Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson has found a surprising home on FOX Broadcasting Network to host Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey. In the 13-part documentary series, Tyson's advocacy of scientific literacy -- particularly related to climate change -- is directly at odds with its sister network, Fox News.
In the latest episode of Cosmos, Tyson devoted the hour to the Earth's history of changing climates and subsequent mass extinctions. He ended the show by forecasting the next mass extinction due to climate change, imploring his audience to break society's “addiction” to fossil fuels:
TYSON: We can't seem to stop burning up all those buried trees from way back in the carboniferous age, in the form of coal. And the remains of ancient plankton in the form of oil and gas. If we could, we'd be home free climate-wise. Instead, we are dumping carbon dioxide into the atmosphere at a rate the earth hasn't seen since the great climate catastrophes of the past. The ones that led to mass extinctions. We just can't seem to break our addiction to the kinds of fuel that will bring back a climate last seen by the dinosaurs, a climate that will drown our coastal cities and wreak havoc on the environment and our ability to feed ourselves. All the while, the glorious sun pours immaculate, free energy down upon us, more than we will ever need. Why can't we summon the ingenuity and courage of the generations that came before us? The dinosaurs never saw that asteroid coming. What's our excuse?
During the series, Tyson has also spelled out how corporate interests and funding can debilitate science, and has touted alternative energy research into artificial photosynthesis to reduce climate disruption from greenhouse gases.
FOX's decision to broadcast the remake of Cosmos might seem unexpected. You would never hear these narratives on Fox News -- at least without being mocked. A study from the Union of Concerned Scientists found that when Fox News does bring up climate change, it is overwhelmingly to mislead. In an interview with the New York Times, executive producer Seth MacFarlane stated, “I suppose it's incumbent upon Fox to do something like this, to make up for all the damage it's done with its news network.”
Tyson himself has admitted that the idea of broadcasting Cosmos on FOX initially gave him pause. In an interview with tech blog io9, Tyson recalled a meeting with Family Guy's MacFarlane, who worked with Tyson to turn the idea of a Cosmos re-make into a reality:
[MacFarlane] told me he wanted to do something to serve science in America and he asked me what he should do. I thought maybe he could invest in a pilot that we could use to show sponsors. He said “I have a good idea, let's take it to Fox.”
Now, there are a series of thoughts I'm about to share with you that I think lasted about 12 seconds. My first thought was “This is the stupidest idea I've ever heard, he doesn't get it, this is a waste of a lunch.”
Yes, there's Fox News, but also the Fox Network which has acerbic liberal commentary of The Simpsons and Family Guy. And there's Fox Sports. I realized Fox has more demographics of American culture going through their portfolio than any other network. And so, I concluded that there's no better place to be than on Fox.
Tyson has beseeched the necessity of “scientific literacy,” particularly for those that make decisions on energy, security, transportation, and health, warning that the “scientific illiterate adults” are “in charge of things.” He has also decried those that “cherry-pick” science, saying "[s]cience matters in our lives for us to be better shepherds of not only our civilization, but the world."