Bill Nye the Irate Guy
Science has become politicized, yes, but finger-pointing and berating have little place in any educational environment.
By Kristian Porter, Northern Kentucky University
I am in a complicated, one-sided love affair with a sixty-one-year-old man, and I have been since I was quite young.
I first saw him when I was in fifth grade. I walked into science class, and there he was, donning his lab coat and smiling inside the now-ancient box TV. The substitute teacher knew only how to work the VHS player (and just barely), so for the entire hour-long class period, I listened to Bill Nye teach me about electricity.
I’ve been smitten ever since.
So, when I heard that Bill Nye was coming to Netflix with a new show, I immediately began to count down the days to when his face would grace my screen again. The previews looked promising, as they showed Nye discussing relevant, science-related topics through a political lens, featuring several guest stars that could only add to the entertainment.
The two-second clip of Nye maniacally laughing with Alton Brown, another old man that has a piece of my heart, was enough to hook me. I cleared all of my obligations for the April 21 release date, ready to binge-watch to my heart’s content—but then, something happened.
I watched a total of two episodes before I listened to that inkling feeling in my gut, and I admitted that there was something wrong. “Bill Nye Saves the World” should have been an amazing, educational program that used the charm and nostalgia of Bill Nye to facilitate a conversation with all points of the political spectrum about controversial science topics. Instead, it was mostly Nye yelling his opinion at his audience and chastising those who disagreed.
Bill Needs a Minute
The first episode of the brand-new series revolves around, of course, climate change. Bill Nye, though originally known as the lovable mad scientist from everyone’s childhood, has recently become known for his outspoken political commentary on matters related to science.
Familiar with Nye’s partisan leaning, I was interested to see how he would address those who deny the existence of climate change, hopeful by using scientific research and facts to support his viewpoints, while still being compassionate to the other side. All seemed to be heading in that direction, until he segued into a new segment that he called “I need a minute.” I will admit that, at first, I laughed.
There have been plenty of times when I have also “needed a minute” to deal with what I instinctively declared as stupidity because, no matter what I would say, the other person would not agree with my obviously correct opinion. But, the more I listened to Nye’s rant about those who deny climate change, the more I became aware of what I, and tons of liberals like me, must sound like.
The segment begins with Tyler, the Creator, in a voiceover, giving Nye permission to “tell them how you really feel,” to which Nye proceeds to yell, literally, for two minutes about how those who deny climate change are essentially the cause of the country’s lack of leadership in the fight against rising temperatures.
Between dramatic hand gestures and exaggerated struggled breaths, Nye accused nonbelievers of reinforcing a narrative of distrust in the scientific community. While there may be some truth to Nye’s accusations, the way he approached the situation was just plain irresponsible.
Blatantly pointing fingers and yelling accusations is a surefire way to have your audience immediately discredit your argument and stop listening. I would have thought that, if anyone, Bill Nye, charismatic television scientist, should know how to relate to his audience and use appropriate rhetoric.
I will be the first person to stand up for the existence of climate change and the need for environmental protection, but even I was turned off by his infuriated haranguing.
Bill Answers the Big Question
The animosity only seemed to grow as the show progressed. In the fifth episode, entitled “The Original Martian Invasion,” Nye attempts to explain an origin theory of life on Earth called panspermia.
To set the stage for the theory, he walks the audience through each supposed step in the formation of the planet by using visual models displayed on a table in front of him. As he makes his way down the line of objects, he reaches a replica of Noah’s Ark, which he picks up, looks at with a smirk and poses the question, “Are you screwing with me?”
He moves the model under the table and dismisses it by saying, “No, there was no freaking Noah’s Ark.” The comment, picking fun at those who practice Christianity, caught me off-guard, and, though I struggle with my own spirituality, a part of me was offended.
I feel the conclusion viewers were supposed to draw from that comment is that believing in science and God are two mutually exclusive events, and the people who believe in the story of Noah’s Ark are the kind of people he’s attempting to save the world from. I know plenty of educated, intelligent people who probably even agree with most of the things that Bill Nye says. And they also believe in God.
The purpose of the show, similar to his ’90s children’s show, is to educate the world on scientific topics. If this is the case, then, assuming for a moment that those two beliefs did only exist separately, you would think he would make an attempt to reach out to those who prefer using the Bible as their main source of information. Again, if his goal was to alienate his audience and dissuade them from listening to his argument, making fun of their personal beliefs was a guaranteed way to accomplish that.
I have always adored Bill Nye, and I still do. I completely believe that his heart is in the right place, and that he is on a mission to help make the world a better place. The problem lies in his methods.
There were moments in the show in which he consulted a panel of experts, including some who disagreed with him, and a healthy, constructive conversation took place. Unfortunately, these moments were bookended by berating that even I, a self-identified liberal, couldn’t bear to watch.