If you didn’t watch last week’s premiere of Cosmos, you’re missing out. I was nervous about whether the show could pull off its ambitious agenda, especially following in the footsteps of Carl Sagan. So far, the reboot is everything I wished for, despite lower-than-projected ratings, which may have more to do with its time slot and/or its airing on Fox. Or it may have to do with the lack of interest in science that host Neil deGrasse Tyson has made a career of fighting. Then again, maybe the anti-creationist and anti-religious insinuations of the show pissed people off. Some groups were put off by Tyson’s mention of evolution, even though it was brief. In fact, viewers who tuned into to Oklahoma City’s KOKH-TV didn’t see the 15 or so seconds addressing evolution at all, as it was cut completely and replaced by a promo for the nightly news.
Here’s the original segment:
Tyson never refers to evolution (or creationism) by name. He’s not specific or inflammatory. Here’s exactly what he says:
We are newcomers to the Cosmos…Our own story only begins on the last night of the cosmic year…Three and a half million years ago, our ancestors — your and mine left these traces.” (Tyson points to footprints). “We stood up and parted ways from them. Once we were standing on two feet, our eyes were no longer fixated on the ground. Now, we were free to look up and wonder.
Here’s the censored segment, which is just as awkward and obvious as you’d expect:
If that has censors hot and bothered, then isn’t there a bunch of other material that would set them off? What about the big bang? And what about the whole Giordano Bruno bit? Over at evolutionnews.org, the whole segment is dismantled: “[Bruno] was neither a scientist nor credited with any scientific discovery. Why is that? It’s because he’s the only one with even a passing association with a scientific controversy to be burned at the stake during this period of history…He was condemned because he denied the doctrine of the Trinity, the Virgin Birth, and transubstantiation ….” Why would the show misappropriate Bruno this way? Well, because “the producers, editors, and writers of Cosmos … couldn’t be bothered even to check Wikipedia.”
Well, the segment does cop to Bruno’s less-than-scientist status, and the Wikipedia entry does support the idea that Bruno was burned at the stake for his theological beliefs. Numerous edits have been made to the page after Cosmos aired, and the entry now states that “Bruno’s ideas about the universe played a small role in his trial” and that he “gained considerable fame, particularly among 19th- and early 20th-century commentators who, focusing on his astronomical beliefs, regarded him as a martyr for free thought.” That sums up the Bruno’s role as represented on the show.
Evolution News also submits that “Cosmos is not just good ole science education, but rather a glossy multi-million-dollar piece of agitprop for scientific materialism.” Maybe it is, and isn’t that exactly what we need to get more people interested in science? After all, a National Science Foundation study reveals that 1 in 4 Americans reportedly believe the sun revolves around the Earth. I don’t care how you explain that, it’s flabbergasting, dismal, and embarrassing. I’d say we need whatever glossy approach we can get our hands on to teach the public about the basic principles of science, and the sooner the better.
Censorship certainly doesn’t help with that. If viewers decide they don’t buy it, fine, but the networks shouldn’t be deciding that for them. Censorship always has the effect of making people want the missing information, and may inadvertently draw more attention to whatever was cut. If the Carl Sagan episodes of Cosmos are any indication, there’s more potentially rankling science coming down the pike. If stations want to censor these references, they’re going to have their hands full.