Monday, April 21, 2014

So long, Cosmos


Skeptical scrutiny is the means, in both science and religion, by which deep thoughts can be winnowed from deep nonsense. ~ Carl Sagan

Okay, I give up. I gave them every chance. I hoped the scripts would quit bashing religion for the sake of bashing religion. I prayed the stupid cartoons with their over-dramatization and downright errors in fact would go away. I hoped the overt heavy-handed moralizing would stop. And I really hoped that Neil Degrasse Tyson would quit trying to be a B-picture actor and use his real voice, which is entertaining and enlightening.
Evidently ain't going to happen.
So I'm done watching. I got half-way through the last show with the overwrought cartoon about Clair Patterson and his isolation of lead in zircons when I realized they were going to have hit men chasing him as he began his campaign against lead in gasoline.
Enough already. It's bad enough that Isaac Newton was portrayed as a friendly fellow who was easily approached by Edmund Halley, when in fact, Newton was slightly mad from exposure to mercury from his alchemical experiments and hardly easy to deal with. Halley did a wonderful job just to get him focused on writing the Principia Mathematica. Newton's abilities to stay focused on a project weren't particularly good at the time. At least Halley got the credit he deserved for its publication.
The cartoons are not the only reason I've given up on the show, but they're symptomatic about the heavy-handed, often flawed information given out as fact. They got off to a hideous start with the beatification of Giordano Bruno, who was burned as a heretic because, well, he was a heretic. His writing about the structure of the universe was the least of his offenses.
Please note that I do not approve of burning people because they don't follow the tenets of a particular religion, but, if you're going to report the incident, you should point out that he was begging for it.
Today, Giordano Bruno would probably have a show where he purported to be a medium and/or astrologer foretelling the future and founding his own cockamamie religion around it. Oh, and he would be in contact with aliens.
The fluff piece on William Herschel wasn't much better, forgetting to mention he thought the sun was at the center of the galaxy (in other words, he was capable of error, too), didn't mention the work of his sister Caroline, didn't mention his work on building telescopes. But it did take pains to mention that he “believed in ghosts”, that is that the stars being viewed now might have blown up by now. Except that I've never run across anything crediting him with understanding what supernovae are, so as far as I know he might well have figured they would last forever.
Yet Herschel did a lot of neat stuff. He may have seen evidence of Uranus' rings. He identified huge numbers of nebulae. He significantly improved the telescope. Oh, and he wrote a bunch of symphonies.
This is the sort of stuff the Carl Sagan Cosmos series would have brought up just to show the depth of the man. The new Cosmos just creates badly animated cartoons. Oh, and don't forget the weekly commercial showing the special effects guy using some sponsor's tablet, which might explain the so-so graphics.
I think the problem is that the show has too many “executive producers”, all of whom seem determined to stick their biases and preconceived notions into the series. And, as I said before, we are not hearing the real voice of Neil Degrasse Tyson; we're hearing what he thinks is the voice of Carl Sagan.
This show is need of some “skeptical scrutiny”, but it's too late for that. I'm sure the whole thing is “in the can” as they say. Too bad, because the idea wasn't bad. Perhaps someday Dr. Tyson will do his own show with his own wit and outgoing style, freed from the cartoons and the agendas of MacFarlane, Braga, et. al.  Perhaps he'll take a lesson from Professor Brian Cox on how it should be done.
Perhaps, I'll even watch it.

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