Bill Nye used to be a harmless children's entertainer. Kids would tune into his show to learn neat facts about lasers, mirrors and other science-y things. They'd discover the awesome power of combining vinegar and baking soda. They'd learn words like "epidermis" and "ganglia."
It was like watching a lab coat-clad clown perform at a birthday party.
Sadly, the so-called science guy rebranded himself a long time ago, and he's now some sort of "woke" political activist.
Instead of experimenting with Mentos and Diet Coke, he's flirting with the idea of jailing climate change skeptics. Instead of exploring photosynthesis with his lab assistants, he's on a mission to explain why it's backwards to think of human gender in terms of men and women. Instead of introducing younger audiences to the wonders of our solar system, he's asking if leaders in developed countries should "have policies that penalize people for having extra kids."
It comes from his position of authority as a "science guy."
Like fellow celebrity scientist Neil de Grasse Tyson, Nye has fallen into the trap of thinking his limited background in science – his credentials begin and end with a degree in engineering – makes him an expert in multiple fields, including meteorology and human biology. He is not, which becomes clear from watching some of the content of his new Netflix show, "Bill Nye Saves the World."
One episode explores the idea that gender is fluid, which Nye and comedian Rachel Bloom attempt to explain through a song-and-dance routine loosely resembling a pagan fertility ritual.
"Sexuality's a spectrum, everyone is on it. Even you might like it if you sit up on it," Bloom sings in a song titled "My Sex Junk."
She added, "Drag king, drag queen just do what feels right."
Putting aside the gender fluidity bit, things like Nye's suggesting jail time for climate skeptics raises a simple question: Why is he doing this?
Science is a discipline. It prescribes methods for observing and understanding the world. By hoisting himself on the shoulders of what should be an apolitical discipline to make politically charged proclamations about the enemies of what George Orwell might call "goodthink," Nye makes himself less of a scientist and more of an activist with a fetish for lab coats.
One can't help but wonder if Nye has even thought through the implications of advocating a world in which skeptics are jailed for questioning a supposed consensus.
It's nearly as bad as when de Grasse Tyson mused aloud about his idea for Rationalia, a "virtual country" in which evidence would serve as the people's god.
"Earth needs a virtual country: #Rationalia, with a one-line Constitution: All policy shall be based on the weight of evidence," the astrophysicist tweeted on June 29, 2016.
Congratulations on discovering the French Revolution, Neil.
It's usually pretty clear when de Grasse Tyson and Nye are in over their heads, but it's never more painfully obvious than when they try to comment on politics, culture and other things involving a general understanding of human nature. They may know how magnets work and how galaxies move, but they seem to be utterly confused by people.
In considering efficient forms of government, and the role that a governing body should play in the lives of its citizenry, things like Rationalia, imprisoning dissenters, etc. may sound to them like good ideas. These notions fail, however, to account for the human person, and how people think, react, love, hate, behave and all the rest.
Let's leave figuring people out to the humanities, okay science guys?