Bill Nye, activist guy
If you want to set Bill Nye off, just mention a certain archaic though inexplicably persistent science myth to his face.
“I don’t get this Flat Earth thing,” he says. “It’s just weird. Plus, understand the reason you have all the clothes you’re wearing and the food you eat is because of global commerce, which is enabled by people who understood how to drive around a sphere on the ocean. For crying out loud, the Earth is not flat! What’s wrong with you guys?”
For five seasons in the mid-1990s, Nye was the cheerleader for science education for the nation’s youth as the host of his PBS series “Bill Nye the Science Guy” and again on his current Netflix series “Bill Nye Saves the World.” And now he’s on a mission of even greater importance, to stop the spread of anti-scientific thought and action, efforts of which are detailed in the “POV” episode “Bill Nye: Science Guy,” premiering Wednesday, April 18, on PBS (check local listings).
The 90-minute documentary captures the 62-year-old TV presenter, mechanical engineer and CEO of the Planetary Society as he takes off his signature lab coat and confronts those who deny the importance of science, such as creationist Ken Ham and climate change skeptic and Fox News commentator Joe Bastardi and his college-age son Garrett.
Along the way, we learn about the man behind the bow tie, a Cornell graduate and former Boeing engineer with several patents to his name, who identifies his astronomy professor, Carl Sagan, as someone who “utterly changed my life” and gave him invaluable advice when he was developing his “Science Guy” series.
“He said, ‘When you do this show, focus on pure science. Don’t focus on technology,’ ” Nye recalls. “You know, I’m an engineer. I’m all about technology. And that really was hugely important advice. So those shows – I was in Australia for the first time a few months ago. Everybody watches the old show. All of these school kids watch ‘The Science Guy’ show in Australia.
“Despite the language barrier,” he adds with a laugh.
As for how he would advise parents to encourage a love of science in their own kids, Nye says, “Let kids make a mess but have them clean it up. Encourage the kids to screw around and try stuff. But safety first – or pretty near the top. People want to learn to light matches. Make sure they learn to light matches without killing themselves.”