Bill Nye the Politics Guy?

By Liana Loewus — March 17, 2015 2 min read
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In a two-hour keynote at the National Science Teachers Association’s national conference, the star of the popular 1990s educational TV show “Bill Nye the Science Guy” spoke about selfies, climate change, and (mostly) Creation Museum founder Ken Ham.

Among science teachers, Nye is about as big a celebrity as you can get. His show stopped running in 1998 but many teachers say they still use episodes in the classroom—and that students love them as much as ever. Over and over, I heard teachers say of seeing Nye, “My kids are going to be so jealous!”

Nye is quite an entertainer—he began the presentation by imploring people not to take selfies but then showing this one he took with President Obama and fellow scientist Neil deGrasse Tyson:

He soon moved on to creationism and Ham. And he stayed there—for about 30 minutes.

As you may remember, a year ago Nye engaged in a public debate with Ham, a Christian fundamentalist who opened a museum in Petersburg, Ky., promoting a literal interpretation of the Bible’s Earth creation narrative. (That is, the museum espouses the idea that the universe is 6,000 years old and depicts Adam and Eve living with dinosaurs.)

During the speech last week, he said of Ham, “If you’re trying to indoctrinate children into an anti-science worldview, which is inane and silly, I ask myself whether or not you are acting in the best international interest.” He called the museum, “just another thing for people in the U.S. to have to apologize for.”

Nye recently published a book on evolution, called Undeniable: Evolution and the Science of Creation. (After his two-hour speech, he sat for another two hours of book signing.)

Eventually, Nye moved onto a discussion of what he called “the single greatest problem facing humankind": climate change. “Ninety-seven percent of the world’s scientists are very concerned about it,” he said. “Three percent whine it’s some conspiracy.”

“If we talked about climate change the way we talked about Ferguson,” he said, “if we talked about climate change the way we talked about Hillary Clinton’s emails, then we’d be in place to do something about it.”

Many, many teachers in the grand ballroom were thrilled to see Nye in person and found his message inspiring.

But some found it lackluster (though that conversation was not had so publicly on Twitter). A middle school teacher from Texas told me his speech was “too political.”

Another middle school teacher laughed when I asked about the speech. “I’m from Kentucky! Did you hear him?” Regarding his focus on Ham and creationism, she said a few people in her group of attendees were offended. “He makes it seem like you can’t teach science and be a person of faith,” she said. “We’re on the verge of new standards and changing science education and you want to talk about this poor museum in northeastern Kentucky. ... I love the guy, kids love him, but I thought, you’ve got to give this a rest! Good grief.”

Image: Bill Nye speaks at the 2015 NSTA annual conference March 12. —Liana Heitin

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Curriculum Matters blog.