17
Apr 2011

Be a next Carl Sagan: join the PaleBlue.blog community

POSTED BY: S. DOMAGAL-GOLDMAN
 

Many scientists and science communicators often say “I wish we had another Carl Sagan.” While it is heartening to hear people – especially scientists – acknowledge the need for this, it is at the same time frustrating. First, this is something we should not just wish for. Carl Sagan was, in many ways, a super man. He was both an outstanding communicator and a prolific scientist. Furthermore, his research and communication took place at the intersection of topics the public was inherently interested in (planets and the search for life) with topics the public needed some knowledge of (climate change and nuclear winters), allowing him to earn the trust of the public through things they were interested in. He then utilized that trust to talk on things the public needed to know about. We certainly could use someone like that today, given vociferous debates on climate change, evolution, and stem cell research.

Unfortunately, if all we do is “wish” for someone like Carl Sagan to emerge, our community will not develop the skillsets needed to follow his lead. As a result we are lucky to get one “Carl Sagan” per generation. To steal a movie title, we’re “Waiting For Superman.” Well, that ends here. We need to actively work at developing the next Carl Sagan. But developing the “next Carl Sagan” won’t be enough, either. We need to do more. PaleBlue.blog will be a small part of “doing more.” Hopefully, so will you. Read on to find out how.

The fracturing of media comes with a splitting of the planet’s attention. We now live in world with a multitude of specialized TV channels as well as blogs, Twitter, Facebook, news aggregators, and YouTube. (This is neither a complete nor a finalized list of the places people turn for information.) As a result, people’s attention spans are increasingly divided, short, and highly competed for. (Thanks for reading this far.) Thus, even if Carl Sagan himself were around today doing the same things he did in his time, he would not be as successful as he was. No longer can a scientist go on “The Tonight Show” and charm a significant portion of the country in a single night, as Sagan did. Often, the best “single dose” of science the public gets is from sporadic appearances on “The Daily Show” or “The Colbert Report.” While fantastic opportunities, their audiences are smaller and cater to pre-interested individuals… that may have their attention divided with something on their laptop and/or tablet and/or phone!

We need a broader effort that doesn’t fight this new media reality, but instead leverages it by making more, smaller contributions from a greater number of communicators. Thus, instead of waiting for Carl Sagan, the goal must be to develop an army of mini-Sagan’s that are active science communicators in a new and evolving media environment. There are lots of things that could, should, and hopefully will be done. A science blog that encourages and augments our ability to communicate is one of those things that can and should be done. So let’s start there. This place will be a few things. First and foremost, this will be a blog about science, specifically the fields of Earth and space sciences. That’s the core of what we do, and it’s the core of what this place will be built around. But, despite being built on a foundation of science, it’s not going to be a “science blog” in the traditional sense.

Many other (wonderful) science blogs follow a classic “lecture” style, where there is a scientist doling out information to those that seek it; hopefully, this place will be more interactive, in the style of political and sports blogs. The presence of sports and political blogs as a model is not just happenstance. These are topics people are inherently passionate about. What the political and sports blogs have demonstrated is that people are willing to actively engage in conversations about things they are passionate about. Well, people are passionate about the fabric of the universe, our planet’s climate, the exploration of the frontier, and the search for alien life. These are topics we will cover here. What we want to build is a rich community around these passions that fosters discussion about these fascinating endeavors. Hopefully this will build a community to follow in Dr. Sagan’s footsteps, and leverage the topics for which people have wonderment to achieve an improved understanding of issues for which people have responsibility.

This will not be easy, and it will not be achievable without the contributions of many. Success will demand an inclusive and interdisciplinary effort, involving people from different fields, backgrounds, and areas of expertise. We will include professional scientists (hopefully lots of them). We will include those working in education and public outreach. We will include teachers. We will include students. We will include YOU.

So in addition to being a science blog, we hope PaleBlue.blog will be a place for such individuals to find each other and plan new opportunities that work towards these goals. Just like a regular blog, we’ll have some content in the main part of the page… right where you’re reading these words. Additionally, we’ll also give you the ability to publish your own content. Click on the “PaleBlue.you” button on the right column, and get started. Once you submit an article, it will go to us for approval for posting. So if you have something to say about astrobiology, climate change, the exploration of planets, astronomy, science communication, or some other related field… have at it. We’re looking forward to talking to you about it.

posted by Shawn

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