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Twenty years ago, Bill Nye introduced a generation of young people to the wonders of natural science in his weekly television show, “Bill Nye The Science Guy.” Today, his lively, and at times comedic, style of explaining scientific facts remains an example for educators looking to engage kids in scientific studies. Bill Nye, a Washington native, joins Kojo to discuss how he got hooked on science and what he thinks can draw future generations into STEM fields.
- Bill Nye CEO, Planetary Society; former host of the television show, "Bill Nye The Science Guy."
Watch A Featured Clip
Bill Nye, the former host of the popular television program “Bill Nye: The Science Guy,” said Wednesday he didn’t think his stance on creationism affected his ability to educate young scientists.
“Climate change should not be a political issue. Evolution should not be a political issue,” he told host Kojo Nnamdi during his hour-long appearance on the Kojo Nnamdi show.
“I believe that ultimately in as little as five years … this striking, thoughtless way of thinking – worldview- will be discredited to a greater extent,” he said.
For the full discussion, watch the video below
Watch Bill Nye’s Full Hour In Studio
Watch Featured Video
In this video clip from “Bill Nye The Science Guy,” Nye makes his own volcano.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. Can you remember the first time that science really amazed you? Maybe it was when you saw how vinegar reacts when mixed with baking soda, or when a teacher had you put your hand on a round metal ball called a Van de Graaff Generator and your hair stood on end, or perhaps you're part of a certain generation that grew up in the '90s, in which case, you'll probably say you decided science was cool when you first saw "Bill Nye The Science Guy."
MR. KOJO NNAMDINye created his five year long TV series exploring the wonders of natural science 20 years ago and became known among kids and adults for his lively fast-paced and comedic style of explaining scientific facts. Since then he's become a vocal advocate of STEM education in the US, a lobbyist for space exploration and recently a defender of climate change science. But for most of us, he's still best known as the science guy. And he joins us in studio, Bill Nye, welcome.
MR. BILL NYEIt's so good to be here.
NNAMDIBill Nye is currently chief executive officer of the Planetary Society and he's, of course, as we mentioned, the former host of "Bill Nye The Science Guy." If you would like to join the conversation with Bill Nye, give us a call, 800-433-8850. You got questions or comments, you can also shoot us an email to email@example.com or as tweet @kojoshow. Bill Nye, let's start with fact that many people may not know that while your career really took off in that other Washington, in the Seattle area, you're actually a native of Washington, D.C. Tell us a little bit...
NYEYes, absolutely, yes.
NNAMDIIs there anything about your upbringing in the Washington area -- you're a fourth generation Washington native -- that explains your decades long fascination with science and education?
NYEWell, my father always called himself Ned Nye, science -- Ned Nye, boy scientist and his brother, my uncle, was an engineer, mechanical engineer. My uncle, the younger brother of the guy my, the younger brother of the women my father married was a geologist. Every -- you know, these, I have a lot of -- especially informal science people in my -- like, my father was quite a rock hound. Quite the amateur geologist, stuff like that -- things like that.
NNAMDIYour mother was a code breaker during World War II?
NYEYeah, that's what they say. You know, she couldn't talk about it. No, so she -- my mom went to Goucher College and of those of you, even who live here aren't familiar, Goucher College was for a long time the sister school to Johns Hopkins, in Baltimore. Now, my mother's not living anymore, but when she was she would remind you know that, you know, they let boys in. You know, it's gone to heck. But the secretary of -- I mean rather the -- well the Secretary of War, Stimson, was the first cousin of the dean of students, the dean of women at Goucher.
NYEAnd this was in a different era, apparently he said to her, do you have any women that can come work on this thing, I can't tell you what it is. So my mom worked on the enigma code in World War II, and she subscribed to "Cryptography Magazine," "Cryptographer Magazine," and if you go to the Cryptography, Cryptologic Museum on the Baltimore Washington parkway, there's her picture, she's in one of the pictures right there.
NNAMDISo you grew up surrounded by science and apparently comedy and laughter.
NYEI thought both my parents were very funny.
NNAMDIYour TV show, "Bill Nye The Science Guy," which aired for nearly five years in the '90s, managed to convince a generation of kids that science could be entertaining. Let's revisit your episode about energy.
NYEHere's a question, which has more heat energy, this hot burning match or this beautiful ice sculpture of science? Well, the match is hot, right? Sculpture's cold? Well they're both made of molecules, right? But which has more molecules? The ice sculpture, a lot more molecules. So although they're much colder than the match, they actually have more heat energy. More molecules, more heat energy.
NNAMDIWhen you were growing up, did you find...
NYEIt's that simple.
NNAMDIDid you find that your teachers were able to make lessons about the science behind heat or chemical reactions…
NYEI had outstanding teachers.
NNAMDI...that, that fun?
NYEI had fantastic teachers, I had -- Mr. Lawrence (sp?) at Lafayette Elementary School was just fantastic. Mr. Flowers at Alice Deal Junior High was great, just great. These guys really inspired me.
NNAMDIYou stay in touch with them, don't you?
NYEWell I'm gonna see my old physics teacher, after this interview, yes.
NNAMDIYou would, you would later write a letter to President Obama, when he was first elected, asking him to strengthen American schools and you used your own education as an example. How did your two schooling experiences, first you mentioned Alice Deal, then at Sidwell, end up influencing your views on education in the U.S.?
NYEWell, I'll tell ya, I mean, I went to Sidwell, I -- I'm pretty sure, I'm pretty confident that was a clerical error, on their part.
NYEWell whether they didn't let me in. So after a guy got shot, not at Alice Deal but at Hardee (sp?) Junior High. My parents, my mother especially, if I may, like totally freaked. And I was -- she had me apply to Sidwell Friends and I was admitted, as they say, by I think, by accident. But it could contrast, at least in those days, the environment of this remarkable private school with this heretofore very good public school. And it was just a different vibe, I mean, there was a lot fewer people in every class.
NYEIt did not smell the same way. There was a thing, and this could be unique to teenage boys, but there was a way to make things smell really bad. And it was troubling. But anyway, so that was, I had a remarkable experience at Sidwell and that's what allowed me to get in, you know, just to keep going and it was real good.
NNAMDII wondered about that, because our -- my own first experience with chemistry had to do with trying to make things smell really, really bad.
NYEOh, we did that. Oh, yeah, yeah. It's good, you want to control it, though, under an exhaust hood and so on.
NNAMDIAlice Deal of course, is one of the more attractive public schools in Washington.
NYENow it looks like the developed world, now it's this fabulous place.
NYEBut when I was there, it was getting run down and it was not being supported by tax dollars and so on, and so on.
NNAMDIAfter attending Alice Deal Junior High and Sidwell Friends, you went on to Cornell for a degree in mechanical engineering.
NYEAnother clerical error.
NNAMDIHow did that put you on a path to becoming the science guy?
NYEWell, so I got a job at Boeing -- and I was thinking about this the other day because, you know, that's, I don't know if you heard about this airliner disappeared, I don't know if you heard anything it?
NNAMDII haven't watched CNN for...
NYEYeah, yeah. No, their changing the call letters, it's not going be CNN anymore. They're just going to make it MH-370, from now on.
NNAMDII think that would be entirely appropriate, yes.
NYENo, it's all good, it's all good. People are fascinated, that story's got everything. It's got plane disaster, families distraught...
NYEAnd a mystery, I mean, it -- the only thing you could do, if it had a Kennedy, if you could get, then it would really kick it in. But all that aside, when I was working at Boeing, my boss, my lead, as his title was, said, hey we want you to come work on this new plane, the 777, it's going to be fabulous. And I said, sounds cool, you know, this would be these actuators for the ailerons, especially, and the rudder, other parts of the vertical tail. And sounded really great, when's that gonna fly? Oh 15 years. Maybe 20 years. And when you're a young guy...
NNAMDIThat's an eternity.
NYE...it sounds like a long time. So I went to another company and a company after that and ended up at Sundstrand Data Control, which is where they made -- now it's Honeywell -- make all the black boxes, the flight data recorders that...
NYE...are missing. And these guys that I worked for were obsessed, obsessed, with making a profit every three months, every quarter, and you can do that if you're in a lucrative business like National Public Radio.
NYEWhere just, money just rolls in...
NNAMDIOh, yeah, yeah.
NYE...every three months.
NYEOr you're -- what are you make -- you're making -- you're handling some paper. If you're making reams of high quality copy paper, you can make a profit every three months, you can plan, 'cause you got a machine, you got it figured out, you know, on the -- you can anticipate the market, change the packaging. Try to up it a little bit, but when you trying to make a new black box, a new navigation system, for a business jet, let's say. You can't do it in three months, this just drove me crazy and I just -- and this was at the height or rather the nadir of US automobile manufacturing, the Chevy Vega, the Ford Pinto...
NNAMDIGod, yes, I had a Pinto.
NYEIt was in -- leisure suits, it was low audio quality disco music, it was all that.
NNAMDIVery rough period.
NYEIt was rough, so I wanted to influence the future. I wanted to get young people excited about science and especially engineering, so that we would have a new generation of people who could get 'er done. And that's really the medium size version of the story.
NNAMDIFirst acted as Bill Nye the Science Guy on the Seattle TV show "Almost Live," it was a show for adults and it was purely comedy. When did that act turn into an educational tool for kids?
NYEOh, so I was, you know, I was a young guy. I was volunteering at the Pacific Science Center in Seattle, you can imagine, you go there. School buses of kids unload, I was a science explainer, mostly on weekends. Wear a blue vest and things and I spent a lot of time pouring liquid nitrogen on things, which is huge fun. And so there was -- we're in Washington, we're in D.C., people may remember this. A women named Rita Jenrette had written a book...
NYEYeah, yeah. And for those of you who don't...
NNAMDIFormer wife of a member of congress, and it was all very embarrassing.
NYEWell, she was said to have had sexual interactions...
NNAMDIYou had to bring that up.
NYE...on the steps of the US Capitol. But here's the crazy thing, Koko (sic). The guy she was having sex with was her husband.
NNAMDIThis is true.
NYEI mean, that's, talk about out of hand. Talk about just unusual and just unexpected.
NNAMDIIt was the location.
NYEWell, more power to 'em. But that -- all that aside. She had a book and she was gonna come to Seattle and be on this show and talk about her book and it was, if I may, titillating, and she cancelled or indefinitely postponed or whatever. So we had six minutes, seven minutes to fill, which on television is a long -- on radio, it's nothing, I mean, six minutes, what's that? But on television...
NNAMDIOn the Capitol, it is called delayed gratification. But go ahead.
NYEIs that what it's called? So…
NNAMDIThat night it was.
NYESo, we had six minutes to fill and this guy, who's a dear friend of mine today, who was the host of the show, Ross Shafer, said why don't you do something, you know, some science thing. You're always talking about this stuff, you could be like, you could be like Bill Nye, the Science Guy, or something. And Ross closes his briefcase and goes off to his next job, he was a radio disco jockey at the time. And so it took me a little while, but I came up with the household uses of liquid nitrogen.
NYESince we all have liquid nitrogen around, we all do, you know, these are just some tips, like a cooking show. Things you would do, and so I spent a lot of time, I'm still pretty good at it and I will -- I promise the audience I will do it again this weekend at the Science and Engineering Festival. You chew the marshmallows and steam comes out of your nose. It's very gratifying.
NNAMDIYou should know, by now, since he mentioned it, that Bill Nye is in town for the 2014 USA Science and Engineering Festival. It's taking place at the Washington Convention Center, so named not because it is the city of Washington, but because our first mayor after whom was...
NNAMDI...was Walter Washington. It's the Walter E. Washington Convention Center. The festival is free and it's open to the public. That's...
NYENow keep in mind, okay, I grew here.
NYEI've lived in other cities. I've lived in Seattle. The Mariners, Seattle Mariners, fine. Very excited about the Seahawks, I might add, that was good. I like the Dodgers, they're fine. But my heart is with the Nationals, okay. Used to be the Senators, the Nats are my team. Very happy to be here.
NNAMDIAnd the Wizards won their second playoff game last night.
NYEThere you go.
NNAMDIHere now is Steve in Annapolis, MD. Steve, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
STEVEAlright, Bill. Thanks so much for being on Kojo today. So, yeah, I know you've inspired so many people to go, you know, become scientists. You inspired me to get my biology degree and then further inspired me to get my Masters in film and video production at American and work on science shows, which I do today.
NYEOh, good. That's great.
NNAMDIWhy'd you go the biology way?
STEVEI went biology because I wanted to know how things inside are being worked I think. And, you know, your show taught me a lot about that. I also just wanted to say when I was working on the science show 100 Greatest Discoveries...
STEVE...which you hosted and I was a professional production researcher going on...
STEVEBut now I work for the Chesapeake Bay Program, we do conservation and science, documentaries on the web. And since I just plugged my work, I want to plug your YouTube channel, which my kids watch frequently.
NYEI love you, man. So speaking of biology at Alice Deal Junior High School, I had an outstanding biology teacher, Mr. Cross, Jay Cross. And I've written to him a couple times. He got his doctorate in entomology at University of Maryland.
NNAMDISteve, thank you so much for your call.
NNAMDIWe're going to take a short break. If you have called, stay on the line, we will get to your calls.
NYEStay on the line, people, stay on the line.
NNAMDIWe still have a few lines open.
NYETighten it up. I'll be Chris.
NNAMDI800-433-8850. If the lines are busy shoot us an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or a Tweet @kojoshow. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIOur guest is a man who wrote 300 miles in 24 hours so he could get a free T-shirt, Bill Nye. Well, he earned that one. He's also...
NYEIt was only 16.5 hours.
NNAMDIHe's also known as the Science Guy, Bill Nye. He's a science educator, comedian and engineer. He's currently chief executive officer of the Planetary Society and former host of the "Bill Nye the Science Guy" television show. He's in town for the 2014 USA Science and Engineering Festival at the Washington Convention Center, free and open to the public. But if you'd like to talk to him now, give us a call, 800-433-8850.
NNAMDIA lot of the kids who watched your show and who are almost certainly grown up now, probably knew the theme song by heart. If you don't mind, I'd like to listen to it.
NYEMind? I love it.
NNAMDII'd like to listen to it once more.
NNAMDIWhen you first started to sing that, science rules like the theme song, did you have any doubts at all that it would?
NYEYeah, sure. With science rules I started saying probably about 1988. And it's the other thing I say quite frequently to this day is, consider the following. Please consider the following. Those are -- as you say, when you have a show it's got to be an extension of the host or it won't -- like your show.
NNAMDIWhich is way cool.
NYEYour show is way cool. It's kojotic.
NNAMDIWe've got several postings on our Facebook page from John who says he was respectfully raised up on Bill Nye in elementary and middle school. He asked several questions on Facebook, first having to do with music. "How did the idea of doing science-themed music videos at the end of each of your shows come about?"
NYEIt was -- I'm not sure whose idea it was but whenever something cool and creative comes up I always credit Jim McKenna and Aaron Godlieb (sp?) who were my producers. It's probably their idea. Music videos were a little bit of a new -- still a little bit of a novelty at that time. And they are fun. And at what point we got advice from certain people in certain public broadcasting facilities that we should not have music videos.
NYEBut I remember very well, if you're scoring along with us, the PBS executive in Seattle, Elizabeth Brock, insisted on it. So we had them. And the first one was a guy who did -- you know, he did pretty well, J.C., MC J.C. was -- he's a good guy -- did the first one. And that really kind of kicked it off. The water cycle one was the first one. These are -- this is ancient history.
NNAMDII'm willing to wager you cannot answer John's second question.
NNAMDI"What was your favorite song video that was featured on the show?"
NYEOkay. John, I love you of course more than life itself but if you -- hypothetically, John, I don't know you, I can't even see you -- if you decide finally to pursue that career as a dancer on Broadway, you never say your favorite partner because then they're going to think that you don't want to dance with somebody else, right. So I'm never going to say my favorite video. The first one was really good, seasons was really good. The one everybody likes is the motion one, Morissey (sp?) .
NYESo they're all pretty good. Fish was -- god, they're all, come on, I love them, love them.
NNAMDITold you. Here is James in Laytonville, Md. -- Laytonsville, Md.. James, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
NNAMDIGood afternoon, James.
NYEIt depends where you are, James, but where we are it's morning. Yeah, lead on.
JAMESI'm just down the road in Laytonsville, Md. Mr. Wizard, the Bill Nye Science Show is about blood and the sun and nuclear energy and all of those other -- I was raised on them.
NYEYou're talking about Mr. Sun which was produced by some very well-known guys. And Don Herbert, Mr. Wizard, was an acquaintance of mine, not my dear friend or anything, but a guy -- you know, I could email him and things. And I had lunch with him one time. He was really cool. He was a great guy. He changed the world. Don Herbert sent the United States to the moon.
JAMESI can believe that. I can believe that.
NYEHe inspired a generation of scientists and engineers that really -- many of the people who ended up working at NASA grew up with Mr. Wizard, yeah. He was a great guy.
JAMESAnd there was a local show about mathematics that featured puppets. It was not Bill Henson's work -- Jim Henson's work but it was another puppeteer whose name escapes me at the moment.
NYEThat's an odd name.
JAMESSecondly, I am a substitute teacher for the county school systems after a career in science and match and psychology. And I won't go into all that stuff but I can be called into any classroom at all. I can be a math teacher, I can be an art teacher, I can be a foreign language teacher. I can be a (unintelligible) ...
NYESo you're applying for a job here on the Kojo show.
NNAMDIYou can't be a broadcaster, that's for sure.
JAMESI could do that. I could do that. But anytime -- almost 100 percent of the time I'll come into a science class and the teacher leaves plans for me. And they say, play the Bill Nye Science Show.
NYEYes, I love you man. Yes.
JAMESWe're studying atom physics and do the one about atoms.
NYEThat's right. Atoms is a good show, man. We threw money at atoms. We went to Salt Lake. We went to the salt sand beach in Utah. For those listeners who've never been there, it's really -- it's not the most important place ever in the history of humankind, but it really is striking. It's amazing.
JAMESYes. And invariably the kids will, like, Bill Nye, Bill Nye, wow, okay and they settle down and they watch and then sometimes, they don't even mind doing the worksheets after that. Yeah.
NYECrazy. We got people inspired. We're just trying to change the world here.
NNAMDIIn other words, you owe Bill Nye a commission. Do you understand that?
NYENo, I'm good. It's all good.
JAMESBuild a county school system.
NNAMDIOkay. Thank you...
NYEWe're working on it.
NNAMDIThank you very much for your call, James.
NYEPublic education is fantastic.
NNAMDISince President Obama took office, he's emphasized the importance of improving STEM education, meaning studies in science, technology, engineering and math. How do you think the U.S.'s approach to science education today compares to what it was a couple of decades ago when you first got involved?
NYEIf I were king of the forest -- and I'm not -- what we had when I was growing up was the space program. The space program going to the moon with people. Now NASA does today an extraordinary number of things it never used to do because it can. And I say it. The people who work there are now involved in all sorts of extraordinary things. We've got a mission on the way to Jupiter. We've got a mission on the way to Pluto. We've got missions at Mars driving around and orbiting Mars, a mission at Mercury. These are amazing things.
NYEBut when people get involved going someplace, humankind gets excited. So if I were king of the forest we would invest more in human space flight going to someplace new and exciting. Specifically we would go to Mars. And then in my opinion, which as you know is correct, in my opinion we wouldn't have to beat our heads against the wall with this acronym STEM, STEM, STEM, STEM, STEM. It would just happen.
NYEWith that said, you just cannot have enough science, technology, engineering and math education. Pour it on because the only thing that keeps the -- in my opinion, the only thing that keeps the United States in the game economically around the world is our ability to come up with new things, to innovate. You would not have an iPhone -- okay, you don't want it -- a Samsung Galaxy. You would not have these Smartphones without these people writing software like crazy. You would not have all these new -- just look at the material of a modern T-shirt. You wouldn't have these modern textiles without innovation, without research.
NYEAnd it's fantastic that we explore these other places in the solar system but the planetary science budget is not even $1.5 billion. I know 1.5 billion I know to you is nothing. You're right. It's not...
NNAMDINot to me. I'm in public radio.
NYEYeah, I mean, what's a billion? I know. So anyway if we invested just a little more, just a little more in NASA we could change the world. Also NASA's culture -- I mean, everybody talks about this and this is not extraordinary, when NASA sent people to the moon, everybody was sort of 26 years old. Now everybody's sort of my age. And it affects the culture and so on.
NYEWhat we need is to convert -- this is not extraordinary and I'm going to get email and I'll probably get assassinated later -- but we need to convert many of the NASA centers into Federally-Funded Research and Development Centers FFRDCs. And that would, I think, streamline things, which is a pun in aerospace. Streamline. Get it?
NNAMDIYeah, I got it. You know, assassinated people, invariably get more famous. It would probably do a lot for your cause.
NYEYeah, I'm not looking forward.
NNAMDII'm glad you mentioned new technology because young people today have access to all kinds of entertainment, Smartphones, tables, computers. Because all of this technology is widely accessible, do you think science educators might have to seek out new approaches to peek kids' interest in scientific studies?
NYEWell, I'm a fan -- or how about this, I'm an advocate of the flipped classroom. Now I'll be the first to admit that all the data aren't in yet, but here's the idea everybody, is you have -- you're the teacher. You show how to do a problem. You do a lecture. You show something up close that would be difficult for all 25, 30 kids, 60 kids to see at the same time. And then the kids, the students watch that at home the night before. Their homework, in other words, is to watch a video on their device, their -- iPad is a brand name -- their tablet, their phone, what have you.
NYEAnd then when they come into class, the hope is that they're ten minutes ahead, fifteen minutes ahead. Now it's not a panacea. It doesn't solve everybody's problem but my experience is everybody who tries it, and by that I mean teachers and students alike, quickly get used to it. In the same way we had libraries and you had to learn the skill of looking at cards and going to books on shelves, a skill you still need.
NYENow you need to be able to go to the internet, find information. And you're going to get a lot more information of a lot lower quality. So you have to learn to sort and look for the high quality. Like people aren't going to really lie on the internet about the atomic number of rubidium but they will make stuff up about history. And you've got to be more disciplined and stuff like that.
NYEAnd I love the story of the tree octopus. If you don't that story, a science teacher created a fictional animal called the tree octopus. It lived in a tree, jumped out of the tree and would eat fish. And students wrote up -- looked it up on the internet, wrote these long reports. No such thing. So it's just the world is different.
NYELike when I was in school -- when I was in school, had a slide rule. And for those who aren't familiar, it's a stereotypical thing that can add -- that can multiply and divide and take logarithms, science codes, science tangents, square roots to a limited extent, square cubes but cannot add or subtract. Oh, and doesn't keep track of the decimal point. But this was the skills that -- these were the skills that we needed when I was in school. Things change so I embrace the technology in classrooms. And I think teachers who try it will as well.
NNAMDIYou mean the octopus that lived in the tree wasn't true?
NYEIt's not really true, no.
NNAMDII'm sorry and disappointed. Here's Kate in Columbia, Md. Kate, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
KATEHi. Yeah, so I grew up with parents who were engineers. And (unintelligible) ...
NYEYou sound okay now.
KATE...any questions that I have or that I had as a child. But I'm more of a humanities person myself so I'm wondering how parents who have more of a rudimentary understanding of science but not really a solid understanding of various concepts, how can we include -- explain the concepts into our daily conversations with our children and not telling them...
NYEWell, they're asking questions you can't...
KATE...the wrong things.
NYEKate, are they asking you questions that you're not comfortable answering? Is that what's going on here, Kate? Testify.
KATEYes, actually. I have to Google things.
NYESo here's what the most important thing. Science is for me two things. An important aspect of it is the body of knowledge. What was I talking about? The atomic number of rubidium is important. I think it's 37. That's important.
NNAMDIWait, I'm writing that down.
NYEYeah -- no, you don't have to. It's online. That's important but much more important, the other aspect of the use of the word science is the process, the means by which we know things. And if you're a humanities person, you tell stories, right. And half the stories are mysteries. How do people solve the problems in mysteries? They are using the scientific method. They have a -- they make an observation, they come up with an explanation for it in their minds. And then they seek to test it or compare that to what would -- compare what happened to what you would expect to happen.
NYEAnd that's the scientific method. And that's the main thing we want everybody, and I want everybody in the world to embrace. And it's a long process. But science has given us so much. Like we're listening on the radio for crying out loud. I'm sure you have a phone with a camera. All this is -- we all have food. All this comes from science, from our understanding of nature.
NYESo don't beat yourself up that you don't know all about whatever. Look it up together. The main thing for me, if you're asking and I got the impression you were, was to get people excited about the process, the means. Observe, make up a story, an explanation, hypothesize. Then imagine a test, a way you could figure it out and then try it. Compare what happened to what you expect to happen. That's it. Party on.
NNAMDIElizabeth, does that work for you?
NYEIs it Elizabeth or Kate?
NNAMDIOh, I'm sorry. That's Kate.
KATEIt's Kate, and yes, that was a very excellent answer. Thank you very much.
NYEAnd carry on, Kate.
NNAMDIYou know, you should host this show. You remember the callers better than I do.
NYEWell, that one, yeah.
NNAMDIThank you very much for your call. Elizabeth actually is my next caller.
NYEI had a feeling about Elizabeth being next. is she with a Z or an S?
NNAMDIWith a Z.
NNAMDIElizabeth, you're on the air. You're on the air Elizabeth with a Z. Go ahead, please.
ELIZABETHHello there. Happy to be on. Okay. So I understand that they've determined the weight of the Higgs Boson particle and it's right in the middle between multi-verse and super symmetry. Which do you feel is going to be the verdict?
NYEWe'll wait and see. I mean, let me go on to say I was at a dinner party the other night -- this is how cool I am -- I was at a dinner party the other night with a couple physicists. Was a physicist and a mathematician who both are very skeptical of -- and these are people -- these are guys that should know or at least their opinion carries weight -- and that's a pun. ha-ha, when it comes to Higgs. That's hilarious.
NYENo. So their opinion carries weight with me. This is to say they weren't quite at 5 sigma. And I can tell you just by mathematical analogy, when you design parts to fit at 3 sigma, a lot of them don't fit. I mean, it's 97 plus fit but 2.5 percent don’t. And so when you get to 5 sigma, okay, you're pretty confident but it's not a done -- it's not all the way a done deal. And so their concern was that this result was an artifact of the system. But they weren't working there (unintelligible)
NYENow by the way, for those of you who aren't into sigmas, that's a fabulous -- it's a Greek letter S and it's used in mathematics around the world to mean standard deviation. And so if you don't know standard deviation, yes, you do, you all know it. You're looking at the bell-shaped curve when it's --when it starts to go concave up, when it starts uphill then it turns to go concave down downhill. That place where it changes from uphill to downhill, that's the standard deviation.
NYESo each time you measure from the middle, you get a sigma. That's one standard deviation. Then they go off to your left and off to your right five times that far, that's 5 sigma where there's very little bell curve left. It's almost touching the axis. It's almost disappeared. But it's not disappeared. And so that's why this physicist and mathematicians were both very skeptical. And they were also like, totally that's like what I mean.
NYENo, what I mean is they were also a little chin-strokey about coming out right in the middle of the two theories. And so for those of you who haven't seen particle fever, it's a movie documenting this thing that happened at the Center for Nuclear Research in Switzerland. And it's not clear if it's one way or the other. With that said, Peter Higgs was in tears. Higgs himself was satisfied that they found it. So I would say stay tuned. We, as humans, figure there's one universe. In fact, the word universe sounds like it means everything there is.
NYEBut as soon as you start winding the clock back and asking yourself, well if there was a big bang like, dude, like what happened before the big bang? Like, wow, like, I don't know man. And that makes it reasonable that there is a whole other physics, a whole other mathematics, a whole other world upon worlds that we have yet to even imagine, let alone discover. That's a great question. Thank you.
NNAMDIThank you very much for your call, Elizabeth. Chin strokey?
NYEChin strokey. Yes, having the characteristics of or pertaining to chin stroking, stroking one's chin. And to that end, I was discussing with my brother just yesterday about Miss Hiller our Latin teacher at Alice Steel Junior High School who would routinely write HCOPT on the board, having the characteristics of or pertaining to. That is a way of describing an adjective. So HCOPT with respect to chin strokey.
NNAMDIBill Nye, also known as the Science Guy, he is our guest. If you have questions or comments for him, you can call us at 800-433-8850. He's currently chief executive officer of the Planetary Society and we'll have him talk about that when he comes back. And you can also shoot us an email to email@example.com or send us a Tweet @kojoshow. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back. Our guest is Bill Nye, former host of Bill Nye the Science Guy, the educational television show. He's currently chief executive officer of the Planetary Society. Bill Nye, that organization's committed to advancing space science and exploration founded by the well-known astronomer, your former professor Carl Sagan. At what point did you decide to be an advocate for the science that explain what goes on outside of our world?
NYESo I grew up -- my father was quite the amateur astronomer. He -- well, maybe he wasn't a full blown amateur astronomer like the really serious guys but he loved the stars. He had a telescope. He taught astronomy merit badge in the Boy Scouts. This is before controversy. And I grew up with a lot of that. And then after I had astronomy with Carl Sagan I was really inspired. He really -- he's really -- he was, as the kids say, all that. And so when he died I was asked to speak at his memorial service. And then after that I was asked to be on the board of directors.
NYEAnd I thought, well that sounds interesting because -- oh, oh, oh, after I was graduated I was on the mailing list and I joined the Planetary Society back in 1980. This was right as disco was giving way to punk, new wave. I know, it's horrible, yeah.
NYEYeah, difficult times. But, yeah, but I'd been a member since 1980 so I was asked to be on the board. And then I really had -- and I became an engineer because I grew up at that time with this crazy optimism about U.S. technology and ability to solve problems. And so as I've gotten more involved in it, with Planetary Society, and by that I mean the last -- this is not -- 17 years, I realized the extraordinary benefit of planetary science to humankind.
NYEAnd by that I mean, when we explore other worlds we make discoveries about our own. And the most notable one where it all started in modern times was when Jim Hansen, Dr. James Hansen was looking at Venus and realized that we have climate change here on earth. And so exploring the other worlds really changes this one for the better. And I remind you all, if we were to find evidence of life on Mars, by way of one important example, it would change the world.
NYEI mean, people would still drive on the right in the U.S. and the left in Britain I think. But everyone would think very, very differently about what I like to call our place in space, our place in the cosmos. And the investment in planetary science is so small compared to what we spend...
NNAMDIIn times when federal funding for other scientific research may be on the chopping block, you're...
NYEMadness, madness. It's not where you save your money, everybody. Look, okay. I am a bleeding heart liberal raving crazy man, fine. You out there are arch conservative libertarian so on, fine. You want to invest in basic technology because that's what brings us innovations in the future. That's what keeps you in business. And so to cut that is short sided at a level that's really hard to overstate.
NYEWe're not talking about making money in four years. We're talking about making money in 14 years. Not 40 years, just when the people who are in elementary school now get out in the workforce, when the people who are young people in the workforce right now become the captains of industry, you want those people to have access to innovation and discovery. That's where -- that's what keeps the U.S. ahead. I can't overstate this. I'll be fine, Kojo.
NNAMDIWell, I can. I've been hooked on Neil deGrasse Tyson's Cosmo series lately.
NYEHe'll be here tomorrow.
NNAMDIAnd he'll be here tomorrow because...
NYENo, not here. He'll be at the Planetary Society. Is he going to be here?
NNAMDII don't know. No. He's going to be at the USA Science and Engineering Festival, the 2014...
NYEYeah, yeah, yeah. He's a dear friend of mine. You know, we spend a lot of time together. And...
NNAMDIYou took a selfie.
NYETook a selfie, yeah. We got photo bombed by that guy that...
NNAMDITook a selfie with him and President Obama, the first recorded...
NYEOh, that's who it was. That's who it was. Yeah, yeah, the president, that's right.
NNAMDI...first recorded selfie with that guy. Almost got you locked up.
NYEAnd he was very gracious about it but it had to be -- Neil had to make the ask, as we say in the development. Neil made the ask. And just let the records show, Neil's memory on his phone was full. So I took that selfie with my phone. So everybody out there, when you go to take selfies, okay, have the phone on. Have the phone pointing toward you. Have the battery charged up enough to take the picture. And have enough memory.
NNAMDIYou've recently made a pivot toward a different kind of advocacy work defending the science behind climate change and debating creation as so denied with theory of evolution. We got a Tweet from Joe who writes, "Regarding your debate of the creation museum, are you worried about such events legitimatizing -- or legitimizing unscientific slash dishonest thought?
NYEYeah, I'm worried about it. And what I would say to all of you who said you shouldn't even engage this guy because it draws attention to him, I say you may be right, which is what -- that's how I respond, that's how -- you may be right. But I'll bet -- I believe that ultimately in maybe as little as five years the awareness of this striking thoughtless way of thinking, world view, will be discredited to a greater extent.
NYEAnd my concern, as I've said many times, is the kids, the students in especially the Commonwealth of Kentucky, Tennessee, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas where you have people running for office and running especially for school boards who want to suppress the fundamental idea in all of biology, the fundamental idea in all of life science. Suppose you had people running around suppressing plate tectonics. I mean, it would be extraordinary, right. You wouldn't allow it as a voter and taxpayer.
NYEWell, this is the same thing but we have this long history, especially in the United States, especially in that part of the United States of trying to equate the idea that evolution is a theory with the idea that evolution may not be true. And we can go on and on about this but in science a theory is the thing that allows you to make predictions. It's not a hypothesis or wild guess. It's a specific thing. And so because it's specific and when people talk about it they use the word theory.
NYEBut that said, this is a deep concern. And I would say it's a question whether the fundamentalist, thoughtless creationist views, whether that base, that political base gained more than my political base or the enlightened world or the outside world's political base. And I would say anecdotally, Kojo, the number of people who come up to me, the number of people who have texted me, Tweeted me, like this question here on the radio, we have raised awareness of this -- of the potential for suppression of science. We have raised awareness to an extraordinary degree.
NYEI thought it would be another college gig, some Tweeting, some Facebooking, but it's turned into this worldwide deal with millions of people engaged. And I think that is ultimately to the good. And so we'll see.
NNAMDIWith your show you reached kids from all backgrounds. Do you worry at all that by taking a stance on what some may see as a political issue you obviously see as a scientific issue, but do you think it could limit your reach as an educator?
NYEWell, I mean, as a scientist and a guy, by the way, who attended the first Earth Day on my bicycle. I locked it to a flagpole at the Washington Monument...
NNAMDIAnniversary was yesterday.
NYEThat's what I'm saying. Can you imagine being able to go downtown and lock your bike to a flagpole? I mean, it was a small town. So I would say everybody -- climate change should not be a political issue. The teaching of evolution should not be a political issue. I mean, I know you hear this all the time but in the world of science these are not controversial things. These are what guide us. This is what we do all day. So these things are discovered. Climate change is discovered. Evolution was discovered.
NYEAnd so I have to -- if I'm going to talk about them I have to talk about them from a scientific standpoint. They're provable real things that allow us to make predictions. And so that has been politicized is -- I hope will prove to be just something from this time in history, that in a few years this stuff will be behind us. We all move forward and solve problems so that we can, dare I say, change the world.
NNAMDIAs opposed to I reserve my right to argue that ignorance is an opinion. Here is Jared in Washington, D.C. Jared, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
JAREDHi, Kojo. I love your show and Mr. Nye, I grew up watching your show and loved it. Got me started early on scientific exploration. Just wanted to ask you a quick question. To go from being like a pro-science layman so it were, into being more of a pro-science advocate or even activist, what would you say would be, you know, some couple steps or, you know, something to get people around me...
NYEIs this for you, you mean, for...this is for you or for me?
JAREDI would imagine for me. I think you're...
NYEOh good, good. So here's what I would tell you. I strongly encourage you to join the Planetary Society at planetary.org. Then I strongly encourage you to do that. Then the other organization I'd check out is the Union of Concerned Scientists. Now full disclosure I'm on the advisory board of the Union -- I've been a member also since I was graduated from college. And I'm a great believer. We, I strongly believe, do great work in investigating and understanding political issues and bills that come before congress and the administration about what ways to go with regard to science.
NYEAnd then I strongly encourage you -- strongly encourage everybody to join skeptics organizations. There are a couple of them. I belong to both the big ones in the U.S. because this is where we really press forward on learning to think critically. We want everybody to be able to think critically about things that happen around us. And then I just -- I'll tell you, I got a lot of support in that debate from the National Council for Science Education, the NCSE.
NYEAnd Jeannie Scott -- Eugenie Scott just retired but she's -- her replacement Anne is fantastic. And I strongly encourage you to just subscribe to those organizations and see what you think.
NNAMDIJared, thank you very much for your call. We've got...
NYEDid I mention the Planetary Society?
NNAMDIOnly five times. We got an email from Claudia who says, "Say hi to Bill Nye. He was my first crush in grade school here in D.C...
NYEOh, I love you, Claudia.
NNAMDI...and responsible for one of my daughters...
NYEWow, wow, wow.
NNAMDI...no, I mean, responsible for one of my daughter's going into science.
NYEWow. Well, you don't know if they were watching late night television, you don't know what was going on.
NNAMDIHere is Beth in Springfield, Va. Beth, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
BETHHi, Bill. First of all, can I just say, like, I'm a huge fan. And Kojo, I'm a really big fan of yours as well.
NYEYou're in listener heaven, girlfriend.
BETHI really -- I am. Actually, you know, I was driving through biology lab and I'm very late but my father called me and he's like, you know, Bill Nye's on "The Kojo Nnamdi Show." So you're going to miss your chance. You need to tell him. So I have to tell you I wrote a song -- this is -- I don't have an intelligent question. I don't have anything really...
NNAMDIAnd you only have a minute.
BETHI do? Okay. So I wrote a song for you and I just want you to know that I won my talent show in high school because I wrote a song about being in love with you. And my father wanted me to tell you that. Yeah, so.
NNAMDICan you share a little bit of this song with us, please?
BETHI'll share one lyric. I was never the type to worry about static electricity, but you taught me the feeling that you give me is just the electrons are repelling apart. It's a static electrical charge of the heart. So...
NYEOh Beth, I love you. Yeah, it's fabulous. Bring it on.
BETHI love you, Bill.
NYEAll right. Well, come down to the Science Engineering Festival. We'll tear it up. So you're on the way to biology class. Where you going to school, University of Maryland, some exotic place like that?
BETHNo, actually not very exotic. Northern Virginia Community College.
NYEThat's good, NOVA.
BETHSo transferring, hopefully, to Virginia Tech.
NYERight on, NOVACC, Virginia Tech. Excellent school. Get her done. Get her done.
NNAMDIBeth, thank you very much for your call.
NYEThe longest journey starts with but a single step, Beth.
NNAMDIWe got an email from Alicia who said, "Thank you, Bill Nye, for giving my husband and me a good reason to call each other a fathead."
NYEThat's right, yes. I love you. The brain show.
NNAMDI"Eighteen years later we still laugh about that episode and sing your theme song."
NYEOh, we love you.
NNAMDII'm afraid that's all the time we have. We mentioned that Bill Nye's in town for the 2014 USA Science and Engineering Festival taking place at the Walter U. Washington Convention Center. The festival is free, opened to the public. Bill Nye is currently chief executive officer of the Planetary Society and former host of Bill Nye the Science Guy. Good to see you. Thank you for joining us.
NYEThank you, Kojo.
NNAMDIAnd thank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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