Among the science writer fraternity, there was a minor fracas over Carl Sagan as Supreme Science Communicator. Erin Podolak argued that Carl Sagan isn’t really relevant anymore:
I’m not saying I don’t like Sagan – I’m saying Sagan has zero influence on me or what I do. To me, Sagan is a stereotypical old white guy scientist who made some show that a lot of people really liked more than 30 years ago. That show – Cosmos: A Personal Voyage -was on air nearly a decade before I was even born. The reason I bring up my own age is because I’m as old, if not older, than the prime audience for science communication. I think anyone can learn to appreciate science at any age in life, but we stand the best chance at convincing people that science is something they can understand (and even do themselves) early in life when their beliefs are not so entrenched.
So then why, WHY as science communicators do we keep going around and around among ourselves about how Sagan – who is so far outside my life experience, let alone that of people younger than me – was the greatest science communicator of all time?
Chad Orzel responded that ‘the Sagan thing’ is about the desire to have nationally recognized scientific figure who appears on magazine covers, who is a pop-culture icon.
So here’s my confession: I’m not nearly as young as Podolak (oy, look at those punim!), but I’ve never seen a single episode of Cosmos. EVAH! Sagan had no influence on me whatsoever. Want to know who did? Well, I’ll tell you!
Marlin Perkins. That’s right, the host of Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom. Forget ruminations on the origin of the universe, Perkins and his trusty assistant Jim made nature fun (Jim was the luckless bastid who, while Perkins was doing the voice over, got to poke the enraged rhino in the flank with a stick). Admittedly, I started watching this after visiting relatives while a wee (very wee) Mad Biologist in Omaha–there wasn’t that much in the way of celebrity in Omaha in the 1970s (there still might not be, but I can vouch for the 1970s).
Consider this vintage clip where Perkins and Jim lasso a grizzly bear (if you want the full flavor, watch the whole thing, but the action really gets going around the 17:15 mark).
WAIT A MINUTE! DID YOU JUST WRITE “LASSO A GRIZZLY BEAR“?!?
Why yes, I did:
The most awesome thing is that it really looks like they might have let the bear escape–and chase Jim.
Carl Sagan never did that. Hell, Steve Irwin never did that. Just saying.
This ends a very serious post.