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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Comments (13)
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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.

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