BY EMILY ATKIN
April 27, 2017
Tens of thousands of people around the world rallied for rational thought on Saturday, and those who attended the main March for Science, in Washington, D.C., were treated to a lengthy program of distinguished speakers: astronauts, astronomers, neuroscientists, biologists, chemists, and other Americans who—in a truly rational society—would be famous. But only one of them was legitimately famous.
“Our numbers here today show the world that science is for all,” Bill Nye the Science Guy belted to the crowd on the National Mall. “Our lawmakers must know that science serves every one of us. Every citizen of every nation in society. Science must shape policy. Science is universal. Science brings out the best in us. With an informed, optimistic view of the future, together we can—dare I say it—save the world!”
This speech, the Washington Post declared, “was a significant moment—for science, for William Sanford Nye and for the masses who have followed him for decades, from fuzzy TV screens in their middle school classrooms to the grounds of the Washington Monument at Saturday’s March for Science.” But Nye’s inspiring words were also, perhaps, a plug for his new Netflix show: Bill Nye Saves the World.
It seems that years of political debate have made him too jaded, exasperated, strident, and partisan to be the face of the climate change fight. Worse, he’s unwittingly feeding the conservative narrative that the left’s reverence for science is all just a political performance.
A few weeks earlier, Nye was a guest on Tucker Carlson’s evening show on Fox News. It was a cringeworthy nine minutes of television.
“To what degree is climate change is caused by human activity?” Carlson asked.
A simple question, but one that gave Nye pause. “To a degree that it’s … that it’s a very serious problem in the next few decades,” he said.
“But to what degree? Is it 100 percent? Is it 73.4 percent?”
“The word degree is a word that you chose, but the speed to which climate change is happening is caused by humans.”
“But to what extent is human activity is responsible for speeding that up? Please be more precise.”
Carlson said Nye looked annoyed—and he was right. Nye then tried to change the subject, asking Carlson why he doesn’t consider climate change a problem.
Right-wing media has had a field day with Nye lately. After his debate with Happer, the Blaze cackled with delight: “Bill Nye blows gasket when a real scientist schools him on facts.” National Review called Nye’s performance with Carlson “embarrassing,” citing his inability to say the degree to which humans are responsible for climate change. Nye’s Netflix show proves he’s not an actual “science guy,” as another Blaze article posited, but a science lover in performance only. Ben Shapiro argued that Nye is like most progressives in this way:
This is the dirty little secret of the Left’s sudden embrace of Science™—it’s not science they support, but religion. They support that which they believe but cannot prove and do not care about proving. Bill Nye isn’t interested in a scientific debate about global warming—how much is occurring, the measurement techniques at issue, the sensitivity of the climate to carbon emissions, the range of factors that affect the climate. He wants you to accept his version of the truth—not just that global warming is happening, but that massive government intervention is necessary in order to avert imminent global catastrophe.
The idea that liberals worship science without regard for nuance isn’t restricted to the political right; it’s a debate within the scientific community itself. Writing in Slate this week, physician Jeremy Samuel Faust noted that many of the millennials who marched for science are the same people who share pseudo-scientific articles about how beer makes you smarter. “Being ‘pro-science,’” he wrote, “has become a bizarre cultural phenomenon in which liberals (and other members of the cultural elite) engage in public displays of self-reckoned intelligence as a kind of performance art, while demonstrating zero evidence to justify it.”
The problem is not Nye’s understanding of the science. It’s that he’s become unable to explain it, in simple and clear terms, to a skeptical audience.