Cosmos: Thumbs up!

It’s off to a good start, and I quite enjoyed the first episode. It was maybe a bit heavy on the simplifications and the eye-popping graphics, but I’m seeing it as a tool to inspire a younger generation to get excited about science again, so I think that actually is a good thing.

It’s also impressive that a strongly pro-science program (and one that took a few shots at Catholic dogmatism) was on broadcast television, and even on Fox. I was getting exasperated with the too-frequent commercial breaks, but I think that’s the price we pay for getting wider dissemination to the public, rather than to just us privileged few who can afford cable and/or buying the DVDs.


  1. lordshipmayhem says

    Neil deGrasse Tyson says as a result of those commercials, they had a much higher budget than they would have enjoyed if it were a PBS show, and it forced them to tell the story in chapters, making it better and more digestible. So it’s shorter, but the general public can comprehend the science better.
    I can live with that tradeoff. I still want the DVD box set, though.

  2. magistramarla says

    I watched Carl Sagan’s Cosmos back in the day. Tonight’s show brought back memories, especially the cosmic clock. I’m not a science person, so I appreciate the simplification.
    We’re recording the series, especially since our oldest grandson is on spring break vacation now and will miss the first two shows.
    We will keep a DVD for younger grandkids to see when they visit Grandma and Grandpa.
    I wonder how many conservative heads are exploding tonight?

  3. carlie says

    I thought it took a very light hand with regard to religion, actually. They were heavy on the Bruno worshiping God stuff, and threw in when Jesus and Buddha and Mohammed were born. The only bad guys were the Catholics, and, well, nothing they can do about that.

    Blake Stacey has mentioned on twitter that the Bruno stuff had a lot of incorrectness, which is a shame. Hopefully the rest of the episodes will be better fact checked.

  4. Menyambal --- making sambal a food group. says

    I only snarled at the density of the asteroid belt and the Oort cloud, as shown. There was a verbal description that was accurate, though.

    The bit about Bruno was frakking marvelous. OMG, the Catholic Church looked bad. And to refer to Bruno as a martyr! The animated part was stunningly reminiscent of religious art. I am amazed that segment was shown.

    Right pleased, I am.

  5. says

    Well, Bruno wasn’t a scientist, and he wasn’t killed for advancing a scientific idea — he actually was a religious heretic who denied the trinity.

    It still doesn’t justify executing him. The church most definitely was the bad guy.

  6. Pteryxx says

    more of Tyson being awesome: Neil deGrasse Tyson tells CNN: Stop giving ‘equal time to the flat-earthers’

    “What responsibility do you think the members of the media have to portray science correctly,” the CNN host wondered.

    “The media has to sort of come out of this ethos that I think was in principle a good one, but it doesn’t really apply in science,” Tyson explained. “The principle was, whatever story you give, you have to give the opposing view. And then you can be viewed as balanced.”

    “You don’t talk about the spherical Earth with NASA, and then say let’s give equal time to the flat Earthers,” he added. “Plus, science is not there for you to cherry pick.”

  7. Alverant says

    My local Fox affiliate had an ad for the Noah movie during the Bruno segment. I’m not sure of the logic behind it, if any. I also wonder how soon before people start whining about anti-christian bias about the Bruno segment as if the RCC didn’t do those things. I know this is OT but sometimes I feel that to many christians history pretty much ends with Jesus and begins again with the USA with all that stuff in between just fluff to be forgotten about if it becomes inconvenient.

  8. says

    Well I agree… a really well made program and I was waiting on it, now it seems, for years. Glad there is someone to carry on a little bit of the legacy of Sagan. I just look at the program and the series as an updated edition of Sagan’s Cosmos.

    Many many years back I also remember seeing yet another series called Cosmos with Peter Ustinov as the host. If anyone point me to the exact title and if I can get it somewhere I would be immensely grateful.

    My small peeve with today’s program is that it was on Fox (fAAAAx) and my local station conveniently cut out the President’s introduction. Yes, I am not kidding, they did that.

  9. Alverant says

    Also off topic, am I the only one who wants Blu-Ray discs and not just DVDs?

  10. cafeeineaddicted says

    Am I to assume that the Scientology ad only appeared in Global in Canada?

  11. kreativekaos says

    Ah! I knew Pharyngula would be reliable for a review.

    Generally, I’d agree: thumbs up.

    As I texted ro my son, off on Spring break,…..

    The Good: Neil’s ususal master touch in delivering an exacting and inspirational introduction and overview of science, discovery and the general direction the series would follow; the high resolution graphics and special effect visuals; the creative and (thankfully) non-computer generated animation of the Giordano Bruno sequence; the opening using Sagan’s original opening words as well as Neil’s inspirational tribute to Sagan at the end.

    The Bad: The sense that it seemed paced more for public broadcasting–HATED the fucking commercial interruptions. They seemed very awkward and out-of-place in the broadcast.

    The Ironic: That a presentation of science, open-minded discovery, with an emphasis on wonder, imagination tempered with the scientific method, emphasis on fact and evidence, covering points of view anathema to the philosophy of the average FOX viewer (at least the average FOX NEWS viewer) should be shown on that network.

    Glad you could catch it PZ.

  12. nomadiq says

    I thought the show was fairly good. The tale of Bruno could have been better used if it was contrasted to Galileo’s story in more detail. Basically I felt there was not enough emphasis on what science is and the important of belief based on evidence. It was there, but not enough, and I thought the first episode should really have spent more time on it. It would have set a better tone for the rest of the series. Too much Bruno’s cosmology, not enough about how we came to know he was right, even if for the wrong reason.

    But what I did like is this “reboot” is attempting to be its own thing. Its sampled from Sagan’s Cosmos without trying to _be_ it. Looking forward to Episode 2.

  13. says

    @9, Chengis Khan,
    The same happened with our showing. I thought that the introduction might have been a web only thing, but it would not surprise me if it got cut. The local affiliate is owned by a far right wingnut.

  14. flatlander100 says

    I still have hopes for science-heavy remaining episodes, but the intro episode was too “well golly gee whiz” for me.

  15. otrame says

    Yeah, the astroid belt had me gritting my teeth, but then I thought, “Well, how would YOU show it? And while we’re at it, would you really spend the minutes needed to point out that the astroids are so far from each other that you (with, I imagine, occasional exceptions) can’t see two at a time?” So yeah, choose what you spend time on. Still, no need to make it look like that segment of Star Wars.

    What was important was the calendar. That told an important story and was very well done.

  16. says

    I was watching it with my fundamentalist parents. I had quite a good laugh at their comments but I thought it was a really well done episode. I didn’t like how they even mentioned the religious stuff but I suppose to reach a wider audience some liberties must be taken. I love how Neil is pushing the “science is awesome” thing because I think it will get people more interested. Can’t wait for the next episode!

  17. flatlander100 says

    @Chengis Kahn and @Robert B: watched it here in Deepest Darkest Utah, and the President’s intro was included.

  18. kreativekaos says

    –magistramarla @3:

    I wonder how many conservative heads are exploding tonight?

    Many hopefully, but probably not enough.

  19. Dexeron says

    I was joking around with my family every time Dr. deGrasse Tyson said something that might be considered “contentious.”

    “OK, he just lost the YECs here.”

    “Global Warming Denialists turned it off now.”

    “Oops, he just lost the Catholics!”

  20. gmacs says

    People seem to be upset about all the focus on Bruno, saying he is barely significant historically. Can I put forward that that may only be through the lens of the modern age where so much of what we have focused on is (quite rightly) Galileo?

    Perhaps the producers even wanted to focus on someone most of us have not thought much about (I don’t know if I ever heard of Bruno before tonight). If nothing else was accomplished from it, I finally understand Ed Brayton’s banner.

  21. kreativekaos says


    Basically I felt there was not enough emphasis on what science is and the important of belief based on evidence. It was there, but not enough, and I thought the first episode should really have spent more time on it. It would have set a better tone for the rest of the series.

    Yes, good points.

  22. atheistblog says

    And Obama is there to kick start the program, meanwhile he is signing all the bills to dig more shale gas and oil. It’s a shame. Thumbs Down for putting obama in this.
    And BTW enough of the other party is worse dialogue, the rhetoric is different policies are same. At least rethuligans are honest about what they do, and frigging obama and his cult members are giving sweet talks and does everything same as republicans.

    And if anyone wonder why I am talking about this regarding Cosmos, because there one full episode Heaven and Hell, describes cost we would pay for increase in green house effect.
    Thumbs down for american politicians and thumbs down for obama, and he is the current head of state and disingenuous.

  23. biogeo says

    A local FOX station in Iowa is using the buzz around Cosmos as a jumping off point to highlight and applaud academic achievement in science in their community. I think it’s really cool that there’s such a buzz around turning this into a real cultural event. Of course, FOX does this because they feel they can make money, but I think this is one of those pleasant cases where a corporation can do well by doing good, and so they do. It also speaks to the fact that there’s still enough excitement and demand in our culture for scientific knowledge and wonder that FOX believes they can actually make money off of this.

  24. Wylann says

    I really enjoyed that. Could there be some things better? Sure, but you’re not going to make everyone happy.

    I particularly liked the tribute to Carl Sagan at the end. Brought a tear to my eye. :)

  25. biogeo says


    Basically I felt there was not enough emphasis on what science is and the important of belief based on evidence. It was there, but not enough, and I thought the first episode should really have spent more time on it. It would have set a better tone for the rest of the series.

    I understand where you’re coming from, but I don’t agree. In the original Cosmos, Sagan used the first episode primarily to communicate the sense of awe that comes from learning our place in the universe, and tonight’s episode very closely mimicked the original. The original Cosmos was very much about awe, curiosity, perspective, and how science satisfies them all, partly by revealing new knowledge to us, and partly by giving us a means to distinguish truth from falsehood. For me, most scientists I know, and I think most people with a nonprofessional interest in science, it is the awe and wonder that motivate us to investigate and learn, and I think that placing that motivation as the centerpiece of the opening episode sets exactly the right tone.

    The importance of belief based on evidence was a recurring theme in the original, being highlighted by stories about UFO claims, Immanuel Velikovsky’s belief that Venus was a comet ejected from Jupiter, the burning of the library at Alexandria, etc. I think that worked as a larger narrative strategy: first comes awe, then comes the understanding that awe isn’t enough, and we can’t just believe things indiscriminately. I’m hopeful that the new series will repeat this motif. Since Ann Druyan is writing for it, it seems likely.

  26. says

    Yeah, I wrinkled my nose when the asteroid belt appeared in lovely computer graphics on my television screen and the rocks were practically bumping into each other. Of course, reality would provide nothing of visual interest because the asteroid belt is mostly empty space with widely separated individual asteroids, so I understand the visual license taken. However, wouldn’t an image of the annular asteroid belt stippled with dots representing the millions of chunks of rocks have made a good visual? Up close and personal the asteroid belt is a bust. At a distance, however, it’s a miracle of numerical density.

  27. woozy says

    Well, I liked the Bruno story. I think the “moral” was that Bruno wasn’t a scientist and didn’t actually know anything more than any other person would have, but he had the vision to question and doubt, the awe and compassion to persue, and the forsight to recognize the consequences and implications of of the world and new evidence. In other words he followed the awe and wonder where others would chose to stay in ignorance and convention and fear to question. We can all choose to do so even if none of us ever have the opportunity to actually find any anything new.

  28. naturalcynic says

    re. the Obama preface perhaps it was a good thing that some stations omitted it. Most wing-nuts wouldn’t want to go near anything sciency, but some might have switched channels and never returned if they saw him.

    Great program and I, too, nearly had my eyes roll out of their sockets when Noah was advertised/

    One other thing on last night was 60 Minutes story on the ALMA radio telescope array in Chile see here if you missed it

  29. Thumper: Token Breeder says

    Well this sounds interesting. Anyone know if it’s available in the UK, or will I have to find it on t’internet?

  30. auraboy says

    I believe its on the incongruous surroundings of the Fox network as it’s been privately funded by Seth MacFarlane who was a big fan of the original cosmos and obviously has a lot of pull inside the network with family guy etc.

  31. Chelydra says

    Obama’s introduction seemed like a rather obnoxious appeal to the idea of American exceptionalism. You’d think that would be the last thing one would take away from watching this program. Also, what was with that bit about the dinosaurs not still being around?

    At least they got the pope’s glowing eyes and pointy ears right.

  32. tsig says

    What jerked my tears was the segment at the end where he described Carl Sagan taking personal interest in him, it made Sagan so much more human and really showed his devotion to advancing science.

  33. bbgunn says

    I’m somewhat surprised that Fox did not run a half hour program after Cosmos with 3 or 4 anti-science bible thumping theocrats or tea party pandering preachers to ‘balance out’ all that science.

  34. says

    Yeah, my thoughts on hearing about this was, “What next, will they accidentally air a geology special just before the 700 club, on one of the channels that appears on?”

  35. moarscienceplz says

    A lot of comments here are conflating the Fox Network with Fox News. They are both owned by Rupert Murdoch, but Fox News is wholly the creature of Roger Ailes, who does NOT control what airs on the Fox Network. Gabriel Sherman, who wrote The Loudest Voice in the Room has said in interviews that Murdoch does not like much of what Ailes has done with Fox News, but it makes so much money that Murdoch is reluctant to rein Ailes in.

  36. nnoxks says

    Two related things I really disliked about the new Cosmos:

    1) Cherry-picking history to tell a better story. Human history is a scientific endeavor and it is simply inexcusable for a program that is supposed to convey the extent of our scientific understanding to a lay audience to put a gloss on historical truth to serve some narrative agenda.

    2) Cartoonish “good guys” and “bad guys.” Human psychology and behavior is also a scientific endeavor. Was anyone else more than a little weirded out by the disturbingly propaganda-like representation of the church “bad guys” practically cackling with evil glee while twirling their mustaches? Don’t Fox viewers already inhabit a universe of “good guys” and “bad guys,” and isn’t that part of the problem? I found it utterly antithetical to the secular values of free inquiry and human equality that the show is supposedly showcasing.

  37. notyet says

    According to the story, Bruno would not back off because of his immense faith. He believed that God was far greater and all encompassing than the dogma at that time allowed for. Interesting that this could be twisted to be a good (pro-science) historical lesson. The very conservative family members that I watched the show with missed out on this completely and instead came away with exactly the message that Tyson wanted to convey. The man is pure genius and I am even more impressed with his abilities than I was before the show. My only disappointment came from the fact that Tyson had to rein in his normal sarcastic wit and the humor that he displays during his personal presentations. I understand why he had to do this and agree that it was both necessary and wise, but I missed the personality that for me exemplifies Neil deGrasse Tyson. That aside, I loved every minute and will not miss an episode.

  38. positivevorticityadvection says

    I thought the point of the Bruno story was to help religious folks see that the story being told by Cosmos can be seen as expanding their god rather than contradicting their god. Bruno is at his most eloquent when he talks about how an infinite, unbounded god must have created an infinite, unbounded universe. “Your god is too small.”

  39. mothra says

    It was a very good touch that Giordano Bruno was used as the martyr rather than Galileo. The Galileo story is well covered by both Brownowski and Sagan- and by Tyson in his book Space Chronicles. Short comparison: Brownowski covered the aspect that Galileo was a clever honest man and thought all he needed to do was to show others his observations and he would be belived. Sagan covered Galileo by showing how the censorship of science caused the center of scientific culture to move from the Mediterranian area to Holland. Tyson noted that Galileo had to be a nieve man as he could not help but know the power of the church and did it anyway.

    By covering Bruno, Tyson, in Cosmos showed that it was not merely science that the church was against, it was ideas that undermined the church. He made a point of showing that the RCC fails as a world view (Bruno happed to be right) and also that it fails as a religion (the RCC put limits on the powers of an omnipotent god). Cosmos episode one was full of win.

  40. mothra says

    Also worth noting- Tyson showed the instruments of torture used by the inquisition. No matter what mealy-mouthed apolgetics are resorted to in defense of the RCC, these devices are real, they were used in the name of the RCC to torture and kill those who disagreed.

    Also, a point I should have made in the previous (typo laden) entry: A non-scientist as exemplar showed that anyone can potentially contribute to human knowledge and that nobody was safe from the RCC.

  41. notyet says

    It is irony of the highest order that Bruno was murdered by the RCC for claiming that God was truly omnipotent.

  42. markd555 says

    The very conservative family members that I watched the show with missed out on this completely and instead came away with exactly the message that Tyson wanted to convey.

    This is what old Cosmos was best at.
    Sagan wasn’t an appeaser, and he wasn’t aggressive. He was a smiling amiable assassin while hosting Cosmos.
    He said stuff that makes sense to everyone, attacking a point that few would defend. “Oh those silly ancient mystics, look at the terrible things they did! So sad and small!”

    Only later do the religious folks realize they walked away with an intellectual dagger sticking out of their back, slowly being poisoned with logic seeping into their minds. Painless and deadly. He was attacking them while they smiled and agreed, perfectly comfortable with his attack.

    I am glad Tyson is on the right track so far.

  43. burgundy says

    I wish I could remember the exact wording, but at the beginning of the Bruno story there was something about challenging the idea of a little universe made just for us. I thought it was a great moment – the desire to cling to the idea of humanity as a special creation lies behind a lot of anti-science sentiment. Humans are special! Our world is unique and is the center of everything! Nope. Humans are special! We are categorically different from animals and God made us in his image! Nope. And right out of the gate Cosmos is calling that mindset out, and pointing out how small and limited it is. For me, that more than made up for them including Moses’s birthday in the calendar.

  44. notyet says

    That part caught me off guard and was definitely my least favorite part of the program. (Acknowledging Moses as if he were real) As with his lack of sarcasm I realize the reason and accept it. Simply put, you cannot teach someone who has left the room. If he occasionally throws a bone to believers so that they might keep listening until something good sinks in, so be it. All in all, the amount of woo was minimal and considering the network, miniscule.

  45. Menyambal --- making sambal a food group. says

    Tyson was on the Colbert Report tonight. I liked what I saw.

    I think on Cosmos when he gave the birth “seconds” of the religious figures, it really showed how recent and paltry they are in comparison to the age of the real world. I asumed that was the motive.

  46. says

    A lot of comments here are conflating the Fox Network with Fox News.

    With respect, there is a fair amount of sane stuff shown on the same channels as carry the 700 club too. But, you don’t see Fox popping up a message before their “news”, or other sort of similar nonsense, comes on, like that station, which says, “The views expressed here are not necessarily those of this network.”

  47. jima says

    On the Bruno thing…At least he pointed out that Bruno’s vision of the stars was a lucky guess. But “man willing to die for beliefs that deeply held, but not bases on any empirical evidence,” is not exactly about science. Arguably, in the absence of a spectrograph showing the similarity of sunlight and starlight, the belief that the stars are incredibly distant suns fails Occam’s razor. \

  48. jima says

    But picture if you will, that instead of spending time on the Bruno story, they spent time briefly explaining WHY we believe some of the facts presented. Eg. Stars and nebula are concentrated within the Milky Way, but spiral nebula are spread throughout the sky, leading to the conclusion that spiral nebula are outside the Milky Way, rather than a part of it. The first evidence that the Earth was much older than a few thousand years was volcano caldera which appeared to have accreted over a far longer period of time. Without a WHY, scientific knowledge is simply a set of beliefs little different from religious dogma. Perhaps we’ll see more “how we know this,” in later episodes.

  49. TonyJ says

    Am I to assume that the Scientology ad only appeared in Global in Canada?

    Holy crap that cult is evil.

    I haven’t seen a Scientology commercial since the 80s or 90s.