Twenty years ago, Bill Nye the Science Guy hit the air to the delight of nerdy kids and science teachers who needed a video to show students while they worked through a hang-over.
On Saturday, the cast and crew celebrated the anniversary at Pioneer Square's AXIS, a new event space occupying the cavernous hole left by Elliott Bay Book Company's move to Capitol Hill. The private party included a reconstructed set and several Emmy awards lining the bar.
Seattle Weekly was invited to take it in and jaw with Nye for a bit, an opportunity I jumped at. While science was never my ball of wax, Nye is the reason I know to always put water in a pot before it goes on a burner; I may have died in an apartment fire without his counsel.
I wanted to ask Nye about the anti-science movement in the United States, the efforts by many conservatives (and some liberals) to attack the very essence of scientific inquiry. After all, Bill Nye the Science Guy's mission statement read, in part: “Produce a TV show that gets kids and adults excited about science, so that the United States will again be the world leader in technology, innovation, and sound management of the environment.”
In the last 20 years, I wanted to know, which side is winning?
“We've lost ground,” Nye says of science's standing in American society. “Since about the year 2000, these people have held sway.”
“These people,” Nye says, take the words of “some deity they read about in a book written in English translated three times from a middle eastern language and use that as a scientific text.”
He seems less troubled by climate change deniers than he does about people who deny evolution exists and the so-called “young Earth” theorists who use biblical text to date the globe at about 6,000-some years old.
“That's just wrong. It's analogous to saying the Earth is flat.”
Why wasn't Bill Nye the Science Guy able to stop this march back to the dark ages?
“I think we needed another 10 years. People who were 5 then (at the debut of the show) are 25 now. We need them to become the captains of industry,” he says.
The irony of conservatives attacking science, Nye says, is that the Republican Party is often the most vocal about America needing to dominate world commerce. You can't get there, Nye says, without a strong foundation in science.
On the issue of climate change, which he is continually appearing on cable news to remind viewers is real, he grouses as how personal the attacks have gotten against scientists like him. That's also something that has kicked up in the last 20 years, he says.
“It's not only wrong,” he says, “it's mean.”