Bill Nye Saves the World: “It’s Not Magic, it’s Science!”

Bill Nye’s classic program, Bill Nye the Science Guy, was a childhood staple of many millennials. Some of the best days in school were the ones where a television was rolled into the classroom and a Bill Nye the Science Guy video tape was inserted into the VCR. Teachers recognized the host’s astounding ability to engage young students in his passion for science, and now Nye is back at it with a different agenda.

Bill Nye Saves the World is unlike his kid-oriented PBS show. Although both seek to raise science to a level of common understanding through demonstrations and goofy humor, his new show targets an adult audience and is vastly different in production and tone. Released on Netflix the day before Nye served as honorary co-chair of the March for Science in Washington, DC, the thirteen-episode series is reminiscent of The Daily Show in that it’s filmed before a live (and enthusiastic) studio audience and features a blend of behind-the-desk jokes and commentary, correspondent sketches, celebrity appearances, and expert panel interviews.  And like The Daily Show, it also doesn’t shy away from politics.

Nye, the American Humanist Association’s 2010 Humanist of the Year, seeks to demonstrate how science is political by debunking non-scientific thinking. In an interview with NPR, he explained, “Our policies, what we do with our intellect and treasure, as a society, depends on science whether you’re aware of it or not. What the Department of Agriculture does, what the military does, what National Aeronautics and Space Administration does—all depends on making decisions about how to allocate resources that we hope are informed by the process of science.”

In a time of alternative facts, we need advocates like Nye to commit to normalizing skepticism and scientific principles. At its best, his show is justifying and empowering. Humanists will take interest in and relate to Nye’s coverage of topics like climate change, alternative medicine, anti-vaccination, gender and sexuality, and artificial intelligence. For Nye, this is an opportunity to revitalize scientific thinking in political discussion. As he says in the first episode, “You think I’d get a new TV show and not talk about climate change?”

Nye and his associates can be tough on the misinformed or disagreeable. His correspondents uncomfortably mock certain folks during sketches, like those who think sound therapy has merit or GMOs are harmful. In an entertaining moment demonstrating the origins of early life on earth, Nye tosses aside a small model of Noah’s ark, quickly blurting, “There’s no freakin’ Noah’s ark!” Although potentially alienating for those who need this show most, Nye and his writers understandably push sternly against anti-science rhetoric. And, with an emphasis on laughter over detailed analysis, the show is intended primarily to entertain and renew interest in science.

Ultimately, Nye still believes that with access to knowledge and with emphasis placed on critical thinking, we are all still capable of doing good. “We can do great things!” Nye encouragingly declares to the audience. “We can work together to save the world!” Spoken like a true humanist, it’s good to hear him acknowledge that he can’t do it alone.