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How Science Can Build a Better Future - Interview with Ann Druyan

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By Dr. Perry Roth-Johnson, Assistant Curator of Aerospace Science and Producer of the California Science Center's Ever Wonder? podcast series.


At the California Science Center, we love to wonder and be curious about the world around us. So when FOX reached out to us with an opportunity to interview Ann Druyan – someone who embodies wonder and curiosity – for our Ever Wonder? podcast, we couldn't have been more thrilled. Druyan's show COSMOS has educated and entertained millions of people across the world, helping them connect with science stories in a way that they often missed in the classroom.

In preparing for this episode, I came to realize the full breadth of Druyan's career in science communication, which stretches all the way back to her time as creative director for the Golden Record project that flew aboard the Voyager spacecraft. In many past interviews, Druyan is often introduced as "Carl Sagan's widow," but for our podcast, I wanted to highlight how much she has accomplished in her own right. For another key decision, I invited my mentor and colleague Dr. Ken Phillips to co-host this episode with me. As curator for aerospace science, he has a breadth of experience and perspective that helped hone the set of questions we asked Druyan.

Since the California Science Center launched the Ever Wonder? podcast in June, we have released groups of episodes every other Wednesday that take our listeners behind-the-scenes of the Science Center to hear how we develop our exhibits and take care of our animals. Ann Druyan’s bonus episode allowed us to include a long conversation with her, and to release the episode with the premiere of COSMOS: POSSIBLE WORLDS on FOX. An excerpt from the interview follows.

We're living in a truly unprecedented time right now and it can be tough sometimes to stay hopeful about the future. But here at the California Science Center, we believe that science is an indispensable tool for understanding our world to help everyone make decisions that can improve our future. Have you ever wondered how science can help us build that better future?

Since 1980, the TV show COSMOS has captured the imaginations of audiences around the world. The latest season of COSMOS: POSSIBLE WORLDS invites viewers to imagine a hopeful vision of the future and how we might use science with wisdom to make it a reality. To celebrate its premiere, we've added this bonus episode of the Science Center's Ever Wonder? podcast series with a very special guest – Ann Druyan. She is the creator, executive producer, director and writer of COSMOS: POSSIBLE WORLDS. And joining me as a co-host for this conversation with Druyan is our very own Dr. Ken Phillips, Curator of Aerospace Science.

Ann Druyan – in the prologue of your companion book to the series, COSMOS: POSSIBLE WORLDS, you tell this story of Albert Einstein, giving a speech at the 1939 World's Fair, where he began by saying, "If science, like art, is to perform its mission truly and fully, its achievements must enter not only superficially, but with their inner meaning into the consciousness of the people." You go on to say that you found in Einstein's words, "The credo for 40 years of my life's work." Can you tell us what you meant by that?

“Yes, and I think in this particular moment in our history, that feeling is even more valid than it was when I was writing the book and the series. And that is that we live in a civilization utterly dependent on science and high technology. And yet the knowledge that forms the basis of both is the preserve of a lucky few. And if we want to preserve as much democracy as we have and aspire it to enhance it and enlarge it, then having this tiny elite understanding the workings of science is a recipe for disaster. And this has been my credo for 40 years, it's something that Carl Sagan and I articulated together, this fear of a world in which science and technology were a complete mystery to most of us. And yet we were expected to become informed decision makers and we can't really be informed decision makers unless we understand the methods, the goals, the values of science.”

“So when I saw that YouTube video of Albert Einstein opening the 1939 New York World's Fair, I had such a soaring feeling of joy that one of the greatest minds who ever lived saw the importance of this imperative to communicate science.” – Ann Druyan

“Druyan’s way of expressing both the power of scientific discovery and the urgency with which humanity must embrace science as a way of thinking offers us a badly needed recipe for hope at a very uncertain time in our history. It’s uncanny how directly that resonates with our own mission of inspiring science learning in everyone because Druyan is first of all a teller of stories, not unlike the African griot who mesmerizes the village with tales about the creation of the Universe and humanity’s first use of fire—that sort of thing. Druyan is a teller of stories with a kind heart and I sure hope the California Science Center will get to work with her again.”– Dr. Ken Phillips, Curator, Aerospace Science

We hope Ann Druyan's how science can build a better future episode brings new listeners to our show, and that they'll explore some of our other podcasts. Up next, we're working on a series of episodes with the people who design robots.

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Download more issues of The Nucleus

September 9, 2020 issue featuring "Ready for Liftoff" Virtual Member Programs

August 26, 2020 issue featuring EcoExplorations – Scamper, Slide and Soar on By

August 7, 2020 issue featuring EcoExplorations – Let's Dive In

July 23, 2020 issue featuring Get to Know Aerospace Curator Ken Phillips, PhD

July 8, 2020 issue featuring Ever Wonder Who Writes What You Read in Exhibits?

June 25, 2020 issue featuring Ever Wonder Who Decides What an Exhibit is About?

June 12, 2020 issue featuring Virtual Catalina

June 5, 2020 issue featuring Revisit Your Favorite Feature

May 29, 2020 issue featuring the Stuck at Home Science Team!

May 21, 2020 issue featuring Dr. Perry Roth-Johnson, Assistant Curator for Aerospace Science

May 13, 2020 issue featuring Evelyn Serrano, Assistant Manager of Science Live! Programs

May 7, 2020 issue featuring Dr. Liz Roth-Johnson, Curator of Life Sciences

April 29, 2020 issue featuring Reggie Williams, Community Coordinator

April 24, 2020 issue featuring Misha Body, Director of Husbandry

April 15, 2020 issue featuring Devin Waller, Exhibit Project Manager

April 9, 2020 issue featuring Monica Barajas, School Programs Coordinator

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