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2017-2018 PLACE Theme: Science & Technology: Carl Sagan

PLACE and FYE Resouce Guide


Welcome to the resource website for The Demon-haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark. This book has been selected as the common reader for the 2017-2018 year for our Program for Learning and Community Engagement PLACE!

Please explore the tabs at the top of the page for a variety of other resources by other authors that may be of interest.

About the Book

The Demon-haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark

Casting a wide net through history and culture, Sagan examines and authoritatively debunks such celebrated fallacies of the past as witchcraft, faith healing, demons, and UFOs. And yet, disturbingly, in today's so-called information age, pseudoscience is burgeoning with stories of alien abduction, channeling past lives, and communal hallucinations commanding growing attention and respect. As Sagan demonstrates with lucid eloquence, the siren song of unreason is not just a cultural wrong turn but a dangerous plunge into darkness that threatens our most basic freedoms”.

Editorial Reviews

Sagan has devoted himself to the noble mission of rousing us from our stuporous neglect of science. His accessible and passionate books about the cosmos, our origins, and space exploration (Pale Blue Dot ) open doors of perception into exciting realms many nonscientists simply avoid. In his newest book, Sagan conducts a vigorous inquiry into why science is so "hard to learn and hard to teach" and asks why so many people embrace the sort of "pseudoscience" associated with New Age beliefs or served up in the pages of tabloids. Widespread scientific illiteracy and a dearth of critical thinking are "perilous and foolhardy," Sagan tells us, and that's obviously true. To show us just how deluded we can be, Sagan tackles the popular belief in extraterrestrials and alien abduction stories, debunking a number of half-baked but commonly held assumptions simply by asking commonsensical questions. He moves on to the whole "recovered memory" debacle, then segues into a very convincing discussion of hallucinations. Ultimately, he links today's aliens with yesterday's demons in this lithe, well-supported, sometimes quite wry, and altogether refreshing performance. Stick to the facts, Sagan tells us, "There are wonders enough out there without our inventing any." There are wonders within, too, all we need to do is learn to use them. 

In a chapter entitled "Science and Hope," Sagan (Pale Blue Dot, Random, 1994) writes: "This book is a personal statement, reflecting my lifelong love affair with science." Accordingly, he deplores pseudoscientific thinking and the credulous beliefs that emerge from it. Today, when science is critical for solving the world's problems, many people, instead, trust astrology and New Age spiritualism. Likewise, surveys reveal that a majority of Americans believe that Earth is regularly visited by space aliens. Using basic tools of science?empiricism, rationalism, and experimentation?Sagan debunks these and other common fallacies of pseudoscience. In doing so, he speculates as to how such beliefs arise. Some of his explanations are not entirely convincing (are alien-abduction tales really modern versions of medieval myths?), but he handles them with empathy so as to not demean the intelligence of true believers. The best chapters examine the state of science education and technical literacy in America and suggest an agenda for improving both. The book is overlong, occasionally redundant, and parts have been published elsewhere. Still, Sagan's theme is important, and his popularity might lure some readers from the UFO and occult books cluttering so many library and bookstore shelves. For public and undergraduate libraries.

How can we make intelligent decisions about our increasingly technology-driven lives if we don't understand the difference between the myths of pseudoscience and the testable hypotheses of science? Pulitzer Prize-winning author and distinguished astronomer Carl Sagan argues that scientific thinking is critical not only to the pursuit of truth but to the very well-being of our democratic institutions.

About the Author

Carl Sagan, an American astronomercosmologistastrophysicistastrobiologist, author, science popularizer, and science communicator in astronomy and other natural sciences is best known for his work as a science popularizer and communicator. His best known scientific contribution is research on extraterrestrial life, including experimental demonstration of the production of amino acids from basic chemicals by radiation. Sagan assembled the first physical messages sent into space: the Pioneer plaque and the Voyager Golden Record, universal messages that could potentially be understood by any extraterrestrial intelligence that might find them. Sagan argued the now accepted hypothesis that the high surface temperatures of Venus can be attributed to and calculated using the greenhouse effect.

Carl Sagan is the David Duncan Professor of Astronomy and Space Sciences and Director of the Laboratory for Planetary Studies at Cornell University; Distinguished Visiting Scientist at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology; and co-founder and President of The Planetary Society, the largest space interest group in the world. 

Notable Awards:

NASA Distinguished Public Service Medal (1977)
Pulitzer Prize for General Non-Fiction (1978)
Oersted Medal (1990)
Carl Sagan Award for Public Understanding of Science (1993)
National Academy of SciencesPublic Welfare Medal (1994)

Dr Carl Sagan