Alternative facts are ‘unsustainable’
Like a modern-day Flash Gordon, Bill Nye is here to save the world. The 61-year-old, bow-tied science educator and engineer’s new television series, Bill Nye Saves The World, is a platform to tackle big existential questions of our time. And a few little ones too.
Among those topics: climate change, genetically modified food, vaccines, video games, fad diets and artificial intelligence. The show’s mission, Nye says, is to tackle anything and everything from a scientific point of view.
‘‘Are video games good for you or bad for you, or not, or neither, or are they just games?’’ he says. ‘‘We did a show on that because people are interested and it’s susceptible to analysis.’’
Artificial intelligence, which Nye says is imminently upon us, is a big issue.
‘‘Start with an alarm clock. It wakes you up, but then you could have an alarm clock that wakes you up at different times during the week versus the weekend... but what happens when the machine makes decisions that you disagree with because it’s programmed itself?’’ he says.
‘‘Everybody’s going have to come to terms with it, but in general I would say there’s going to be more and more artificial intelligence and we’ll get more and more used to it,’’ he adds.
‘‘I just want people to appreciate it and have opinions about where is an appropriate use and where it’s not, because there can be ethical issues.’’
Nye is best known as the host of the hit 1990s series Bill Nye The Science Guy, which was pitched at a young audience and tackled topics such as gravity, the moon, light and colour, wind, oceanography, energy, pseudoscience and time.
As a science educator, Nye believes television has been a transformative force.
‘‘It’s fantastic, that’s why I’m in the business,’’ he says. ‘‘On television, we can take the viewer anywhere in the world, anywhere in the cosmos, and show him or her things that are very difficult to see on your own unless you just travel all the time.
‘‘We can rig up demonstrations and show cause and effect in a way that’s really difficult for somebody unfamiliar with what’s in hardware store or what have you,’’ Nye adds.
‘‘I’m a great believer of science on television, but it’s not a panacea. I tell everybody, when it comes to algebra, you have to do the practice, there’s no way around it. I’m sorry. It sucked for me too. As much as I believe in science on television, I believe in the written word. You’ve got to do it yourself.’’
Nye is both quietly disturbed by the attacks on intellectuals in the United States, but equally hopeful.
‘‘Historically governments have chosen to suppress intellectuals when they disagree with them,’’ he said. ‘‘I don’t think it’s sustainable though.’’
The visible impact of climate change, for example, coupled with ‘‘the coming of age of millennial voters’’ will ultimately reshape the landscape, he says.
‘‘[It] will overwhelm the current idea of denying an example of climate change,’’ Nye says. ‘‘This idea of alternative facts will be set aside pretty quickly.’’
That said it’s impact will be lasting in that technology has fundamentally changed how we consume and interpret information, Nye says.
‘‘The skill that we need, everybody needs, is the ability to filter information,’’ he says.
‘‘Finding it isn’t so hard anymore. If you want the atomic number of strontium, you just take out your phone and there it is. You can get all that information really fast.
‘‘What we want is for people to learn to filter information,’’ he adds. ‘‘The phrase that everybody throws around in US science education now is critical thinking skill, to be able to think critically about this stuff.’’
Nye points to the stream of nonsense on the internet, from stories about Hillary Clinton running a sex trafficking ring out of a pizza restaurant in Washington DC to claims that doctors keep cures hidden because they want the community to remain sick.
‘‘We want the viewer to be able to question that,’’ Nye says. ‘‘The skill that we want people to develop right now is filtering, filtering of information. Critical thinking. It’s more important than ever.’’
In the case of climate change, he notes, the denier movement has been able to introduce the idea that scientific uncertainty, plus or minus a couple of per cent, is somehow the same as doubt about the whole thing, plus or minus 100 per cent.
‘‘That’s not right,’’ he adds. ‘‘We want people to think critically about that.’’ – Fairfax
Bill Nye Saves The World is now streaming on Netflix
Fashion model Karlie Kloss is one of five ‘‘special correspondents’’ on Bill Nye Saves the World.
Bill Nye Saves The World is a platform to tackle big existential questions of our time.