Bill Nye, the Ideological Science Guy

You may remember Bill Nye from Bill Nye the Science Guy, the beloved 90s kid’s science show. But Nye’s new Netflix show, modestly titled Bill Nye Saves the World, targets adults—and ruins his legacy in the process.

Saves the World tackles contemporary issues like GMOs, artificial intelligence, and homeopathy. Nye tries to explain with his trademark gusto the science behind these issues and debunk popular myths—a noble goal.

But the show ignores scientific results to force its agenda. Six minutes into the first episode, fun ol’ “Uncle Bill” drops this little revelation: “We’ve had world wars, pandemics, we’ve even had reality television. But global warming and climate change are WAY WORSE.” (Emphasis Nye’s.)

Let’s engage in a little scientific thinking. Shouldn’t the Science Guy appreciate that? Even the most liberal estimates of climate change’s impact assert that it kills around 300,000 people a year. If true, that’s a tragedy. But put aside skepticism of climate change’s effects, and compare that number to Nye’s “world wars and pandemics.” World Wars I and II killed about 100 million together. And the five worst pandemics in history killed around 200 million. At this rate it would take 1,000 years for climate change to challenge those figures.

Another instance of Nye’s anti-scientific rhetoric occurs later in the show. Episode 9, frighteningly titled “The Sexual Spectrum,” features a “Sexuality Abacus” which divides up sexuality into sex, gender, attraction, and expression. Nye apparently seems to believe that science has “spoken,” and that male and female are no longer useful categories.

Besides Nye’s nicely fact-free presentation of a sex spectrum, he features comedienne Rachel Bloom in what must be the worst video of 2017: “My Sex Junk.” If you’re not up for watching it, I can’t blame you. In the presentation, Bloom prances around in an odious display of libertinism. “Sex how you want / it’s your goddamn right” Bloom proclaims. The song’s chorus goes, “My sex junk, is so oh oh oh / much more than either or or or.” Apparently “science” has now overturned millennia of ethical and moral thinking. Thanks Netflix!

“My Sex Junk” shows Nye’s greatest weakness. Mr. Nye believes that science can provide answers to moral questions. He thinks chemistry can answer the question of what to do about global warming, and that psychology can answer the question of sexual ethics (with a pop song, no less.) But science can’t replace ethics. It can answer questions about what is, but not what should be. Science is wonderful, but we need much more.

And science doesn’t even drive the show—a political agenda does. Nye consistently chooses stances based on his opinion. For instance, in a stark eugenic turn, he promotes in vitro fertilization as a way to filter out an “undesirable set of genes.” But issues like IVF or sexuality cannot be “solved” by science. All science can do is give us information about our world, but it is never enough to dictate our actions. Nye’s fatal flaw is thinking that his brand of “science” trumps all political, religious, and even moral concerns. That’s not science. It’s scientism.

The show also suffers from a more mundane defect: a lack of quality. Nye’s modus operandi—corny jokes, Energizer Bunny-like enthusiasm, and geek-chic fashion—doesn’t translate to the adult world. It proved compelling to children but falls flat for anyone who’s lived through adolescence. A lab coat and Bunsen burner does not a true scientist make, even when accompanied by a bow tie, a forced laugh, and celebrity cameos. And when Nye does try to relate, he’s painfully obvious. In the climate change episode, rapper Desiigner shows up, only to be disappointed by the apparent extinction of his favorite foods. You can picture the writer’s room now: “What if we included a rap star AND coffee? We’ll hook millennials in no time.” Sorry, Bill. We know better.

In trying to popularize science for the masses, Bill Nye has stripped it of its essence. Scientists are supposed to remain objective; they tirelessly study the world and how it works. But Nye believes that science can somehow tell us how we should live. He rejects anything outside his agenda, and even disregards science to promote his own ideological ends. Stick to kid’s shows, Bill, and let the adults do the talking.

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  • FridayNightEcon

    That video (…Junk) is almost unwatchable it’s so bad.

  • Millikan

    What’s particularly painful is that Nye and the “March For Science” may actually driving away from science the very people who we need to be steered towards it. It’s not just the political content; the awful presentation and embarrassing theatrics are a turn-off to most audience members. I’m reminded of the South Park episode where an anti-smoking campaign’s cloying, condescending hip-hop routine only drives kids to taking up the habit.