Can Bill Nye Save the World?

Illustration by Avni Joshi

Illustration by Avni Joshi

“Bill Nye Saves the World” is a new show starring Bill Nye, a well-known and popular member of the science education community. The series description claims to “look at topics from a scientific point of view, refuting myths and claims that rebuke science”. Since Bill Nye is influential, this article seeks to investigate Bill Nye’s ability to convey important health related information to his audiences for features such as reliability, trustworthiness and presented scientific support. The article will be using the episode on sleep for explicit examples.

Bill Nye Saves the World often opens with a studio audience applauding the entrance of Bill Nye, who appears excited and ready to provide corny jokes to start his show. He then does a relevant demo to get people engaged with the day’s material. In the sleep episode, he used an EEG device he had strapped to his forehead, and to the forehead of a “sleep” dummy, to compare sleep and awake brain states. An EEG device itself is a powerful medicinal tool, capable of providing brain wave data with minimally invasive techniques (electrodes attached to the head). It is currently most often used to study sleep and brain disorders such as epilepsy by measuring the electrical impulses of the brain in incredible detail. While Bill Nye’s demo was humorous and interesting, he appears to opt for entertainment over information, as he only provides limited factual value through the ensuing demonstration, leaving out the reasons people use EEG devices and why they are so impactful on modern medicinal practice. This issue of leaving out key pieces of understanding in the world of science and health is commonplace. Often times demos only consist of explanation of the demonstration itself. This style mirrors the old show “Bill Nye the Science Guy” in that the information provided is not disputed and is widely accepted.

However, many of his other segments lack the same qualities. His segment titled “I Need a Minute” consists of Bill Nye making claims that “debunk myths” while providing no evidence, support or conversation about such myths or their subsequent “debunking”. A real show about myths, Mythbusters, actually tests and confirms or denies myths as best they can in front of their viewers. Bill Nye, however, relies exclusively on the clout of his own word as evidence, which undercuts any scientific value his claims may have. Bill Nye’s panel segment also appears fraught with issues mostly because, of the three people present on the panel, not all of them are qualified to discuss the material on the same footing. Panels can range from celebrities (who appear have no or limited scientific background), to show correspondents with unidentified credentials, to actual scientists. However, even the scientists are not evenly asked for their opinions, and often the ones that are provide the audience with interesting but controversial claims, as they have not been sufficiently agreed upon by the scientific community at large. It almost appears as though panelists are cherry picked to provide the strongest emotional argument possible, which seems to fly in the face of scientific discourse and proper factual presentation.

Unfortunately, at no point in the show does Bill Nye appear to remedy the troubling qualities of his segments. There is very little scientific discussion about controversial information that helps viewers make their own educated decisions, there is seemingly no space made for viewers to ask questions and challenge the emotional arguments being made on the show’s floor, and there is a lack of room for disagreement. This lack of discussion space labels the show as a seeming one-way venue for any information deemed “correct” by the show’s creators.

Science only describes the world as best it can until better evidence is presented, meaning no information can be proven “correct”. However, Bill Nye’s show appears to be more interested in other issues than recognizing that scientific facts are subject to criticism at any time and are certainly not absolute. These facts, some of which are hotly contested among scientists, are often presented as though they are free of disagreement and discussion. This troubling attitude, combined with the apparent alienating atmosphere of the show and the seeming lack of evidence provided for the objective observer, damages any trust an objective viewer should have in the show’s material. Therefore, this article’s apparent conclusion, from what has been observed so far, is that “Bill Nye Saves the World” not only fails in its goal to provide scientific perspective on any issue, but that it also fails to provide any substantial evidence to refute myths and claims that rebuke science. In some sense this conclusion also leaves an objective viewer worried about the role a prominent figure in the public image of science and health has on the global community.

Edited by: Nikhil Karavattuveetil

Illustrated by: Avni Joshi

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