Russell Johnson, the Last Professor

01/22/2014 05:54 pm ET | Updated Mar 24, 2014

Russell Johnson's death last week, at what used to be called the "ripe old age" of 89 (we no longer believe any age makes us ripe for pickin'), reminds us there was once a time when America had respect, even veneration, for science. True, science as expressed by The Professor was nonsense science, the kind a talking monkey would emulatively utter in rich, simian phonetics if monkeys were a better evolutionary product than they are. Nevertheless, The Professor stood for facts, for knowledge. Once he laid down a ridiculous set of notions, they were rigorously followed until changing circumstances forced him to apply the scientific method and come up with an inspiring new solution. Had Gilligan found that talking monkey (and I'm not sure he didn't), The Professor would likely have posited an insertion of macaw genetics, probably via the wind, and who's to say he would have been wrong? The important thing is that everyone on the island, even the financial wizard (and his wife), looked up to the man who'd studied hard and accomplished much, and they deferred to him on matters of fact. They did not discard his hard-won wisdom in favor of tall yarns from island natives. The world of Russell Johnson's "Professor" was a world that reached for the moon.

Our world turns away from climate change. Our financial wizards put their money behind convenient lies. Our political leaders cite religious tall tales as the basis of their decisions. If Gilligan's Island were made today, Louie Gohmert would take the place of The Professor.

As he has on This Island America.

That we now have one less professor -- the professor, no less -- only serves to underscore this sorry fact.

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