On the high velocity rotation of interred organic remains

Let us all doff our hats in astonished disbelief at the brazen arrogance of the people who have created the Carl Sagan Institute in Brazil.


That is, the Carl Sagan Institute…of UFOlogy. That’s right, a cranky gang of saucernuts have appropriated the name and likeness of Carl Sagan without authorization to flog their belief that Jesus is a flying saucer pilot. They claim that Sagan was secretly a believer in visitations by Little Green Men, who simply publicly lied, and now they want to use his dead body to beg for donations.

Anyone know a good Brazilian lawyer who’d like to fight this?


  1. Eli says

    I don’t know any Brazilians, but there has to be someone who would fight this absurdity. Can the estate of the late great do anything legally, or is it just stuck there, like the cathedral Our Lady of Pharyngula? (That’s going up in your honor, PZ, if you ever stop blogging.)

  2. says

    Well, if the IDiots claim science as the basis for ID, I don’t know why the anti-woo Sagan should be appropriated for pro-woo nonsense.

    Except that legally the issue may be different (remember, though, that dead guys are much easier to appropriate legally than are living persons).

    It’s always kind of a good tactic to take the offensive (in more ways than one) when you’re pushing claptrap, since one can often thus determine the rules of engagement. They don’t want a fair fight, they want a fight as tilted in favor of their woo as possible.

    Glen Davidson

  3. says

    According to the linked article, the Carl Sagan Foundation is aware of this and Ann Druyan has responded to queries on the matter. It is obviously not authorized. Presumably the Foundation will consult legal counsel on what to do about it.

  4. says

    PZ, if nothing else, I’d like to commend you on the greatest article headline I’ve ever seen.

    I’d suggest contacting Ann Druyan if you can. She will likely take a dim view of this, and although IANAL, I believe there are international intellectual property laws at play here. I don’t have her contact info, but Randi probably does, and I’m sure Shermer does.

  5. Matt7895 says

    Sagan’s family might be able to do something about this, but I have no idea what Brazilian law allows.

  6. Arwen says

    This is horrifying to me. I’m sure Carl believed there is other life out there but NOT little green men.

  7. Blake says

    Eeeehhhhh, I don’t think you can be prosecuted for defaming a dead person. Sagan is as god-like a person is ever to get in my skeptically hardened opinion and the use of his likeness in such a way as to promote bullshit pseudoscience is disgusting beyond belief. But lawyers need not be involved.

  8. Holbach says

    This is infuriating bullshit to me as I have a high regard for Carl Sagan, have all his popular books, and talked with him for several minutes in his office at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York in April of 1993. The walls leading to his office were plastered with photos of planets and moons and other photos of the Universe and he only had several minutes to spare as he had to fly to Houston for a NASA meeting. It was a privilege to meet this fascinating person and to renew it whenever COSMOS was being aired. Carl has never alluded to the crap that the Brazilians are alluding to and his books, especially the last few attest to a repulsion of superstitious crap. Those demented morons should aptly name their crap hole The Brazilian Bonkers Institute Of Shitheads. What a travesty of purloining a rational mind to serve their batshit third world mentality. Fucking morons.

  9. says

    Prosecuted in criminal court, probably not.

    But there are issues of intellectual property at work here. The use of Sagan’s name and likeness is the “property” (for lack of a better word) of the Planetary Society. It’s not public domain.

    They don’t have permission to say “Carl Sagan endorsed us” (which is essentially what they’re doing) just because he happens to be dead.

  10. raven says

    OT but relevant. More is coming out about Sarah Palin. She is a religious lunatic picked by Dobson et al. Already known. Huffington post has some quotes from her minister. He is a far right wing wingnut who claims anyone who voted for Kerry or Gore is bound for hell. Iraq is a holy mission from god. And on and on.

    To listen to this guys sermons is to conclude that god is a far right wing wingnut who always votes GOP.

  11. says

    The sick thing is that a very small percentage of targeted people in brasil will ever read (or take in) a critical view of this. It feels like we´re always gonna fight a loosing battle. I really feel sad when I think about it, we’re in such deep shit, (humanity). Religion is so whidespread (and spreading) that I really dont know what to fucking do.. It feels like I want to scream at all religious nuts.. Fucking wake up!!, WAKE the fuck up!! and I know theres nothing to it, religion is the shit. for every scientist or skeptic there’s 10 brainwashed people following the word of Jebus… I’m going to bed.

  12. scotth says

    In so far as I have ‘heros’, Carl Sagan and Richard Feynman are duking it out for my top spot (sorry PZ).

    Wow, that is some kind of irritating.

    I second the nomination for best headline ever.

  13. Raelyf says

    I hope you realize PZ that as soon as you die I’m opening the PZ Myers Catholic Missionary Society. I just read your blog looking for good statements I can rip out of contexts for future use.

    Scary thought.

  14. Zachary B. says

    This enrages me as Carl Sagan is one of my heroes. I’m not sure how these people could just completely ignore everything he’s said and make up some fairy tale about him believing this nonsense. Hope the issue is resolved without mush fuss.

  15. W earl says

    Sagan hated the USA and western civilization. Winner of the lefist Helen Caldicott Leadership Award … Carl predicted that if Sadan Hussein set fire to his oil well (he did) that we would get a “nuclear winter” and our planet would freeze. People like PZ, Sagan and SJ Gould use science as a dodge to promote an anti-human/pro-Marxist view of life.

  16. Gitche Manito says

    “They claim that Sagan was secretly a believer in visitations by Little Green Men, who simply publicly lied,

    Not Little Green Men of course but he did not rule out alien visitations.

    I know.

    I asked him.

    He said so.

  17. JoJo says

    Sagan hated the USA and western civilization.

    Thank you for your input, troll. Got any other fantasies you wish to share?

    BTW, there’s a Marxist under your bed. Be safe and sleep with your shotgun.

  18. Alan Chapman says

    Is Cosmos, Carl made a compelling case against the credibility of UFO and abduction reports. It seems implausible to me that a sufficiently advanced civilization with the means to traverse light years would reveal themselves only to “cranks and weirdos,” as Stephen Hawking put it. Thousands of astronomers looks into the sky every day and never see alien spacecraft, but we’re expected to believe that some backwoods hillbilly just happened to be looking in the right direction one night and witnessed an alien invasion. Abduction reports are easily explained. They’re the result of sleep paralysis and cognitive priming.

  19. Holbach says

    W earl @ 22 Does the “W” stand for; Wacko? Off to Brazil with you to join the other third world cretins. Maybe you can get a cesspit hovel in the Sao Paulo slums and practice your wacko ideas.

  20. Julian says

    I’m not quite sure why it’s ok to use the image of Jesus in ways that bear no relation to what he taught (see previous Pharyngula posts many) but not ok to use the image of Carl Sagan in ways that bear no relation to what he taught. Double standards? Sagan worship? Surely not.

  21. says

    W earl, you make me laugh with your stupid conspiracy theories.

    But on to what sane people think. The truth is that Sagan was a sane, competent scientist, who didn’t fall into craziness like this.

    If only he were alive to shut these idiots up.

    Pretty soon they’ll be setting up the Dawkins-Myers Missionary Organization. We really do need a lawsuit protecting the name of sane scientists against this kind of stuff.

  22. says

    Given 20 years someone will probably open the PZ Meyers Institute of Transubstantiation. “He must of believed the cracker had something going for it for him to go to all the trouble of desecrating it.”

  23. Bride of Shrek OM says

    “Anyone know a good Brazilian lawyer..”

    …um, well I’m a lawyer with a good Brazilian.

    Julian at # 31

    Quick answer is that Carl Sagan actually existed , Jeusus did not. Poeple like you who think you have some erudite point to bring across which, in reality, can be shot down in flames in two seconds, well, you just come across as being a total smartarse ok?

  24. says

    For the first time, I may understand a bit of how religious people feel when someone portrays their idol in a light not to their liking. However, there is a difference. The CSI in Brazil is spreading lies about a real person with living heirs. It would be different if it was fiction or a cartoon, but they are actually trying to convince people that Carl Sagan believed in alien visits. Contrast this to something like Jesus and Mo: many find it offending and blasphemous, but no one thinks it’s true. Further more, we don’t know if the human embodiments of such religious idols existed, let alone what they were like. The feelings might be similar, but the situations are different.

  25. Turdus says

    I saw a piece with Sagan where he DID rule out visitation. He stated that space was far too vast to allow for visitation. He did not rule out the possibility for other forms of life (intelligent or otherwise) but he felt that the likelihood that they would be able to travel such far distances to reach us to be too small. I will try and find a reference to this. It may have been in an interview around the time he released his last book “The Demon Haunted World: Science As A Candle In The Dark.” Love that title, by the way.

  26. JJR says

    I don’t think any kind of “Fair Use” defense would fly, at least not under U.S. copyright law…I don’t know about Brazilian law, but if Brazil belongs to WIPO (World Intellectual Property Organization), it might have some bearing…

    Just playing devil’s advocate here, in order to claim Fair Use (at least under U.S. Copyright), my understanding is they’d have to claim, with a straight face, that their use of Sagan’s likeness is DELIBERATE PARODY/CRITICISM, which, of course, is precisely NOT what they’re trying to do…

    So while I grudgingly accept what the EXPELLED producers did with the John Lennon audio clip, this so-called Institute is going to run afoul of the law, I think.
    Any Brazilian copyright lawyers here?

  27. Jeff Bell says

    Perhaps they will be forced to rename it “Intituto Butthead Astronomo”.

    While I’m here I’d like to recommend Poundstone’s biography of Sagan.

  28. Julian says

    Post #31 is not me, obviously, as the ignorance of its composition shows a complete ignorance of the point I made in the art post earlier today.

    Woot! First time a religi-troll has tried to impersonate me; I’m moving up in the world!!

    Julian receives +20 to rep with Interwebz!!

  29. Turdus says

    Uh, Randy, if you don’t care, than why not go back to pondering the ESP between you and your wife. Now THATS something important!

  30. Julian says

    As to Sagan, this seems like a pretty open-and-shut copyright case to me. If his image and name are under copyrighted by his foundation, that is.

    and W earl is pretty hilarious, isn’t he? Yup, its us scientists and atheists who believe in humanity’s future and it’s ability to live on its own without recourse to the superstitions of our long infancy who are anti-human, not the religions which universally reject the value of life in favor of a “perfect” death.

  31. Reginald Selkirk says

    Not Little Green Men of course but he did not rule out alien visitations.

    With a notable difference between “did not rule out” and “believed there was credible evidence that it actually happened.” It’s called “being open-minded.”

  32. scooter says

    Hollbach W earl @ 22 Does the “W” stand for; Wacko?

    I think it stands for Wingnut Earl. Wingnut earl is what we use in the South to lubricate our wingnuts.

    You can also spray it on your ball bearings so you don’t get lost, or gender confused.

  33. Nibien says

    I’m not quite sure why it’s ok to use the image of Jesus in ways that bear no relation to what he taught (see previous Pharyngula posts many) but not ok to use the image of Carl Sagan in ways that bear no relation to what he taught. Double standards? Sagan worship? Surely not.

    The same reason it’s ok to write Harry Potter Fanfic (well, at least it’s legal, morally you will probably be quite filthy) that has him going to a normal high school but it’s far less ok to put up a billboard of George W. Bush saying “I enjoy having sex with little children” as his quote.

  34. says

    I’m not quite sure why it’s ok to use the image of Jesus in ways that bear no relation to what he taught (see previous Pharyngula posts many) but not ok to use the image of Carl Sagan in ways that bear no relation to what he taught. Double standards? Sagan worship? Surely not.

    If you’ve got some sort of consensus on what Jesus actually taught, you might want to let the over 30,000 denominations of Christian know. Given the variance among these groups concerning the interpretation of such straightforward lines such as “turn the other cheek”, a portrayal of Jesus flying an F-16 with a whale penis and a Baobob tree for a head would be no less true to ‘his teachings’ than the average Evangelical liturgy.

    But, by all means, don’t let the facts get in the way of your indignation.

  35. Dahan says

    W Earl, who is this “Sadan Hussein” you speak of?

    That aside, you know we only laugh at people like you, right? If we, here, sometimes seem to act a bit arrogant, it’s only because people like you come here and spout such inane nonsense that we can’t help but feel superior.

    Put yourself in our shoes. If a five-year-old came up to you and told you that his Mommy and Daddy were the smartest, prettiest, kindest, richest people in the world, you’d try to hold off a snicker, but it’d be hard. You know better. Not “think so”, not “feel so” but know so. It’s the same here. When you come here with stuff like that, you just look dumber than a box-o-rocks that’s high on qualudes. We know better. Save it for your other five-year-old friends.

  36. says

    Ich. Inasmuch as I still use segments of Cosmos on an annual basis in my classes, this is pretty disturbing. And actionable. I mean, if the Three Stooges image can be owned, then Sagan’s can, and I bet Ms. Druyan could probably make a pretty fair dinkum case that, with respect to Cosmos or other products, Sagan’s image can’t be used without her consent.

    I hope she sues.

  37. Chiroptera says

    The Julian who wrote #31:…but not ok to use the image of Carl Sagan in ways that bear no relation to what he taught.

    Seems pretty rude and disrespectful, if you ask me. On the other hand, when I’m dead I doubt I’ll care too much what people claim about me, so you might have a point.

    I’m not quite sure why it’s ok to use the image of Jesus in ways that bear no relation to what he taught….

    Because Jesus, if he in fact existed, died long, long ago, and so have the people who knew what he taught. There is no way to determine what, if anything, he really did teach, and the people who claim to know all contradict each other, and so using the image of Jesus to promote anything in particular in no more offensive than, say, the American Family Association using Jesus’ image to promote their ideas.

  38. says

    Stimpy wrote:

    Who cares. I can think…

    Who cares? is a question and as such requires a question mark. As for the next three words, we’ll need more proof than your say-so before we accept evidence of your intelligence.

  39. Dutch Delight says

    Off topic, but still wanted to share this:

    Follow-up on the earlier undercover report on Saudi influence in British mainstream mosques.

  40. Bart says

    I know a lawyer in Brazil. She doesn’t do libel (is that what it is??) law, but she’s a lawyer nevertheless. I’ve forwarded the links to the relevant sites to her. Whether she can/wants to do anything about it (or even bothers to reply to my message) is another question… :-)

  41. scooter says


    All the decent trolls must be off somewhere looking at Palin porn. (A truly terrible pun.)

    at least you didn’t say Palin Nilap

  42. Mariana says

    I’m Brazilian and I know lawyers who would be interested in this case – the same ones who offered to help me out when I wanted to file a complaint against the governor of my state when she proposed to “import” American creationism to be taught in public schools here (we ended up not having to do anything about it, since her proposal was rejected). I’ll try to get in touch with them as soon as I recover from the shock and feel I can actually stomach even clicking the link. Eeww.

  43. says

    Julian @ 31

    I’m not quite sure why it’s ok to use the image of Jesus in ways that bear no relation to what he taught (see previous Pharyngula posts many) but not ok to use the image of Carl Sagan in ways that bear no relation to what he taught. Double standards? Sagan worship? Surely not.

    Let me break it down for you, Julian.

    Let’s ignore for a moment the quick retorts of those who doubt either the historicity or relevance of Jesus, and say for the purpose of discussion that Jesus existed, or even (say) exists.

    Having said that, what evidence can you present that any particular iconic representation of the Nazarene actually bears his human likeness? No one has that market cornered, as Brownian remarks above. The images of Christ are symbols, and the culture appropriates them for better or worse as such, not as bona fide depictions of any actual human being.

    Besides, the parodies of Christendom that you encounter here are not intended to misrepresent the teachings of Christ or any other religious figure: they are intended to satirize the way that some (perhaps all) religious behave. Christ is not being invoked as an authority on behalf of atheism, right? Atheists don’t believe that Jesus or any other deity exists, so how could they regard them as authoritative?

    Contrast that with some preachers, who enlist Jesus’s image, his words or the authority of their particular understanding of Jesus to carry water for their own ideological ends or personal aggrandizement. They do, in fact, adorn themselves with the patina of Jesus’s reputation and I think they are better targets for your misplaced concern.

    Respectfully submitted…SH

  44. Fernando Magyar says

    I sent it to my cousin’s wife in Sao Paulo, she has a Phd in Brazilian Jurisprudence and is a practicing Brazilian attorney specialized in patent infringement. Sounds close but it may not be a cigar given that this is a very highly specialized area of law. I hate to say it but it probably isn’t worth her while financially and she has more cases than she could possibly handle but she might drop a name or two.

  45. Sastra says

    Julian #31 wrote:

    I’m not quite sure why it’s ok to use the image of Jesus in ways that bear no relation to what he taught (see previous Pharyngula posts many) but not ok to use the image of Carl Sagan in ways that bear no relation to what he taught.

    Part of the difference is that this is not art. An artist would be perfectly free to do a painting of Carl Sagan on a space ship — or with an erection — or on a space ship with an erection. His admirers would not insist they are so “offended” that the artwork must be suppressed.

    Another difference is that Sagan’s endorsement is implied, and you’re getting into copyrite violations, etc. Which leads to an interesting distinction.

    There are a lot of fringe churches which claim to be the fulfillment of and advocates for Jesus Christ, and mainstream Christians have no recourse. Jesus is supposed to be ALIVE, not dead — and you can contact him through private prayer. But only the worthy can do that.

    Which means that no Christian can prove or demonstrate that Jesus Christ didn’t place some nut (new messiah) in charge of a new church. They can call it the Church of Jesus Christ, Space Alien, if they want. Not so with Sagan.

  46. the great and powerful oz says

    under the photo they claim
    “Exclusive rights (c) CBPDV 2008, photo (c) Michael Okoniewski (1994)”

    I wonder if they got permission to use the copyrighted photo.

  47. robotaholic says

    OH NO YOU DIDN’T!!!! DON’T FUCK WITH CARL SAGAN’S LEGACY! I’ll fucking stop you myself

  48. scooter says

    Yeah, this is copyright and possibly trademark infringement. I’m sure Brazil has laws similar to the US and Europe, etc.

    When a published person, and public figure dies, the royalties and naming rights and all are passed down to a relative or a foundation, this is clearly a violation but only the injured party can put a stop to it.

    A well drafted Cease and Desist notarized in Brazil would probably shut these guys down.

  49. the great and powerful oz says

    This guy must have been brewing this for some time.

    Created On:02-Feb-2007 10:37:04 UTC
    Last Updated On:22-Jan-2008 11:08:40 UTC
    Expiration Date:02-Feb-2009 10:37:04 UTC

  50. Patricia says

    #66 – Sastra – Dammit! There goes my drink out my nose again. Between you and Holbach today, I might as well give up ginger ale. ;)

  51. Ian H Spedding FCD says

    Perhaps if someone – I’m not saying who – were to desecrate a model of a UFO or perform some unspeakable act with a Little Green Man…?

  52. Bill Dauphin says

    I think it stands for Wingnut Earl. Wingnut earl is what we use in the South to lubricate our wingnuts.

    Back when I lived in the South, it seemed most of the wingnuts were pretty well lubricated to begin with.

  53. David Marjanović, OM says

    W earl @ 22 Does the “W” stand for; Wacko?

    Pas du tout, mon baron. It stands for “Fearless Flightsuit”.

    Apart from that, I’m with comment 26.

  54. Holbach says

    Katherine @ 70 How true your remark is. I read some time ago about various weird and obscene practices that the South Americans engage in, and these are separate from their religious rituals. But what can you expect from places that are settled by a combination of various ethnic types and equally voodoo and religious miasmas? Woo? Yes, in it’s mildest description!

  55. Grendels Dad says

    To: all condescending trolls,

    Please, for all our sakes, before you post what you believe to be a devastating, snarky comment, stop and consider Julian at post 31.

    Then consider the posts from ScottHatfield @64 and Sastra @66. I’m afraid that two such well reasoned posts, coming from totally orthogonal starting positions, and converging on just how wrong something is, presents a serious risk of ripping space-time. I’m talking end of the universe here people.

    As Grendels Dad’d dad used to say, “Better to think a lot and say a little, than think too little and say, well, anything.”

  56. says

    W earl @ 22 Does the “W” stand for; Wacko? Off to Brazil with you to join the other third world cretins. Maybe you can get a cesspit hovel in the Sao Paulo slums and practice your wacko ideas.

    Damn it, don’t you fucking DARE putting all third world in the same bag. At least ’round here* no one would ever suggest teaching creationism in a public school… shit, I think they don’t even teach it in catholich schools either =P

    *”here” equals Argentina, a bit south from Brazil and “third world” country acording to some.

  57. Andre says

    I am Brazilian, and a very ashamed one.

    I have read almost every book by Carl, and he was very important in making a skeptic out of me. He also helped spark my love for astronomy (Phil Plait, you rule! Sorry, PZ!). So, this is particularly sad for me.

    But looking on the bright side, their website is not even working! Seems they are as incompetent as they are crazy!

  58. Chris Krolczyk says

    W earl wrote (first draft in crayon?):

    Sagan hated the USA and western civilization.

    Amazing how he “hated” the very thing he was interested in preserving through better science education, isn’t it?

    BTW, which kind of cretin are you: the cretin who actually believes this crap, or the cretin who just posts it to get a rise out of people capable of counting past 9?

  59. says

    W earl | September 2, 2008 4:30 PM #22

    The “Carl Sagan said Saddam setting light to oil wells would cause nuclear winter” canard needs to be pinned down.

    There is a reasonably accurate description of what Sagan actually said, and the actual results, and what Sagan responded, here. I’m afraid it’s just another of those desperately underwhelming “Scientist makes modest prediction, acknowledges failure of prediction” scenarios and not the “Oh My God, The Planet Will Freeze” doom mongering being pushed by this silly troll.

  60. Chris Krolczyk says

    Ah, it’s a joy to read the uncanned drivel straight from the horse’s mouth:

    “Instituto Carl Sagan” mouthpiece Ademar Gevaerd:

    “It’s obvious that in his works he speaks the opposite, since in them he plays the game of skepticism, part of governmental functions. I doubt that today he would express himself the same way, but we will never know, will we?”


    “I REALLY believe and maintain that Project SETI is a shameful waste of money.”

    Uh huh. Just like web sites that selectively misquote an opponent of the UFOlogy that they promote, right?

    “And in USA, Carl Sagan, who lived and died claiming that UFOs didn’t exist, was a partner of J. Allen Hynek for a long time in Cornell University, NY, and both were USAF consultants. But only Hynek admitted that later. Any real scientist don’t dismiss the reality of extraterrestrial visitation.”

    So let me get this straight: according to Gevaerd, using Sagan’s image as a mouthpiece from beyond is okey-dokey despite the fact that they state he was in cahoots with the USAF/MIBs/IPU, which makes him a tainted source in their Little Golden Book of UFOlogy?

    How very…selective. And stupid.

  61. scooter says

    Bill Dauphin @ 74
    Back when I lived in the South, it seemed most of the wingnuts were pretty well lubricated to begin with.

    That’s why I quit going to church in Texas. Ya ever sit in a room full of wingnuts who have been eating Bar-B-Que and Beans and drinking Lone Star all night?

    The preacher breathes fire, and the flock responds with brimstone.

    uuuugh. I’m surprised those places don’t spontaneously combust

  62. Mariana says

    Eh, you know, if I had read the comments and actually clicked the links before going all “oh noes embarrassing”, I would have remembered that we third world cretins here in Brazil do not teach creationism in our schools (no, not even in Catholic schools, same as in Argentina, Mr. Ulairion @80). Actually, most people here live in blissful ignorance of your non-cretin, first world troubles with fundies and creationism. There are lots of new agey dopes, as well as crazies who spend their money on things like “ufology”. And, yeah, the Catholic church still does some harm here, but…I’ll take those over your scary first-world Jebus people, thank you very much.

    And even though the UFO magazine may have published articles about Jesus coming back in a spaceship, the people responsible for the Carl Sagan institute never mention xtianity and are just a bunch of loonies with no political power and no aspirations to acquire any.

    So, while I agree that Carl Sagan deserves better than to be associated with this sort of teenage sci-fi fantasy, I’m pretty sure his legacy and his name will emerge unscathed from this, erm, fiasco.

    In sum: storm, meet teacup.

  63. llewelly says

    raven, #15:

    To listen to this guys sermons is to conclude that god is a far right wing wingnut who always votes GOP.

    Perhaps that explains why the Republicans believe they ‘make their own reality’. They believe they’ve deceived and deluded their very own god.

  64. scooter says

    Mariana @87

    Catholics do not teach Creationism in their schools in the US, either.

    Since public schools tend to get away with teaching creationist nonsense until sued by a parent, you could be in a unique position of sending your kid to a religious (catholic) school, to get them away from the creationists in Public schools.

  65. says

    Man, that’s bullshit. Sagan didn’t “believe in little green men,” he only made a case for extraterrestrial life. Bacterial life, if we’re LUCKY.

  66. says

    I know I shouldn’t feed the trolls, but being a Brazilian I just can’t keep silent here:

    Holbach (12,29&77) is showing an unbelievable amount of racism (#77: “what can you expect from places that are settled by a combination of various ethnic types”) and prejudice (#12: “to serve their batshit third world mentality” and #29: “Off to Brazil with you to join the other third world cretins”), all mixed together into a big bucket of logical fallacies.

    Here are some comments on his posts:

    1) Mixed ethnicity does not mean bigger susceptibility to superstitious ideas. A mere glance at the “white” bible belt or the LDS in the US should tell you that quite clearly;

    2) While Brazil has indeed a population that is quite mixed (and, as a Brazilian, I can say we are very proud of that) and a culture that has received contributions from Portuguese, Italian, German, Japanese, Amerindian, and tens of different African traditions, most of other “third world” countries do not. In fact, most are quite ethnically “pure” (whatever that means);

    3) While I am as shocked as you are by this abomination called “Carl Sagan Institute of Ufology”, I am quite sure it is not a mainstream thing in Brazil. In fact, most of the Brazilian population doesn’t even know this “Brazilian UFO Magazine” even exists;

    4) If you take a look at any ufology magazine, be it in the U.S., Europe, Japan or Mozambique, I am sure you will find things as bizarre and revolting as this “Institute”. Do not judge a whole country (or a whole set of countries, as you did with your “third world” comments) by a fringe publication with a few thousand readers (from a population of over 190 million people);

    Anyway, great post PZ. I will contact the sceptical groups in Brazil and see if there is anything they can do about it (I could try if I were there, but being half a world away in Japan somehow limits my actions).

  67. Holbach says

    Mariana @ 87

    Your comments are factual regarding the non-intrusion of creationism into your schools, but from what I read, Brazil is the most catholic country in the Western Hemisphere, whereas in the United States, the non catholic christians are more numerous. We also have a sizable and not recognized atheist minority, the true rational populace, and can be vociferous when the need demands it. I am not aware of any equal atheist minority in Brazil as we have here, and this stems from the scarity of statistics from catholic dominated Brazil. We may have pockets of voodoo in the Haitian community in Miami and elsewhere where they gather, but Brazil has a sizable and present voodoo and other exotic ritualistic religions. Please prove me wrong or otherwise, as I don’t give a crap for religious statistics per se.

  68. EdibleKarma says

    Just ignore Holbach, Felipe. He was one of the first in line when the crazy was handed out.

  69. Epistaxis says


    Yeah, but anyone who likes green men will just mistake the image for Henry Winkler.

    More likely they’ll mistake it for a spaceship.

  70. Mariana says


    No, you see, there is so much misinformation in your comment and your point is so unclear that I’m not really sure where to start, and frankly, after your initial comments, I’m not particularly motivated to get into a debate with you.

    But since you seem to be quoting a source that says Brazil is “the most catholic country in the Western Hemisphere”, I feel obliged to reply that, if there’s any accuracy at all to that statement, then it what it should say is that Brazil has the largest Catholic population in the Western Hemisphere (that might be true, I’m not sure), but it is utterly wrong to imply that Brazilian catholicism is of the most “fervent” kind. Brazilian catholicism is very liberal, and the middle and upper classes are so loosely catholic that they can barely be counted as such. Also, you’d have to be acquainted with the phenomenon of religious syncretism between catholicism and the African religions that you are referring to as “voodoo and other exotic traditions”.

    And anyway, I never said we are free of problems stemming from superstition, organized or not – like I said in my previous comment, the Catholic church still has political power here. But then, you’d also need also need to know about the strong leftist/socialist tradition in Brazil that tried to counter those forces throughout the 20th century and has survived two periods of military dictatorship and recently elected a former unionist leader president…and so on and so forth.

    What we *do not* have here is religious fundamentalism of *any* kind. Isn’t that awesome?

    So, as you see, we third world cretins are a pretty busy bunch of people.

  71. says



    Since when “sizable and present” is 0.3% of the population?

    Also, while the US might not be the most catholic country on Earth, it does have a fair share of the world’s worst raving religious lunatics. And those lunatics are way more dangerous… as far as I know no brazilian ufologist started a war because E.T. told him so.

    You sir, are a bigot, and you have given overwhelming evidence of it. You can find religious crackpots anywhere, but accusing entire countries of that is just insane. You should be ashamed.

    I’m not aware exactly how things work in Brasil, but in Argentina we don’t fight a never-ending struggle to keep the Church and the State apart. Guess why? Because they ARE apart, the Church/Religious Groups have as much political power as a Maradona Fan Club… of even less.

    For example, a few years ago when the Minister of Health said that he was in favor of legal abortion, a bishop working for the army critized him quoting a passage from the bible that said he should be thrown to the sea (can’t remember right now which one). The bishop was fired, the Minister kept his job like nothing had happened. In the US things would have been VERY different.

  72. Holbach says

    Mariana @ 95
    Forgive the hasty rush to comments. Yes, specifically, Brazil has the largest catholic population in the Western Hemisphere and is an established statistic, so the clarification is moot. The absence of religious fundamentalism is a fact I was unaware of, and yes, I am amazed at this fact. No debate, no further comments.

  73. Patricia says

    Lay off Holbach. He isn’t a troll, and he isn’t crazy. He’s a sincere front line fighter against religious fanatics. Why not offer some sources for your opinions?

  74. Krubozumo Nyankoye says

    First of all, it took me roughly 4 minutes to look up a skeptical organization in Brasil, which albeit small and
    apparently minimal in scope is better than nothing.

    I sent them the following message:

    Estimado Sr. Gutman,

    Pardon me for writing in english but my Portuguese is not good enough to risk
    misunderstanding. I am writing to make you aware of the web site:


    It appears that this organization which is located in Brazil has mal-appropriated
    the image and name of Mr. Sagan to promote their psuedoscientific UFO ideas.

    I suggest that you contact the Planetary Society (founded by Mr. Sagan) which
    owns the international copyrights and trademarks of his name and works and offer
    your assistance to them in finding appropriate legal representation in Brasil
    such that this infringement may be speedily repudiated.

    Kindest regards,


    I assume my gesture was probably redundant as any staff
    member at the Planetary Society could have obtained the same
    information in equal time.

    On another tack, I must say I was a little shamed shall we
    say that a few Pharynguloids resorted so glibly to calling
    the entire nation of Brasil “third world” which was presumably meant to be deprecatory. I think this is uncalled
    for and wrong headed. First of all Brasil is not a third world country in any accurate sense of the word. Anyone who
    claims it is obviously knows almost nothing about it. If
    anything it is a three world country, it has modern cities
    such as Brasilia and Rio, it has more colonial cities such
    as Belo Horizonte, Manaus and Forteleza, and it has primitive towns, enclaves and villages from the Pantanal to the Amazon delta. It also has large reserves for indigenous populations that are not analogous to “Indian reservations” in the U.S. It has many people who live in grinding poverty, but it also has vast and robust industries, agriculture, arts and yes also science. It is more diverse in terms of population than the U.S. In many respects it is less god soaked and deluded than the U.S. though it is also afflicted by the evangelism of the Assembly of god church and their ilk.

    I have worked in Brasil now for more than 20 years over extended periods and it has been a fine and informative experience, I have enjoyed almost every minute of it.

    In any society there are bound to be those who will arrogate to themselves anything they think they can get away with. Need I point out that the U.S. is still operating under the “stewardship” of Bush and Cheney?

    Please people, get some perspective. Yes it is appropriate to condemn the charlatans who use Mr. Sagan’s image and fame
    in a way that is contrary to his philosophic point of view. No it is not appropriate to damn an entire country for the actions of one or a few individuals.

  75. Rodrigo says

    As a Brazilian, I’m also ashamed. I’m trying to contact STR (Sociedade Terra Redonda,http://str.com.br/), probably our most vocal skeptical society, but I’m experiencing problems.

    Their e-mail is str@str.com.br.

    Some yeas ago when I still leave in Florianópolis, I was visiting a book shop (I think it was two or three years after Carl Sagan’s death) when the manager of the shop, seeing I was with one of Sagan’s book in my hands, said: “Carl Sagan was a great man, a very enlighted one. He probably went directly to the “next floor”!!” I don’t know if you have a similar expression, but it means that he thought Carl went to directly to Heaven, and he probably was using the term enlighted in the mystical sense (which is more frequent). I was pretty shocked, and I didn’t know how to answer without starting an argument. Did he know Carl was an agnostic and very skeptical about afterlife ’till his death and much of his message was the other way around? Probably the guy knew him just through the series Cosmos (which was very popular in the early eighties here too) and never bother to really read his stuff. Well, It was strange, but since that time I’m prepared to any absurd like that. But this “Instituto Carl Sagan” unfortunately doesn’t seem so innocent.

  76. says

    Posted by: Patricia | September 2, 2008 10:46 PM

    Lay off Holbach. He isn’t a troll, and he isn’t crazy. He’s a sincere front line fighter against religious fanatics. Why not offer some sources for your opinions?

    That may be, but his initial comments about Brazil were out of line.

  77. Azkyroth says

    I’m not quite sure why it’s ok to use the image of Jesus in ways that bear no relation to what he taught (see previous Pharyngula posts many) but not ok to use the image of Carl Sagan in ways that bear no relation to what he taught. Double standards?

    Carl Sagan is a real person.

  78. Polyester Mather D.D. says

    “That’s right, a cranky gang of saucernuts have appropriated the name and likeness of Carl Sagan”

    Let us pray to the FSM that our benevolent SETI overlords do not construe PZ’s paean to St. Carl of Ithica as libeling their fund raising materials,and sicc the Brasilia offices of De Souzya,Grabbit & Runne on Pharlyngula Inc.

  79. says

    Rodrigo@102 – When people say stuff like that to me I usually just take it the way it was intended. In this case, it sounds like a sincere compliment, even in light of the irony.

    This is a sad thing, and I’m hoping that the Sagan estate and the Brazilian courts can put a stop to this. If they don’t, though, we’ll have a nearly inexhaustible source of religious stupidity and credulousness to draw from in just one place. Assuming they ever get their website working, of course.

  80. says

    Just a few more points:

    – I don’t know that the voodoo-like religions are any worse than the three big Abrahamic ones. To me they are all equally absurd, and the only differences are the number of people sharing the same kind of delusion;

    – From the Wikipedia link sent by Ulairion (#97), we see some 7.4% of the Brazilian population defining themselves as atheist/agnostic – which is more than I expected, to be sincere, but (much) less than I would like to see;

    – As Mariana (#95) said, Brazilian “Catholics” are in general pretty relaxed: most of them have no problems with sex before marriage, don’t go the mass, never read the bible, incorporate non-catholic elements to their belief system (e.g., reincarnation, etc.), have no issues with condoms or contraceptive pills, etc. Of course, that does not make them any less wrong in their beliefs. ;-)

    @Rodrigo (#102): Is the STR still active? I haven’t seen updates on their web page in years.

    @Holbach (#92): Is it so surprising that developing countries have a smaller proportion of atheists/agnostics than developed ones? After all, religious belief is inversely correlated to number of school years, and I think as the average educational level raises in Brazil (as it has been happening in the last decade or two) so will the number of non-believers. In any case, this smaller proportion of atheists does not mean we are all as crazy as our UFO wackos would suggest. Anyway, I was glad to read that this little misunderstanding was cleared (#98).

    Cheers all, and thanks for the support ;)

  81. Patricia says

    ndt – So what? All of the reporting about the religious customs are not the same.
    The only news I look at that reports on Brazil or greater south america is WitchVox. It’s a pagan web news site. The reports there make south america look like a pretty voodoo chicken and goat sacrificing catholic mix.
    If it isn’t true, put out the word.
    Oregon is perceived to be the holy land of tree hugging, pot smoking, godless hippies – but that’s bullshit. It’s a hotbed of fundie freaks.
    Cut us some slack. How do we know your country is different from what we hear on tv or read in newspapers? Help us out. We welcome education. :)

  82. Sleeping at the Console says

    Carl Sagan’s fans, as well as many others, know full well that he never believed in alien civilisations visiting us. He did however suspect that the probability for extraterrestrial civilisations is greater than zero. He also supported SETI, something I do too.

  83. Patricia says

    #113 – Felipe – Thank you! I am going to bed, but I will check out your link in the morning. (It’s 11:15 pm here) Helping to educate gawd soaked America is always worth while.

    Good night sweethearts!

  84. says

    BoSOM @#35

    …um, well I’m a lawyer with a good Brazilian.

    I’m afraid we need proof. No unsubstantiated assertions allowed. We trust you on the part about the law degree, but on the other thing, we need photographs.

    I do like that you now have a Molly, which allows me to refer to you as BoSOM. Very appropriate nick for a slut.

  85. maidden says

    Seriously?? You’re always joking about christians with “Fatwah envy”, but the second somebody does something you deem offensive to someone you admire, you all get your panties in a bunch calling for lawsuits!? What the hell, people. What happened to “nothing’s sacred”?

    In case you’re wondering, no, I’m not a christian troll, I’m an atheist, and a great admirer of Sagan. I just try very hard not to have double standards. Sitting here wishing you’d react to this in the same way you thought it would’ve been appropriate for christians to react to all the so-called “offensive” things you laugh at.

  86. says

    maidden #116

    Good point, but I think you’ve missed the mark somewhat. If they’d said “Sagan was an idiot” or burnt an effigy of Sagan, we’d think it rather silly, shrug our shoulders, and move on, but they’ve appropriated him as a symbol of woo. If we appropriated the cross as a symbol of atheism, I think Christians would have a legitimate grievance. Also, unlike Sagan’s likeness, a cross is just a simple geometric symbol that nobody can lay exclusive claim to (although, in practical terms, I think the Christians get pretty exclusive dibs on it by tradition).

  87. says

    Ai! Que parvoíce, pá!

    Rodrigo @#102 “Sociedade Terra Redonda” LOL

    (STR = “Round Earth Society” = best name for a skeptical organization ever)

  88. says


    Really REALLY good music, everybody knows how to dance, the most beautiful women in the world, the folks understand how to have a good time without waking up in the gutter or puking on you, like in the US.

    I’d sell my soul to Jesus for a month in Brazil, if I were 25 yrs old.

    Also: Interesting politics, they actually have different parties with different ideas.

    There’s some bad stuff, too, but projecting the idiotic American Fundamentalist Lunacy, i.e. creeping fascism on other nations who have a lot of Christians is intellectually dishonest.

    The US rates with Iran on Fundie Lunacy, whereas other Xian countries compartmentalize religion so it does not pollute anything real.

    As far as Catholics, south of our border, I’ll take a Liberation Theolgist over a flag-sucking, nationalist, American seluarist any day.

  89. Rodrigo Véras says

    “When people say stuff like that to me I usually just take it the way it was intended. In this case, it sounds like a sincere compliment, even in light of the irony.”

    I do the same thing when someone say “god bless you” or something like that, and as it was one of my favorite bookshops I didn’t answer, just asked for another book.


    “Is the STR still active? I haven’t seen updates on their web page in years.

    I don’t know what is happening, but in their main page they are preparing for their 10th anniversary – http://str.com.br/principal.php (04/05/2009)-, but the links for other pages are broken, or at least I’m not able to assessing them.

    I’m found more information about the Instituto Carl Sagan at http://www.ceticismoaberto.com/news/?p=1368. Maybe Kentaro Mori, the owner, can give us more feedback. The commenters there seems to know very well the people from UFO magazine and their tactics.

  90. Holbach says

    Patricia @ 99
    Went to bed after my post @ 98, and so missed your post in support of me @ 99. Thanks, as you seem to understand my comments as varied as they may be. Why is it that when you comment on cretins and third world references, the offended parties take it as you are including them into the pot? I don’t recall saying all of Brazil is third world and the whole population are cretins. We have plenty of cretins here and many areas of our country that look like third world shitholes, such as certain areas of Detroit and Newark. But the whole of these mentioned cities are not third world, but the areas are there to see that are. No excusive platitudes, but just blatant reality. And neither is the whole population considered cretins, but they are known also. Many people take offense where none is meant, but consider each remark as a personal affront to be returned with all manner of racism and bigotry. We are a blog to discuss these matters with the reality they deserve, and not to pander to people’s injured sensibilities. When you are derided personally, then you have the right to respond with equal scorn.

  91. Patricia says

    Holbach – You’re entirely welcome. Standing up to the god soaked fools with no pity seems to be thankless work. We both go at it differently – I pour ice cold buckets full of their own bible puke over their heads, and you punch them squarely in the nose. It offends many. Let them be offended. ;)

  92. maidden says

    Emmet #117

    If they’d said “Sagan was an idiot”

    If they say he was a UFO believer, yeah, basically they said he was an idiot. In any case, I think this was just them misunderstanding what he said. After all, he did wish for there to be life in other planets, he even showed on Cosmos some concept drawings of what that could be like. Maybe these people read too much into it.

    That’s not what my complaint is about, though. For one thing, atheism isn’t supposed to have some messiah or symbol that can be appropriated by another group. The CSI loonies aren’t hurting anybody, they’re not even purposefully trying to offend anybody. The effect their choice of sponsor will have on Sagan’s image is nil. In fact, if it weren’t for PZ giving them free publicity, I wouldn’t even have heard of their stupidity, and I live in the damned country! Everybody here is making a fuss over nothing whatsoever.

  93. says

    Has anyone here issued death threats against the people who made the billboard? No. So comparing this with the cracker issue is ridiculous.

  94. Coder says

    Perhaps these people in Brazil have good intentions. You won’t find the word UFO or flying saucer or ET at their website, but rather the phrase “The challenge to seek, find and establish relationship with extraterrestrial intelligences”. Wasn’t precisely that what Sagan was looking for?

  95. says


    I’m the writer of the crticism that PZ linked to (thanks!). A local “skeptical activist” here in Brazil. Forgive my broken English.

    I’m sorry for the prejudiced comments, but they should be simply ignored. There’s no point arguing with those non-arguments.

    As for the relevance of this outrage, if you read the criticism that I wrote informing about the matter (and again, PZ linked to), you would know that this NGO will soon be asking for donations, and they are already using Sagan’s legacy to ask for support from local celebrities.

    If someone from a “Carl Sagan Institute” asked for your support, wouldn’t you? I would. Of course, I would ask to know if this institution is legitimate, and what it’s pruposes and means are, but dependeindg on the circumstances, if asked on the street, or during work, for instance, of course I would support a “Carl Sagan Institute”. I wouldn’t read the full terms of the institution, I would just glance at it. One assumes, perhaps non-critically, but let’s be honest, one usually assumes a “Carl Sagan Institute” is legitimate.

    Otherwise, it would be takend down, wouldn’t it? So, you see, we can’t simply assume it will be taken down. We have to take it down ourselves.

    Anyway, I do think this is a big deal. People are being misled. Sagan’s legacy is being abused in one of the worst ways imaginable.

    The appropriate actions will be taken, Mrs Druyan is fully aware of the situation. But the more support we have AGAINST this outrage, the better. You may simply manifest your outrage, and keep informed about this. I will be forwarding PZ any relevant update on this situation (with many thanks to him again).

    PS.: There’s no active skeptical group in Brazil. I was editor of the STR (RES), but the groups is currently inactive. We are in the process of creating new groups, but right now we are mainly just a network of fellow skeptics here.

  96. epsilon says

    “Everybody here is making a fuss over nothing whatsoever.”

    Sure, as long as we ignore the fact that it’s probably illegal.

  97. Grendels Dad says


    I can only ask again that people read comments 64 & 66.

    The comparison with crackergate are so wrong it’s scary.

  98. Rodrigo says

    Hello, Kentaro or should I say Kunimoto? :) I’m very sad to hear about STR. I’m (or was)a member(and a commenter on its forum) of SBCR, but I had to let it aside for starting my PhD.

    Thanks for your comments here!!


  99. maidden says

    I’m not comparing it to the cracker debacle. I think a more similar situation was the freak-out over the “was Jesus gay” poster. Just replace “Jesus” with “Sagan” and “gay” with “UFO nut”. My personal reaction was to think “uh no. No, he wasn’t. You should watch Cosmos again.”

    As far as this being “probably illegal”, I’ll hold my judgment until that’s a certainty. For one thing, I’m not entirely convinced there was any intent to mislead on their part. Sagan was nothing if not an educator, and it seems to me the Institute people would be far more helped by education than lawsuits.

  100. says

    Ulairion @97:

    I’m from Argentina too and think it’s a little naive on your part to say we have true separation between church and state. For starters, there is NO legal abortion in Argentina except in extreme cases (rape, mother’s illness, etc.) an even then the Catholic kooks will fight with teeth and nails to prevent it. In the U.S. abortion is legal. Our constitution forces every Argentine citizen to support the Catholic Church with his/her taxes regardless of faith, something unthinkable in the U.S. Even the painfully incompetent and irritatingly arrogant lady who’s in charge of our government has publicly declared her Catholic faith and pro-life instance during the electoral campaign, and was elected nonetheless. It’s true that we Argies need not worry about fundies, IDiots, “creation museums” or “discovery institutes” but certainly have no shortage of whackaloons around here.

  101. says

    Maidden, read the link, for Sagan’s sake.

    These “UFOlogists” are publicly claiming, more than clearly, that Sagan not only believed in aliens flying around our planet, but KNEW about that. Only thing is, the LIED about this subject in public, because he “played the game of skepticism”, part of his “governmental functions”.

    And they want to “honor” him! Why would anyone want to “honor” a figure they are clearly claiming simply LIED in public?

    My best guess is that this is no honor at all, but an attempt to capitalize on Sagan’s work. And against the will of his widow, Ann Druyan, president of the legitimate Sagan Foundation and the Planetary Society, that Carl himself founded.

  102. says

    Apologies, first of all to maidden, as I wrongly filled the form in comment #135. Which was written by me.

    That is, comment #135 is not by “maidden”, it was me.

    Sorry again.

  103. says

    I didn’t read all the answers before, but there’s a Law of Intellectual Property in Brazil. It won’t be easy because the judicial grinds in Brazil move slowly, very slowly… But the heirs of Sagan may sue (I suggest some Law Firms, like Daniel & Cia, or Momsen & Leonard – just to mention two big ones I worked for).
    Some smart guy used the name “Chandon” to his Motel, was sued and had to change the name… The process lasted three years, but worked out.

  104. Carlos L C Moreira says

    As brazilian, I must say I am ashamed that those imbeciles, those demented minds that had the insulting idea of doing this crap are my countrymates. Bunch of stupid people!!! I bet they never ever read anything Sagan wrote!!! I can assure you that we, rational, skeptical people of Brazil (we may be few, but where do we find many of us in the world?) are NOT going to let this go on.


    Carlos L C Moreira

  105. Chris says

    Now I know that Mr. Sagan had a fondness for a certain smokable herb (and wrote about it!), but this is silly.