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Carl Sagan

Carl Sagan was probably the best salesman science ever had - in the most profound sense of the word. With the popular television series Cosmos, he became a household name and so did cosmology and astronomy. The accompanying book by the same name was a bestseller. He strongly believed in the possibility of ET but opposed any non-critical beliefs in UFO's and like. He believed that We have lingered long enough on the shores of the Cosmic Ocean.

Here are some of the excerpts to get a glimpse of his prolific writings...

At the heart of science is an essential tension between two seemingly contradictory attitudes -- an openness to new ideas, no matter how bizarre or counterintuitive they may be, and the most ruthless skeptical scrutiny of all ideas, old and new. This is how deep truths are winnowed from deep nonsense. Of course, scientists make mistakes in trying to understand the world, but there is a built-in error-correcting mechanism: The collective enterprise of creative thinking and skeptical thinking together keeps the field on track. -- Carl Sagan, "The Fine Art of Baloney Detection," Parade, February 1, 1987

One of the saddest lessons of history is this: If we've been bamboozled long enough, we tend to reject any evidence of the bamboozle. We're no longer interested in finding out the truth. The bamboozle has captured us. it is simply too painful to acknowledge -- even to ourselves -- that we've been so credulous. (So the old bamboozles tend to persist as the new bamboozles rise.) -- Carl Sagan, "The Fine Art of Baloney Detection," Parade, February 1, 1987

Finding the occasional straw of truth awash in a great ocean of confusion and bamboozle requires intelligence, vigilance, dedication and courage. But if we don't practice these tough habits of thought, we cannot hope to solve the truly serious problems that face us -- and we risk becoming a nation of suckers, up for grabs by the next charlatan who comes along. -- Carl Sagan, "The Fine Art of Baloney Detection," Parade, February 1, 1987

I believe that part of what propels science is the thirst for wonder. It's a very powerful emotion. All children feel it. In a first grade classroom everybody feels it; in a twelfth grade classroom almost nobody feels it, or at least acknowledges it. Something happens between first and twelfth grade, and it's not just puberty. Not only do the schools and the media not teach much skepticism, there is also little encouragement of this stirring sense of wonder. Science and pseudoscience both arouse that feeling. Poor popularizations of science establish an ecological niche for pseudoscience. - Carl Sagan, The Burden Of Skepticism, The Skeptical Inquirer, Vol. 12, Fall 87

If science were explained to the average person in a way that is accessible and exciting, there would be no room for pseudoscience. But there is a kind of Gresham's Law by which in popular culture the bad science drives out the good. And for this I think we have to blame, first, the scientific community ourselves for not doing a better job of popularizing science, and second, the media, which are in this respect almost uniformly dreadful. Every newspaper in America has a daily astrology column. How many have even a weekly astronomy column? And I believe it is also the fault of the educational system. We do not teach how to think. This is a very serious failure that may even, in a world rigged with 60,000 nuclear weapons, compromise the human future. - Carl Sagan, The Burden Of Skepticism, The Skeptical Inquirer, Vol. 12, Fall 87

"I maintain there is much more wonder in science than in pseudoscience. And in addition, to whatever measure this term has any meaning, science has the additional virtue, and it is not an inconsiderable one, of being true. - Carl Sagan, The Burden Of Skepticism, The Skeptical Inquirer, Vol. 12, Fall 87

I'm often asked the question, "Do you think there is extraterrestrial intelli- gence?" I give the standard arguments -- there are a lot of places out there, and use the word *billions*, and so on. And then I say it would be astonishing to me if there weren't extraterrestrial intelligence, but of course there is as yet no compelling evidence for it. And then I'm asked, "Yeah, but what do you really think?" I say, "I just told you what I really think." "Yeah, but what's your gut feeling?" But I try not to think with my gut. Really, it's okay to reserve judgment until the evidence is in. - Carl Sagan, The Burden Of Skepticism, The Skeptical Inquirer, Vol. 12, Fall 87

...Another writer again agreed with all my generalities, but said that as an inveterate skeptic I have closed my mind to the truth. Most notably I have ignored the evidence for an Earth that is six thousand years old. Well, I haven't ignored it; I considered the purported evidence and *then* rejected it. There is a difference, and this is a difference, we might say, between prejudice and postjudice. Prejudice is making a judgment before you have looked at the facts. Postjudice is making a judgment afterwards. Prejudice is terrible, in the sense that you commit injustices and you make serious mistakes. Postjudice is not terrible. You can't be perfect of course; you may make mistakes also. But it is permissible to make a judgment after you have examined the evidence. In some circles it is even encouraged. - Carl Sagan, The Burden of Skepticism, Skeptical Enquirer, Vol. 12, pg. 46

In science it often happens that scientists say, 'You know that's a really good argument; my position is mistaken,' and then they actually change their minds and you never hear that old view from them again. They really do it. It doesn't happen as often as it should, because scientists are human and change is sometimes painful. But it happens every day. I cannot recall the last time something like that happened in politics or religion. -- Carl Sagan, 1987 CSICOP keynote address

Somewhere, something incredible is waiting to be known.

In order to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first create the universe.

The universe seems neither benign nor hostile, merely indifferent.

Carl Sagan Interview