Neil deGrasse Tyson Shows Why Small-Minded Religious Fundamentalists Are Threatened by Wonders of Universe

This column originally appeared on AlterNet.Neil deGrasse Tyson's new Cosmos series is a worthy reboot of Carl Sagan's original. Following in Sagan's footsteps, Tyson takes viewers on a voyage through the outer reaches of the solar system and beyond, showing how our sun is just one star out of a hundred billion in the majestic spiral of the Milky Way galaxy, and even the Milky Way itself is a speck in the observable universe. As in the original series, he compresses the history of the … [Read more...]

Anti-Vaccination Fever Rages On

After washing your hands, vaccination is probably the simplest and best medical advance in human history. But in spite of overwhelming evidence of its efficacy at preventing death and disease, irrational fearmongering is persuading people to skip shots for themselves and their children, and we're now paying the price.In the U.S., 2014 was the worst year for measles in more than a decade, due to an outbreak in an Ohio Amish community spread by a missionary returning from overseas. And 2015 … [Read more...]

Rosetta’s Comet Rendezvous


The last few weeks have offered atheists and progressives ample reason to feel discouraged. Down on Earth, anti-rational fundamentalism runs riot, and angry, reactionary conservatism seems stronger than ever. But in spite of all this, in spite of the many obstacles that encircle us and limit us, humanity is accomplishing great things among the stars.The latest of our successful cosmic explorers is the Rosetta spacecraft, a mission of the European Space Agency. Launched in 2004 (!), Rosetta … [Read more...]

Prayer Can’t Fight Ebola


The worst-ever outbreak of Ebola virus is still raging in West Africa. There are over 1,500 confirmed deaths so far - including, heartbreakingly, doctors and nurses treating other sufferers - though the real number is probably much higher, since widespread fear and mistrust means that many of the sick never come forward.The epidemic has also been helped along by traditional herbalists who claim they can treat Ebola, but only end up spreading the virus. Some people don't even believe it … [Read more...]

Repost: The Age of Wonder


[Author's Note: I'm reposting some old favorites while I'm away on vacation this week. This post was originally from November 2008.]If you search the internet, it's not hard to find New Agers and others who think that the dawning of the age of reason was a mistake. They envision a more "holistic" approach, one that properly pays heed to the mystery and complexity of existence, and castigate science for being cold, unfeeling, heartless in its probing, reductionist scrutiny of the natural … [Read more...]

TV Review: Cosmos, Episode 13

Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey, Episode 13, "Unafraid of the Dark"For their final episode, the authors of a show usually focus on their core message, on the one element that lies at the heart of what they want to say. The new Cosmos is no exception, and for the series finale, what they chose to emphasize was intellectual humility: the fact of our fallibility and the immensity of how much we still don't know. In the vastness of the cosmos, there are many wonders yet to be revealed; but it's only … [Read more...]

TV Review: Cosmos, Episode 12

Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey, Episode 12, "The World Set Free"For its penultimate episode, Cosmos returns to the subject of climate science, a familiar variation on a sermon it's already preached more than once. I have some mixed feelings about this. With the series pressing against time constraints, I worry about the lost opportunities that inevitably result from retreading the same ground, when that time could have been devoted to the scientific advances that have come about since the … [Read more...]

TV Review: Cosmos, Episode 11

Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey, Episode 11, "The Immortals"As the new Cosmos approaches its final episode, it's about time that the series started looking back on the ground it's covered and drawing some larger lessons. This episode accomplished that, and while it treads into more speculative territory than earlier outings, I think that's appropriate.But first, there was a scene about someone I'd never heard of: Enheduanna, a Sumerian high priestess who holds the honor of being the most … [Read more...]

TV Review: Cosmos, Episode 10

Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey, Episode 10, "The Electric Boy"Up till now, Cosmos has used historical sequences as an adjunct to the science, just as a way of giving credit to the men and women who brought us the discoveries we now take for granted. But this time, the writers made the interesting and daring choice to make the entire episode a historical story told through animation. This forecloses the possibility of the firework visuals that have been Cosmos' stock in trade, and I think it's … [Read more...]

TV Review: Cosmos, Episode 1

Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey, Episode 1, "Standing Up In the Milky Way"When I first heard that Carl Sagan's Cosmos was being rebooted, I was thrilled. As much as I loved the original, even the best science series inevitably becomes dated sooner rather than later, as our knowledge advances. And this was a great opportunity to see how modern special effects, which are light-years ahead of where they were in the original, could be used for scientific storytelling. But when I heard the new series … [Read more...]