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In Memory of Carl Sagan

From Skeptic vol. 4, no. 4, 1996, pp. 10-17.

The following article is copyright 1996 by the Skeptics Society, P.O. Box 338, Altadena, CA 91001, (626) 794-3119. Permission has been granted for noncommercial electronic circulation of this article in its entirety, including this notice.

Carl Leaves Us....

By James Randi

My heroes are few. Martin Gardner, Dick Feynman, Isaac Asimov, Carl Sagan. With all that brilliance, my starry zodiac was more than adequate. Dick, Isaac, and now Carl are gone.

I'm glad that I last saw him in person in Seattle, looking well, and to all appearances recovering from his ailment. We sat and spoke for a long time. The last time.

Up until the end, he was confident, cheery, optimistic. Despite the ravages of his illness and the obvious, visible effects of the therapy he was undergoing, he made every public appearance he could in his last weeks. He was brave in the face of his demise, and went like the warrior he was.

I remember his joy at seeing the first photos to come in from the surface of Mars, his exuberance standing before a night sky in Cosmos, and the broad grin he unleashed when the stunning pictures from Jupiter began to crawl across a computer monitor. I urge you, if you have not yet read his last book, The Demon-Haunted World, please do so. Many months ago, I received a bound galley of that book, with a cautionary note not to prepare a review based closely upon it, since there were many planned changes due. When I eventually received the final draft, I noted many instances where Carl had strengthened his language, upgraded and fortified his adjectives, and in general hardened his language. I had the chilling thought that perhaps he felt this might be his last statement about the pseudoscience, crackpots, frauds, and quacks that he so resented. Now I'm more convinced of that possibility.

He had the ability to captivate with his words, spoken or written; the Cosmos series was seen by 400 million people worldwide. His students at Cornell worshiped him, and though his colleagues were often pedantically annoyed at his high public profile and expressed opinions that he should return to pure research, he managed to ignore that pressure - happily for us - and continued to be the great teacher of critical thinking that the world came to know and respect. The academic pressure was so great when he taught at Harvard, that he was "passed over" for tenure, and Harvard's stupid loss was Cornell's gain.

Carl came up against the Reagan Star Wars fiasco, and became so involved as an advocate of rationality that he was publicly arrested. He championed the SETI program - with Frank Drake - and in all respects he supported science and the simple process of thinking.

A giant has fallen. We can only celebrate his life and continue to listen to him through his writings. I miss him, and I feel cheated.

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