Perhaps there was no winner, as this was not a scored debate. Nevertheless by all, or a strong majority of, accounts, I bested him. The fundamental idea that I hope all of us embrace is, simply put, performance counts as much or more than the specifics of the arguments in a situation like this. I admit that, for me at least, it took tremendous concentration. I was and am respectful of Ken Ham’s passion. At a cognitive level, he believes what he says. He really means it, when he says that he has “a book” that supersedes everything you and I and his parishioners can observe everywhere in nature around us. I respected that commitment; I used it to drive, what actors call, my “inner monologue.” I did not choose, as I was advised, to attack, attack, attack. My actor’s preparation helped me keep things civil and be respectful of Mr. Ham despite what struck me as his thoughtless point of view. I’m sure it influenced the countless people who’ve written to me and come up to me in public to express their strong and often enthusiastic support. Thank you all.
Bill Nye Took Astronomy From Carl Sagan
The Science Guy discusses how taking an astronomy class from Carl Sagan helped set him on the path to bowtiehood, and how Carl’s advice helped mold Bill’s famous show.
Another wonderful reminder that teachers, famous or not, make all the difference. These are the guys who inspired me, and if I can pay forward one-tenth of that inspiration to someone else… Life Achievement Unlocked.
(via NOVA’s Secret Life of Scientists and Engineers)
One more thought on last night’s Nye vs. Ham debate…
This one is inspired by Phil Plait, the Bad Astronomer, and his post-mortem on the evolution vs. creationism debate that happened last night, and the debate at large.
You should read Phil’s whole post, I think he captures the conflict and the solution in one passage:
The conflict over the teaching of evolution is based on the false assumption that evolution is antagonistic to religion. This is why, I think, evolution is so vehemently opposed by so many in the United States. The attacks on the specifics of evolution—the claims about irreducibility of the eye, for example, or other such incorrect statements—are a symptom, not a cause. I can talk about how we know the Universe is old until the Universe is substantially older and not convince someone whose heels are dug in. But if we can show them that the idea of evolution is not contrary to their faith, then we will make far, far more progress.
I still think that last night’s debate was a mistake, but perhaps it was a mistake in execution rather than intent. Bill showed up with a brain-bazooka full of facts, but he came prepared with the wrong weapon for the wrong fight.
Instead we need people like Bill out there (and I’m trying really hard to be one of those people, too, as are so many of my friends and colleagues) to deliver an important message alongside our teaching and inspiration and entertainment when it comes to evolution, and science in general, really:
Despite what people like Ken Ham are telling you, if you are a religious person, you do not need to choose between believing in evolution OR believing your faith. That makes Ham twice the liar: Once for denying our knowledge of reality and the natural world, and twice for telling you that natural wonder can’t complement, enrich, or, for some people, perhaps even become your spirituality.
Here’s a much shorter version of last night’s Bill Nye vs. Ken Ham evolution vs. creationism debate, or maybe every evolution vs. creationism debate, from Beatrice the Biologist (She is also on Tumblr! Her comics are awesome and sciencey, so go check them out!)
Everyone just needs to stop arguing, because evolution is here to stay. People need to explore ways to make evolution fit alongside their beliefs, not instead of them. And then we need to all go get some yogurt.
Rose Eveleth has a great story (and some awkward old videos) over at Smithsonian that asks why Americans love watching celebrities debate about evolution. We’ve been doing it for decades, and it’s not helping.
Bill Nye Debates Creationist Ken Ham Tonight, Watch At Link Below
Bill Nye is debating creationist and religious scholar Ken Ham tonight, on whether “creation a viable model of origins in today’s modern, scientific era.”
I’ve already explained, at length, why I think this is a really bad, awful, no good idea, but Bill’s the one who gets to wear the bow-tie, and he’s doing it. So I’m gonna support him 110%!
Looks like this is gonna be a big deal. There’s already 17,000+ people watching the livestream link and there’s still FIVE HOURS to go before it starts.
I’m not going to watch, because I think this is a huge publicity stunt for Ken Ham and his efforts to chip away at science, but you can choose for yourself. If you so desire, tune into to the live YouTube broadcast here, tonight, Feb. 4 at 7 PM Eastern.
Q:Are you excited for Bill Nye VS. Ken Ham?
LONG POST DISCLAIMER: I know when you asked this, you weren’t expecting a treatise, but you’re getting one anyway, because I have Thoughts on this. Strap in.
For those of you just tuning in, Bill Nye has (allegedly, no confirmation from Bill yet) agreed to debate noted creationist Ken Ham on Feb. 4th, the topic being “Is creation a viable model of human origins?”. (I can end this debate very quickly: “No.”)
To answer your question succinctly, no, I’m not excited. I don’t know why Bill agreed to do this. To make it even weirder, he’s doing it at the Creation Museum in Kentucky. That’s Ham’s home court. When you walk into a room where dinosaurs stand next to early humans, you have to understand that logic and reason might not walk in next to you.
Bill shouldn’t be worried about losing the debate on scientific grounds, but he might still lose, just by showing up. He really shouldn’t be having the debate in the first place. NASA scientists don’t agree to debate whether space exists or whether we actually went to the moon. Physicists don’t agree to debate whether gravity actually exists. Because there is no debate. Life arose on Earth from some previously inorganic, self-replicating system. Through the evolution and selection of systems so complex and time so vast that we are quite literally unable to fathom them, Earth’s living world ended up looking precisely like it does today, which is not necessarily the only way it could have ended up.
We don’t understand every step of that process, and scientists readily, even happily admit that, because it means they still have jobs. We haven’t traced life’s origins with certainty. What we know know, and what we don’t, is simply the limit of our understanding, not a lack of it. We may never be able to definitively describe the transition from an abiotic (“non-living”) to a biotic (“living”) Earth, although theories like this one are bringing us tantalizingly close, perhaps as close as we may ever come, or perhaps just closer to taking the next step out of the fading darkness of ignorance and into the nourishing light of discovery, which feels so good on your skin.
I think that religious faith and its attendant traditions can be wonderful, enriching pieces (maybe even corner pieces!) in this complicated puzzle we call human culture, and you should absolutely make them part of your life, but only if you want to. Those traditions should not be confused with real science. When you turn to creation stories as the actual, for-real, “this is what really happened” version of events, you are cutting yourself off from a vast portion of the world, and by “world” I mean the actual stuff of dirt, water, rocks, air, and life. You are choosing to deny logic, observation, and the scientific method. Our knowledge of the living, breathing Earth, its rich history and continuing evolution and its unknown future … that is more satisfying than any creation story, because no matter if you think the world around you is molded by a deity’s hand or simply the wondrous result of improbable chemistry, accepting science adds to your understanding of this beautiful existence, while millennia-old, unchanging creation myths insist on limiting that beauty, and replacing it with stories that by definition, and with great irony, have not evolved for thousands of years.
So that’s one reason I don’t think Bill should be having this debate.
Beyond all these flowery words about watering the rose of your intellect, there’s plenty of other reasons to think this debate is a bad idea. For one thing, the audience will likely be full of people who already squarely land in one camp or the other, ready to eat the proverbial popcorn, and each paying a $25 admission fee, which, since this is taking place at the Creation Museum, I can only assume will go totes into the pocket of Ken Ham and associates. In addition to free money, Nye is giving Ham free publicity, publicity that Nye doesn’t need (he was already on Earth’s premiere ballroom dance show for crying out loud!) and that Ham couldn’t buy in his wildest dreams with a suitcase full of wild dream money. Next, when you sit on a stage to debate, rules usually call for equal time, and that gives the impression, which is horribly mistaken in this case, that the two sides are on equal logical footing. If I was organizing this debate, I’d let Ham say maybe three words, and let Bill talk for the remainder of the time, because that’s how the scientific consensus is weighted against creationism. Instead, Nye will probably spend the time on the defensive, refuting ridiculous claims like that Ham invented the question mark.
Finally, who is this going to convince? I was chatting with Elise Andrew of IFLS about this yesterday (<- humblebrag alert), and I am genuinely curious about this. Are there large numbers of people who are on the fence about whether evolution or creationism is the One True Way? And I mean really, truly “on the fence” in the sense that they could be tipped to one side by the words of either a hero of their elementary school afternoons and Tumblr memes and bow-tie-shipping, or … that other guy? Maybe there are a lot of people out there who squarely straddle that fence, which I imagine must be a painful place to be, but I kind of doubt it. Read a little about confirmation bias and motivated reasoning and maybe you’ll understand why I feel that way.
A poll recently came out from the fine pollsters at Pew, showing that a certain conservative political party’s belief in evolution has dropped 11% since 2009. That could be viewed as bad news, or it could mean that fence-sitters have already jumped on over to munch on the verdant grass of science and left their political party with it.
I firmly believe –scratch that– I know that people can change their minds on this stuff, because I’ve seen it happen. I just don’t think this debate is the way to do it. “So, Mr. Science Man,” you’re surely asking, “what is?” Well, that same Pew poll contained this (look at the last three lines):
More education goes right along with greater acceptance evolution. The more effectively we educate people, all people of all colors and classes, the more people we have on Team Darwin.
THAT’S the plan I’m going with. Join me?
Bill Nye’s appearance on Dancing With The Stars is bad for science because it reinforces stereotypes against women and minorities …
That’s the thesis of Jennifer Welsh’s piece at Business Insider. I encourage you to read the whole thing before making a knee-jerk reaction to that statement, because she includes a lot of important data in her article that I agree with. It’s just that I don’t agree with her framing. Bill Nye is not the enemy here.
What do we mean when we say someone or something is a “negative stereotype”? The real danger there is not always the stereotype itself, but rather the stereotype threat, that a member of a group will self-reinforce the image implied by a stereotype. We know that this happens, and Welsh includes several good examples in her article. For instance, young girls do worse in math class when female teachers exhibit anxiety about the subject. Take away the “anxious math girl” image, and they perform equally with (or better than) boys. In essence, the risk is believing that because others view you as inadequate, you are in fact inadequate.
Yes, Bill Nye’s dance sequence on DWTS was nerdy. He played a bumbling, over-the-top character in a lab coat, equal parts comical and charming. In other words, he played Bill Nye, the same way that Bill Nye the person has always played “Bill Nye” the character. Why, when it worked so well as a teaching vehicle on The Bill Nye Show, does “Bill Nye” the character all of a sudden become a stereotype threat when he’s dancing in prime time?
Maybe it’s because he’s being played as the butt of a joke, like Welsh explains. Sure, he played into an old trope of “dork gets sexy person to like them and suddenly doesn’t look dorky anymore" (also seen in such films as She’s All That. She took off her glasses! She’s cool now!). But is that really the threat it’s made out to be? I think there’s a better case to be made that Bill Nye being on DWTS creates an image of a scientist as popular, likable and socially accepted, the very arc his dance routine followed. If we want to point fingers at media that uses awkward white nerds as the eternal butt of a joke in the supposed name of geek culture, look no further than The Big Bang Theory.
Bill Nye is an effective science teacher, one that I think genuinely made an impact for males, females, whites, POC, and others, because he spoke to his “students” as peers. That’s even in the mission statement for his show. His show was accessible to so many groups, I think thereby breaking down stereotype threats, not only because it spoke to its audience inclusively, but because it was truly accessible, as in you can watch this in every classroom in America with access to a TV. But maybe I can’t see past the good parts of Bill Nye the white guy scientist because I’m Joe Hanson the white guy scientist, and that’s a possibility I accept.
I think Welsh calls attention to an important issue, but sloppily. How we can change the public image of a scientist to affect the inclusion of women, POC and LGBTQ groups into the science sphere is some Serious Business™. See, yanking a dancing Bill Nye out of our hat shines the spotlight where it doesn’t need to be, obscuring the systemic problems that are truly at play here: How often-ill-prepared teachers interact with and encourage their students (or don’t), increasing access to quality science education across socioeconomic classes, removing social hurdles such as gender and race bias in faculty and entry-level hiring, providing same-sex benefits to university employees (like grad students and faculty) and erasing a woman’s seemingly-binary choice of starting a family or committing to a career in science, to name a few.
Maybe I’m just inclined to focus on the positive, to be optimistic about how a dancing Bill Nye can make a difference,or how Neil deGrasse Tyson will change the world in prime time next year. I think the problems that Welsh identifies are real, I just don’t think Nye’s the demon we’re looking for. Thoughts?