Twerking The Zeitgeist: Fans Of Science Should Be Worried About Cosmos Ratings
By Hank Campbell | March 31st 2014 12:34 PM | 61 comments | Print | E-mail | Track Comments

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The reboot of Cosmos was on the must-see television list for many; it is a prime-time non-fiction science program, with one of the best hosts in science media, a generous budget, airing on 10 channels, and even had music by the guy who did Captain America. Excitement was high.

Then it actually began. It had an alarming non-science gaffe - the story of the likely insane philosopher Bruno reconfigured to be...what exactly, no one is sure. 25% of Episode One was devoted to talking about mean old religion in the middle of a narrative about cosmology only to have Neil Tyson then dismiss the entire story as Bruno not being a scientist anyway.

So what was the point of it in a science program again? Scorn for it somehow managed to bring together religious people and science historians, some to wonder if Cosmos was just an atheism PR move by outspoken atheist Seth MacFarlane or if Ann Druyan doesn't know what she is talking about.

I dismiss the latter, with a qualification. Ann Druyan is quite literate (1) and we don't know who botched the Library of Alexandria story on the original Cosmos.  I wondered instead if Cosmos was a victim of lofty expectations. It isn't going to make people accept the science of GMOs or vaccines and it isn't going to make Young Earth Creationists think the world is 6,001 or more years old, it is just a TV show, I offered, and we should just enjoy it. I defended its ratings when it was prematurely declared a disaster.

But regardless of why it's not doing well, there is a money aspect to television programming and it is not looking good for prime-time science shows on network television, whether because it's science or because Cosmos is just not very good outside to those a tiny core of viewers. 4 million people in an hour is not bad, that is 4X the readers Science 2.0 has in a month, but the money spent on Cosmos was a far greater multiple too.

The numbers are bad. In the core demographic of adults 18-49, Cosmos dropped another 12 percent from a week ago and its total viewers last night were down another 9 percent also. That's a drop of 49 percent from week one (not including the simulcast numbers - across all channels Cosmos had 8.5 million viewers but let's not mix apples and Venus). It's still 70% better than Bob's Burgers at 7 PM but a drop from Family Guy for the first time. That means Fox is losing viewers it counted on.

Family Guy is still popular but maybe America has left Cosmos behind.

Culture is different today. The same culture that made the original Cosmos a hit also elected Ronald Reagan that same year. There were a lot more socially conservative Democrats and compassionate Republicans than we find now, and despite what the brains behind Cosmos think, people were not as scientifically literate then as they are now. Fox did not even have a TV network. Seth MacFarlane was 7 years old.
Maybe Cosmos needed Ronald Reagan's America. Images: Wikipedia

Today, the best endorsement Cosmos is getting is Bill Maher telling his friend MacFarlane he watched it twice - because he wanted to see it stoned. What's next, is Neil Tyson going to be in a Jack In The Box commercial getting late-night drive-thru food to try and drum up eyeballs?

At a San Diego Comic Con panel last summer, the folks behind the show wisely did a panel. Movie and television executives know people who have the disposable income to be at comic book conventions are a goldmine for advertisers so 'nerd cred' is crucial.  Ann Druyan said the pendulum was swinging back to science and they wanted to 'twerk the Zeitgeist' and that statement may be part of the issue they are having reaching people; the creators of the show may be living in some other multiverse America where science is not accepted.

America leads the world in adult science literacy, America is the only country where college students are required to take science courses, America leads the world in Nobel prizes and in science output, with only 5 percent of the world's population.

Yet Druyan and MacFarlane, at least, feel like America is some religious backwater and Cosmos is going to fix it. One thing science media - well, science media without gigantic TV budgets - know is that assuming deficit thinking on the part of the public is never a good idea. You aren't going to raise science acceptance by assuming people are ignorant and that if you reach them with cartoons and graphics they will embrace it. In reality, America is diverse. Some people are never going to accept evolutionary biology just like some people will never accept food biology - spending time finding clever ways to take jabs at them in a short television program isn't constructive.

Cosmos is basically calling the audience uninformed - except the people watching it. In reality, the audience is far smarter about science than it was in 1980. Adult science literacy has tripled in America since 1988, and that means they don't respond to postmodernist gibberish about twerking the zeitgeist. Tyson, for his part, laughed that off and said if anything was getting twerked, it should be the zeitgeist - which means if he were not hosting Cosmos, he probably wouldn't be watching it.

NOTE:

(1)I have bristled at press accounts talking of her as "Carl Sagan's widow", though she clearly embraces the label. Obviously she loved the man and she is proud of their relationship but her role in the original program, and in the role of Voyager before that, gets a little diminished when she lets people list her claim to fame in 2014 as sharing a bed with a guy.

For what it's worth, ratings for COSMOS on Fox will likely get a slight boost in the key 18-49 demographic next Sunday simply because THE WALKING DEAD is over until the autumn, and I don't see that historical turncoat drama that's replacing it on AMC getting anywhere near the ratings the zombies get.

Maybe FOX simulcasting COSMOS across so many channels was a strategic error as the numbers for the main Fox channel are only a portion of total viewership but pundits who want to crow about COSMOS's dwindling ratings are likely only going to look at the Fox Network Sunday 9pm numbers and probably aren't going to dig deeper and add up all of the other cable nets not to mention all the rebroadcasts over the week.

Right, that is why I included the aggregate separately - 10 channels is not telling the accurate story of whether or not more of mainstream America is watching Cosmos instead of some show about dead people coming back to life. The numbers above are just broadcast networks. In week one Cosmos got a bump in 18-49s after DVRs were tallied.

But I am not convinced Walking Dead will make a difference. How many people pay for cable and AMC but don't have a DVR to record a competing show if they intend to watch it? Not many, I suspect.
There's always going to be another show on TV, whether it be The Walking Dead, Game of Thrones, whatever sitcom CBS is playing in that timeslot, etc. People are the ones turning away from the show.

Personally Mr. Campbell, I got offended at the first episode, not so much as a theist, but as a historian who saw a story distorted to fill an agenda (whether that agenda is Tyson's or, I more strong suspect, Seth MacFarlane's, is another matter entirely). And it's the sort of thing where I go "If you're going to lie about that, what else are you going to lie about?"

You missed the point of the story entirely. Religious leaders were, and still are, power hungry tyrants that will cut off their nose to spite their face. The story of Bruno shows this perfectly.

And the way to do that is to lie about history? Then go "Oh, but he wasn't a scientist anyway, who cares?" That's your first impression of the show. "We're smart, you're stupid, shut up." Putting every single person with an inlkling of spirituality into the same boat as Young Earth Creatonists rather than I dunno, teaching about the wonders of the universe using all that money and talent is not only wasteful, it's intellectually dishonest and insulting. They could have made all their points without screwing up recorded human history and insulting the majority of the world's population.

This is an issue that has cropped up hundreds of times in comments on my articles about Cosmos, here and elsewhere - people are okay with misrepresentations as long as it suits their cultural agenda.  If Cosmos misrepresents history, the rationale is 'well, religion did other bad things' - that means neither side is going on anything more than faith in their cause.

Given his odd beliefs about virtually everything, Bruno was clearly insane and no one justifies the Inquisition, but his story is out of place in a show about cosmology. Bruno contributed zero that was science or original or valuable and Lucretius was not banned, but they make it sound like his books were. Ann - or someone telling her the story - was intentionally and overtly deceptive in that part. Other stuff, saying polar bears have white fur, global warming caused the Venus atmosphere, etc., is just dumb, but harmless.
"And the way to do that is to lie about history?"

"Then go "Oh, but he wasn't a scientist anyway, who cares?""
What I took away from the story was, despite not being scientist, in the traditional sense, Bruno still theorized many aspects of the universe that he was. Correct about. Furthermore, Bruno did not make the claims in spite of god, but in glory of god. But was still tortured and executed because he went against the church.

"That's your first impression of the show. "We're smart, you're stupid, shut up.""
My first impression of the show was, "Look how far we've come in understanding not only the world but the universe, but there's still so much we don't know." Your impression sounds more like projection to me.

"Putting every single person with an inlkling of spirituality into the same boat as Young Earth Creatonists rather than I dunno, teaching about the wonders of the universe using all that money and talent is not only wasteful, it's intellectually dishonest and insulting."
Nope, not even close. And the majority of the first episode was explaining the history of the universe from the Big Bang up to today.

"They could have made all their points without screwing up recorded human history and insulting the majority of the world's population."
They did do just that. If you were insulted, then that's your problem. It should also be a clue that maybe you should reevaluate some of the things you believe.

Look, it is clear that you are going to find a way to make this about your hatred of religion no matter what, but do at least a little bit of basic reading. Bruno did not theorize anything about anything. He regurgitated bits from here and there to enforce his Hermetism and wind up religious people. The man said pygmies came from a second Adam and American Indians lacked any souls at all. If there was a crackpot belief, he embraced it. That he gravitated toward a sun-centered belief was because he was part of an Egyptian sun cult. And that's all fine, yay for sun cults and diversity, but trying to make him a paragon of science or free thought is a waste of time. His reputation in those areas was entirely manufactured by 19th century humanists who were interested in taking down religion.

I watched cosmos as a kid and watched the new Cosmos, but I did not like the new show at all. I think the reason is that after seeing every "through the wormhole" episodes the past few years, the new Cosmos seems like it is talking to 7 year olds, while "wormhole" (most episodes) keeps my brain engaged long after the episode is over.

Dumb Americans.

"America leads the world in Nobel prizes"

2 words: Obama. Drones.

I have no issue with drones or spying, but I agree that what the current administration has chosen to do with that technology is very bad. It has nothing to do with the science acceptance of Americans, though. It is rather an indictment of our political acceptance.
He was talking about Nobel Prizes in Science: Not the Nobel Peace Prize.

I think the author of this piece may have his own insulation issues, born of only talking to reasonably educated people...we may lead the world in science literacy among SOME demographics, but 25% of Americans believe the sun goes around the earth. Want to reexamine those arguments?

Well, even more believe in psychics. ghosts, astrology and that all chemicals are bad - just like in every other country. The US has no monopoly in idiocy but Cosmos isn't going to fix that. They are not going to appeal to dumb people and the show is just another show for smart people. We have had decades of 'isn't the universe weird?' science programming already.

Americans do seem to lead in self-loathing and loathing each other, though.
Re: "Americans do seem to lead in self-loathing and loathing each other, though. " Brilliant. May I had that to my rhetorical repertoire? I can't guarantee I will remember to credit you with it every time I use it.

I'm a huge fan of science documentaries, and tried watching Cosmos, but just can't.  I don't find it well done, personally.  Tyson's cadence is, well, boring.  And, the effects feel a bit too close to Disney World's Buzz Lightyear Space Ranger ride, great for a kid's ride, not so great by modern media standards.

Considering this further, when Sagan created the first Cosmos, documentaries had barely moved past Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom.  Today there are countless episodes of well done documentaries such as Through the Wormhole and Futurescape, deftly narrated by Morgan Freeman and James Woods, respectively.

Finally, there was way too much science primer in this show.  I suspect in the process of trying to make it accessible to more it simply becomes less interesting to the majority of people that would generally view it, those that already watch science documentaries.  After all, if you are interested in science, it is not as if you can't find shows about it.

I say all the above after watching very little of this.  I regularly watch shows like this with my kids.  We turned it off after 20 minutes as we simply found it poorly done.  I would bet that Seth McFarlane personally finds it boring; the comedic master that is so enthused about science that he moves out of his wheelhouse to recreate a classic science documentary is not the same person that would be enthralled by this show.

James, that's much like how I felt, I watched the first show, and found there wasn't a lot of the Cosmos in it. I think I still have the other episodes on dvr, I'll have to see if I actually watch them or not.
In the mean while the Discovery channels plays a lot of more adult science.
Never is a long time.
I concur as well. As I tried to phrase it, the 'ain't the cosmos weird' stuff has been done for 25 years already, and Nova has been done (including by Tyson) and this is entry level but not really clever enough to stand out. I mentioned in episode 3 we finally got the Neil everyone likes - he was excited and into it. The Cosmos Neil talks very slow (reaffirming the 'they think the audience is stupid' belief) and it makes me want to finish his sentences.
I watched a number of the Nova's he narrated and very much enjoyed them, it's too bad Cosmos wasn't to the same level (again, I have only watched the first episode).
Never is a long time.
I think you sum up the problem best with the statement, "Yet Druyan and MacFarlane, at least, feel like America is some religious backwater and Cosmos is going to fix it." But I'd also include Tyson since he is reading the script. This is disappointing since I appreciate his work in other science shows and I generally enjoy a good science show. I had been looking forward to Cosmos since as a teenager I had fond memories of the original show, even purchased the book. Now that I'm older I appreciate people's religious/spiritual/philosophical views more and detest the evangelical atheism that misrepresents the past and present relationship between science and religion. I watched the first episode, less of the next two and couldn't bring myself to watch episode four. I wish it had been a science show true to it's own admonishment to follow the evidence wherever it leads.

On a positive note, I found Science 2.0 by searching for reviews of episode 1. I was so appalled by episode 1 I wanted to know how others reacted, good and bad. I enjoy your writing style and wit Mr. Campbell.

Part of the problem is that Cosmos is confronting the 1/2 of the population which is not really up to parsing scientific logic.
That is the reason that some people cannot hold both a religious point of view and in addition acknowledge sciences undeniable applicability to the physical world.

It is hard to think about E=Mc^2... then solving for M.
It is hard to think about elliptical orbits and to draw them.
It is hard to make the connection  between $E=\frac{hc}{\lambda}$and $\frac{1}{\lambda}=R(\frac{1}{n_1^2}-\frac{1}{n_2^2})$to find a candidate equation for the energy levels of hydrogen.

Those are questions I actually asked people in an astronomy class this year.  The last one is basic to being able to say one understands spectroscopy which is a fundamental tool of astronomy.

It is much easier to think that everything happens because of God.  Why is the sky blue?  Because God willed it.  Why does life exist?   Because God created it.    I am not an atheist.  I was once.  Then I realized religion is about how you treat people not about how the world works.  I'm convinced half the people would gladly watch someone burned for heresy if the government allowed. it.
Then there are those who don't think to much about anything.  For whatever reason they might identify with this review of the last episode of cosmos.

http://www.thewire.com/culture/2014/03/neil-degrasse-tyson-makes-us-feel...

Then there are the religious and quite possibly racist people who in this day and age only get heard on message boards who would say that Tyson is "talking down to them" and displaying "hubris".

http://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2014/03/10/the-new-cosmos/

My father told me long ago that "talking down" is a code word for an intelligent or educated black person who speaks as if he was the equal of even an illiterate white.  Hubris or being uppity was a code word used for a black person who dares to carry themselves as the equal of any white.

I expect to be told I am wrong that that this last point is race bait or whatever.  I hope I am proven wrong.  However, when the proper focus grouping and surveying is done, to get past peoples impulse to give a PC answer I'm certain it will show that many people are threatened by the very notion of a Niel DeGrasse Tyson.

Heck, in my own life people are threatened by the notion of a Hontas Freeman Farmer and I'm just a blogger.

Science advances as much by mistakes as by plans.
I would find it credible if that charge was leveled against Tyson generally, however, DeGrasse Tyson is adored by many who simply find the way in which Cosmos speaks to be "talking down". More specifically, I think many believe it is McFarlane "talking down" and having "hubris" not Tyson. I found the same condescending manner of speaking present in Brian the Dog on Family Guy when they discussed atheism or the Tea Party. I would find it a stretch that it's a code word in Cosmos because Tyson is black rather than applying Occam's razor: Seth Mcfarlane talks down to particular groups in his work, Cosmos is his work and people feel like there is hubris in it, ergo Seth McFarlane is talking down to people through Cosmos. This seems more likely than the proposed reading: Seth Mcfarlane talks down to people all the time, Tyson is Black, therefore the sentiment on the part of the viewers is coded racism.

I did say that last week when I talked about Cosmos - for a brief moment he stopped being the Cosmos Neil and became the real Neil. He's riveting (and a better host than Sagan) when he does it.

But, yeah, he is being directed for sure. He talks really slow - now, he has been unkind toward Fox, even though they are bankrolling this, so he may also believe he has to talk slow and somewhat patronizingly toward the audience, but either he or Seth don't realize this is the same audience they think is smart for getting Family Guy.
re: "It is much easier to think that everything happens because of God. Why is the sky blue? Because God willed it. Why does life exist?" In the same Veien, "It is easier to think that everything happens because of" racism. Why do people not watch "The Cosmos"? Because Tyson is black. Why do people watch "Through the Warm Hole"? Because the host, Morgan Freeman, is black.

If you would have thought about your propasition that people didn't like the way it was presented because Tyson was black for two seconds before posting it, you would have thought of Moran Freeman. This tells me that you just have knee jerk reactions when ever a black person is involved. Did you test your conclusion at all? Did you not think to yourself, "Our there any popular science shows out there that are hosted by a black man?"

A review of US History makes the extraordinary claim to be that a African American would be accepted by the mostly non African American audience as an authority on science without their race modifying the situation.
You are the one claiming it's not racism.  That racism can't play a part in why some people never tuned in, and some others are tuning out, or not coming back.

The test was the presence of well known code words used in reference to intelligent black people's speech used in many media reviews.

http://www.thewire.com/politics/2011/11/yep-uppity-racist/45321/

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/john-ridley/when-rove-calls-obama-arr_b_10...

Looking further back we need only examine the poor schools African Americans attended after the civil war, and the laws made against teaching even a free black person to read before the civil war.
Science advances as much by mistakes as by plans.
One who looks for "code words" will find them in the most innocent of utterances. If you read the comments, many of us here are big fans of Tyson's work, just not on Cosmos. The reason some people find his work on Cosmos of lesser quality is because they think he is talking slower, i.e as if the audience were too dumb to understand what he was saying, or you know condescending. If I hear a white person talking to me the same way, I will hear condescension. If that strikes you as racist, perhaps the problem is not with those who feel this way, but with you.
A word of advice from someone who has a few more miles on him: if you go through life with a chip on your shoulder, I guarantee that people will line up to knock it off. If you constantly look for hidden meanings in everyone's speech, you will hear it, and spend your life bitter and unhappy, while missing out on possible friendships, as well as leaving in your wake other people who are also upset, because they have no idea why you are so angry with them.

Where did I cite any one here as using those code words?

I did not.  Talking slow is not a code word.... being made to feel inadequate by hearing a black scientist speak is.

The fact you think I am talking about you is telling in and of itself.
Science advances as much by mistakes as by plans.
"Talking slow is not a code word.... being made to feel inadequate by hearing a black scientist speak is."

I think the point is, YOU are the only one who gives a rat's rear end about Neil being black. Most of us have moved beyond that simplistic thinking. It would be nice if you did so yourself.

You've been told by the people above that they'd feel the same way if the host was white and was speaking in a slow, condescending manner. Yet you cling to this "it's only because he's black" for some reason. Until you move beyond this paranoia, you'll be stuck seeing racism in every little thing, no matter how benign it is. I find that quite sad. Especially since Neil is quite well admired by people who watch scientific shows...enough to be able to redo Cosmos in the first place.

His race doesn't enter the equation for a vast majority of the viewers. Please move beyond it yourself, because you make yourself look like a paraoid, angry freak. And no, that's not just because you're black.

I also think we are more post-racial than most people realize but Hontas has been here a long time and isn't playing a race card. In a diverse world, people will just see things differently. Heck, that is what made Rashomon a great movie in 1950, it was a well-known phenomenon forever.

I actually thought Neil was trying to emulate Sagan in his delivery. Seeing him talk in almost every other venue he is a lot different - that is why in my review of episode 1 I said expectations may have been too high because he is a better host than Sagan and that statement horrified original Cosmos fans but I stand by it - it's just that in Cosmos he is not. He has shown those flashes of brilliance but overall it is too slow for a modern audience
Glassa I'm not one to play the race card or the victims card.  Hank knows that I will stick up for a non-black scientist just as much if not more than I have for Dr. Tyson here.  (Even in cases where he does not agree.  i.e. the heat I've taken for years for simply being fair to J. Michael Bailey.  Or how I was willing to buck the trend in my writing about Satoshi Kanazawa.)
I am not paranoid, or angry.  I am just not willing to declare us post racial in a world where, last year, a cheerio's commercial that showed an interracial family (black man, white woman) resulted in a ton of racist remarks on Youtube.  It lead to youtube and many other places either making people use their real names on comments, or disabling comments all together

I really hope I am wrong.  I hope that this is just that Cosmos isn't very good.  I'm willing to bet in 10 to 20 years we will look back at this time and think America wasn't ready for it.  They weren't ready for the content, they weren't ready for the presenter of the content.

Science advances as much by mistakes as by plans.
Ok, my apologies then. I've seen it too many times where it's almost as if black people believe that we white people don't mind it at all when, for instance, we're condescended to by a white person. They believe we only mind if it's a black person doing it. It's a bizarre mindset.

I think the show just isn't very good. I don't care who talks to me like I am a 3-year-old, black, white or crazy hot supermodel, it bugs me. I doubt that America is going to look back at this and say we weren't ready for it, they will say America was ready for it in 1980. Gus Van Sant remade "Psycho" because he loved it too - and it didn't flop because America was not ready for it, it flopped because it had been done in 1960.
Re: "A review of US History makes the extraordinary claim to be that a African American would be accepted by the mostly non African American audience as an authority on science without their race modifying the situation."

Ok? Please, tell me.. How has race "modified" the views of "non Africans" of George Washington Carver or Mike Tyson. I dare say, we probably would have never heard of George Washington Carver if he was not black.

By the way, are you African? Which country are you from?

correction: not Mike Tyson but Neal Gross. I have no idea where that came from. lol

...And your confusion there, even after you corrected yourself, proves my point.    I'll bet that 1/2 of the people watching think that Dr. Tyson and Iron Mike are cousins and heirs to a chicken company.
..And African American is the term used in the United States of America for anyone of any amount of apparent African heritage, no matter what else they are mixed with.  That you have to ask what country I am from shows you know little of US history.  Look at my first name.  It's Algonquian.

This country kept black people as indentured servants and then slaves from 1620 to 1865, then from 1865 to 1965 ish kept black people in a legally oppressed state.  Only in the 1960's did the last people born in slavery die.  There will be people who remember the sting of being told they could not drink from the same water fountain with us for another 60 years at least.

America is post racial, no.  Things are not as bad as they once were.  Yet those times were not so long ago for some of us the memory is fresh and alive.
Science advances as much by mistakes as by plans.
The person that wrote this up must be a creationist smh. Stop hating

ha ha Yes, that is an awesome comment. Indeed, it has been framed that if you are critical of the show, you must be on the take from Evil Religon - and the charge is always by people who claim to be more literate, nuanced, evidence-based and prone to complex thought than those Evil Religious people.
I think it has improved since the opening episode. The show certainly assumes that its audience is fairly ignorant of basic science, but that isn't untrue when you're trying to reach an extensive group of (primarily) Americans. I thought last week's episode could have expanded upon special relativity by having a short clip showing the twins paradox; a tidbit I think nearly everyone would, and should, find fascinating. My main complaint with the show is that everything seems a little rushed and hurried without giving adequate attention to some of their topic material. That said, I did very much enjoy the piece on Newton.

All in all, it's disconcerting that a much larger amount of persons in our modern society would rather sit down and watch 'The Voice' instead of 'Cosmos' despite some minor deficiencies in the latter.

The Voice is just more entertaining. I'd rather watch The Voice than Cosmos at this point, and not because I have gotten stupider in my dotage, but because Cosmos isn't informative, it gets annoying things wrong in the interest of weaving a culture narrative, and it isn't doing it in any clever way.

I agree they are misjudging the audience. As I say in my article, the audience is not less literate than 1980, like the producers seem to believe, they are far more literate. No one watches 1980 Cosmos to be informed today, they might watch it because some parts were well done. You can't lack both and be a great science program.
In my opinion this reboot of Cosmos feels like nothing more than one side of a debate with a young earth creationist. I was hoping that this show would cast aside lofty pretensions of converting those rare few who really think the earth is 4000 years old and instead provide a bombastic display of the beauty and wonder science has allowed us to glimpse. Not only do I think this show confirms steryotypes about atheists and scientists in the minds of even the mildly religious but its obviously condescending narration managed to annoy even me. I have sadly turned it off and I am as athiest as they come, I can't begin to imagine how belittled this show makes the religious feel. This pisses me off to no end. The creators of the reboot have created not a gateway to the wonders of the cosmos but rather a pulpit from which to preach to nononbelievers.

I think religious people stopped 15 minutes into episode 1 and many never came back if they read any reviews at all.

Ann Druyan is one of those hippie 'spiritual but not religious' people so I think her only gripe is with mainstream religion - and she doesn't seem to delve too heavily into research when she writes about science history, since a glaring anti-religious error showed up in both the original Cosmos and this one and she is the common denominator.

I agree that this let the air out of a lot of people who expected more - maybe they expected too much. Even the hardcore apologists can only manage weak 'you must be a creationist' shrieking about any commentary, they don't even bother trying to defend the content.
I agree. I don't know which episode it was, since I tend to catch it as a rerun, but within the first 5 minutes there was this whole talk about the speed of light, and how, if the universe were only 6,000 years old, then you wouldn't see anything past this circle. And I remember thinking, "Who said it was only 6000 years old? Why is this guy wasting MY time arguing with young Earth people?" I mean, really, if that;s what you want to do, go on tour with Bill Nye; the rest of us are here to learn something NEW.
I found the whole thing very bizarre.

I made all of my boys watch the first episode with my self and their grandparents. After seeing the anti-religious drivel presented we completely lost interest. The anti-religious drivel about Bruno wasn't even accurate. Definitely an opportunity lost to a PC need to push an agenda.

I'm an old Earth, intelligent design evolutionist "creationist" (in that I think God created the Heaven and the Earth). I found the first episode to be entertaining but intellectually dishonest about the relationship between science and religion in the past. Although the program clearly had an agenda, I eagerly awaited the 2nd episode and found it to be kind of boring. I found myself channel surfing. By the third episode I was done after about 10 minutes. Frankly, it's just not that well done. I watch pretty much Family Guy, Discovery, History and H2, Science Channel, and National Geographic and I see much better programs on the cosmos routinely.

Good essay. And even though you made the point clearly and repeatedly that people are more educated about science today than they were in the 80s, i want to add that the Cosmos also has more competition today than the it did in the 80s. For example, compare he show "Through the Worm Hole" to "The Cosmos."

I would like to target my observation on those people who are blaming the Cosmos's poor ratings on the intellectual laziness or lack of curiosity of the American People. Americans do watch science documentaries. It's just that today, we have better alternatives than "The Cosmos."

Well, yeah. I was living in a town of 200 people with 5 churches and no bars when the original Cosmos aired and I never once heard of the modern schism between science and religion that MacFarlane, younger than me, says he sees everywhere in America.

I don't think he sees them anywhere, I think he fantasizes. Pauline Kael is misquoted but the gist is accurate about her feelings on the election of Richard Nixon, saying she did not see how it happened because “no one I know voted for him.”

'Follow the money' is not always valid but it sometimes is, and there is money in manufacturing a controversy - for both the Discovery Institute and all of the supposedly pro-science groups creating a religious problem so they can be paid to solve it.
The problem with your comparison between "Through the Wormhole" and "Cosmos" is the venue TTWH and Cosmos air on, and the role of the narrator.
People who like science pay to watch the science and discovery channels.  Fox Broadcast to everyone.  It is the same reason test scores at a selective school will be higher than at a non-selective school. The averaged IQ of a science/discovery channel subscriber is probably 1/2 of a standard deviation above 100.  While that of Fox broadcast viewer is right at 100, average by definition.   (That would be true of any broadcast network compared to a channel like science or discovery, NBC, ABC, or CBS.)

Dr. Tyson ask then answers his own questions.  He defers to no one only the laws of physics found by previous generations to demonstrate why the answers are what they are.   Mr Freeman ask questions then defers to other people, usually white people.  Seeing Mr Freeman defer to other people is not quite so threatening.  Perhaps the audience members can identify with him or even feel a bit smarter than him. The audience has no choice but to sit and be schooled by Dr. Tyson.

Add the problem many people in this country have with seeing and hearing from intelligent black people to the mix, and there you have it.   TTWH has a smarter target audience viewing a non-threatening narrator.  Cosmos has a less smart target audience with a narrator who in the words of more than one reviewer makes them "feel inadequate" and feel "scolded" and things like that.

Meanwhile this same country will have this phenomena.
The Troubling Viral Trend of the “Hilarious” Black Neighbor - Slate.com People who I suppose make the viewers of those video's feel adequate.
Science advances as much by mistakes as by plans.
I get what you're trying to say, but if Seth MacFarlane was doing the narration himself rather than having Neil do it for him, I suspect it would come off even more obnoxious and pretentious. Of course, that could be because Dr. Tyson has several degrees while MacFarlane just has an overinflated ego. While I may be in the minority, I feel (and this is another of Cosmos' faults) that the internet in general tends to dramatically overstate the voices of fringe groups when the majority of viewers aren't like that.

That's very true. When we hear discussions about how 'unscientific' America is, the same nonsense about religion gets thrown in. As if other countries believing cell phones cause cancer or that scientists should go to jail if they can't predict earthquakes makes a populace more scientifically literate just because they accept evolution more.

American adults beat every other country in scientific literacy but evolution is a non-issue in peoples' lives. If we catalog the most pressing science issues facing the country, evolution will not be on the list, food, energy and medicine will be.
If Mac Farlane was narrating it would not be the same as it is for Dr. Tyson.
Niel D. Tyson can stand there and on his own authority tell you what's what, Seth MacFarlane can't.    If Seth were narrating it would be more like:

"Hey I'm an average Joe with questions about the universe.  Let's ask these <s>eggheads</s> scientist what their latest work says about the nature of the universe. "

It would be Through The Worm Hole without Morgan Freeman.  I think the general public would feel less threatened by that sort of a narration for a variety of reasons.  A problem with cosmos is there is no one for the audience to identify with.  Unless the audience members feel comfortable simply being schooled by Dr. Tyson they aren't going to stay with it.
Science advances as much by mistakes as by plans.
"The averaged IQ of a science/discovery channel subscriber is probably 1/2 of a standard deviation above 100. While that of Fox broadcast viewer is right at 100, average by definition." To borrow a joke from Riddick: is it rue that half of Fox viewers are below average intelligence?
We do have to wonder how that statistic was derived. I have never lived in a place where Discovery could be bought a la carte, it was always in the same bundle as ESPN and MTV - so the same subscription statistic could be used to claim that sports fans and people who watch shows about pregnant teens are above average intelligence - but every single one of those people also has access to Fox.
Derived by simple inference. The 'Science Channel" in particular, because that's where TTWH airs needs to be requested separately here in Chiago. My nephew who lives way up north near the Wisconsin border notes that he only knows of two homes that have the science channel. Ours, and his, because he was exposed to it here.

If someone is ordering a channel geared towards science content (and now sci-fi content. Now a days sic-fi channel is called sy-fy and for a while had pro wrestling on it) they are probably smarter than average. Not only do they like science, but they have a job, that pays them the money to be able to afford the science channel.

I did not go out and test a bunch of people but one should not need that to use their own common sense. A small somewhat self selected, and selective (by way of the money to afford it) group will have a higher IQ than the general public.
Science advances as much by mistakes as by plans.
By definition the IQ of half of any large enough, randomly selected group will be below average.   Fox broadcast (just like ABC, NBC, CBS, or Rush Limbaugh listeners, or Ed Schultz listeners) will on average be of about 100 IQ.  By  construction an IQ of 100 is average
Some groups are above or below that.  People who choose to pay their money to not just subscribe to, but to watch channels like discovery and especially science channel are likely to be at least 5-10 points above the population average.

Let me put it to you this way.  Who's probably more thoughtful?

Someone goggling for a super close up of Kim Kardashian's booty.
Someone googling for a high res image of Saturn's moon Titan.

Come on.
Science advances as much by mistakes as by plans.
but to watch channels like discovery and especially science channel are likely to be at least 5-10 points above the population average." I may be wrong, but to be considered average IQ is a range between 90 and 110 with the top of the curve being 100, so wouldn't an IQ of 105 or 110 is still be "average?"
Yes and no. Anything within one standard deviation of the mean IQ of 100 could be called "average. The standard deviation on most IQ test is about 15 or 16 points. So we could say someone with an IQ of 86 and someone with an IQ of 114 are both "average"....but which of those people would you rather have do your taxes? I'm not saying that people who watch the science channel would be, on average, 1 full SD above 100. 107 average for that channels viewers would be about 1/2 of a standard deviation. More of their viewers are going to be ..."smarter than the average bear". The average viewer of a network broadcasting to everyone in the USA aren't going to be. Simply because it takes in all 350 million Americans.
Science advances as much by mistakes as by plans.
Re: "Add the problem many people in this country have with seeing and hearing from intelligent black people to the mix, and there you have it. "

Is it white America that has a problem with intelligent blacks or is it black America? I don't have a whole lot of life experience to verify this nor have I seen the number but,I have heard sociologists talk about the phenomena of black children and teenagers who do well in school being labeled as "acting too white" by there black peers. I have heard of black children who speak in clear complete and precise sentences with good grammar as "talking too white."

I've never seen a smart educated black person treated that way from whites. Never and I have been living in Georgia since 1977 and as an adult since 1990.

Are you claiming that the general white population has a hard time stomaching black intellectuals in general or are you limiting your claim to scientists?

African Americans are only about 12% 14% ish of the population.  So when it comes to TV ratings White Americans still have an overwhelming impact.
As for America having a problem with intelligent blacks.  Just read a history book.  For much of American history it was illegal to teach a slave to read.  Schools provided after the end of slavery, to black people, were always inferior to those provided to white people, etc.

Even those who did overcome did not get treated fairly.  Consider this person.

Edward Alexander Bouchet, the first African American to earn a PhD in Physics in 1876, (one of the first Americans at all to get a PhD for that matter).  He could not get a job.    While for the next 80 years all other PhD's in any field got a university faculty position.

Heck even Dr. Tysons own biography bespeaks of racism.   http://alcalde.texasexes.org/2012/02/star-power/

“I was stopped and questioned seven times by University police on my way into the physics building,” he says. “Seven times. Zero times was I stopped going into the gym—and I went to the gym a lot. That says all you need to know about how welcome I felt at Texas.”
Science advances as much by mistakes as by plans.
Well, let's not go off on anecdotes.  The University of South Carolina hired its first black professor in 1873. Today, there are 6X as many PhDs each year as there are school jobs to fill them, so if a black person doesn't get a job in academia, is it racism? Well, sure it is, who are you to tell anyone they haven't experienced racism?  That is the problem with "causalation" claims and cherry-picking events.

What your story leaves out is that Bouchet was only the sixth American of any race to earn a PhD in physics. Bouchet certainly did get a job - the rich white benefactor who paid his way through college founded a whole science division at the school he was at. It just wasn't a college, until later.

Back to UT Austin, they got a lawsuit into the Supreme Court a few years ago because they were so overtly discriminating against white students, not black ones.

As his UT record shows, he wasn't in school a lot. He spent a week in his apartment solving Rubik's cube and not going to the lab, he concedes he was not exactly well known to security because he was never working.
“With or without skin color, I wasn’t the model student,” he adds. “There was simply no room for me to be the full person that I was. If race was at play in all this, it was only at the edges of the experience.”
Invoking ancient history, or history of even 30 years ago, as evidence that modern television audiences won't watch a black scientist is really, really reaching. The culture that was so oppressive in the early 1980s got Neil scholarships in both Utah and Scotland - hardly our idea of tolerant, integrated cultures -  he met Neil Armstrong, Carl Sagan and Isaac Asimov. Were they simply including him because he was a token black guy in physics? I hope not, because that would have been racist.

It's hardly ancient history. Dr Tyson's time at UT was in the mid 80's. As for reverse discrimination claims. Those are a product of a group which had defacto and dejure privileges suddenly being treated like everyone else. According to the same set of people it's racst that 50 cent csn use the N word in a music video but they can't...

http://www.salon.com/2013/10/30/no_white_people_you_cant_say_the_n_word/

That was in 2013

I wrote that Bouchet "(one of the first Americans at all to get a PhD for that matter)." Not just in physics. Amazing when we consider all the colleges, universities, Inventions, and innovations that come from America up to that time.
Science advances as much by mistakes as by plans.