Who is Bill Nye?
“William Sanford “Bill” Nye, popularly known as Bill Nye the Science Guy, is an American science educator, television presenter, and mechanical engineer. Scientist, comedian, teacher, and author, Bill Nye is best known as the host of the PBS children’s science show “Bill Nye the Science Guy” (1993–1998), and for his many subsequent appearances in popular media as a science educator.
Currently, Nye is The Planetary Society’s CEO. It’s the world’s largest non-profit space interest group with members in 130 countries. Cofounded by Carl Sagan, Bruce Murray and Louis Friedman, the organization’s mission is to empower the world’s citizens to advance space science and exploration. Nye joined The Planetary Society as a Charter Member in 1980. Nye’s engineering and management experience enabled him to take the lead and play a hands-on role in making programs like LightSail® a success.
Nye earned a degree in mechanical engineering at Cornell University and spent over 20 years working as an engineer until he combined his dual love of science and comedy to create “Bill Nye the Science Guy.” As a student at Cornell University, he was introduced to the wonders of astronomy in a class taught by Professor Carl Sagan, cofounder of The Planetary Society, which Nye now leads.
After graduating from Cornell University, Bill worked for the Boeing Corporation, Sundstrand Data Control (now Honeywell), and a few other engineering firms in the Seattle area. The U.S. Department of Justice also recruited Bill for his unique technical expertise and pedagogical skills.
From 1992 to 1998, Bill was one of the writers, producers and talent for the Emmy award-winning “Bill Nye the Science Guy” TV series co-produced by Buena Vista Television (Disney) and KCTS (Seattle public television).
His new series “Bill Nye Saves The World” will debut on Netflix in spring 2017.
Bill has authored several books, including New York Times Bestseller “Undeniable,” “Unstoppable” and his latest, “Everything All at Once,” which will release in July of 2017. In addition to leading The Planetary Society, he travels the world lecturing on the importance of science, space exploration, and inspiring generations of young people to change the world.“
Activity Since the Show
After the conclusion of “Bill Nye the Science Guy” Nye didn’t disappear from the world. Instead, Bill used his personality to be a face for science on our News and Entertainment Media. Bill Nye has appeared on numerous talk shows and news programs in America usually invited on to explain a scientific principle and more recently he’s been on to talk about Climate Change. He is truly a fixture in popular culture and his role has been as an advocate for science. It was only a matter of time for Bill to get a new show.
Why Save the World Now?
It’s hard to deny that the US (and the world at large) is politically polarized and that this polarization is having an incredible impact on everything we do, say and think as citizens. In the United States, only 70% of us believe the threat Climate Change is an issue we face and only 53% believe it is caused by human activity. Contrast that with the 97% of Scientists who agree that it is absolutely happening and is caused by man. This Map breaks down the polling in several helpful ways. It’s been 20 years since his last show and as Bill Nye says himself in the show “A lot has changed. but one thing hasn’t: the process of science, how we know what we know.” (Episode 1 introduction of Bill Nye Saves the World) Bill positions BNStW as an “Adult-Children’s” show NOT meant for kids but for citizens with voting rights. Bill isn’t seeking to inspire teens to pursue science as much as to ask adults to embrace or get out of the way of scientific progress politically and specifically to appreciate all that science has done for them and its efforts to “Save the World.”
In continuing Bill Nye’s mission to educate the public and help steer public policy in a direction that will benefit all of society Nye aims to cover topics including Global Warming, The Gender Spectrum, Violence in Video Games, GMOs, and even the (possible) Prehistoric Martian Invasion! (Panspermia Paper)
The skits on BNStW are very much like what you’d see on The Daily Show or Last Week Tonight in their quality and comedic format. Bill has managed to stay just as comedically sharp as ever and doesn’t cease to amaze with his wit and comedic timing. Rated-G Bill was great but PG-13 Bill is even better.
The set is gorgeous and really sets the tone of being an “Open-Lab/Study” that makes the topics seem less “ivory tower” contained and more available to a wider audience.
The show makes good use of field pieces to break up the live experiments and on-stage demonstrations. Even better is the “I need a minute” segments where Nye spends about 60 seconds or less getting personal and expressing his view on the current topic in a very candid way.
The panels are for the most part well stocked with credentialed people (just as are the correspondents) who engage in some interesting dialogue with Nye about the various dimensions of the episode Topic.
Bill’s demonstrations of scientific principles with such visual aides as “Germ balls” and Acidity solutions hit right where his former show excelled. They illustrate points that are very difficult to communicate without lots of supporting foundational knowledge.
Upon rewatching the original series this week I noticed a few impressive elements and the thing that really surprised me for a show in the mid-nineties was the surprisingly progressive diversity of the show. BNStW is fairly good at keeping this a hallmark of the show not only as far as PoC and women but also the gender spectrum.
There are a few great celebrity cameos on the show who help Nye demonstrate some surprising and dramatic feats of science. These cameos help to get people who might not otherwise be engaged with the topics at hand be a little bit more receptive to them.
Any Potential Problems
They tried using a strange moving stage partition that required a bit of miming from bill to really explain the use of. This caused some small hiccups that Nye as the professional comedian he is was easily able to laugh off.
Maybe the Netflix format wasn’t the best way to do this show. Why? When the Cosmos A Spacetime Odyssey reboot was airing on Fox in 2014 one of the best parts of the event was the articles that would grapple with the topics outlined and start some interesting conversations in the public space inspiring various pieces on each topic. Unfortunately, with the Binge-watch style of release that Netflix does for its show distribution, we lose some of this periodic review and discussion. While I’m sure some of the more controversial episodes will be adequately engaged and critiqued I fear that 80% of what Nye wanted to say with BNStW will be lost under the heap of the controversial 20%. This is not necessarily a flaw of the show but a challenge of the Netflix distribution model.
BNStW has tried the panel setup used more commonly by Real Time with Bill Maher and Larry Wilmore’s (now canceled) The Nightly Show but mostly fails to have a productive and meaningful discussion from it. In a few cases Bill basically just beat up on the people from way out of the mainstream or let guest’s like the Monsanto Chief Technology Officer Dr. Robert T. Fraley off the hook on the questionable ethics of the company.
The show seems to have a somewhat difficult time speaking to people who don’t already agree with the premise put forth. This is a common issue with neoliberalism, it has a difficult time talking to those who don’t already agree with them and this is a point I make because the show title suggests it can save the world but it’s not really achieving its own mission. I’d be curious to see some discussion around a better way to speak to the people who aren’t convinced but are willing to listen. There are only about 10% of people who, on the issue of climate change, are basically immovable which means about 20+% can be moved and should be (based on a 2012 poll by the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication). But it’s not just climate change, Nye also covers topics like Alternative Medicine and fake facts that need to be understood by the receptive section of the population that refuses to recognize their toxic effect on society.
Suggested Topics for Season 2
Bill Nye didn’t quite save the world this season and there’s plenty more left to cover and some topics to revisit but which ones will Americans (who will be going into midterm elections this time next year) and the world at large most need to be aware of in the next year?
Philosophy – Bill Nye has had a dismissive view of the field until fairly recently when Olivia Goldhill of Quartz wrote a critical article of Nye in which Goldhill built a case for philosophy creating the foundation upon which science stands. Nye deserves credit for taking what the author had to say into consideration and changing his mind (as he had in the past about GMOs) when presented with new information.
Nuclear Energy – In Nye’s episode on Earth is a Hot Mess he takes (with the help of his panelists) a fairly anti-nuclear energy stance as a renewable energy. It could be a calculation that the public is simply unwilling to begin to consider Nuclear energy as Nye seems to allude to when he mentions the city of Olympia, Washington abandoning a new Nuclear Power Plant.
Electrical Energy Storage – In the same episode Earth is a Hot Mess Nye and his panel briefly discuss the ways to store excess generated power for use when the elements do not provide the necessary levels of energy to power homes and factories. Efforts by such companies as Elon Musks’s TESLA to create a more efficient battery not just for cars but for homes seems very relevant but wasn’t directly discussed. It’s an area of science that we need to solve and the people who discover it will be very wealthy when they do.
Social Justice – One of the most interesting things in how our approach to issues such as climate change is how it affects certain people. In Nye’s episode Designer Babies, this topic is briefly mentioned. Certain populations getting affected where others do not. In the podcast and television program, Adam Ruins Everything Adam Conover speaks with Conservationist Rosie Cooney from the ICUN who talks about how banning Trophy Hunting adversely affects not only the animals in the food web (prey) but also the human populations who rely not only on the kind of “animal control” these hunting activities create but also the tourist economy the depends on the influx of this foreign money to go to broader efforts of conservation.
Infrastructure – The Infrastructure of the United States is not befitting the world’s wealthiest nation. According to the 2017 Infrastructure Report Card, The United States received a D+ overall. This report breaks the various elements down citing the availability of certain public utilities and the integrity of public transportation. With efforts by Verizon and Google to spread Fiber across the United States now defeated due to the exorbitant costs the government may be the key to getting reasonable internet service to those who can’t currently get it and help to provide access to electronic media to all of us. Investors don’t want to pay for the Infrastructure, that’s why even libertarians like having SOME government. America has a long history of doing these kinds of massive public works initiatives which is how we got electricity infrastructure built in America.
Alternative Facts/Scientific Method – I would have absolutely loved to have seen Nye explain the differences between a Theory as the term is used colloquially and what it actually means in science. A great introduction to the peer review system and how a consensus is formed would be a challenge to make engaging and entertaining but it’s really at the heart of the decline of confidence in experts in the United States.
The Internet as a Utility – An explanation of the nature in which we use the internet and how it pertains to how we live our lives. Coding knowledge and experience are emerging as necessary skills much as typing has been for the last few decades.
Privacy – Today we have emerging forms of electronic and untraceable currency based on concepts know as “BlockChains” The Double-edged sword of surveillance both Public and Private Sector collection.
I’m greatly looking forward to what the future hold for the
new show and hope that it will continue to go where most show don’t.
Blow. It. Up. Bill.
You can catch Bill Nye Saves the World streaming on Netflix now.
http://www.planetary.org/about/staff/bill-nye.html on 4/21/2017