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Carl Leaves Us:
In Memory of Carl Sagan 1934–1996

My heroes are few. Martin Gardner, Dick Feynman, Isaac Asimov, Carl Sagan. With all that brilliance, my starry zodiac was more than adequate. Dick, Isaac, and now Carl are gone.

I‘m glad that I last saw him in person in Seattle, looking well, and to all appearances recovering from his ailment. We sat and spoke for a long time. The last time.

Up until the end, he was confident, cheery, optimistic. Despite the ravages of his illness and the obvious, visible effects of the therapy he was undergoing, he made every public appearance he could in his last weeks. He was brave in the face of his demise, and went like the warrior he was.

I remember his joy at seeing the first photos to come in from the surface of Mars, his exuberance standing before a night sky in Cosmos, and the broad grin he unleashed when the stunning pictures from Jupiter began to crawl across a computer monitor. I urge you, if you have not yet read his last book, The Demon-Haunted World, please do so. Many months ago, I received a bound galley of that book, with a cautionary note not to prepare a review based closely upon it, since there were many planned changes due. When I eventually received the final draft, I noted many instances where Carl had strengthened his language, upgraded and fortified his adjectives, and in general hardened his language. I had the chilling thought that perhaps he felt this might be his last statement about the pseudoscience, crackpots, frauds, and quacks that he so resented. Now I’m more convinced of that possibility.

He had the ability to captivate with his words, spoken or written; the Cosmos series was seen by 400 million people worldwide. His students at Cornell worshiped him, and though his colleagues were often pedantically annoyed at his high public profile and expressed opinions that he should return to pure research, he managed to ignore that pressure-happily for us-and continued to be the great teacher of critical thinking that the world came to know and respect. The academic pressure was so great when he taught at Harvard, that he was “passed over” for tenure, and Harvard’s stupid loss was Cornell’s gain.

Carl came up against the Reagan Star Wars fiasco, and became so involved as an advocate of rationality that he was publicly arrested. He championed the SETI program — with Frank Drake — and in all respects he supported science and the simple process of thinking.

A giant has fallen. We can only celebrate his life and continue to listen to him through his writings. I miss him, and I feel cheated.

This article can be found in
Skeptic volume 04 number 04

volume 04 number 04
Carl Sagan Tribute

this issue includes: Can History Be Science?; Sulloway on Born to Rebel; Debunking Nostradamus; Critical Thinking About History; Left and Right Science; What Happened to N-Rays?…
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This article was published on October 1, 2009.


4 responses to “Carl Leaves Us:
In Memory of Carl Sagan 1934–1996

  1. Peter Norton says:

    I’m 39 and saw my first Carl Sagan article late last year 2009.

    It makes me sad that I didn’t nor ever will meet Carl.

  2. Nicholas Horvath says:

    I’m a young European respecter of Carl Sagan and I can thank to him a lot of things. At first the critical thinking, then the love of astronomy (despite the fact I’m a lawyer) and finally the inspiring thoughts he popularized.

  3. Nick Harding says:

    Well said. Carl Sagan has always been an inspiration to me. Any populariser of science as well read as he should be lauded to the rafters. He was the person figuratively (or should that be metaphorically?) speaking who guided me via his writing through the forest of unreason.

  4. Kenneth Polit says:

    Carl Sagan is the best thing to happen to science since Einstein. I say this because the ordinary man was reached by his popularity. The layman could understand scientific ideas because Sagan was able to reach him. All men want to be critical thinkers, they just need to be guided. Sagan was that guide. Thank you Carl. I never had the honor to meet you, but I really miss you.

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