If you grew up in the '90s or early '00s, you likely caught episodes of Bill Nye The Science Guy after school or in your science classes. And if you were a fan, you'll be happy to know that Netflix just announced plans for a new original series bringing Nye's scientific expertise to the streaming service.
The new show, dubbed Bill Nye Saves The World, will use a talk show format to examine scientific topics through the lenses of current events and pop culture. As Netflix's official synopsis put it:
Each episode will tackle a topic from a scientific point of view, dispelling myths, and refuting anti-scientific claims that may be espoused by politicians, religious leaders or titans of industry.
The show sounds a bit like a cross between Nye's original series with The Daily Show or Last Week Tonight, bringing in an element of timely social commentary. And while we're happy to see Nye on board for the new series, it sounds like this one could have been a perfect fit for fellow science superstar Neil deGrasse Tyson.
Tyson has become pop culture's go-to source when it comes to science, known for hosting the Startalk podcast, its 2015 TV equivalent on Nat Geo and Fox's 2014 Cosmos revamp. Of course, he's also famous for appearances on late night shows like Comedy Central's The Daily Show and HBO's Real Time with Bill Maher among others. He even had a cameo appearance in Batman V Superman: Dawn Of Justice. Generally speaking, he's probably more respected than a goofy scientist who hosted a '90s kids show. But the rise of Tyson has actually set the stage for Bill Nye to return and save the world.
Using Knowledge To Nitpick Pop Culture
As an astrophysicist, Tyson is more than qualified to school most when it comes to the mysteries of the universe, and we're happy to hear what he has to say on matters of space travel or the discovery of new planets and stars. But he has a tendency to use that knowledge to criticize pop culture when it really doesn't need criticism, like when he called out Star Wars: The Force Awakens for using inaccurate physics to bring ball droid BB-8 to life.
He did the same thing back in 2013 when director Alfonso Cuarón's Gravity came out, calling out the film's questionable representations of zero-G and the landscape of space.
There's little doubt that Tyson's criticisms are scientifically sound (he knows way more about science than us), but they all have a pretty simple problem — nobody asked for his opinion. Most movies don't demand scientific analysis, and being believable is less important than perfectly mimicking reality on the big screen.
Sure, in real life BB-8 wouldn't be able to easily roll around the desert of Jakku, but by creating an engaging and exciting world filmmakers made us believe the little robot could do anything. Calling out a movie's small scientific inaccuracies might not ruin the enjoyment of film for others, but it can definitely damage their relationship with science.
Alienating Others With Science
When Tyson swoops in to debunk things that don't need debunking, he comes across as a condescending smart guy instead of a thoughtful scientist. In turn, he potentially alienates everyday folks from the world of science.
Tyson is probably the most publicly recognized scientist in the country. Just ask a random person to name a scientist and they'll likely respond with his name. As such, he has a responsibility to represent the scientific community to the public. The perception of scientists at large is tarnished when Tyson brings his nitpicky pop culture analyses to the masses. It reinforces the stereotype that scientists can't understand or enjoy art, and that they think they're superior to average folks.
That runs completely counter to his general goal of making science more interesting and engaging for everyday folks. Tyson's Cosmos was made with that exact mission in mind, and his numerous public appearances are typically aimed at boiling down hard to grasp scientific concepts so those without knowledge can understand them. He also works to inspire future generations to pursue scientific discovery. But whether he's right or wrong, those goals are undermined when the astrophysicist brings a snarky tone to his "helpful" pointers.
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Can Bill Nye Save Science For The Masses?
Like Tyson, Nye's had a consistent goal of making science relatable and understandable for the masses. With his past on Bill Nye The Science Guy, Nye's been labelled more as a kid's entertainer than as a seriously minded scientist. But for his new show, that might not be such a bad thing.
In the years since Science Guy ended, Nye's transitioned towards his more academic roots while remaining true to the spirit of the kid's show. He's participated in public lectures and debates on subjects like creationism and global warming, written two books about the importance of science in everyday life, and appeared on numerous talk shows and podcasts espousing the wonders of scientific discovery.
The scientist has grown up along with the young viewers that were his original fans, and as they've come to take science more seriously so has he. And while Nye is ready to take aim at deniers of climate change or evolution, he isn't perceived as a sort of "smarter than you" scientist like Tyson. For fans, Nye will always be a quirky teacher, someone filled with facts and info who's kind enough to share that knowledge without being condescending.
Bill Nye certainly seems hopeful for the future of his new show. In a statement along with the show's announcement, the figure said:
"Since the start of the 'Science Guy' show, I’ve been on a mission to change the world by getting people everywhere excited about the fundamental ideas in science. Today, I’m excited to be working with Netflix on a new show, where we’ll discuss the complex scientific issues facing us today, with episodes on vaccinations, genetically modified foods and climate change. With the right science and good writing, we’ll do our best to enlighten and entertain our audience. And, perhaps we’ll change the world a little."
Neil deGrasse Tyson and others might have a higher pedigree in the scientific community, but Nye is actually a beloved figure for a generation. Bill Nye Saves The World will take on some more serious and timely subject matter, but if the host can infuse it with the same engaging, fun tone he used in Bill Nye The Science Guy he just might make viewers fall in love with science.
Bill Nye Saves The World is set to premiere on Netflix in Spring 2017. Do you think the new show will spike interest in science? Let us know in the comments below.