Exhibit / November 10, 2016
On September 28, 1980, the 13-part television series Cosmos: A Personal Voyage debuted on hundreds of public broadcasting stations across America. The show was a huge success, bringing in some of PBS’s best ratings ever. As early as October of 1980, Sagan, a Cornell professor, astronomer, and author, was a public celebrity. Throughout the 1980s, Cosmos was a go-to “pledge drive” series, guaranteed to bring in big ratings even in re-runs.
The cover story looks at Sagan’s already complicated reputation as a popularizer of science, as well as the paucity of science-themed programming on American networks other than PBS. The article very interestingly posits Sagan as a figure who might help rehabilitate the study of pure science to its exalted place in the postwar, New Frontier era. The authors note that in the late ’60s and throughout the ’70s, “science, or more accurately its offshoot technology, was being blamed for much that was wrong with the world: the growing despoliation of the environment, the chemical devastation of the Vietnamese countryside, the spread of nuclear weaponry.”
This issue and its cover pairs Sagan’s rise to prominence with not one but two “soft-focus” profile pieces meant to help humanize Republican nominee Ronald Reagan a few weeks before the 1980 Presidential election. Reagan’s own eventual relationship with science as President was profoundly mixed: focused on practical defense applications, rolling back Carter-era environmental regulatory measures, and a combination of federal budget cuts and ideological prejudice that resulted in a criminally-insufficient reaction to the AIDS crisis.