Since I’ve criticized Bill Nye for his scientifically unjustified warnings about GMOs (genetically modified organisms; see here and here for my earlier posts), I thought it only fair to add that he now seems to have modified those views. According to Dan Arel, Nye’s walked back his unwarranted fears, which of course could have been influential given his status as The Science Guy. Nye was challenged to debate GMOs by at least one pro-GMO horticultural scientist, but hasn’t agreed to participate.
Here’s a clip provided by Arel, showing Nye discussing his new book about evolution, Undeniable, backstage after his appearance on Bill Maher’s “Real Time.”
The relevant part starts at 3:38, where Nye notes that he’s going to revise the GMO chapter of his book to reflect new information he got (after visiting Monsanto!). I dearly hope that revision will dial back the fearfulness about GMOs. Arel implies that this will be the case, but all you can tell from Nye’s words is that a revision is in the works.
If Nye does reverse his views, and presents the scientific consensus that GMOs do not pose any dangers, then I applaud his willingness to change his mind. But of course the data were always there for him to see, so this just reflects his not doing his homework in the first place.
I consider Nye’s discussion of human “races,” beginning at 1:30, as grossly uniformed, for he confuses “race” (genetically differentiated populations of humans) with “species” (groups of populations that are reproductively isolated from each other, i.e., unable to produce viable and fertile offspring). The issue of whether there are human races is of course controversial (I think the concept is still useful), but it doesn’t do any good to misrepresent the controversy in the first place, as Nye does. Nye argues that races don’t exist because a Caucasian and a Chinese could mate and produce a human! Seriously? That’s the concept of species, not races! And then he drags in “tribes,” which simply muddies the waters. Maybe Nye should talk to some evolutionary geneticists before he starts spouting off on this kind of stuff. Again, homework is neglected (maybe the dog ate it).
Of course I applaud Nye’s desire to “change the world” (as he says) by educating people about science, but I don’t think that right now he’s exactly a primo science communicator—not if he continually gets stuff wrong or has to correct himself. And, on a personal note, I don’t find him inspiring—not in the way I regard Neil deGrasse Tyson, Carolyn Porco, or Richard Dawkins when they talk about science. In contrast, Nye gives me the creeps. You may say that I shouldn’t feel that way, but that’s my lived experience.