I'm the creator of the popular youtube series called The Sagan Series and The Feynman Series. You can find both on my youtube channel.

Over the past couple years I've been invited around the world to give talks on my motive for creating the series. I was even recently invited to NASA Marshall Space Flight Center where I gave a talk and was given a tour.

I also recently finished my contributions to The Sagan/Feynman Series, but I'm announcing today that these projects are now open source, meaning anyone can take the name and make their own with their favourite scientist, put it on youtube and I'll share it with our 85,000 facebook fans. This isn't just about me, it's about promoting scientific values to the broader public. Any help in that mission is appreciated.

Proof on my twitter!

Comments: 121 • Responses: 33  • Date: 

rizian20 karma

First of all I wanted to thank you, as I'm sure everyone in here will for The Sagan Series. I imagine that whatever is taking you away it must be awesome. You mentioned on some podcast a few months ago that you were working on a Reddit alternative. Is that what you're working on now? How would it be different from Reddit?

rgower26 karma

Oh wow, thank you! And yes you're correct, that's what I'm working on now. Linksapien.com

Reddit alternatives already exist but they all suffer in my opinion from the same systemic problems. I should really start by saying I think that Reddit has been hugely important over the past few years – CISPA, large scale charitable efforts, even me personally and the love I received from The Sagan Series. I was proud to call myself a redditor, and I learned a lot from all the interesting links and discussion posted here.

But over the past few years, Reddit hasn't felt like home.

The culture has shifted, from thoughtful individuals with a tech/science/curiosity bent to juvenile meme humor. Race-to-the-bottom content dominates the frontpage and is reinforced by Reddit's sorting algorithm. The quicker the content can be absorbed, the faster it rises. Thus, /r/All is dominate by images. There are still tons of amazing places here, but you have to dig deep. I wanted to created a news aggregator where thoughtful discussion was at the forefront, not tucked away and laborious to find AND have systematic measures in place to avoid Eternal September.

After looking at Reddit's open source code we wrote our own version in Node.js and we're planning on open sourcing that as well. We created Linksapien.com - which I should mention is in Beta but you can register here to stay posted. It's based shamelessly on Reddit with a few signficant tweaks.

  • Literate Democracy

Click before you vote. Voting is enabled only if you click-through and spend at least 10 seconds. Reddit is a democratic free-for-all, which unfortunately results in sensationalist headlines skyrocketing to the frontpage without anyone reading the actual article. We feel that our forced literacy system will establish a culture that embraces rich content and deemphasizes headlines, while downvoting vacuous blogspam with eye-catching titles.

  • No Photos

I love photos, but if I want to look at photos I go to Reddit or Imgur. They both handle images very well. At Linksapien we wanted a news aggregator for real content.

  • Established Culture

Reddit had it's tech/science/curiosity culture pulled out from under its feet by frontpage defaults such as /r/funny, /r/pics, /r/adviceanimals, etc. The defaults on Linksapien will ensure that every new user has an initial interest in science/space/technology before branching into smaller subs - Ps we purposefully don't yet have the ability to create subs for the reasons I just mentioned. For now, we have 11 defaults (Internet, Science, Space, Videos, Technology, Future, Skepticism, News, Reads, Business, Programming) that we hope will help define the initial culture before we open up. That functionality will come as soon as the site is lively.

  • Minimum Comment Requirements

Just like rapid content skyrockets to the top of reddit, so it does too in the comments sections. We've instated some minimum comment requirements that will prevent 1) Quick Puns 2) Easy one liners that everyone is already thinking 3) "This quote from the video" 4) Noise in general

  • Design Upgrade

There's something I find charming about Reddit's 1990's style design, but it is - shall we say - dated. Our layout is very simple in its current form, but we'll give our users the option to try a more modern look in the near future.

So yeah, if you're curious I hope I'll see you at Linksapien

mattkwish10 karma

Long time watcher and Carl Sagan / Feynman fan.

What do you think of the criticism that Carl Sagan persuades people into science with questions that are not scientific? I first went into being a physics / math major because of Carl Sagan's cosmos, yet when i went to physics classes, i found that they weren't interested in the deep philosophical questions that Carl Sagan was asking, but scientific and physics based questions.

Luckily i fell in love with the physics shortly after, but for those who dont, do you believe that they are being given false promises?

rgower8 karma

That's a great question. I think that anything that gets someone in the science classroom is a good thing. Sagan never suggested that science is easy, but rather he took his body of knowledge acquired from years of sweat and hard work and presented it in a way that's easily accessible.

If you were hoping science to be more philosophical, I suggest you study philosophy. That's what I did! I'm actually a philosophy dropout (another story) with a science curiosity. If you ever get into something with false expectations, it's usually up to you to adjust your expectations rather than blame those responsible for planting them in the first place.

farquezy3 karma

Please expand on why you dropped out! I really wish to know.

rgower3 karma

Maybe this is just me, but a lot of academic philosophy isn't philosophy. It's history of philosophy. At my university we studied people and their ideas (Aristotle, Plato, Nietzsche, Hume) rather than ideas themselves.

It's the scientific equivalent to studying the lives of Watson and Crick, all of their ideas good and bad, instead of studying the structure of DNA.

I remember a breaking point being asked to write a lengthy paper on some ancient philosopher's metaphysics. Do you agree or disagree? Why or why not? I just wanted to answer:

"I disagree with X's metaphysics because I'm a scientifically literate 21st century human. The claims of this philosopher were based on prescientific intuitions and have no empirical basis in reality." - The end

I loved discussing philosophy with my profs and colleagues, but a lot of the academic work was intellectual masturbation and hoopjumping.

farquezy1 karma

I completely agree with you. This is the same issue I am facing as a college student. Did you ever graduate college or did you literally drop out of college?

rgower1 karma

My plan was to take a 6 month hiatus to preserve my intellectual curiosity from academic drudgery... and of course to pursue opportunities born from The Sagan Series... which haven't let up. Would love to return and finish but I don't currently have the money.

Suspicious_Toaster7 karma

Never heard of the channel, what is it about exactly and what made you want to start it?

rgower9 karma

Well -- abstractly the channel is about promoting scientific literacy. The form that mission has taken has been to borrow the words of the late Carl Sagan, a famous astrophysicist and communicator of science. I mix his narratives with modern visuals. Check it out!

gsdevore6 karma

What can a college student/engineer do to help promote scientific literacy without having to dedicate his life to it?

rgower13 karma

A few things. First, participate at the local level. If you have groups in your area, support them either financially or simply by being there. There really is no substitute for seeing the faces of those who have your back.

Another thing you should learn to do is learn how to debate pseudoscience. Too often I see people who are scientifically literate crush their opponents with rational argument. You may win debates by doing that, but you'll rarely win the hearts and minds of people. Learn to listen. Be sympathetic. People aren't stupid, they're misinformed.

Lastly, participate online. I don't want to advocate clicktivism or anything, but harnessing the power of social networks shouldn't be completely ignored.

RatherGoodly5 karma

I can't begin without saying thanks so much for the work you've done. I loved the series, and watched it episode by episode. I found it just as my interest in space and science was growing, and it only fueled my interests further. Thank you.

So here's a question or two~

What would you say is the most difficult thing about spreading scientific literacy?

If not Sagan, then who?

rgower4 karma

What would you say is the most difficult thing about spreading scientific literacy?

We as human aren't wired for it. Being scientifically literate is literally a skillset, and not just a memorized understanding of scientific facts. We have biases, we're poor logicians, we're unwilling to embrace evidence that conflicts with our worldview - there are a great number of things that make spreading scientific literacy difficult, but most of them have to do with being human.

If not Sagan, then who?

The obvious choice is Neil Degrasse Tyson. I a huge fan of Neil, but I'm hopeful that in the coming years we'll see more and more communicators emerge from academic sciences so that it doesn't have to be Neil or nobody. Social Media, the Blogosphere and Youtube has made it easier than ever for communicators to find a voice. Hopefully soon there will be someone for everyone.

gsdevore5 karma

Could you tell us more about your startup that's "like reddit, but without images and mandatory clickthroughs before voting"?

rgower1 karma

Already answered here.

warpcore5 karma

Hi Reid,

First, I must commend you on your work. I have been a big fan of Sagan ever since I discovered Cosmos. Your series helped me introduce it to my friends and family who had never heard of Sagan before.

I am very thankful to you for what you have done.

Second, my questions to you are:

  1. What was the pivotial moment that you made to start making this series?

  2. What is your favorite episode in the entire series?

Good luck on your future plans!


rgower5 karma

What was the pivotial moment that you made to start making this series?

The "spark" idea was planted in my head when, oddly enough, I read a colleagues paper in philosophy class called Nature Films: A Look at the Ethics of (Mis)Representation. It's a great paper and I recommend that you read it.

The basic argument of her paper is that people who live in urban cities will form their impression about nature largely from nature documentaries... And therefore, nature documentaries ought to be representative of nature. The thing that stuck in my head, and the thing that sparked The Sagan Series was how impressionable we all are to media.

The idea that some political higher-up could sit down with their family and watch Planet Earth one night, and go into office the next day with an impacted mind stuck with me. So I wanted to do the same thing. Slightly alter people's minds about science by using media.

What is your favorite episode in the entire series?

Gift of Apollo. It was an incredible experience trying to recreate the visuals to one of the greatest event in human history - an event that I wasn't even alive for. It was like editing a fantasy.

warpcore2 karma

Thank you for answering my questions!

rgower1 karma

Thanks for taking enough interest to ask :)

diverlad4 karma

Hi there. Firstly, thank you for your contributions to bringing Dr. Sagans message to many people, myself included. I hope its not long until the mantle is picked up by someone else. My question: How long did each video take to make and where did you find the brilliant music pieces?

rgower3 karma

It took roughly a month to do each video, but the last one took much longer because of all the historical footage.

Re: Music - I actually start with the music. I pick a song the I thoroughly enjoy, and then I listen to the Pale Blue Dot audiobook until something.... aligns. Then I add the visual layer. So where does the music come from? My personal taste I suppose.

padgo3 karma

Thanks Reid for all of the fantastic work. Whenever i am having a shit day i play some of your videos and they give me a sense of perspective that i we need sometimes.

Whats your feeling on the current budget given to NASA? I can see you campaigning in washington one day :). You could be the beacon of hope they need !

rgower3 karma

Whats your feeling on the current budget given to NASA?

It's about half what it needs to be. It's insufficient. Nuff said.

I can see you campaigning in washington one day :)

Thanks! However, I never see myself in Washington a) Because I'm Canadian and b) because I pride myself on intellectual honesty.

shameless4evah3 karma

are you single? (i have such a virtual crush on you)

edit: serious question. not a joke.

edit#2: no, but really. http://cdn.thatssotrue.com/2011/11/10/thatssotrue.com_44_1329512071.gif

rgower1 karma

Haha, sorry no :)

aleixlf3 karma

Did you study Physics? If that's the case or not, what did you study and where? Thank you!

rgower2 karma

I studied philosophy for 3 years at the University of Victoria before dropping out to pursue opportunities made from The Sagan Series that haven't let up.

BeefJesusMaker3 karma

I'm a great admirer of Carl Sagan. So I think it's great you are promoting this series. It seems that, throughout the years, Americans have lost their interest in science. What are some ways you are trying to spark people's interest again, besides the show? I know that many people won't even give the show a chance. How do you think we could change this?

rgower4 karma

Go to Mars.


How many people became interested in space, science, and engineering after the Apollo missions? And how many of those who weren't became at least appreciative of those who did?

The Moon landings changed culture. There are probably other ways of getting there, like a radical overhaul of our educational systems, but I don't know what that would look like. Mars a sure, albeit expensive bet.

EastcoastSix3 karma

What future projects do you have planned?

rgower1 karma

I'm working on a new website that's similar to Reddit called Linksapien

stonedale3 karma


rgower5 karma

The questions and the answer depends on who's asking it.

stonedale2 karma


rgower3 karma

Not all. Some questions don't depend on who's asking it. What's the sum of the angles of a triangle? How far is the Earth from the Sun? What effect will pumping greenhouse gases into the atmosphere have on the environment?

Some of these questions are complicated, some are easy, but they're all framed objectively. Intellectually honest scientists with good access to observational tools should converge on similar answers.

Questions of mystery and meaning, however, are completely dependent on who's asking them. I could say the meaning of life is to love someone more than you love yourself. But then what if you're a passionate scientist who loves bats? You sacrifice your social life to study them, move to the Phillipenes to study the largest bat in the world, the Giant golden-crowned flying fox and your research ends up saving them from extinction.

You grow old and die alone, never having loved someone more than yourself. Was your life meaningless? I think not.

Iamadansuer3 karma

What is it like being having a hit youtube series? Do you make good profit off of it? and have you ever had anybody recognize you from your channel or video? thanks for doing this!

rgower6 karma

Having a hit youtube series is weird. I'm constantly humbled by people's outpouring of affection over my work, but I find sometimes they're confused as to whether they love Sagan or me. I think that's a taste of what any minor media celebrity has to deal with. Recognition for what they portray and not who they are. I've been recognized locally a handful of times I think more because of my public speaking than The Sagan Series.

Also I don't profit a dime from my videos, that's part of how I'm able to use copyright materials.

xSage17x3 karma

Mr. Gower.

First, I just wanted to sincerely thank you for your incredibly inspirational videos that have truly inspired me to pursue a scientific career. I would also like to ask you what your favorite video in any of your series was for one. And second, I would like to know what inspired you to create your series of videos, or just what inspired you to promote scientific literacy in the first place. I'm trying to become scientifically literate but I would like to know what inspires other to become it as well?

rgower1 karma

Thank you feel the deeply humbling comment xSage17x. I've answered a few of those questions around here so I'll stick to just this one:

What inspired you to promote scientific literacy in the first place.

Humans face immense challenges ahead. Like it or not, we've decided to do things democratically, and i cannot forsee a future where we survive and remain ignorant. Climate change is the posterboy case, but we need more than that. We need the general public to have a literate understanding of asteroid impacts, genentically modified foods, stem cell research, vaccines, statistics - the list goes on and on. Only when we have a scientifically literate public will we have any confidence of proceeding into the future without destroying ourselves.

Nezin3 karma

Are you going to keep administrating/running the Facebook page? By the way you wrote your last post it sounded a lot like you were just going to stop.

I want to thank you for making the series -- really inspired me. I am glad that there are people like you out there!

rgower2 karma

I hope it didn't sound like that! The only thing I'm stopping is the video production side of things. I will continue to post on a regular basis.

bjammm3 karma

Did you ever have had any copyright issues with the video or audio?

rgower2 karma

Never, my videos fall well under what's called "Fair Use". Essentially what that means is material normally considered copyright can be used in certain circumstances.

The Sagan Series is educational, non-profit, and recontextualizes the copyrighted materials into a genuinely "new" or "artistic" work. That's how I get around it.

Zarkey3 karma

Greetings from The Pale Blue Dot. Thank you for the series and keep up the good work. Also what is your greatest inspiration in life? Thank you again.

rgower2 karma

Leading intellectuals. I love watching, reading, and listening to great thinkers think. To me it's like a sport. You love watching Lebron James play, I love watching Stephen Pinker think. There's nothing quite like it to me. Everything from the ideas they represent, to the words they choose to communicate them, to the forefront of primate thought. To me it's like watching an eagle fly or cheetah sprint.

jesuguer2 karma

Reid, first off, thanks for creating an amazing series that inspires what is best in us humans. I've watched it since it began and have enjoyed it ever since. My question is this: What has been your favorite fan reaction/response? Thanks for doing this AMA!

rgower2 karma

I've gotten countless messages that were incredibly warm hearted, so it's impossible to pick one from the volumes.

But I did once receive a message from someone saying that got laid because of The Sagan Series.

gerf5122 karma

How do you suggest we try to promote scientific literacy to our less-scientifically-minded friends and relatives?

rgower3 karma

Plant seeds.

You'll rarely win an argument against a scientifically illiterate person because they're unwilling to compromise. So don't try and win arguments right then and there. I know it can be tempting to go that route because you have facts and reason on your side, but resist! Just plant seeds. Your goal isn't to get them out of the conversation with a changed mind, but rather a changing mind. They need to discover it for themselves.

Sloth-Lord1 karma

Do you believe that there's a correlation between Sagan's success as a science communicator and personal marijuana habit? Do you think Ed Witten would benefit from similar practices?

rgower1 karma

Sagan's marijuana habit was recreational and infrequent, not habitual. I doubt it impacted his communicative performances much if at all. Ed Witten, and many other high-ranking members of the scientific community just aren't good science communicators, and no amount of drug use will help them.

augenblick1 karma

Thank you for your videos and other contributions.

The Sagan Series has been the closest thing to an official remastering of some of Carl Sagan's work using modern technology and media.

My question: I always thought you paired music, video, and Carl Sagan's narrative very nicely. Did you ever receive any complaints (from original source authors or otherwise) from your use of existing media?

Thank you again for making something that is accessible and easy to share with people who might not be otherwise inclined to seek out the scientific community.

rgower1 karma

Sorry to answer so briefly but Nope, I never received complaints. Some things did get flagged for copyright but that just means youtube puts an ad in front and blocks it on mobile.

Dewy_Wanna_Go_There1 karma

How do you feel about extra-terrestrial life?

rgower2 karma

You're going to have to ask something more specific than that :)

Dewy_Wanna_Go_There1 karma

Besides the "mathematically speaking probability", do you believe ETs exist and have either been to earth, or that they will in the future?

rgower2 karma

do you believe ETs exist

I don't know, but I would wager it. Sagan said it best.

been to earth

All of the evidence I've seen for this has been flimsy to say the least.

they will in the future

If they successfully managed to bend the laws of physics with something like warp-drive, then maybe. But barring that, the distances between stars may simply be too large to allow for alien visitations. I suspect that if there's a universal community of intelligent species, they would communicate remotely.

MrArron1 karma

Have you ever considered actually working for NASA PR? I feel if you do this kind of videos but with the support you could get from NASA's PR team, the sky is the limit on how much you could touch.

rgower2 karma

That was part of the initial reason for making The Sagan Series. The first one was made under the idea that if I could make a better youtube video than they could, they'd hire me.

Unfortunately, that never came to fruition. I'm not even sure they could legally hire me because I'm a foreign national.

Rights111 karma

Great job on the series Reid. Just wondering what software you used to create the videos and what did you use as the sources of some of the space and old NASA footage?

rgower1 karma

When I started I used Sony Vegas, the most amateur software you could possibly use. Now I use Abode Premiere. To be honest, use whatever is easiest for you at first.

Most of my source footage is cited in the credits of each of videos, and yes I do use a ton of old NASA footage. The series "When We Left Earth" is great for that.

galaxyrocker1 karma

Mr. Gower:

First off, let me say that I'm a huge fan of the series, and also some of the interaction, at least in the beginning, you had with your fans (I was one you personally responded to).

Second, my questions is what do you think of this alt text from xkcd: "The universe is probably littered with the one-planet graves of cultures which made the sensible economic decision that there's no good reason to go to space --- each discovered, studied, and remembered by the ones who made the irrational decision."

rgower2 karma

I think that's a fantastic quote.