Trailer: Bill Nye the (Serious) Science Guy

November 4, 2017



Bill Nye: Science Guy is an aptly named exploration of his career, which has steadily moved from a quest to get children hooked on science to, these days, trying to convince adults that they need science to make informed decisions as voters and taxpayers. The film follows Nye as he explores anti-science hotbeds like Kentucky’s Creationist Museum with an empathy lacking in Bill Maher’s Religulous. It accompanies him as he tries to fulfill Carl Sagan’s dream of launching a “solar sail” into the cosmos, or ventures to Greenland to observe climate scientists as they study the air trapped in ancient ice to track the relationship between carbon dioxide levels and global temperatures. Outside, the glaciers are steadily collapsing. A giant piece of ice shatters and falls while Nye is explaining something on-camera.

But the film also explores Nye’s complicated personal life, constructing a portrait in three dimensions of a science celebrity who has parents he learned from, siblings with a rare genetic disorder he takes care of, and problems with committing to romantic relationships that he’s never quite gotten over. Oh, and he celebrates Christmas. We touched on that side of the film when I spoke with Nye this week, ahead of its premiere on Friday. But we also touched on the larger implications of his new calling.

Has opposition to science always been an undercurrent of American life? Are we at a low point now?

We’re at a low point, I think almost entirely because of the fossil fuel industry. The industry has managed to introduce this idea that scientific uncertainty of plus-or-minus two percent is somehow the same as scientific uncertainty that would be plus-or-minus one hundred percent. And that’s wrong! Wrong, wrong, wrong. But this has permeated all of society, where it’s very common to meet people who think their opinion is the same as scientific evidence. It’s not, so they should cut it out. [Laughs]

What’s underlying this worldview? Is it emotional—are people afraid of what it takes to understand more about the world? Are they just incurious?

The fossil fuel industry has worked to keep themselves in business. I’ve benefitted my whole life from electricity produced by burning oil and coal. I get it. But we can’t do that anymore.

The other problem with climate change in general is that it’s happening in slow motion. It’s such a big idea, it just doesn’t seem possible that humans, this species on the earth’s surface, could somehow affect the whole climate. But we are, and we do. But the fossil fuel industry hired the very same people that the cigarette industry hired to introduce the idea that the science of the carcinogenic nature of burning tobacco—of smoking—was somehow not completely verified or embraced. They went to introduce doubt, and they were successful.

And now we have these people who are in power in the world’s most influential country who are anti-science, because of their direct or indirect connections to the fossil fuel industry. This is in nobody’s best interests, so we’ll see what happens when these legislators and their staffs realize that they have kids and grandkids that are being affected by the denial of science.

The current president is fundamentally incurious about the world. Do you think his election demonstrates that we want to withdraw from the difficult questions and settle for something simpler?

It’s a real problem. I’ll start with that. Keep in mind that the other side—the progressive side, Clinton—won by three million votes. It’s this old-fashioned system we created, and apparently Russian operatives were able to, in judo fashion, use our own flaws against us. They were able to bring out the worst in people, and bring out a guy who, as you say, doesn’t have any curiosity or respect for intellectual endeavors. This is a real problem, and it’s not just a problem for progressive people like me. It’s a problem for all of us.

Republicans have control of both houses of Congress and the executive branch, but their views are so out of the mainstream they’re not able to get anything done. This lack of curiosity, this rejection of intellectual pursuits and especially of provable facts, is catching up with them. So the question is, will young people come of age and become captains of industry soon enough to do enough about climate change to preserve the quality of life for billions of people?

I came of age with the space program, so science and the acceptance and belief in the value of science was everywhere. It was systemic—built into society. But that waned after the Cold War was resolved, after humans walked on the moon and the former Soviet Union went out of business. Interest in science, in my opinion, waned. Because for economic reasons, what keeps the country able to compete is its ability to innovate with new technology, and technology comes from science. So in order to stay competitive, the US has to educate young people in science, technology, engineering, and math.


One Response to “Trailer: Bill Nye the (Serious) Science Guy”

  1. postkey Says:

    ” They were able to bring out the worst in people, and bring out a guy who, as you say, doesn’t have any curiosity or respect for intellectual endeavors.”

    ‘They’ were the Republicans?

    “And it’s deadly. Doubtless, Crosscheck delivered Michigan to Trump who supposedly “won” the state by 10,700 votes. The Secretary of State’s office proudly told me that they were “very aggressive” in removing listed voters before the 2016 election. Kobach, who created the lists for his fellow GOP officials, tagged a whopping 417,147 in Michigan as potential double voters.”

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: