Fat Mogul vs Bill Nye

I’ve been making my way through Bill Nye’s new series Bill Nye Saves the World for the past week.  Aaaand… I was actually somewhat hesitant to watch it.  I loved Bill Nye the Science Guy as a kid.  Ate that stuff up.  But I feared Bill’s modern public persona is a little too political and a lot less fun.  I get it, science is a hot political topic right now, and his efforts to get people to treat the world better are certainly something I can stand behind. I just tend to get a little tired of preachy science.  I say that while admitting I thoroughly enjoyed Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth.

But, my love of the kooky Bill Nye of Science Guy fame from my childhood won out and I added it to my Netflix queue.

And I’m really enjoying the watch.  At the time of this writing, I’ve flown through ten of the thirteen episodes, which is impressive for a guy like me who doesn’t have a lot of spare time for television at the moment.  There’s so much to really sink your teeth into and enjoy.  Bill brings back many of the things you loved about him as The Science Guy: the goofy dad jokes, the corny segments, and simple science experiments.

The correspondents, in general, really shine as they go out and look at the current state of affairs in science.  Karlie Kloss and Derek Muller are amazing standouts.  I was actually quite surprised when Karlie stated she was a model, enough to go look her up and find out that is her primary occupation. But her approach to the topics she’s given is so solid and fair and methodical that I can’t help but wonder if she may have had a better calling in the STEM fields if it weren’t for those cheek bones.

But…

Unsurprisingly, the first episode talks about climate change.  I tend to be of the “does it really matter if climate change is happening if we can be totally aware that we are treating our planet like crap?” line of thinking. By this I mean, you don’t have to look very hard to see ways in which we are not being super awesome with our planet, ways in which we are definitely making things difficult for it to keep on existing in a way that is habitable for humans.  Climate change science is definitely a way of proving how we’re treating our planet poorly and how it’s going in the crapper, but seriously, just look at what we’re doing.  When things like fracking can cause literal fire to come out of shower heads when someone is expecting water, I think it’s easy to see we’re screwing something up.

Climate change is a solid topic to start a series called Bill Nye Save the World.

But I couldn’t help but think the episode did very little in the way of actually, you know, sciencing climate change.  He did spend a moment showing how climate change can cause the oceans to rise, albeit through an incredibly simplistic look at what all is going on (which is understandable), but most of it was just saying, “Hey, Climate Change is a thing!  We need to be better!”.  I thought the discussion regarding how we know climate change is a thing was rather soft, but we got to learn about cool things like how Venice dealing with their constantly rising water problems.  Overall, the episode was rather fun, and introduced us to the format of this new show rather well.

The next episode talked about alternative medicine and I found myself cringing a lot more.  Although there were a couple comments sprinkled in about how all the things we lump under the label of alternative medicines aren’t the same, the show treated them as all being exactly the same.  They used a segment of one of their correspondents visiting a man who screams at pain as one of their primary examples of alternative medicine…and then spent a while laughing at him afterwards, which felt unnecessarily mean, as well as trivializing so much of what else falls under the heading of alternative medicine.  Not once did they mention things like how acupuncture or chiropractic methods are being used in hospitals today, although not exactly backed up by medical science.  They just kinda lumped them all together and said, if not at least inferred, that they’re all hokum.

And then, as if to prove it, he took a bottle of milk of magnesia and a bottle of some home remedy heartburn medication, and looked to see which reduced the acidity of a acidic glass of water.  Obviously, the milk of magnesia worked and the home remedy didn’t…but they worked under the assumption that both remedies are intended to have the same activity.  I don’t know much about the specific home remedy in question, but chewing gum is another home remedy for heartburn.  It doesn’t reduce the stomach’s acidity directly, it stimulates your salivary glands, which can help thin out/wash away the acid in your stomach.  You put the gum in that water, it’s not going to show that activity.  Using the science used in the show, you’re comparing apples and oranges and choosing the winner by which one has more orange peel.

He even had a proponent of alternative medicines on his panel of experts, who got cut off every time he tried to discuss alternative medicines currently being reviewed by science for medicinal use.  And I’m going to be incredibly nitpicky here, but one of these experts used the statement of “but that’s ultrasound, not sound” to debate him…Yeah, she was corrected, but still…seriously?

But I was still willing to go along with it.  Sure, I may have disagreed with his premise, and I didn’t think he did a very good job of supporting it with his science, but the basic message was still worthwhile, which was, very basically, don’t believe every crazy thing you hear.

The third episode didn’t really get into that much of conflict, other than completely brushing under the rug that there could be any sort of negative impact with artificial intelligence.  Mostly it was showcasing current cool technology and where it could go in the future.  I can totally get behind that.

The fourth episode is where I found myself losing faith in the science guy.  The discussion was about GMOs.  And to be fair, the overall message was that not all GMOs are bad.  I can stand behind that.  But a large portion of the discussion was about people who don’t want GMO food, and I couldn’t help but feel that the focus was to poke fun at them.  This was made incredibly apparent by their Jay Leno-style interviewing people at the farmer’s markets about GMOs.  You know, grabbing people in the middle of their routing to get detailed thoughts about a highly scientific concept.  You’re going to get some gold there…comedic gold anyways.

Their panel included a guy from Monsanto, who Bill joked about being an evil corporation, even mentioning things like Agent Orange, but overall trying to show they aren’t that bad…I’m fairly certain all the organic farmers being sued just because some Roundup Ready seeds from neighboring farms wound up on their property would disagree…And, seed patenting…and the overall fears of their efforts to completely reduce biodiversity in agriculture…

But ignoring all of that, what really got me was Bill’s main statement, repeated at least a couple of times during the show, to state how he knows GMOs are okay.

“I’ve been eating GMOs for decades now and look at me, I’m good.”

Sounds like something someone in the pocket of a GMO-producing corporation would say.  I’m fairly certain the same thing was said about cigarettes for decades.  I once saw an interview with an 80-something year old man who only ate hot dogs and never got sick…is that science enough to say we should all be on a hot dog only diet? Well, no…not according to his episode on fad diets which laughs at such anecdotal evidence.

And the show mostly continues in the same way.  Presenting science concepts and mostly laughing at those who think differently.  Which gives the show something of a dark tone.  But more than that, it causes me to question Bill’s actual intention.  Is he really working to save the world, or is he simply working as an entertainer here.  The episode brought to us by Monsanto definitely makes it seem like there could be a possibility he could be bought…

The show is fun.  And if you don’t look at it as an actual attempt to do anything more than have some fun with science, it’s worthwhile.  But saving the world…I’m thinking it might be more about saving his career.

Which is silly, because his team-ups with Neil DeGrasse Tyson have made him more of a household name that he’s seen since he started eating GMOs.

Interestingly enough, however, was that his episode on vaccinations was, in my opinion, particularly well put together.  There didn’t appear to be any poking fun at anti-vaccers.  There was an incredibly well thought out and presented model of herd immunization, and overall, the episode did a great job of presenting both sides of the argument, while attempting to sway people to vaccinate without resorting to making those who disagree feel like they are idiots.

In fact, the vaccination episode is the perfect example of what I think this show could/should be.

Yet, all in all, I really enjoyed the show.  Maybe some of these issues are merely the problems with developing a new show, finding that perfect blend between comedy and science.  Since we’ve already got a season two ordered, there’s a great chance that we’ll see more episodes like the vaccination episode and the space episode yet to come.

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