Product Reviews from a Scientific Perspective

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Bill Nye the Science Guy

It's come to my attention that Bill Nye, aka the Science Guy, has been going around the nation talking about climate change. Has anybody bought tickets to see his exhibit called ClimateLab, or his talks?

What's interesting about Bill Nye is that he was originally a mechanical engineering major and received a BS at Cornell, under the politically radical Carl Sagan. He later worked in the aeronautics industry as a consultant.

If you check out Bill Nye's website, you'll find that he's under fire for some of his comments on climate change. Which got me thinking about his qualifications.

Climate change is a pretty difficult topic to understand. Bill Nye not only got his formal education in mechanical engineering, which is far away from climate change science as can be within the field of science (as it involves neither biology, chemistry, nor astrophysics), but he only had a college level education. That's right - college was as far as he had gotten. No masters, no Ph.D. Most of you reading will either be as educated, or more educated, than Bill Nye the Science Guy.

So although Mr. Nye is more than qualified to teach science to little kids, I'm not so sure about his endorsement of climate change science. Climate change is a complicated thing. You have to analyze thermodynamics, understand ecological biology, and understand the chemistry and biochemistry interlinking it all.

So really, Bill Nye is more of a celebrity than a scientist when it comes to discussing something as complicated as climate change. I'm not saying he's not entitled to his own scientific opinion, but he can't be masquerading around as an authority in this area of science - and getting more press than an actual Ph.D., or professional researcher, or actual scientist within the field. I'm fine with him having his own blog, his own website, and so forth. But a tour across the country on a pressing issue? Seems more of an attempt to boost his celebrity status and financial situation than anything else.

Engineers are different than scientists, by the way. If you've ever watched Big Bang Theory, you'll remember Sheldon's constant berating of Wolowitz, who is the only engineer among the three Ph.Ds. Even though this comes purely out of his Asperger's Syndrome-like deadpan arrogance, there's still a bit of truth to separating engineers from scientists. The reason for this is that engineers are not taught to think as scientifically, in terms of experimentation, research, etc. They're taught to take advantage of the completed research of scientists - like taking advantage of Newton's third law. But they're not well-versed in rigors of scientific analysis, at least by virtue of their education. On the other hand, putting together scientific knowledge and principles creatively into a working machine is a skill that scientists don't necessarily have.

Anyway, I haven't seen Bill Nye's actual stuff, so if anyone out there actually has been to one of his talks, or his exhibits, please leave a comment or email me! I'd be pretty interested to see what he's trying to say. Plus, if all else fails, Bill Nye the Science Guy is still a great entertainer, so it should still be fun and enjoyable, shouldn't it?


  1. bill nye is a idiot. period

  2. you sir are an ass. period. period. Bill Nye is a wonder in children's educational TV shows. Maybe if you had a childhood you would be more appreciative.


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