did write a piece about Velikovsky until years later because his ideas were still floating around.

    Also some people are not big fans of Sagan. Most of these people think making astronomy popular is a bad thing, and only a few should have access to the infomation.

    I consider myself a Saganite because I think astronomy is for all and I love the night sky.

    Have a good Sagan Day.

  19. On a totally unrelated note – slate published an article about the harm that unvaccinated children pose to toddlers with cancer. Sad.

  20. T.E.L.

    Molly, Sagan was an anonymous teenager when Velikovsky’s book was first published. There were astronomers who did campaign against the book, but it wasn’t Sagan. And it’s hard to censor ideas which were already known even before the book went to print. Velikovsky had been running his stuff up the flagpole since the 1940s.

    On the other hand, what have you to say about Velikovsky censoring his own work, as a tactic to evade legitimate rebuttals? Velikovsky excised his book’s technical addendum as an attempt to keep newer readers from seeing the positively stark contrast between his thesis and the known behaviors of real things out here in the World.

  21. Bahdum (aka Richard)

    Did anybody read Plait’s “Bad Astronomy”?

    From the paperback edition, page 184:
    “Initially, in 1950, when the Macmillan publishing house was preparing the manuscript for publication, the scientific community caught a whiff of it. In particular, a Harvard astronomer named Harlow Shapley wrote several vitriolic letters to the editors at Macmillan–correctly, mind you–that Velikovsky’s ideas were wrong, and that Macmillan was doing everyone a disservice by publishing them”
    Plait did read that there were hints that the scientific community that Shapley would use his influence to urge a boycott against Macmillan for publishing Velikovsky’s work.

    It wasn’t until the 1970s that Sagan came into the Velikovsky debate. Sagan was then the leading figure in astronomy and had considerable pull with the media. So, a debate was held. On page 185, Plait un-deifies Sagan:
    “On the side of science, there was much posturing and posing. Sagan–for whom I have tremendous respect both as a scientist and as someone who popularized teaching astronomy to the public–did a terrible job debunking Velikovsky’s ideas. He made straw-man arguments, and attacked only small details of Velikovsky’s claims.

    Soon after, according to Plait, the idea that the universe was stable and slow to change would fly out the window, like a streaking comet. This would be after the evidence came in that the universe could display disaster in a real and almost incomprehensible sense.

    For Sagan’s part, he learned that even a fool such as Velikovsky must be allowed to utter his nonsense: not even a fool should be silenced and censored. Who knows how many great books were lost in the final sacking of the Great Library at Alexandria? But then, who knows how many utterly wrong and foolish books were lost, too? Both were great losses to humanity.

    Yeah, keep this day on your calender, but don’t keep it sacred. Mr. Sagan would not be happy with his deification. He was just happy if you learned something new about the universe. Keep on learning.

  22. T.E.L.

    Bahdum (aka Richard) Said:

    “Did anybody read Plait’s “Bad Astronomy”?”

    In my case, no. Not out of total disinterest, but I perused the table of contents at the bookstore and it was evident that reading the whole thing would be redundant.

  23. T.E.L.

    By the way, Sagan’s birthday isn’t complete without a sampling from his younger, hungrier days as an aspiring movie and TV personality (along with Stephen Hawking):

  24. Brian

    Did anybody read Plait’s “Bad Astronomy”?

    Certainly I did, but that was nearly ten years ago. Unfortunately most of my books are currently in storage, so I sometimes have to make do with the web and my memory.


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