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Bill Nye: Science Guy (A Movie Review)

Updated: Mar 15, 2020

Bill Nye: Science Guy


Featuring Bill Nye, Neil deGrasse Tyson, Ann Druyan, Ken Ham, Joe Bastardi, Ian Saunders, Erren Gottlieb, Jim McKenna, Emily Graslie, Dr. Eugenie Scott, Dr. Jerry Coyne, Dr. Francis Collins, Tom Foreman, Darby Nye, Steve Wilson, Susan Nye, Dr. Amy Bastian, Jennifer Vaughn, Jim G. Helton, Heather Berlin, Garrett Bastardi, Dr. James White, Dr. Michael Mann, Physics Girl, ASAPScience and archival footage of Carl Sagan.

Directed by David Alvarado and Jason Sussberg.

Distributed by PBS Films. 97 minutes. Not Rated.

With the dumbing down of America proceeding at a scary pace, there are still a few people out there who understand the importance of scientific exploration and education. There are even still a few people who have translated knowledge into a level of stardom or celebrity, for example Neil deGrasse Tyson, or the late Carl Sagan, or Stephen Hawking. Or Bill Nye – The Science Guy. See? He even has science as part of his stage name. He’s a natural.

This documentary on Nye’s life opens with a quotation on a chyron: “Science is far from a perfect instrument of knowledge. It’s just the best we have. In this respect, as in many others, it’s like democracy.”

This quote by Nye’s former mentor (and college professor) Sagan pretty much sums up Bill Nye’s world view fully, it’s almost as much a part of him as his always-present bowtie. He understands that we don’t understand everything about science, but he knows it is a better barometer for life and knowledge than pretty much anything else.

Then the film segues to a college lecture the science guy is giving, in a crowded stadium where Nye is treated like a rock star. The awkward balancing act between Nye’s search for fame and his need to impart knowledge and truth remains a concern throughout the film – both for the scientist and the audience.

However, even if the guy will openly admit that he has courted fame, in a way that he has been able to stay in the limelight nearly 20 years after his beloved PBS TV series was canceled, in the long run it appears that his need to teach is mostly selfless and at service of the greater good.

Even calling him a scientist is a bit of a stretch, he was an engineering student who never received a PhD. Naysayers like creationist Ken Ham and former political figure Sarah Palin love pulling out that little factoid like a knife, attempting to belittle what Nye says. However, after decades of playing a scientist on TV and in real life, Nye has become extremely knowledgeable in his adapted field.

Nye is worried that we have reached a point in which the world has become “anti-science.” He refuses to allow that to get worse, even in the era of Donald Trump. Bill Nye is just like a science professor in the biggest college in the world. Not only a professor, but also one of its greatest cheerleaders.

The main thrust of Bill Nye: Science Guy shows Nye trying to spread the good word about science, particularly the danger of man-made climate change. He meets up with strong-willed opposition from charlatans like creationist Ken Ham, who has created two theme-park museums for his own religious view of the creation of life, an odd world where humans live peacefully alongside dinosaurs and the world is only 6000 years old.

Several scenes show Nye visiting Ham’s exhibits and trying to explain the inaccuracies to the guests, who seem to have no interest in having facts crowd in on their beliefs. In a debate between Ham and Nye, their differences are put into stark relief when they are both asked what – if anything – would ever change their minds about strongly held beliefs. Ham insisted he would never change his mind because he believed in the word of the Bible. Nye said his mind could be swayed by anything that could be shown to disprove what he had previously believed.

Unwavering faith or intellectual curiosity. You decide which is more accurate.

Others are not even so strident on their fringe beliefs. Accu-Weather meteorologist and climate change denier Joe Bastardi (who constantly wears clothing in his interviews from our mutual alma mater, Penn State, sigh) is pugilistic and antagonistic in his against the grain beliefs. However, he does not seem to have any religious or even political horse in the game. He just seems to like tilting against windmills that 97% of all scientists agree upon.

When Nye is not trying to save our nation’s collective IQ, the film shows some of his more personal moments. A life-long bachelor, he cares for his brother and sister, both of whom suffer from a genetic illness called Ataxia, which also afflicted his father. Nye admits to feeling guilty that his siblings have to deal with the condition, but for some reason he seems to have side-stepped the illness. He also acknowledges he has never had a child because he feared passing the illness on to another generation.

Nye has also taken over his mentor Carl Sagan’s The Planetary Society, trying to get one of Sagan’s dream projects off the ground, literally.

There is also some fun footage of Nye’s career as a kid’s TV host, and interesting chats with Nye and the creators of the show about the experience, and also some of the backstage drama that happened early on, when Nye tried to take the series idea to another company and delayed the show for a year while his attempt to annex the show failed.

Bill Nye is a complex man, a man of diverse wants and needs, but in general he seems to believe in giving back to the good of the common man. Whether you are a fan of his 1990s TV show or just someone who believes in science, an hour and forty minutes with Bill Nye is time well spent.

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2017 All rights reserved. Posted: December 15, 2017.

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