Friday, February 26, 2010

Bill Nye Falls Victim to "He Said, She Said" Climate Banter

Do any of you remember Bill Nye? You know, the Science Guy? If you're like me and you were a geek growing up you probably skipped around the halls of your elementary school singing the catchy "Bill, Bill, Bill, Bill, Bill" theme song from his show on PBS. For all you true fans out there (or for those of you who have no idea who or what I'm talking about) watch below:

On every show, Bill and his team of the coolest teenage cast members on cable television would investigate a scientific question and design an experiment to test their hypothesis (and in doing so educate their young audience).

But it seems as though Mr. Nye has upped the ante in the last 10 years since I was a regular fan of his show, and graduated from the signature baking soda and vinegar volcanoes to something a little more complicated: Climate change.

Nye recently entered the "No Spin Zone" on the O'Reilly Factor to take on Joe Bastardi, AccuWeather meteorologist (aka NOT a climatologist, and yes there is a difference). Watch the segment below:

I think this is actually the most "fair and balanced" exchange between two people expressing differing viewpoints I have ever seen on Fox News. But I might go so far as to say that it's too fair and balanced, to the point where what they're saying doesn't really mean anything. I'll explain.

Both Nye and Bastardi present the data that supports their view on the changes to the climate system. Bastardi has his high-tech TV screen and Nye has his little placards, god bless his heart. But in the age old game of human competition, it is impossible to answer the question, "Who wins?" Even though Nye presented the most scientifically sound data from the IPCC (aka the most well-renowned climate scientists in the world), his efforts are equally weighted with Bastardi's on the air for no other reason than they are given equal time to talk and at least Bastardi seems like he knows what he's talking about.

It's for this reason that I strongly disagree with the headline of a recent article I saw about the Nye-Bastardi segment which declared: "Bill Nye Schools Bill O'Reilly on Climate Change." Bill Nye didn't "school" anyone, O'Reilly or Bastardi, in this discussion on Fox News. Sure he presented scientifically sound facts, but it's up to O'Reilly's viewers to believe them - a tall order to be sure.

I listened to a fascinating piece on NPR this week about how what individuals consider to be the facts about climate change (and what they consider to be the lies) depends heavily on their personal value systems. The main point I got out of the story was that people believe what they want to believe. When talking about a subject as complicated as climate change, and one with such high stakes, it is imperative that scientists and activists alike find a way to communicate the scientific facts in such a way that it is impossible to deny the negative human impacts on our climate system. Until then we'll just be mired in the "He said, she said" climate banter through which no one wins, which in the scope of our impending climate crisis, means we all lose.

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