Society Meetings and a Mixed Review of Cosmos

I spent the first week of June in Boston attending the 224th meeting of the American Astronomical Society (AAS). For a number of years I’ve worked with another creation astronomer, Ron Samec, on eclipsing binary star research. Ron involves his students in this work, and recently another creationist astronomer, Bob Hill, has joined us. At the AAS meeting I presented one of four poster papers from our research group. The photo below shows me in front of my poster paper. In a meeting such as this, poster papers are put up for a full day for people to come by to read and discuss.

Danny Faulkner with poster paper at American Astronomical Society meetings

My wife Lynette went with me on this trip. We stayed at the home of our good friends, John and Beth Ann Petrakis. John and I were in graduate school in the astronomy department in Bloomington, Indiana three decades ago. We hadn’t seen the Petrakises in twenty years. At that time their two children, Sandra and Jamie, were very young, so it was good to see them again, even though they’re all grown up now. While at the AAS meeting, I saw two other people from graduate school days, Larry David and Mike McCollough. Both are at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, so this was a local meeting for them. I had seen Larry at an AAS meeting a few years ago, but I hadn’t seen Mike in nearly 30 years. Mike came by my poster paper, and we talked for nearly an hour—mostly about his research in X-ray binaries, which relates to some of my work. It was a very informative discussion for me. This photo shows Mike and me in front of my poster paper:

Danny Faulkner with Mike McCollough

Lynette went with me to the meeting one day so that she could see what these meetings are like. Another day while I was at the meeting, Beth Ann took Lynette to see the sights around Boston. On yet another day, Lynette and I visited Plimouth Plantation, Plymouth Rock, and the Mayflower II. We capped that with a late lunch at a seafood place on the water with Jim and Eileen Schultz. The Schultzes volunteer at the Creation Museum, but they are from Boston, and they were in town to attend a wedding. Having never been to New England, I’ve had some misconceptions about people there. I found everyone to be very friendly. Even though the traffic in the Boston area can be very bad, the drivers were courteous. It was a pleasant surprise, and I look forward to visiting again.

I was a bit disappointed about two things at the AAS meeting. First, I had expected much attention would be given to the March 17 announcement of the first supposed evidence of cosmic inflation, something that I’ve previously written and blogged about. However, there wasn’t anything on the schedule dedicated to it. One of the cosmology sessions that I attended included a presentation that clearly contradicted this result, but there wasn’t much of a response during the Q&A following. The second disappointment was that I had expected someone to come by my poster paper to confront me about my supposed demand for equal time on the Cosmos TV show, but no one did. This false story appeared on the Internet the week that the first episode of Cosmos broadcast in March. Though this story has been repeated countless times, not one person ever bothered to contact me to ask about it. Perhaps the influence of the web is overestimated.

A Mixed Review of Cosmos: A SpaceTime Odyssey

Speaking of Cosmos, the series concluded last week. This reprisal of the original PBS show of more than 30 years ago ran on the Fox Network. The original was the brain child of Carl Sagan, who died in 1996. The executive producers of the new series included Seth McFarlane and Ann Druyan, Sagan’s widow. The host was Neil deGrasse Tyson. Tyson was a good choice for host, not only because of his encounter with Sagan as a teenager, but also because of the popular level books that he’s written and his status now in popular media. In many respects, these have made Tyson this generation’s Sagan. The earlier series officially was titled Cosmos: A Personal Voyage, while the new one was called Cosmos: A SpaceTime Odyssey. Though the content of the new series departed from the original, there were common elements, such as use of a “Ship of the Imagination” and a storytelling approach.

I’ve done a number of radio interviews about Cosmos, including the one with Janet Mefferd on the Salem Radio Network in March that launched the false story about me demanding equal time on Cosmos, as well as a weekly interview on the KFUO show Issues, Etc. Dr. Elizabeth Mitchell consulted with me regularly in writing her weekly reviews of Cosmos. Judging from harsh responses that I’ve seen, it appears that many of the critics of Answers in Genesis have paid attention to our analyses.

Overall, I give Cosmos a mixed review. While most people assume that the series was about astronomy, really it was an attempt to discuss all of science. The series covered a number of topics in an entertaining and engaging way. The story-telling approach worked well. However, I was disappointed with a number of inaccuracies in some of the stories. For instance, the first episode included a depiction of Giordano Bruno that was far from correct.

More troubling was what appeared to be a direct response to biblical creationists that appeared in several episodes. For instance, in episode four, “A Sky Full of Ghosts,” Tyson compared the idea that the universe is billions of years old to the possibility of the universe being only six or seven thousand years old. Why did the writers of that episode pick that particular age, if not to denigrate those who believe in biblical creation?

There were things in other episodes that appeared to be attacks on Answers in Genesis and other creation organizations, though not by name. The original series contained none of this sort of thing. I suppose that this change reflects the growing hostility to the Bible and Christianity in our society and the growing influence of biblical creationists. A number of our critics have opined that our responses to the series indicate that Cosmos was getting under our skin. None of those critics observed that it was the writers and creators of the Cosmos series who launched the first attack, so perhaps it’s the creationists that are getting under their skin.