Somebody enlighten this man!

UPDATE: Taken in context, as you can see in the video that Michael found and posted in the comments, this isn’t as bad as it sounds, for Nye is characterizing one of the premises of science but not the whole enterprise. That said, watch the video in the comments; I find Nye totally embarrassing and cringe-worthy as a science explainer. He’s certainly not my “Science Guy”!

. . . SO IS THEOLOGY!

63 Comments

  1. Posted July 13, 2017 at 8:49 am | Permalink

    Nye’s really at a loss unless he has a giant abacus to work with.

  2. Barry Lyons
    Posted July 13, 2017 at 8:54 am | Permalink

    “Science is the belief you can solve the problem” — what a strange and strained way to say the scientific method provides answers. Why does he use the word “belief”?

    Nye means well, but he’s too daffy.

    • Ann German
      Posted July 13, 2017 at 1:54 pm | Permalink

      I get the feeling that “meaning well” is not going to play well with our descendants.

  3. Posted July 13, 2017 at 8:54 am | Permalink

    “Somebody enlighten this man!”

    Not possible.

  4. Randy schenck
    Posted July 13, 2017 at 9:06 am | Permalink

    Why do they call him the science guy or better yet, why does he call himself that? I could say I was an MD but I have no patient. Donald Trump is president but he is no politician and he has no clue.

    • Posted July 13, 2017 at 10:06 am | Permalink

      “Being” an M.D. doesn’t require patients; it only requires a degree. Being President only requires a majority of the Electoral College votes. Nye tells a short story about how he got designated as “the Science Guy.” It wasn’t originally his idea. It was suggested by a colleague, but he decided he liked it, and it fit pretty well. Personally, I like him, and I think he accomplishes a lot of good. That doesn’t mean I agree with everything he says. OTOH, I wonder if he really said this. Most of us are aware that there are thousands of examples of people being misquoted.

      • Randy schenck
        Posted July 13, 2017 at 10:18 am | Permalink

        Well, I saw the show he was on CBS and he was not misquoted. It just seems not too much to ask, if you speak for science, one should know what they are talking about, no? Just as the guy who accumulates those electoral votes should have some qualifications for the job. I see none there.

  5. W.Benson
    Posted July 13, 2017 at 9:08 am | Permalink

    I can give Bill a “half-true”. Certainly no scientist has ever begun serious work on a problem without believing that it had a solution and that the means potentially existed to find that solution.

    • ploubere
      Posted July 13, 2017 at 4:10 pm | Permalink

      I’m not sure that’s entirely accurate. One can do work that will either confirm or disprove a hypothesis. It’s not useful to set out with a belief that it will be confirmed.

      • Posted July 14, 2017 at 4:44 pm | Permalink

        “Belief” has two meanings. Believing (=supposing, thinking) that it is going to rain tomorrow is quite different from believing in a deity.
        Curiously (or not?) the same “confusion” happens in German, French, Spanish, Italian…
        .-

    • W.Benson
      Posted July 13, 2017 at 10:29 pm | Permalink

      “Good” science works with theories. When a glaring fact lacks a theory, a theory will soon appear. Scientists, if means exist, will soon work to test the theory. Some will think it is useful and root (at least privately) for confirmatory results. Others will think it is useless and root for refutation. A scientific theory is at heart a belief, as are the hypotheses derived from it, whether that belief is for or against. At least that is what I believe.

  6. Posted July 13, 2017 at 9:15 am | Permalink

    As a science communicator, he should understand communication is key.

  7. Mary Coughlan
    Posted July 13, 2017 at 9:35 am | Permalink

    Oh give the guy a break. He’s not the enemy. Engage with him if needs must.

    • Posted July 13, 2017 at 9:37 am | Permalink

      I did engage and have engaged with him. Don’t tell me what to do. He’s certainly doing a crappy job of science communication.

      • Xuuths
        Posted July 13, 2017 at 11:00 am | Permalink

        “Don’t tell me what to do”? Really? Do you similarly respond to people saying “Have a nice day”?

        • Posted July 13, 2017 at 2:26 pm | Permalink

          Uh-oh. Have you actually red da Roolz?

          /@

          • Xuuths
            Posted July 14, 2017 at 11:53 am | Permalink

            Yes. Actually. Numerous times. Which one do you think I’ve broken? 6? Nope.

        • Heather Hastie
          Posted July 13, 2017 at 2:53 pm | Permalink

          There are few things more annoying than to be told what to write about on your own website. If you disagree, provide coherent arguments that engage on the subject. There’s no need to personally attack the writer.

          • Xuuths
            Posted July 14, 2017 at 11:50 am | Permalink

            “personally attack”? What a low threshold. Are you seriously implying that @Mary was giving an order or making a demand? Really?

            • Heather Hastie
              Posted July 14, 2017 at 1:37 pm | Permalink

              That’s not what I said. A better analogy would be going into your home and telling you how to arrange the furniture and who should sleep in which bedrooms.

              • Xuuths
                Posted July 18, 2017 at 4:52 pm | Permalink

                Which @Mary didn’t do either, and which you admitted. You’re arguing against yourself.

                “Give the guy a break” is not “telling me what to do.” Period.

  8. Posted July 13, 2017 at 9:35 am | Permalink

    Reblogged this on The Logical Place.

  9. Paul S
    Posted July 13, 2017 at 9:54 am | Permalink

    Bill Nye was quite good as a host of a children’s science show. He could explain ideas in non science terms and provide experiments that kids could do.

    That however does not translate into being a good science communicator, nor a scientist.

    I enjoyed watching his show with my son and saddened at what he’s become.

    • Xuuths
      Posted July 14, 2017 at 11:56 am | Permalink

      Your 2nd paragraph contradicts your 1st paragraph.

  10. Kevin
    Posted July 13, 2017 at 9:57 am | Permalink

    Nye exhibits a combination of stubbornness and lack of perspective that I wonder if he’s ever had a chance to assemble a delicate thought in his head which he could contemplate for more than an engineering minute.

    Maybe if he changed clothes. Someone might want to send him Boden catalog, a ticket to CO, some cash for cannabis, and Feynman’s complete works.

    As a physicists, Nye makes me sick.

  11. mrclaw69
    Posted July 13, 2017 at 10:07 am | Permalink

    Not a Bill Nye fan (and his recent output has been weak to say the least), but I’m going to play Devil’s Advocate here:

    First of all: it’s not at all clear to me that this is a self-contained phrase, or if it’s a partial quote. can anyone enlighten?

    Secondly, while I grant that it’s more appropriate and accurate to say something like: “science is the set of systematic processes whereby we gather and evaluate data to better test our understanding of the world” (insert your own favourite definition), but
    Nye’s an engineer so he approaches the world as an engineer: “what’s the problem and how do I solve it?”. I have several engineer friends and they all seem to share this sort of extremely practical/problem-solving approach to the world.

    Thirdly, it may simply be that he wanted to sound inspirational and didn’t choose his words carefully. But then, for someone who’s primary function is supposedly to communicate science, such clumsy syntax suggests he’s not very good at it…

    • mrclaw69
      Posted July 13, 2017 at 10:10 am | Permalink

      “…whose…”

      Oh! for an edit button….

      • HBB
        Posted July 13, 2017 at 10:33 am | Permalink

        I was thinking the same thing with regard to Nye’s engineering background. Maybe this is an appropriate edit to his quote: “Engineering is the belief you can solve the problem.”

        I got a huge kick out of him as the Science Guy so I’m willing to cut him a little slack here and there.

  12. alexandra Moffat
    Posted July 13, 2017 at 10:08 am | Permalink

    “The scientist has a lot of experience with ignorance and doubt and uncertainty, and this experience is of very great importance, I think. When a scientist doesn’t know the answer to a problem, he is ignorant. When he has a hunch as to what the result is, he is uncertain. And when he is pretty darned sure of what the result is going to be, he is in some doubt. We have found it of paramount importance that in order to progress we must recognize the ignorance and leave room for doubt. Scientific knowledge is a body of statements of varying degrees of certainty — some most unsure, some nearly sure, none absolutely certain”. – R Feynman

    (maybe mankind can be divided into those who demand certainty -the religious – and those who are content to live in wonder and doubt and curiosity. What is it in our brains that makes us demand certainty when it is so self-destructive and so prevalent. Fear? How desperately we need Feynmans.
    BTW – he liked d*gs.)

    • mrclaw69
      Posted July 13, 2017 at 10:12 am | Permalink

      Much more thoughtful (but then that’s Feynman for you!), but it’s not really conducive to the 140 character limit of Twitter!!!

    • Posted July 14, 2017 at 5:04 pm | Permalink

      “mankind can be divided into those who demand certainty -the religious- and those who are content to live in wonder and doubt and curiosity.–
      Love that division! Since I heard Feynman explain in a video his satifaction with uncertainty, I always imagine the neurons involved in each of these mindsets, being intertwined in two fixed circuits.
      .-

  13. Posted July 13, 2017 at 10:14 am | Permalink

    “So is theology”? Isn’t theology the belief that the problem has already been solved and we just need to accept it?

    I’m personally quite comfortable with this definition. Yes, more could be said, but fundamentally I would agree that science requires the belief that the unknown is a problem to be solved and that it is a worthwhile endeavor to attempt solving it.

    • darrelle
      Posted July 13, 2017 at 1:19 pm | Permalink

      Not sure precisely how you mean that, but I’d point out that science does not require a prior belief that a (the) problem can be solved. It doesn’t even require a prior belief that science is capable of solving problems at all. All it requires is for the methods of science to be used. If it works, you can tell that it worked. If you give it many tries over a long period of time and it works a lot of the time, then you have reason to be confident in its usefulness.

      • Posted July 13, 2017 at 2:58 pm | Permalink

        I think we’re splitting hairs here, probably because we don’t like the word “belief.” 🙂

        I think what BN is saying is that scientists are confident that the unknown is knowable, and I think he’s contrasting that approach with theologians, who would say that ultimately the answer is unknowable, because it’s “God.”

        I would modify that to say that it may not always be *possible*, but it’s still useful to try.

        • ploubere
          Posted July 13, 2017 at 4:12 pm | Permalink

          If that’s what Nye meant, then he phrased it poorly. It’s an ambiguous statement, open to a lot of interpretations.

    • Posted July 13, 2017 at 2:32 pm | Permalink

      “Theology is the belief that (only) God can solve the problem.”

      I think that’s the dialectic.

      /@

  14. Sastra
    Posted July 13, 2017 at 10:27 am | Permalink

    I think Nye might contrast the approach of science to the approach of theology.

    “How did the different species come about?”
    “Let’s figure it out and solve it!”

    vs.

    “How did God create the different species?”
    “Through His powers of creation!”
    “How, though?”
    “I don’t know and I don’t care! And neither should you! We can’t solve THAT problem, silly.”

    But that’s a pretty involved explanation in defense, so it’s still not a good quote.

    • Xuuths
      Posted July 13, 2017 at 11:03 am | Permalink

      In fact, to ask such questions is heresy against blind faith!

  15. Serendipitydawg
    Posted July 13, 2017 at 10:32 am | Permalink

    I only encountered him once in the UK and that was on an episode of Stargate SG1 (along with Neil deGrasse Tyson, if memory serves). He came across as a complete ham, I am afraid – even if he had been spouting some real science, rather than the entertaining, sciency gibberish that made SG so entertaining, I doubt I would have been convinced that he know what he was talking about.

  16. Serendipitydawg
    Posted July 13, 2017 at 10:34 am | Permalink

    Curses! Blew the end tag, sorry PCCe.

  17. Michael Fisher
    Posted July 13, 2017 at 10:50 am | Permalink

    Fake CBS THIS MORNING Bill Nye quote methinks!

    My rough-cut transcript of the interview
    INTERVIEW GUY [Charlie Rose]: What you’re talking about, it seems to me, is not so much science per se, but the creativity of problem solving

    SCIENCE GUY: …And also believing that you can solve the problem. This is one of the premise in science everybody so far is that we CAN know nature, that we CAN understand things. If you go into it “we can’t figure this out. We can’t possibly…” then you won’t.

    I’ve cued up the video below to begin @ 4:23

    YouTube description:
    Published on Jul 10, 2017

    Bill Nye has worked for decades to get audiences excited about science. He hosted the popular and influential “Bill Nye the Science Guy” show, covering everything from atoms to the atmosphere and winning 19 Emmys along the way. Nye joins “CBS This Morning” to discuss his new book, “Everything All at Once: How to Unleash Your Inner Nerd, Tap into Radical Curiosity and Solve Any Problem”

    • Michael Fisher
      Posted July 13, 2017 at 10:52 am | Permalink

      Well that cuing failed! Go to 4:23

    • Xuuths
      Posted July 13, 2017 at 11:06 am | Permalink

      Thank you for the quote in context.

    • Posted July 13, 2017 at 11:29 am | Permalink

      You’re right. The tweet is a quote mine.

    • Diane G.
      Posted July 13, 2017 at 10:15 pm | Permalink

      Good job, Michael.

  18. Phil Rounds
    Posted July 13, 2017 at 11:00 am | Permalink

    “Science is the belief you can solve the problem.”

    Perhaps that doesn’t describe science in its entirety. But doesn’t science need to begin with the premise that a problem is solvable? Doesn’t religion have the conviction that all the problems are already solved?

    • darrelle
      Posted July 13, 2017 at 1:40 pm | Permalink

      blockquote>“But doesn’t science need to begin with the premise that a problem is solvable?”

      That does seem to be a common view, but it doesn’t seem accurate to me. It could be that I am not understanding exactly what people mean when they say it. But it seems to me that you don’t need to believe that the problem is solvable, all you have to do is be willing to try.

  19. Posted July 13, 2017 at 12:51 pm | Permalink

    Science is the belief you have the best tools for solving the problem, if a solution exists.

    • John
      Posted July 13, 2017 at 1:52 pm | Permalink

      I like to say I have confidence in science. That is, “I have confidence that evidence observable evidence fully supports the theory of evolution.”

      • Posted July 13, 2017 at 3:10 pm | Permalink

        I am happy to say I believe evolution is true because the evidence is overwhelming, and the religious are probably happy to say that they are confident God exists for whatever silly reasons they have. It is not the words that matter, it is the reasons why one holds a belief or has confidence.

  20. josh
    Posted July 13, 2017 at 1:08 pm | Permalink

    I have to disagree, Theology is the belief that all problems were solved millennia ago by tribal Middle Eastern warlords and/or magicians.

    • Posted July 13, 2017 at 1:43 pm | Permalink

      No, I dispute this. Theologians are still trying (ineffectually) to solve problems like “why is there physical evil in the world?” And there are new problems like, “Are aliens on other worlds saved by Jesus?”

      • Xuuths
        Posted July 13, 2017 at 2:09 pm | Permalink

        Who knew that CS Lewis would already have written a story about this very topic? (see Perelandra)

        • Posted July 13, 2017 at 2:40 pm | Permalink

          But see A Case of Conscience by James Blish and ”The Streeets of Ashkelon” by Harry Harrison.

          /@

          • darrelle
            Posted July 13, 2017 at 3:06 pm | Permalink

            And a bit later, The Mote In God’s Eye by Niven & Pournelle.

        • Torbjörn Larsson
          Posted July 13, 2017 at 3:54 pm | Permalink

          Is not the premise of Lewis’ scifi pretty much scientology gone bad? Ironically even the scam artist Hubbard kept that woo away from his commercial scifi.

          I do not see how Lewis’ woo world can be helpful for general theologians. Would they not try to keep the number of magical agencies down to one?

          • Posted July 13, 2017 at 7:48 pm | Permalink

            I have never been able to make myself read C S Lewis, sorry to say.

            This is probably not the place to talk about it, but have any of you read “The Painter of Battles” by Arturo Perez-Reverte? I’m reading it for the second time and it reminded me of discussions here about “determinism” vs. “free will”. And all methods humanity has come up with to try to find order in chaos.

            Perez-Reverte was a war journalist before turning to writing fiction full time. The main character in the story has spent 30 years taking photographs of atrocities in war zones and now is painting a composite of his memories on the interior of a 300+/- year old tower that time is breaking down.

            Please forgive me for sharing this, but it has taken over my mind temporarily.

  21. Torbjörn Larsson
    Posted July 13, 2017 at 3:43 pm | Permalink

    I think Nye has some admirable sides. He claims that he will not have children because of high likelihood for a congenital problem. IIRC he was the only child spared in his family, so it may be dominant but not always expressed? And he is the director of Planetary Society, which do much good with him in Washington.

    But I met him in SG1 and a later Big Think video where he was disorganized. So I thought as comments above, what a ham. Similarly I can respect his Emmy’s but I think his enabling the Ham Ark was a hard to forgive easily prevented mistake. (Do not give credence to creationists.)

  22. Mary Coughlan
    Posted July 14, 2017 at 4:01 am | Permalink

    Dear Mr. Coyne, I wrote a comment suggesting that instead of criticizing Bill Nye it might be better to engage with him. You seem to have taken my comment in a way that it was not intended. I apologize if you took umbrage at my words. I never engage in uncivil discourse and I regret the phrasing of my comment. I acted out of frustration as it not the first time Mr Nye had come in for criticism. I am not a scientist but have been pro-science all my adult life and am thus a great supporter of everyone who promotes science. The world is taking an anti science slant ( woo, anti-vaxx, climate change denial) more especially in the US. It’s not yet quite so extreme in Europe. People like Mr Nye have a role to play. I have felt on occasions ( tv shows where he was debating climate change denier) that he was not the best person for the job. Surely the way to proceed is for some of you scientists to get in touch with him and discuss how he might do a better job? It seems that you have already done this to little avail. I was not to know this, hence my comment. Non scientists who promote an understanding of science need all the help they can get. I shall continue to read you but shall refrain from commenting in future. With my best wishes Mary Coughlan

    >

  23. C. Morano
    Posted July 14, 2017 at 12:02 pm | Permalink

    Ahhh! What is Nye thinking? Just another belief system? We don’t need another one of those.


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