As I got off the plane, he was waiting for me, holding up a sign with my name on it. I was on my way to a conference of scientists and television broadcasters, and the organizers had kindly sent a driver.
“Do you mind if I ask you a question?” he said as we waited for my bag. “Isn’t it confusing to have the same name as that science guy?” It took me a moment to understand. Was he pulling my leg? “I am that science guy,” I said. He smiled. “Sorry. That’s my problem. I thought it was yours too.” He put out his hand. “My name is William F. Buckley.” (Well, his name wasn’t exactly William F. Buckley, but he did have the name of a contentious television interviewer, for which he doubtless took a lot of good-natured ribbing.)
As we settled into the car for the long drive, he told me he was glad I was “that science guy”—he had so many questions to ask about science. Would I mind? And so we got to talking. But not about science. He wanted to discuss UFOs, “channeling” (a way to hear what’s on the minds of dead people—not much it turns out), crystals, astrology. . . . He introduced each subject with real enthusiasm, and each time I had to disappoint him: “The evidence is crummy,” I kept saying. “There’s a much simpler explanation.” As we drove on through the rain, I could see him getting glummer. I was attacking not just pseudoscience but also a facet of his inner life.
All over America there are smart, even gifted, people who have a built-in passion for science. But that passion is unrequited. A recent survey suggests that 94 percent of Americans are “scientifically illiterate.”
Click headline to read more of this Spring 1990 article by Carl Sagan--