Almost forty years ago in October, an astronomer hosting a television special posed a simple question: Why did newspapers run astrology columns, all of which wildly differed in their predictions, but no science columns?
That astronomer was Carl Sagan and the show was Cosmos. Across 13 episodes he introduced ordinary Americans to the wonders of the universe.
It’s easy to get bogged down in the minutiae of debunking astrology. It’s easily done time and time again. Science, on the other hand, makes testable predictions about the world around us with a high degree of accuracy. It continually proves it’s worth.
However, the issue with fixating on debunking wild claims is that doing so can sometimes miss the grander point. The universe is full of mystery, rich in awe and wonder. Beauty lies in its complexity and design. By focusing on debunking, one can miss the forest for the trees.
A common refrain in American culture is, “why should we study this? What use can be gained from this?” It’s a fair question. After all, public monies pay for many different types of research, from the next generation James Webb space telescope to the dueling techniques of crabs. And although science funding is small next to behemoths like defense spending, taxpayers have a right to seek assurances that their hard-earned greenbacks aren’t going to waste.
However, to treat science on purely economic grounds can be myopic. No one ever knows where pure research leads. One of the scientists who laid the foundation of MRI was trying to study galaxies, not the human body. Penicillin was discovered by accident.
In this column, I invite you, the reader, to approach science the way I have – through curiosity fueled by the desire to understand the way things really work. I challenge readers to look past expected utility.
We won’t cover things that are necessarily useful for everyday life in this space, but will aim to inspire the imagination. And in doing so, I hope this column reignites the same sense of magic and awe that for the cosmos in people that they may have forgotten was there.