Excerpts from Science as a Candle in the Dark Sagan, Carl (1996)

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Excerpts from Science as a Candle in the Dark
Carl Sagan (1996)

URL: http://www.uiowa.edu/∼anthro/webcourse/lost/sagan.htm

SITE SUMMARY: Carl Sagan, a noted astronomer who was Cornell University's David Duncan Professor of Astronomy and Space Sciences and director of Cornell's Laboratory for Planetary Studies, was known for making the space sciences understandable to, and interesting for, average people, especially via television and in books. According to Buzz Aldrin, astronaut and National Space Society chairman, he was "beyond a doubt the most outstanding contributor to human inspiration and of thoughts of and beyond the Earth." Sagan revealed his ideas on critical thinking in one of his books, sub-titled Science as a Candle in the Dark. (Its main title is The Demon-Haunted World.) These ideas, referred to colloquially as a "Baloney Detection Kit," "The Fine Art of Baloney Detection," a kit of tools for skeptical thinking, or a critical thinking kit, are reproduced here, and feature Sagan's suggestions on how to use the kit's tools whenever new ideas are offered for consideration, to find out if each new idea can survive examination.


  1. Give an example from your life when you would "bring out" Sagan's "Detection Kit." Tell how this kit could be misused, and how it could help you. (Hint: To answer the second part of this question, see the first part, then the last part, of the "Detection Kit" document that is this chapter's main site.)
  2. State how Sagan defined skeptical thinking. Identify the "tools" he suggested using when thinking skeptically. Study his examples, then give some of your own.
  3. Why did Sagan distinguish between authority and expert?
  4. Explain, according to Sagan, Occam's Razor, variables (including his seasickness example), and double-blind. Give an example of Occam's Razor, then think of other examples; one each for variables, and double-blind.
  5. Study what Sagan said about the "spin more than one" hypothesis, and his "chain and link" concept. Give examples from your life, happenings around you, and historical or current news events.
  6. Study and explain the fallacies "appeal to ignorance," "observational selection," and "it happened after, so was caused by." Develop examples following Sagan's criteria. Find and state another fallacy Sagan noted, study his example of it, then think of, and explain, another example.
  7. Study Sagan's comment about space exploration and the fallacy he said is connected to his comment. Check the comments on the subject at the Web sites "Why Explore Space?" "Why We Must Explore Space," and "How Does Space Benefit You?" (See their urls cited in the Related Internet Sites section below.) Think of and explain another comment or example that supports Sagan's view.
  8. Study and cite Sagan's comment about the environmental movement and the fallacy he said is connected to his comment. Find and cite a comment on this subject at the Web site featuring the Interview with Environmental Attorney Robert Kennedy Jr. (Its url is cited in the Related Internet Sites section below.) Give your own comment or example on the subject. Support Sagan's and Kennedy's views.


"Tools for Testing Arguments and Detecting Fallacious or Fraudulent Arguments"


This Web site, by the Planetary Society's Australian Volunteer Coordinators, has comments by Ann Druyan, Sagan's wife; Sagan's "Detection Kit's" main points but without his examples; plus a comment by Sagan made in 1987 on "The Exquisite Balance," and quoted here from the May 2002 issue of Scientific American Magazine. See also links, e.g., to Tribute to Carl Sagan, The Critical Thinking Community, Carl Sagan Productions, www.skeptic.com, and more.

Why Explore Space?


Featured are the European Space Agency's reasons for exploring space, which support Sagan's view that people who oppose space exploration are caught in a fallacy that is cited in his "Detection Kit."

"Why We Must Explore Space"


This undated article by Jeffrey G. Liss of the National Space Society Board of Directors includes suggested readings of books published in the mid-1990s.

"How Does Space Benefit You?" (Undated)


An article with a "Mission Home" link preceding the title and leading to the Space Foundation Web site at www.spaceconnection.org; also at www.spacefoundation.org.

Interview with Environmental Attorney Robert Kennedy Jr.


Kennedy, a senior attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council, explains how environmental concerns involve both nature and people. His views support Sagan's on a fallacy involving people opposing environmentalists.

Web Sites Dedicated to Carl Sagan and Ann Druyan


Links go to sites featuring excerpts from Sagan's writings, speeches, talks, and interviews; information on his goals, accomplishments, and causes; his views on science and the power of thought; his biography; his involvement with NASA; plus tributes to him, including noted people's celebratory comments. Featured sites with information and quotations include Scientific American Magazine; "Earthwatch" and National Public Radio's "Science Friday" audio radio interviews; the Washington Post; CNN; the New York Times Science section; the Planetary Society, Cornell University, and sites that feature excerpts from Sagan's May 11, 1996 speech to students.

Biography of Carl Sagan and Excerpts from May 11, 1996 Speech to Students


This Web page features information about this scientist's life and work, plus excerpts from a speech he gave to students about the Earth's value and people's place with reference to it. Also available by scrolling to the Carl Sagan links area and clicking the biography link at http://express.howstuffworks.com/teachers/extraordinary.

Questions Based on "Carl Sagan: Cosmic Communicator"


Six multiple choice questions help in understanding Sagan's work and views and the speech referred to. Topics of the questions include the reason for Sagan's popularity, his work's primary subject, what he compared Earth to, the value of a photograph of Earth from space, what gives the speech structure, and what the word delusion means in the speech. Requires Adobe Acrobat Reader for access. Also accessible via a Reading Comp Test link under Carl Sagan at http://express.howstuffworks.com/teachers/extraordinary, where there are also links to a Reading Comp Teachers Key, and a Writing Activity.

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Excerpts from Science as a Candle in the Dark Sagan, Carl (1996)

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Excerpts from Science as a Candle in the Dark Sagan, Carl (1996)