Alternative facts are ‘un­sus­tain­able’

The Press - The Box - - COVER STORY -

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.

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