I’m a bit late on this, but Carl Sagan would have turned 75 on November 9. The Skeptic Society’s Michael Shermer has set up a nice tribute to him.
The thing I admire most about Carl Sagan isn’t his academic credentials, impressive though they were. It’s that he wasn’t afraid to be a popularizer. In fact, he embraced it. He has been an inspiration for what I hope to accomplish in my own professional life.
Will Durant’s book The Story of Philosophy is credited with introducing more people to its subject than any other book. What Will Durant did for philosophy (and later, with his wife Ariel Durant, history), Carl Sagan did for astronomy.
Some pointy-nosed academics looked down on Sagan for pandering to the masses. But Sagan did more in his too-short life to actually educate people than the lot of them combined. How many of those same disdainful academics were inspired to forge a career in science because of Carl Sagan? For a subject as esoteric as cosmology, this is no small achievement.
People who work in economics or public policy would do well to pay attention not just to what Carl Sagan did, but to how he did it. Intellectuals from all disciplines should follow the sterling example set by Carl Sagan.