Friday night topic: The new Cosmos series


— 5:27 PM on March 28, 2014

I've been a long-time fan of the original Cosmos TV series, and since the March 9 premiere, I've been eagerly watching the new, reimagined show starring Neil deGrasse Tyson. The updated series is clearly geared toward younger viewers, and for the most part, I think it does a good job. That said, I've found myself wishing its creators had done a few things differently.

Right from the outset, the original Cosmos showed how, in ancient times, people with very limited technological means managed to make sense of the natural world through simple deduction and experimentation. It hammered home the fact that science is, at its core, a fairly straightforward mode of thinking—not a daunting proficiency with complex tools. The new season hasn't quite done that yet. We've been shown a lot of flashy visuals and dazzling discoveries, but not much about the origins of the scientific method.

I'm also not crazy about how the show blurs the line between fact and fiction. Carl Sagan's "spaceship of the imagination" and "cosmic calendar" were obvious storytelling devices in a program aimed at mature viewers. But the new series piles on the "tree of life" and "halls of extinction," and I worry that younger kids watching it may wonder which parts of the show are real and which parts are made up. In these cases, I think the special effects and CG graphics are a detriment to the show's educational potential. Sticking to the real world (with simulations for the parts we can't see) would probably be a better approach.

Finally, I feel like the new Cosmos brings religion into the picture more often than it should. There's something to be said for Tyson's conciliatory tone, but I don't think he'll successfully convince biblical literalists with flashy, hour-long TV episodes. And I think most other viewers can fully appreciate the elegance of the scientific method—and the beauty of the universe—without Tyson paying lip service to their belief systems. Let people believe what they believe, I say, and let's focus on the science. That's what we're watching Cosmos for.

What about you guys? Have you seen the show, and if so, what are your thoughts? Do you think TV programs like Cosmos a good way to foster curiosity about the natural world in kids and adults?

Discuss.

   
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