Talk:Carl Sagan

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Former featured articleCarl Sagan is a former featured article. Please see the links under Article milestones below for its original nomination page (for older articles, check the nomination archive) and why it was removed.
Main Page trophyThis article appeared on Wikipedia's Main Page as Today's featured article on June 2, 2004.
Article milestones
DateProcessResult
March 18, 2004Featured article candidatePromoted
February 20, 2007Featured article reviewDemoted
Current status: Former featured article


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okay so I'm correcting the source of a quote in the article. "My parents were not scientists. They knew almost nothing about science. But in introducing me simultaneously to skepticism and to wonder, they taught me the two uneasily cohabiting modes of thought that are central to the scientific method" This quote is from his book "The Demon Haunted World".

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Criticism section again[edit]

I removed a new criticism section for obvious reasons. One of them ([1]) saying on their about-us page: "Our Mission. BioLogos invites the church and the world to see the harmony between science and biblical faith as we present an evolutionary understanding of God’s creation." - DVdm (talk) 21:28, 30 December 2017 (UTC)

I realized it. I still decided to include it because it did not contradict the evolution theory, and these two writers were historians of science. And additionally I provided other academic sources besides that one.

En historiker (talk) 21:41, 30 December 2017 (UTC)

Agree with removal. The removed text made broad but unsubstantiated claims, ie aspersions. Ceoil (talk) 21:56, 30 December 2017 (UTC)

Care to elaborate?

En historiker (talk) 22:12, 30 December 2017 (UTC)

I did create a section called "Academic criticism from historians", and provided sources from various historians, specifically historians of science.

It has been removed by DVdm on the grounds that "These are all just someone's unnotable opinions".

I am not so sure about that, and I want other experienced users' opinion: do you agree with that? — Preceding unsigned comment added by En historiker (talkcontribs) 21:43, 30 December 2017 (UTC)

Your edit was this. That is WP:UNDUE and poorly sourced. For example, the PBS link shows someone making a throwaway comment about Sagan and Dawkins. If every such comment was included, this article would at least twice its size. Please do not create a new section to discuss the same topic. Johnuniq (talk) 22:34, 30 December 2017 (UTC)
I have restored as much of the material as was relevant and properly cited, minus some extraneous details. If historians have criticized Sagan and say that he got things wrong, there is no reason the article cannot mention this. I think, however, that one sentence about Sagan's views on science in the middle ages should be enough. I find the removal of that sentence by Ceoil here very strange, and I note that no evidence has been provided that the criticism of Sagan is somehow "fringe". The criticism was cited to a book published by Harvard University Press, a reputable mainstream academic publisher, and edited by distinguished historian Ronald Numbers, so the "fringe" charge appears to be totally false. The charge that the criticism was "unsubstantiated by specifics" is also unsupported and has no basis in Wikipedia's policies. FreeKnowledgeCreator (talk) 23:30, 30 December 2017 (UTC)
I find the edit summary Ceoil used here, "rvt that you had to reduce it to such bones implies you neither believe the truth of the claim. The claim is hopeless vague, and from sources with a stated agenda" unacceptable. It is certainly inaccurate. Ceoil seems to be an experienced editor, so he should know that whether I believe the claim in question or not is irrelevant. The claim ("Sagan has received criticism from historians for repeating popular myths about Middle Ages, such as that there was no scientific activity during this period") obviously is not "hopelessly vague"; it is quite specific. The one source provided, a book published by Harvard University Press, is reliable per our policies. FreeKnowledgeCreator (talk) 23:56, 30 December 2017 (UTC)
See above: Our Mission. BioLogos invites the church and the world to see the harmony between science and biblical faith as we present an evolutionary understanding of God’s creation. There is no nuance to your revised version either, what qualifies as "scientific activity", what period range can be defined as the middle ages, did he say "no activity", very little, none that can be described as utilising the scientific method, or what exactly. The wall of text above is predicated on self serving, circular and flawed logic. Ceoil (talk) 00:49, 31 December 2017 (UTC)
I explained to you, at some length, that the material about Sagan's historical claims is based on a book published by Harvard University Press, which is a mainstream, respectable academic publisher. It is not cited to BioLogos. There was a citation to BioLogos before, but it has been removed now, leaving properly cited material. Why would you ignore that? Did you even check to see what was actually in the article, and what it was cited to, before removing it? I'm afraid your "wall of text" complaint totally ignores the substance of what I actually said, which was correct. If you cannot refute one claim I made, Ceoil, then I am not surprised that you "have no wish to engage further". FreeKnowledgeCreator (talk) 00:54, 31 December 2017 (UTC)
Your wall of text is mostly strawmen and as I said based on self serving, circular and flawed logic, and a wholley incomplete telling of an argument. Did you read I what I have said before responding in less than a minute with more personalised verbosity? Ceoil (talk) 00:56, 31 December 2017 (UTC)
I am not interested in empty and insulting comments that do not address the substance of what I wrote. Do you have evidence that my comment was "self serving, circular and flawed logic"? No. So your response is irrelevant. I read what you wrote, and showed that you were and are wrong. Deal with it. FreeKnowledgeCreator (talk) 00:59, 31 December 2017 (UTC)
  • To reiterate; "There is no nuance to your revised version either, what qualifies as "scientific activity", what period range can be defined as the middle ages, did he say "no activity", very little, none that can be described as utilising the scientific method, or what exactly. " - At this stage, it might be better if we disengage and let others comment. Ceoil (talk) 01:02, 31 December 2017 (UTC)
The material in question is cited to pages 7 and 8 of Newton’s Apple and Other Myths about Science, a book edited by Ronald L. Numbers and Kostas Kampourakis, and published by Harvard University Press. It can easily be searched on Amazon.com's page about the book. The contributor who discusses Sagan's claims notes that they are one example of "The widespread myth that there was no scientific activity between Greek antiquity and the Scientific Revolution". It is very clear what he is criticizing Sagan for. The absence of any specific definition of scientific activity in the material included in the article is totally irrelevant, of course, as defining science is not its purpose. FreeKnowledgeCreator (talk) 01:10, 31 December 2017 (UTC)
Saying the same thing over and over, but with added hostility wont make it more credible to me. Can we please just hold though and wait for other eyes, although I'm baffled how you want to cast aspersions on his view of "medieval science" (neither term defined), while also saying that the absence of specific definition is not of concern. That's moving the goal posts, and intellectual laziness at its worst. You are also appealing to authority, even though the lack of vigor in that authority is pointed out to you. Another fallacy. Ceoil (talk) 01:47, 31 December 2017 (UTC)
I am tired of explaining that the only reason why I restored the material is that it is properly cited to a reliable source (not exactly an "appeal to authority"). I do not care about its accuracy and under Wikipedia's policies I don't have to. I am not casting "aspersions" on Sagan's views of anything, so your comments above are beside the point. FreeKnowledgeCreator (talk) 01:59, 31 December 2017 (UTC)

Hello again.

I consulted "The Cambridge History of Science: Volume 2" written by David C. Lindberg and Michael H. Shank.

On page 9-10 Lindberg and Shank noted that Carl Sagan had somehow a skewed understanding of science’s role in Middle Ages. After explaining that the myth of a supposed decline of knowledge in medieval Europe was initiated by figures such of Voltaire or Jacob Burckhardt, the authors state about Carl Sagan that:

“Many otherwise well-educated people have long taken this picture for granted. No one has diffused it more widely than astronomer Carl Sagan (1924-1996), whose television series Cosmos drew an audience estimated at half a billion. In his 1980 book by the same name, a timeline of astronomy from Greek antiquity to the present left between the fifth and the late fifteenth centuries a familiar thousand-year blank labeled as a "poignant lost opportunity for mankind." The timeline reflected not the state of knowledge in 1980 but Sagan's own "poignant lost opportunity" to consult the library of Cornell University, where he taught. In it, Sagan would have discovered large volumes devoted to the medieval history of his own field, some of them two hundred years old. He would also have learned that the alleged medieval vacuum spawned the institutions in which he spent his life: the observatory as a research institution (Islamic civilization) and the university (Latin Europe).”

Source: “The Cambridge History of Science: Volume 2, Medieval Science”. Edited by David C. Lindberg and Michael H. Shank. Cambridge University Press, 2015. page 9-10

This is certainly 100% reliable I assume.

Here is a ready wiki-link to insert as source:

[1]

En historiker (talk) 03:46, 31 December 2017 (UTC)

References

  1. ^ Lindberg et all, David C. (2015). The Cambridge History of Science: Volume 2, Medieval Science. Cambridge University Press. p. 9. ISBN 1107521645.
This edit by Binksternet removed the material without valid reason. The edit summary was, "The book's authors blame Walker, first and foremost, for creating a graph showing little science in the MIddle Ages. They then explain that the science of the Middle Ages was largely translating Greek work." None of that is a reason for removing the material. FreeKnowledgeCreator (talk) 04:19, 31 December 2017 (UTC)
I think it's a good reason to remove the material. Besides I wouldn't even call it material to begin with. It is just a little wp:primary sourced irrelevant opinion. And this is a biography of Carl Sagan, not a List of possible criticisms of Carl Sagan's work. - DVdm (talk) 09:42, 31 December 2017 (UTC)
The establishment of universities in the 11th century had nothing to do with Sagan's view of medieval astronomy. Am I reading your post correctly, "two hundred years old" is considered pre-modern by the sources? Are you delineating the acceptance of the heliocentric model over the geocentric belief in your timeline. Ceoil (talk) 13:24, 31 December 2017 (UTC)
No, DVdm, the material is not "irrelevant opinion". It concerns Carl Sagan, and as such as is by definition relevant to an article about Carl Sagan. The material would only have been irrelevant if it were about someone or something else other than Carl Sagan. Of course there is no need to go into a long discussion of why material sourced to a book published by a respectable academic publisher cannot be dismissed as "opinion." You are incorrect, furthermore, that the source is a "primary source". Per WP:PRIMARY, it would be primary source only if it were "original materials that are close to an event, and are often accounts written by people who are directly involved". FreeKnowledgeCreator (talk) 19:31, 31 December 2017 (UTC)

Newton’s Apple and Other Myths about Science[edit]

I removed a bit of criticism per WP:UNDUE. The criticism comes from the book Newton’s Apple and Other Myths about Science, published by Harvard, edited by Ronald L. Numbers and Kostas Kampourakis. The relevant chapter is the first one, "That There Was No Scientific Activity Between Greek Antiquity and the Scientific Revolution", written by Michael H. Shank. The idea of the chapter is that the myth is wrong, that scientific work was being performed during the Middle Ages. Shank says that Jim Walker drew a graph showing the lack of scientific development in the "Christian Dark Ages", and that Sagan parroted Walker's conclusion. Shank says that Walker, and thus Sagan, are perpetuating a myth, since there was some scientific work during the time in question. Shank describes the scientific work, and lo and behold, it is merely some translation work performed mostly by religious clerics, taking Greek texts and translating them slowly into Arabic, and then slowly translating them for Europeans, taking centuries. So the "myth" is actually true: primary scientific/philosophical research was little seen in the Middle Ages. Nobody except Shank counts translation work as original science. Since Shank's accusation is based on this flimsy assumption, I don't think this criticism of Sagan rises to the importance of a mention in Sagan's biography. Binksternet (talk) 04:32, 31 December 2017 (UTC)

You might want to review WP:NOR, Binksternet. Your rationale for removing that content violates one of Wikipedia's basic policies, which, put simply, is don't make stuff up. That the myth "is actually true" is your personal opinion, based on your argument against the views published in a reliable source. That counts for nothing and as an experienced editor you should know that. If you actually had a reliable source specifically arguing against Shank, then we could balance the one source against the other...but you haven't, of course. FreeKnowledgeCreator (talk) 04:38, 31 December 2017 (UTC)
I cited UNDUE, because it's only Shank who is making this accusation. Shank is an outlier. Binksternet (talk) 04:44, 31 December 2017 (UTC)
To quote the policy, "Neutrality requires that each article or other page in the mainspace fairly represent all significant viewpoints that have been published by reliable sources, in proportion to the prominence of each viewpoint in the published, reliable sources. Giving due weight and avoiding giving undue weight means that articles should not give minority views or aspects as much of or as detailed a description as more widely held views or widely supported aspects." We are only talking about one sentence here. It is not unreasonable or excessive detail. The material should be restored. FreeKnowledgeCreator (talk) 04:46, 31 December 2017 (UTC)
It would be appropriate if others could be found in agreement with Shank, so that we could say with certainty that this is important to the topic.
Check out the book: Shank's real beef with Walker is that Christians often get blamed for the low level of scientific research in the Middle Ages, that the rise of Christianity is said to be the reason for the lack of science. Shank doesn't like this conclusion of Walker's. He shows that the small amount of scientific translation work was performed by religious scholars including Christians, so he says the blame is misplaced in that regard. But Sagan does not join with Walker in blaming Christianity; Sagan just says that the human race experienced a "poignant lost opportunity" to have improved itself centuries earlier. So the main point of the chapter glances off of Sagan and lands squarely on Jim Walker. Binksternet (talk) 05:10, 31 December 2017 (UTC)
That is beside the point. A whole book doesn't have to be totally dedicated to Carl Sagan for it to be acceptable as a source in this article. It just has to have some meaningful discussion of him or his views. FreeKnowledgeCreator (talk) 05:12, 31 December 2017 (UTC)
The "whole book" issue "is" beside the point, but Binksternet's critique is exactly the point, at least for those that put credence in the word "truth", and the methods used to arrive at it. Your deflection and pivoting is becoming tiresome, and not a little ironic, as you have been contradicted on substance and fact a few times now. Its almost...as if you are taking an increasingly shaky premises and doggedly working it backwards to suit a POV. That is very poor behavior, and you are, before our eyes, conceding on fact while proclaiming well that does't matter because the content because "its from a ivy league publisher" (which you vetted with no vigor, and which Binksternet has demonstrated doesn't mean what you think it means), all the while undermining yourself, diminishing your original argument, and having your actual intent slowly revealed. I'm interest how you might now take this, when you are contracted by a closing reading of the sources you claim. Ceoil (talk) 07:02, 31 December 2017 (UTC)

───────────────────────── Including a minor dissenting mention in a single book is clearly UNDUE, and there is no issue with NOR. (Hohum @) 15:14, 31 December 2017 (UTC)

No, it is not undue, because the material amounts only to a single sentence, which is perfectly reasonable. I'm not going to try to respond to Ceoil's nonsense, consisting as it does of a stream of fact-free drivel. FreeKnowledgeCreator (talk) 20:15, 31 December 2017 (UTC)
Does this article present Sagan's viewpoint with regard to scientific inquiry in the dark ages? AzureCitizen (talk) 21:37, 31 December 2017 (UTC)
No, because the content in question was removed here for specious reasons. FreeKnowledgeCreator (talk) 23:21, 31 December 2017 (UTC)
Neutral point of view would have required that an article represent all significant viewpoints in proportion to the prominence of each viewpoint, but it appears Sagan's viewpoint wasn't being advanced here previously either. AzureCitizen (talk) 00:27, 1 January 2018 (UTC)
The problem with that is that Sagan has not said the rise of Christianity was the reason for roughly 1,000 years of very little scientific research. Sagan has not given any reason at all for this gap. It's Michael H. Shank, and the Biologos bible+science people, who have assumed Sagan must be talking about Christianity. Shank acknowledges that Sagan does not blame Christianity, writing "The power of the myth is such that Sagan does not need to say where the blame lies."[2] Stephen Snobelen of Biologos (an unreliable activist website, promoting their brand of science plus biblical faith) also acknowledges that Sagan does not blame Christianity, writing "The intended meaning is clear..." A good skeptic requires Sagan to have laid the blame on someone or something, but Shank and Biologos are satisfied by hanging their own interpretation on Sagan, deciding that he had a hidden agenda. So, to answer your point, there's no chance here of supplying the reader with Sagan's viewpoint contrasted with the viewpoint of Shank. Sagan never stated his thoughts on the matter. Binksternet (talk) 04:06, 1 January 2018 (UTC)

Some clarifications are needed here:

Firstly, Carl Sagan did indeed somehow blamed Christianity for the supposed decline of science in Middle Ages albeit he did not state it directly, but indirectly. He said in Cosmos about Hypatia that “she was a symbol of learning and science which were largely identified by the early church with paganism”(which by the way is nonsense and Edward Grant refutes it), and then told a speculative tall tale about the reason of her death which has also been refuted by historians. (For more elaboration, read this text from the atheist blogger. Here: http://armariummagnus.blogspot.dk/2009/05/agora-and-hypatia-hollywood-strikes.html and here: https://historyforatheists.com/2017/07/the-destruction-of-the-great-library-of-alexandria/ )

Furthermore, it is beyond the point whether Sagan blamed or not Christianity. Rather, the point was that Sagan’s understanding of history and specific the history of science in Middle Ages, is skewed and refuted by the historians of science.

Secondly, albeit the Biologos is an activist biblical page the two authors are historians of science, and their written is not contradicted by the academia. Furthermore, I provided also other sources, such from Cambridge and Harvard. These are hardly biblical places, but rather secular.

Thirdly, Stephen Snobelen, David C. Lindberg, Ronald Numbers and Michael H. Shank are not “science people”. They are historians of science. History of science is a discipline that deals with the study of development of science, and there is actually a good wiki-page to click and read about History of science.

Finally, I even don’t believe in the Abrahamic God and I am myself atheist/agnostic/”soft-fake-Christian”. Carl Sagan appears to me to be a warm-hearted person with much sympathy, and has a very beautiful voice. And I admire his effort for humanity. I would love to have Sagan as neighbor or friend. But he was not a historian nor a historian of science, and his historical lesson he learned from outdated works such of Gibbon's "Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire”.

That is why Lindberg/Shank wrote about him:

“In his 1980 book by the same name, a timeline of astronomy from Greek antiquity to the present left between the fifth and the late fifteenth centuries a familiar thousand-year blank labeled as a "poignant lost opportunity for mankind." The timeline reflected not the state of knowledge in 1980 but Sagan's own "poignant lost opportunity" to consult the library of Cornell University, where he taught. In it, Sagan would have discovered large volumes devoted to the medieval history of his own field, some of them two hundred years old. He would also have learned that the alleged medieval vacuum spawned the institutions in which he spent his life: the observatory as a research institution (Islamic civilization) and the university (Latin Europe).”

Sagan was a great astronomer and astrobiologist and he did know a lot about physics. But he was not a historian and did (unintentionally) spread various ahistorical facts.

En historiker (talk) 15:42, 1 January 2018 (UTC)

Sagan writing about Hypatia's life and death is not the same as Sagan saying Christianity is the reason for 1,000 years of very low level scientific research. Also, the establishment of institutions, while significant to history, is not primary scientific research. The Middle Ages were certainly a period of relative inactivity in science, and a great many writers can be brought to bear on the matter. The handful of writers who prop up the science of the Middle Ages is outweighed by the many who assess it as meager. Binksternet (talk) 18:04, 1 January 2018 (UTC)

As far as I can tell, the only relevant criticism (i.e. not blogs, etc.) that Sagan has received is from Shank (and Shank and Lindberg), right? Is there more? Because the text removed in this edit misrepresents what's in the cited source and what's been quoted on this talk page. According to the source, Sagan perpetuated this myth of no scientific activity during the Middle Ages without ever repeating it but rather pointing to a chart of no scientific advancements in that period. A more accurate rendering would read something like "Sagan has been criticized by historian Michael Shank for perpetuating the myth that there was no scientific activity between Greek antiquity and the scientific revolution, pointing out that Sagan once referenced a chart that shows no scientific advancements in that period. Shank notes that scientific texts were studied and translated during that period." -- irn (talk) 20:43, 1 January 2018 (UTC)

Shank's noting "that scientific texts were studied and translated during that period" is still fully compatible with the idea that there were "no scientific advancements in that period." I don't think that this is a relevant criticism. - DVdm (talk) 10:37, 2 January 2018 (UTC)
Exactly. It's not only not relevant, it's not even a valid argument. -- irn (talk) 15:04, 2 January 2018 (UTC)

That “scientific texts were studied and translated during that period” is another way of saying that science(or “natural philosophy” as it was called) were still alive and practiced.

Scientific advancement was made in Middle Ages: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_medieval_European_scientists

“Galileo goes to jail and other myths about science and religion” edited by Ronald Numbers is also a good introduction and very easily readable for the casual readers.

And just to avoid further confusion: there are two academic sources, they are:

“The Cambridge History of Science: Volume 2, Medieval Science”. Edited by David C. Lindberg and Michael H. Shank. Cambridge University Press, 2015. page 9-10

And

“Newton’s Apple and Other Myths about Science” edited by Ronald Numbers and Kostas Kampourakis. Harvard University Press, 2015. page 8

En historiker (talk) 16:12, 2 January 2018 (UTC)

Is this all truly about *one event* where he referenced a chart, being seized upon by one critical source? That seems utterly UNDUE and insignificant, being blown into something it isn't. (Hohum @) 19:24, 2 January 2018 (UTC)
As far as I can tell, that is correct. To read it for yourself, you can go to the Amazon page for the book and click on the book cover. It's the first chapter. -- irn (talk) 20:15, 2 January 2018 (UTC)

Degree in "nothing"[edit]

Since many years ([3]) our article says that Sagan had a "degree in self-proclaimed "nothing"'". That was just now changed to the unsourced degree in natural science". I changed it back and added the direct source. Then user JeanLucMargot changed it back. I put back the long standing original per de-facto wp:CONSENSUS. Comments welcome. - DVdm (talk) 17:18, 31 August 2018 (UTC)

I am not opposed to inclusion of Carl's self-deprecating description of his degree, but I do believe that wikipedia ought to provide the specifics about the degree he received. Whether this content has been lacking for many years or not is irrelevant. What matters is wikipedia's encyclopedic standard. And indeed, the degree information should be properly sourced. Thank you. JeanLucMargot (talk) 22:12, 31 August 2018 (UTC)
OK, but in this case specifying the specifics (so to speak) would involve slight wp:original research. As always the key is sourcing. Thanks for your comment. - DVdm (talk) 22:29, 31 August 2018 (UTC)