Bill Nye, the once and future Science Guy, wants to change the world. He said as much, with no degree of humility, during a talk at New York's 92Y. He was there, ostensibly, to promote his new book, Undeniable: Evolution and the Science of Creation. But it took little prodding from the moderator, CNN's Tom Foreman, for Nye to reveal his deeper motives. Mankind, and specifically the United States, must continue on a path of innovation to achieve success. Innovation is rooted in science, and an understanding of evolution, Nye argues, underpins all scientific understanding. With a continued resistance to the concept of evolution in many quarters, Nye sees himself as something of a Crusader.
Which is not to say he doesn't come armed with a smile. The sometimes wacky, always animated Nye didn't work in family-friendly television for nearly two decades for nothing. His talk, while touching upon serious subjects, was lively, entertaining and, at times, personal. And since we didn't see you there, we'll do you the service of running down the "Six Cool Facts We Learned From Bill Nye the Science Guy."
1 – The Bowtie Thing Is Real
Yes, the avuncular-looking Nye appeared on stage wearing a bowtie. It was red with some dark plaid striping. But it was also reversible with some snowflakes on the other side. In fact, he bought it just that very day. He was at a nearby Barnes And Noble (checking out the placement of Undeniable, he confessed) and then stepped into Brooks Brothers. It was the last bowtie they had and now it is part of Nye's collection which, he stated, numbers over 400. He quickly took it off and fastened it back on with incredible speed, all without the use of a mirror. “It's not my first time!” he joked.
2 – Humans and Animals: Not That Different
Much of the resistance to evolution, Nye feels, stems from an innate refusal to accept that humans may not be inherently “special.” But Nye contends that part of what makes mankind so great is its connection to so many other creatures. Instead of talking about genomes or DNA, he used a strange but significant example.
Darwin's laws or a “selfish gene” would argue that being altruistic is, in a strict evolutionary sense, antithetical to humans. And yet, most people (at least the ones I try to hang out with) try to act kindly toward one another. Nye explained how bats do this all the time. When one bat doesn't get enough to eat, another will barf (Nye's words) to help the other guy out, even if it isn't necessarily in that first bat's interest to do so.
3 – Evolving From Exceptional Origins
Bill Nye didn't spontaneously generate. He has some pretty extraordinary roots. His father was a World War II veteran, taken prisoner by the Japanese on Wake Island just after Pearl Harbor Day. His mother worked on breaking the Enigma code, and while Nye mentioned the recent film The Imitation Game, he said that growing up all he knew was that “mom was good at math.” Let's also not leave out the importance of teachers. While at Cornell University, Nye studied under Carl Sagan, and he didn't hesitate to mention that while jokingly calling himself out as a namedropper under a fake cough.
4 – How To Inspire More Women in Science
Nye is pushing for more American STEM education (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) in general. “I'm a patriot, or whatever,” he stated nonchalantly to great comic effect. Encouraging girls to not let societal constructs dissuade them from a vocation in science is a big part of that. “Fifty percent of humans are female, so fifty percent of scientists should be female.”
He added his voice to a suggestion common to some educators – that introducing algebra earlier in childhood development may be the way to go. An early acceptance of algebra and abstract thinking, he said, was a good indicator if someone has proclivity for this line of work. As it stands, algebra comes at 7th grade and hits some people like a wall. With other aspects of socialization happening at the time, it's sometimes a barrier that some people are never able to cross. If it were introduced earlier, that may not be the case.
5 – Life On Mars?
Even being on the forefront of evolutionary science as Nye is, he doesn't have all the answers. And he wonders if some of them are on the Red Planet. Nye hopes that an inexpensive push toward research on Mars could find a glacier “oozing with microbes.” Citing the “Hohmann transfer orbit,” Nye says it would only take 17 thousand years for something to travel to Earth, which in evolutionary “deep time” would be, in Nye's words, “no nothin'!” For the English teachers in the crowd, Nye quickly explained that he was “using double negatives for comic effect only.”
6 – Scientific Theory
So what about The Big Bang Theory? No, not the origin of matter in the Universe, the television show.
Nye's favorite character is, naturally, Bob Newhart's “Professor Proton,” who may or may not be loosely based on Bill Nye the Science Guy. But since he was only in a few episodes he confessed that that pick didn't count, so he agreed with popular consensus that Sheldon was hilarious. He did add that “as a guy” he was quite fond of Penny.