Few people would argue that when it came to communicating the dense world of science, no one did it better than the astronomer Carl Sagan. With his popular 1980 public TV series “Cosmos: A Personal Voyage,” his frequent appearances on “The Tonight Show” and other talkshows, Sagan was a fixture on television until his untimely death in 1996.
Sagan’s profound legacy, and the void he left behind, was Topic A at the Library of Congress Tuesday thanks in large part to Seth MacFarlane. The event included a reception to celebrate MacFarlane’s support and generosity that facilitated a major gift to the library of personal and professional materials.
The collection includes some 1,700 archival boxes of material from Sagan’s archives including correspondences with scientists, drafts of scientific papers, books, articles, and historical documents of the first 40 years of the space age. It will be made available to researchers and others, much of it digitally, the library said.
The collection was donated with assistance from Sagan’s widow and collaborator, Ann Druyan. Druyan said she is thrilled that the collection will be housed at the library’s main building on Capitol Hill. It is formally known as the “Seth MacFarlane Collection of the Carl Sagan and Ann Druyan Archive.”
The assembled scientists, most of whom were former Sagan colleagues as well as his Cornell University students, saluted MacFarlane for his efforts, which were two-fold. He is also an exec producer with Druyan and others of “Cosmos: A Space Time Odyssey,” a 13-part series based on the original Sagan programs, produced in conjunction with Fox and the National Geographic Channel. The sequel, to premiere on Fox on next March 9, will be hosted by astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson.
In remarks to the gathering, MacFarlane called Sagan a “great popularizer of science” who is sorely missed today in a country that is divided over the politicization of science.
“Somewhere between the 1990s and today, the acknowledgement of scientific achievement ceased in many parts of this country to be a source of pride,” he said. “Long accepted scientific truths have been brought into question, by one side of the aisle, solely to generate passion that can be reshaped to suit various agendas.”
He said “a nationwide scientific regression has taken place,” due in part to the media’s reporting “of the noisy ravings of fringe level anti-science bellowers who would not have been on Walter Cronkite’s radar, let alone press worthy.”
The message was echoes by numerous speakers from the scientific community. They included John Holdren, Assistant to the President for Science and Technology, who said we live in a critical time that calls for “a science savvy citizenry.” He and others noted that Sagan was an early “candle in the dark” on issues such as climate change and nuclear winter.
Also on hand was former Sagan Student Bill “The Science Guy” Nye, a former student of Sagan. He said research funds are drying up “at the precise time we should be investing in science. We are at a crossroads.”
Pictured: Seth MacFarlane and Ann Druyan.