Bill Nye - In Praise of Reason (and Skepticism)

November 7, 2011

Host: Chris Mooney

Recently in New Orleans, the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry held the very first CSIcon—the conference dedicated to scientific inquiry and critical thinking.

The main honoree: Bill Nye the Science Guy, who was given CSI's premiere "In Praise of Reason" award.

The next day, Point of Inquiry caught up with Nye, a guest who really needs no introduction... at least not to the thousands upon thousands of kids who saw a little show called Bill Nye the Science Guy.

Since then, Nye has been involved in many other endeavors and television programs to improve science teaching and understanding in our country, including his latest show on Planet Green, "Stuff Happens".

Nye is an engineer, inventor, author, comedian—a supporter of clean energy, and above all a skeptic.

Links Mentioned in This Episode:

Bill Nye the Science Guy
CSIcon: The Conference Dedicated To Scientific Inquiry And Critical Thinking

Comments from the CFI Forums

If you would like to leave a comment about this episode of Point of Inquiry please visit the related thread on the CFI discussion forums

Best interview ever!

Posted on Nov 08, 2011 at 12:05am by domokato Comment #1

He’s a good man, and he’s taken an inspiring lead, I think.  Oh those engineers!  It was refreshing to hear him speak candidly, and as himself rather than as “the science guy”.  :)

Posted on Nov 09, 2011 at 9:00am by jump_in_the_pit Comment #2

Mooney said that the US congress is divided on climate change. Observing things from Europe it looks like the US is congress is divided on pretty much everything. These same divisions can be seen on discussion boards. Even the media in America is divided along ideological lines.

No doubt this polarization of viewpoints has many reasons and a long history, but I think there is one major cause for it that gets surprisingly little attention. This is the fact that your Congress has only two major political parties. And apparently it’s quite difficult to start a new political party that gets representatives elected. I mean, you don’t even have a serious political representation for the green movement.

Don’t you think that a congress should better represent the existing diversity of political views among the people? The current situation is obviously dumbing down your political discourse, and making it seem as if every question has only two possible solutions, the democratic or the republican.

To an outsider living in a country that has a functioning parliament with many parties from different points of the political spectrum, this system seems peculiar. It’s almost like a system quasi democracy. Am I wrong?

Posted on Nov 11, 2011 at 10:53am by Holger Comment #3

To an outsider living in a country that has a functioning parliament with many parties from different points of the political spectrum, this system seems peculiar. It’s almost like a system quasi democracy. Am I wrong?

It’s an interesting question.  I suspect our two parties include members who fall along a broader political spectrum than the larger number of parties under parliamentary system, so perhaps each might effectively be a coalition;  however, these coalitions have no power to elect the president, so this may work to reduce the power of minority interests.

Whether this is a good thing or bad thing is debatable.  It’s true that our government cripples itself in its ability to implement agendas, but then, we’ve sometimes been grateful that certain radical agendas have been crippled, such as the recent Tea Party initiatives.  Even if our government structure isn’t optimal, I’m still inclined to believe that most of our political problems lie with the dysfunctionality of the American population, rather than the structure of government.  But campaign financing issues could be a big factor too.

Posted on Nov 11, 2011 at 12:25pm by Taylor Comment #4

I think the two party system is encouraged by our voting system - ranked voting. Maybe something like range voting would be better? (see Arrow’s Impossibility Theorem)

Posted on Nov 11, 2011 at 4:01pm by domokato Comment #5

First of all, I love Bill Nye, he’s why I’m on this site!  And there’s a certain irony to loving and trusting the words of a skeptic, but a certain logic too.  Perhaps a discussion for another day…

I just wanted to comment on the American two party system, because people often lament over it, and I have a simple solution, but also a comment on where the problem really lies.

First, my solution: count all votes, for all candidates.  So if there’s 5 people running, and I vote for 3, all three get a +1 to their tally.  I’ll pick all the ones I can live with, and one of them will win.  It’ll never be my first pick, because he’ll be too progressive and crazy for most folks.  Then again, it’ll be someone I can live with, someone the vast majority of voters can live with, not just the favorite of a plurality. 

Meantime, the real problem is in voting primaries.  In the USA, the government pays for primary elections and ballots, but you must be either a democrat or a republican to get that money.  There really are no exceptions to that, so by the time the main election comes around, the “serious” candidates are: the lead democrat, the lead republican, plus any third party candidate who can raise enough money to spend as much as the government just spent (hint: Ross Perot).

Open primaries where no party can control the content of the (single) ballot would go a long way to weakening the 2 parties, which is why they fight this idea every time it’s brought up.

Posted on Jan 05, 2014 at 10:03pm by MweneChanga Comment #6

I remember watching Bill Nye when I was a kid
Memories :)

While having a democratic republic society has its advantages, I dont think I feel comfortable with it in a country whose citizens are like this:

Granted this may be an extreme case, but suffice it to say, the old days of seriously studying issues (as opposed to watching news by “all-knowing journalists”) are gone.
Neil Postman discussed this briefly in his book Technopoly

May be an education reform is needed. There is an interesting lecture by a scholar who studied over 5 years in traditional West African education, as well as in PhD programs here in the U.S.

Posted on Jan 11, 2014 at 7:31am by I.J. Abdul Hakeem Comment #7