Politics & Policy

When Did Bill Nye ‘the Science Guy’ Become So Insufferable?

Bill Nye at Politican 2016 (Flickr Photo/Gage Skidmore)
For Nye, science is a weapon wielded to advance a certain type of politics.

Bill Nye — “the Science Guy” — thinks that the recent deadly flooding in Louisiana is a result of climate change.

That’s not surprising. Bill Nye thinks everything is the result of climate change. Flooding in Missouri is climate change. Tornadoes in Kentucky is climate change. Fire in Alaska is climate change. A morning thunderstorm in Houston is climate change. One time, there was a blizzard in New York in January. That was climate change, too. The event doesn’t even have to be weather-related. The Islamic State’s massacre of 130 people in Paris last year? You guessed it.

When it comes to Bill Nye “the Science Guy,” it’s almost like “science” has nothing to do with it.

That would not be particularly surprising, either. After all, William Sanford Nye’s scientific bona fides consists of an undergraduate degree in mechanical engineering from Cornell, and a stint at Boeing. But you can be anything you want on television, and in the late 1980s, hard at work pursuing a career in comedy, Nye landed a recurring bit as Bill Nye “the Science Guy” on Almost Live!, a Seattle-area sketch-comedy television show, and a role as Christopher Lloyd’s laboratory sidekick on Back to the Future: The Animated Series. Nye then leveraged that success into his namesake PBS Kids show, Bill Nye the Science Guy, which from 1993 to 1998 filmed 100 half-hour episodes, each focused on a particular topic (dinosaurs, buoyancy, germs, &c.) and accompanied by a parody soundtrack (e.g., Episode 75, on invertebrates: “Crawl Away,” by “S. Khar Go” — a parody of “Runaway” by Janet Jackson). Somehow, because of this, Nye is now the go-to authority on exoplanets and dark matter and whether we are living in a computer simulation — and, of course, environmental policy.

Oddly, being America’s foremost “edutainer” is a sweet gig. When Nye is not pronouncing on all matters scientific, he pals around with pop stars and “bonds over Jay Z” with SNL actors. He does q-&-a’s with the New York Times and Esquire. He sits with Arianna Huffington at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner and take selfies with rapper DJ Khaled — who, it turns out, is “concerned about climate change.” (What a coincidence!) Nerddom would seem to have come a long way from passing-period swirlies.

Except that Bill Nye is not exactly a nerd. He just plays one on TV. Whatever Bill Nye was — to be fair, it’s no small accomplishment making science hip and interesting for millions of students — he is now primarily the foremost science-side participant in the cycle of personal validation and political-agenda-pushing that has come to characterize the relationship between leftwing politics and science. Stipulate that Bill Nye is a scientist. He then proclaims that climate change is not only real, but an apocalyptic threat. Rachel Maddow and Touré and all the other people who already believed that about climate change for political reasons get a fuzzy feeling, because they have been validated by a Scientist. They tousle Bill Nye’s zany hair. Rinse and repeat. Everybody wins.

When Nye is not pronouncing on all matters scientific, he pals around with pop stars and ‘bonds over Jay Z.’

This cycle was perfectly summed up in Nye’s absurd 2014 debate with Answers in Genesis founder Ken Ham, a Young Earth creationist, on the question: “Is Creation a Viable Model of Origins?” Had Here Comes Honey Boo Boo not still been on television, the debate would have been the lowest-IQ programming of the year. But watching fringe arguments based on untenable Biblical literalism be swatted down by a mechanical-engineering major stirred all the right feelings in the breast of a certain type of observer, and Nye was hailed as some sort of intellectual titan. When Ham later announced that publicity from the debate had made it possible for him to continue building his full-scale replica of Noah’s Ark — now open in Grant County, Ky. — Nye replied, with model scientific sobriety: “If [Ham] builds that ark, it’s my strong opinion: It’s bad for the commonwealth of Kentucky and bad for scientists based in Kentucky and bad for the U.S. And, I’m not joking, bad for the world.”

Nye says time and again that he wants to “change the world.” Encouraging genuine, good-faith debate and open, vigorous scientific inquiry would be a good place to start. But he’s more interested in using “science” as an all-encompassing justification for pushing a certain agenda, and enjoying the rewards that come from giving the appearance of scientific imprimatur to the Left’s pet causes — and that passes easily for “intellectual.”

It’s not a coincidence that the great pop icon of Science made his name hosting a children’s show.

Ian Tuttle — Ian Tuttle is the former Thomas L. Rhodes Journalism Fellow at the National Review Institute.

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