© 2022 WRVO Public Media
Your Source for NPR News
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Neil deGrasse Tyson discusses "Cosmos," Carl Sagan and today's scientific culture

Sarah Elliott
Neil deGrasse Tyson.

This Sunday, FOX Television Network is premiering a reboot of the late Carl Sagan's TV show "Cosmos." WRVO's Gino Geruntino spoke with the show's new host astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson in November about how the show differs from his other work, including as host of PBS' Nova ScienceNOW and his podcast "StarTalk."

GG: Do you think the new Cosmos will have the same flair that Nova ScienceNOW and StarTalk have?

NDT: That's a great question. I'm honest to the Cosmos legacy, in the sense that there's a certain grandeur, there's a certain sort of respect for the knowledge I'm conveying, the insights I'm conveying and for the mind of the listener. So I'm not as irreverent in StarTalk and in other things I've done. I've done some zany things and some comedic things, but I can pull back on that, because Cosmos -- we want it to be timeless. And so often in StarTalk there is a pun of the moment or a direct pop culture reference that works that week but not another week. I'll do that for StarTalk. But Cosmos -- it's got to last across generations at its best. So my delivery is definitely me. I mean it's me. You'll know it's me. But the mood, the outlook, is Cosmos.

GG: Carl Sagan originally had this show in some form. What do think he would believe about what's going on today, and this wraparound of the scientific culture and it becoming more of an open topic for discussion?

NDT: I think in part he would be disappointed and in part he would be thrilled. The disappointed part is he was also quite a champion of combating pseudoscience. You know, people who get taken by charlatans in ways that you don't know any different. Things like palm readers and horoscope casters and that sort of thing. He invested a good part of his energy combating that. And I don't see any of that ebbing in the modern times, with Google searches being able to find a webpage on any topic that you think is real. Then you find a webpage and you believe it's more real because someone else thought the same thing. That's hard to combat. But I think he would be enchanted by the fact that when his original Cosmos came out, there were only a few TV stations, and you would otherwise go a month before you came upon a science program. Whereas today, any time of day or night, you channel surf for a couple hours, you're going to land on some science programming. So access to science is greater than ever before.

GG: Why is it so important that Cosmos comes back, and what is your goal for the show?

NDT: Well, it's been 34 years since the last Cosmos aired, so I think we're due. We're due. I'm honored to be in that slot, the Carl Sagan slot -- I've even practiced my billions and billions [laughter]. I would like to sort of do Cosmos and then sort of go home after that. As sort of a gift to the country and to the world, and have them enjoy it and learn from it and get inspired by it. But I don't want to be the leader of a movement. I don't want to be the icon of science. What distinguishes science from other things, like religions have leaders, right? Science belongs to everyone. I don't own it and you don't own it either. But we can share in it, and that's what I want to see happen.

"Cosmos" with Neil deGrasse Tyson premieres Sunday on FOX.