Carl Sagan Issues a Chilling Warning to America in His Final Interview (1996)

Until the end of his life, Carl Sagan (1934–1996) con­tin­ued doing what he did all along — pop­u­lar­iz­ing sci­ence and “enthu­si­as­ti­cal­ly con­vey­ing the won­ders of the uni­verse to mil­lions of peo­ple on tele­vi­sion and in books.” When­ev­er Sagan appeared on ‘The Tonight Show” with John­ny Car­son dur­ing the 70s and 80s, his goal was to con­nect with every­day Amer­i­cans — peo­ple who did­n’t sub­scribe to Sci­en­tif­ic Amer­i­can — and increase the pub­lic’s under­stand­ing and appre­ci­a­tion of sci­ence.

At the end of his life, Sagan still cared deeply about where sci­ence stood in the pub­lic imag­i­na­tion. But while los­ing a bat­tle with myelodys­pla­sia, Sagan also sensed that sci­en­tif­ic think­ing was los­ing ground in Amer­i­ca, and even more omi­nous­ly with­in the cham­bers of the Newt Gringrich-led Con­gress.

Dur­ing his final inter­view, aired on May 27, 1996, Sagan issued a strong warn­ing, telling Char­lie Rose:

We’ve arranged a soci­ety on sci­ence and tech­nol­o­gy in which nobody under­stands any­thing about sci­ence and tech­nol­o­gy, and this com­bustible mix­ture of igno­rance and pow­er soon­er or lat­er is going to blow up in our faces. I mean, who is run­ning the sci­ence and tech­nol­o­gy in a democ­ra­cy if the peo­ple don’t know any­thing about it.

20 years lat­er, fig­ures like Neil deGrasse Tyson and Bill Nye are out there, try­ing to pop­u­lar­ize sci­ence with new forms of media. But the same struc­tur­al prob­lem, so well artic­u­lat­ed by Sagan, remains large­ly in place. And yet there’s rea­son to hope. Because even as estab­lish­ment politi­cians still play the same games with sci­ence, there are ear­ly signs that, as with oth­er impor­tant issues, pub­lic opin­ion is shift­ing beneath their feet.

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Relat­ed Con­tent:

Glob­al Warm­ing: A Free Course from UChica­go Explains Cli­mate Change

Carl Sagan Presents Six Lec­tures on Earth, Mars & Our Solar Sys­tem … For Kids (1977)

Carl Sagan Explains Evo­lu­tion in an Eight-Minute Ani­ma­tion

Carl Sagan Writes a Let­ter to 17-Year-Old Neil deGrasse Tyson (1975)

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Comments (15)
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  • Sky says:

    Who is run­ning it? The sci­en­tists of course, with their strings pulled by the politi­cians hand­ing out the grant mon­ey. We only need look at the great AGW fraud still going on, to see that is true.

  • GodoStoyke says:

    Sky, if that were true, than sci­en­tists should have been cli­mate deniers dur­ing the Bush years, but they weren’t. It is almost as if sci­ence is more objec­tive than fos­sil fuel fund­ed cli­mate denial.

  • Ryan says:

    Sci­en­tists are most cer­tain­ly not run­ning any­thing polit­i­cal­ly. If this were true we would­n’t still be using the same fuel tech­nol­o­gy devel­oped 100 yrs ago. We went from tele­graph to super com­put­ers in our pock­ets in the time frame we’ve gone from Fos­sil Fuels to.….Fossil Fuels.

  • K Shanaman(astroguyHawaii says:

    I have fol­lowed this genius of a man since he first came on the scene. Tore my heart out when he passed away and see­ing this again, brought tears to my eyes. He was absolute­ly cor­rect. Although there are many bril­liant peo­ple doing spec­tac­u­lar work in sci­ence, there are many who are mis­in­formed, igno­rant and intol­er­ant to the truth of the uni­verse and it’s many organ­isms. I feel that I may not be around to see this change to the ben­e­fit of mankind but I remain opti­mistic that the world will wake up and stop believ­ing in mag­i­cal think­ing. Dr Sagan was a vision­ary and if we don’t fol­low his advice, we are doomed as we will cer­tain­ly destroy our­selves and our his­to­ry. The earth may recov­er over many years with­out us but we will sure­ly be rel­e­gat­ed to his­to­ry.

  • Ben says:

    We are enter­ing into a dark ages of sorts where fact and truth are some­how inter­pre­tive. When 40% of US adults firm­ly believe the sun revolves around the earth we are doomed to an igno­rance that is per­pet­u­at­ed by a cul­ture that finds a Kar­dashi­an far more impor­tant than a Sagan or the like. Look no fur­ther than the illit­er­a­cy rate and even those who have the capac­i­ty to read that don’t read. This major­i­ty gets “knowl­edge” from the tele­vi­sion set, media and Inter­net that caters to the low­est com­mon denom­i­na­tor. Mark my words there is an “adjust­ment” on the way and its going to be bru­tal and shock­ing and com­plete­ly deserved.

  • Mick Russom says:

    “Neil deGrasse Tyson and Bill Nye”

    Prob­lem here is Sagan was not an out­right fraud, but the above two are total frauds which are intel­lec­tu­al light­weights. Basi­cal­ly actors pros­e­ly­tiz­ing sci­ence they dont under­stand. It takes time, teach­ing and men­tor­ship to pass the torch not idiot ori­ents TV shows and half hour sound bytes.

  • Agreeing With Mick Russom says:

    It pains me to say this but it seems Mick Rus­som is right. The prob­lem Carl Sagan warned us about is cur­rent­ly blow­ing up in our faces right here in 2016.

  • paul says:

    Today, ter­ri­ble things like fight­ing ter­ror­ists who infil­trat­ed USA with mis­siles and bil­lion dol­lar plains is eas­i­ly sold to the pub­lic, not one per­son asks how you would use the weapons on such a ter­ror­ists.
    9/11 plane behav­iors are accept­ed and defend­ed by the most. Pity on us…

  • Mark John says:

    Then it is your respon­si­bil­i­ty to artic­u­late and advo­cate a way for­ward.

    What is the cor­rect response to ter­ror­ism?

    How to deal with rad­i­cal ide­olo­gies that are con­trary to the ideals and prin­ci­ples of West­ern Civ­i­liza­tion?

    Extreme­ly dif­fi­cult issues and extreme­ly dif­fi­cult deci­sions on the social and polit­i­cal are­nas.

  • themorn2112 says:

    Mick Rus­som -
    is the mes­sage and knowl­edge inval­i­dat­ed because you don’t like the mes­sen­ger? If Satan tells you that your house is on fire and there is smoke, do you stay in the house because of who the mes­sen­ger is? Regard­less of who the mes­sen­ger is I “get the hell out”.

  • Larry Frew says:

    I am sad­dened by every day that pass­es, that “Crit­i­cal Think­ing” is not being taught in Grade School. How else are we to get out of the mire of Illu­sion­ary Per­cep­tion? We need to start wor­ship­ing fact, truth and what is real!

  • Brian Rath says:

    More of a pos­i­tivist ass­hole than I thought

  • lorink says:

    AGW is real­ly MEASURABLE from a Co2 lev­el, from a glob­al ocean heat lev­el which caus­es a INCREASE in flood­ing cas­es as shown on Aus­tralia wikipedia flood list and the rapid increase of fires on the west coast of usa and in south­ern Europe. Right now I am in washign­ton and our state has been hit by mul­ti­ple heat waves, droughts and one major flash flood in upper Wash­ing­ton that is noth­ing com­pared to the rapid increase in fires in Cal­i­for­nia since the 1980s.

  • Harold says:


  • Clyde Dodge says:

    NO one lis­tened then and now it is almost to late.It is rep­re­hen­si­ble to think we as a nation could quite pos­si­bly re elect a man that has been Impeached twice in the Con­gress of the Unit­ed states Twice for Un autho­rized self pro­mo­tion and manip­u­la­tion of less­er Nations to get dirt on his oppon­rnt for the office of Pres­i­dent. Now we sit on a precipice with only one way to slide. This Mon­ster of the repub­li­cans has to be stopped. He has stat­ed he will make him­sef the dic­ta­tor of the Unit­ed States Democ­ra­cy will no longer exist. He is under invest­ga­tion in so many cas­es now if by some chance he man­ages to get re elect­ed he will par­don him­self and all of his cronies then you will see the real cir­cus of fas­cism this man will blan­ket Amer­i­ca with. If any of this occurs I see a civ­il war hap­pen­ing not the way the ruth­less and the tooth­less think but a come­plete split of west from the south, North­east from the South, The entire West coast will become the new Untit­ed States. Nato will come to our shores to keep track of our nuclear arse­nal not allow­ing any of it to fall into the hands of dumb ass red neck gun totin idiots. You may say I am crazy nev­er hap­pen but you are fool­ing your­selves, it can and most prob­a­bly will hap­pen.

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