Easy Ethics Quiz: Bill Nye The Science Guy’s Ambush Slapdown

On his own Reddit forum where readers are allowed to “Ask Me Anything,” Bill Nye the Science Guy, who has recently been making a pretty penny shilling for the climate change policy lobby, was made the target of this:

Hi Bill,

I have a great way you can start. Stop pretending you’re a scientist.

In science, we begin with facts. The facts show you have no formal science education beyond a Bachelors in mechanical engineering from Cornell. That’s it. Not even a Masters degree, let alone a Doctorate. You literally have no formal science education beyond an undergraduate degree. The facts also show that the whole “Science Guy” persona emerged out of a stand-up comedy routine you used to perform on local public-access TV back in the 80’s:

Good science requires valid data, so, here you go:

You’ve spent years parading around in a lab coat, even after your Disney series ended.. parading around in a way which makes most people, particularly children, think that you’re qualified to speak on matters you have no formal experience, education, or training on. For all intents and purposes, you’re a talented actor-comedian with an opinion who inserts himself into public dialogue…and that’s about it.

Good science also requires peer-review, so, here you go:

If I walked around in scrubs, hung a stethoscope around my neck, and called myself “Bpoag the Medicine Guy”, I would be a considered complete fraud, would I not? Even though some of my opinions and observations might be correct, i’m still not a physician… Nor should I be considered one. I’m simply not qualified to speak in that realm, let alone make decisions, let alone attempt to guide public policy. You are to science what Betsy DeVos is to education. Perhaps worse; your fraud has spanned decades. Hers, only a few months.

Good science demands empiricism..so, here you go:

We’ve all observed your “science guy” persona, yet, you intentionally avoid telling people you’re playing a character. You have allowed the illusion to persist for decades that you are an expert on science issues in the public eye, and have undoubtedly made a pretty good living off of this deception. Worse, instead of saying, “Well, truth is, i’m not an expert, but I can defer to someone who is..”, you have placed yourself squarely in the middle of purposeful scientific debate on important issues, rather than allow the spotlight to fall on those who actually do know what they’re talking about. As a result, you constitute nothing but noise and distraction to actual scientists, and actual experts.

Good science demands testability and repeatability, as well.. Here you go:

This very post, the one i’m commenting on. One of many you’ve done, one of many appearances you’ve made over the years, promoting your “science guy” persona. You’ve been called out repeatedly, but still insist on inserting yourself into public affairs, occupying a place at a table you have no business sitting at.

You want to put an end to “unscientific thinking”? Start here, Bill. As hard as it is to stomach, science is about honesty. If you want to “save the world”, start with yourself. I think people would be more welcoming of someone owning up to past mistakes and misrepresentations than welcoming of a guy who continues trying to perpetuate a decades-long fraud for personal gain.

Your Ethics Alarms Ethics Quiz of the Day:

Was it fair to confront Bill Nye this way?

My answer: Of course. Just as it would be fair to do the same to Dr. Phil, Dr. Oz, Dr. Laura, Fox’s Judge Napolitano, and others.

I told you it would be an easy quiz.


77 thoughts on “Easy Ethics Quiz: Bill Nye The Science Guy’s Ambush Slapdown

  1. In all seriousness, you are correct. I had to giggle, though, when I read it. It reminds me of an episode of “Frasier” I saw recently where he invites a black student from his radio class to sub for his producer for a week and she takes over the show, ultimately calling herself “Doctor Mary”. Beyond the blow to his ego at being pushed out of the way, he can’t get past the fact that people are referring to her as “Doctor” when she isn’t one (and fears confronting her because he’s afraid she will assume it’s because he’s racist).

    She ends up with her own show at the end, but they encounter each other in a follow-up episode where Frasier chuckles, “I see you’re still calling yourself ‘Doctor’.

    • He was. I knew him when he was on the bench. I also knew him when his former title was used to put a nasty female judge back into her place (though her later downfall was all her). In the legal community it’s common, at least in NJ, to still address judges who have retired or left the bench as “judge” as a courtesy, much as you might address a retired military officer by his former rank or still refer to Hillary as “Secretary Clinton,” although she hasn’t been Secretary of State for almost a decade.

      That said, it’s one thing to use courtesy titles as a mark of respect. It’s another to create a completely fictional persona and trade on it as though you actually were this fictional person. Bill Nye is no scientist, any more than Tom Hanks is a real veteran or Jimmy Kimmel is a real policy expert. They are simply celebrities with platforms. That said, I think there is a slightly cowardly aspect to writing something like this, that the writer probably wouldn’t dare say in person.

      • I would agree with that, except that when you consent to a forum called “Ask Me Anything,” you can hardly complain when something like this occurs. he consented. That’s a blank check.

  2. The “smack down” is mostly bullshit. Yes, he has a bachelors degree. Big woop. He also spent a decade working as a mechanical engineer, designing aircraft components. This requires detailed understanding and modeling of atmospheric conditions. The fields are related enough that Nye can be reasonably expected to be able to independently interpret climate change models. It is also down right insulting to suggest the “science guy” is purely an act because it began as a comedy routine – it was a routine informed by the guy’s day job as an engineer. This so called epoch smack down really just reeks of Sheldon putting down Howard for being a mere engineer.

    • Except that an engineer is an engineer, not a scientist. Thomas Edison made the distinction frequently: as an inventor, which Nye can legitimately claim to be, he deals in applied science. That does not make him qualified to hold himself out as an expert on all areas of science.

      Fact Check.org concluded that Nye was more of a scientist than Sarah Palin. I’ll second that. This doesn’t mean that he is misrepresenting himself:

      Here’s FactCheck’s list:

      Nye has a B.S. in mechanical engineering from Cornell.

      Not a science degree.

      He also has six honorary doctorate degrees, including Ph.D.s in science from Goucher College and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.

      Honorary degrees don’t count.

      He held various positions as an engineer between 1977 to 2009, such as contributing to the designs of 747 planes for Boeing and the designs of equipment used to clean up oil spills.

      Got it. He’s an engineer.

      From 1999 to 2009, Nye worked with a team at the NASA and California Institute of Technology’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory to design and create the MarsDial, a sundial and camera calibrator attached to the Mars Exploration Rover.

      Applied science. My son is a tech and a car mechanic. Also applied science.

      Nye also holds three patents: a redesigned ballet toe shoe, a digital abacus (a kind of calculator) and an educational lens.

      George Foreman, the boxer, holds patents. see Edison comment.

      Nye has written books on science, including “Undeniable” and “Unstoppable,” which cover evolution and climate change, respectively.

      All exploitations of his TV character, and pop science. Bill O’Reilly has written books about history. He’s no historian.

      This is all in addition to decades of work in science advocacy and education, including acting as CEO of The Planetary Society and teaching as a professor at Cornell.

      Ugh. Science advocacy is advocacy, not science. Education is teaching, and his teaching consisted of The Frank H.T. Rhodes Class of 1956 Professorship, which is a PR lite-assignment “intended to strengthen the undergraduate experience by bringing to Cornell individuals from every walk of life who represent excellence of achievement.” It was one week a year, for three weeks.

      Nye has a degree and experience working in engineering, which is the application of science.

      Ok, then Bill Nye the Engineering Guy would be fair.

      He has also spent much of his career working with and for the scientific community.

      Ding. I know a paralegal who has spend much of her career woring with layerts and the legal community, but if she goes into court as a lawyer, she’s going to end up in big trouble.

      Verdict: Weak. He should not be testifying about climate change, or have any special influence in that topic at all.

      • It’s worse than even that. Anyone claiming to represent “science” generally is, and always has been, some sort of leader in the field. An 8-year degree is still far from what would be required to be called an “expert” without earning the scorn of your peers. Nye needs to have his own research published in peer-reviewed journals in above-average quantities. Or else he needs to go home. There are thousands upon thousands of real scientists who disagree with him on each and every of his controversial positions who meet those qualifications.

      • I am glad you pointed this out as I think it is an important distinction. I have a law degree, which in the United States is a Doctorate of Jurisprudence. That means I am a “doctor” of laws; it does not mean that I am a doctor of medicine and if I hold myself out as a medical doctor, I am misrepresenting my credentials. I may have a ton of experience in medical issues but that does not mean I can treat patients. My professional experience may allow me to offer advice on medical issues (for instance, health insurance or medical device coverage under medical insurance, Medicare/Medicaid, etc.) but it does not mean I can prescribe the proper medical device necessary for a particular treatment. If I am an eminence in a particular area of medical-related law and University of Texas confers an honorary medical degree on me, I am not credentialed to take medical boards to practice medicine. Those distinctions are important and should be clarified.

        As for Nye, he holds himself out as a scientist, with specialized knowledge on climate sciences. From what I gather, he does not have any particular expertise, study, investigation, or other background to propound on the relative and relevant state of climate change. His opinion is about as valid as mine, or Al Gore in that respect. Yet, the media holds him out (and he enforces) as an expert without explaining his pedigree. That is disingenuous and unethical. The general public, not knowing his true background, concludes that he is a scientist (not as a mechanical engineer with honorary degrees) and gives great weight to what he says.

        As for the take down, it is ethical because Nye openly asked to be . . . erm . . . asked anything, without caveats or limitations (which means that he didn’t think through all of the permutations of what the Web Furies can conjure up), so he got what was coming to him. I have no idea how to use reddit so I could find his response, if any, to the accusation that he is qualified to render an expert opinion on things other than ballet shoes or digital abacus, a spaceship based sundial and camera calibrator, and an educational lens


    • Sorry Rich, designing aircraft components does not requiring an understanding of how the atmosphere works. This is the difference between engineering and science. Engineers need to know there is an atmosphere and what it is. An atmospheric scientists seeks to understand how the atmosphere works. My father used to design jet engines used in airliners. He didn’t need to understand all the factors (solar output, gas composition, humidity, wind currents) that determine the temperature of the earth. A B.S. mechanical engineer has about 2 years of science training, like a junior science major. He is way out of his league shouting down physics professors who disagree with him.

  3. I’m going to have to disagree — mostly because it’s not accurate.

    Y’see, the summary of his accomplishments leaves out quite a bit, and his credentials as a scientist (or engineer, or inventor) go well beyond having a B.S.

    Nye, at present, holds five honorary doctorates, of which only one (from Lehigh University, in pedagogy) is in anything other than science. He holds a number of patents (see https://www.google.com/search?q=%22William+S.+Nye%22&hl=en&tbm=pts&ei=YxkFWrKxF8HQmwGr4ZH4BQ&start=0&sa=N&biw=1078&bih=776 or just do a Google patent search) in fields ranging from airplane instrumentation to ballet dancing (and, if you’re wondering why he has patents in that, I will just note that most of the ballet patents are for footwear). He has considerable experience in science education, yes, but also in things like aeronautical engineering (hence the patents in airplane instrumentation).

    Nye has played a part in several research projects, notably including the Mars rover missions, in which he developed a custom sundial for use in calibrating the rovers’ cameras.

    In short, the author of that comment/question is simply equating formal education with the qualification to call yourself a scientist. This is patently false. A number of the greatest scientists in history have had little to no formal education. Hell, a number of modern scientists of note fit that description.

    To pull an example from my own field, let’s take Michelle Dawson. She’s an autism researcher over at the Hôpital Rivière-des-Prairies in Montreal, with authorial credit on 20+ papers in PubMed (plus books, plus posters and presentations…), many of which are highly significant in the field.

    Her highest formal educational credential is a high-school diploma. Does this make her any less of a scientist?

    (Note that her Wikipedia page has multiple errors. This has been a longstanding complaint of hers — I remember some back-and-forth on it in 2008 or 9.)

    And that’s without getting into the whole “persona” line of thinking — how did he establish that that’s not just Nye’s personality when talking about science again?

    Or, of course, his characterization of Nye’s role (is he really claiming that science educators and communicators have no role in public scientific debates?)… but, frankly, this is getting way too long and I’ve got a nasty head-cold.

    • Forgot Michelle’s (2013, so since I’ve corresponded with her) honorary doctorate. This doesn’t really change anything, however.

    • I just addressed this in another comment literally second before I saw yours.

      Bottom line: he’s not a scientist. He’s an engineer. And as you know, honorary degrees are 100% meaningless. They represent no study or expertise at all. Why would you lead with that, for heaven’s sake?

      • Uh, no. Honorary degrees are awarded in recognition of achievement or accomplishment in a field — such that, in theory, anyway, said achievements or accomplishments demonstrate the right of that person to be considered a peer of those with formal degrees… and while a lot of these awards have been deservedly controversial, the fact that Nye has five of the bloody things should indicate that his aren’t one of them.

        What the degrees do is generally demonstrate that his appellation of “the science guy” is fairly uncontroversial among actual scientists… and that’s why I started off with it when discussing the things the question left out.

        Of course, your replies go a bit beyond the scope of the original question — whether or not it is fair to confront him the way /u/Bpoag did. I say no for the very simple reason that even if you accept that Nye is representing himself as a scientist (I don’t) and even if you accept that only a scientist should interject themselves into scientific debates that way (I don’t), and even if you accept that doing so would constitute de-facto fraud (I don’t, and his “revised” comment — see below — makes that claim directly), the comment woefully mischaracterizes both Nye himself and what it means to be a scientist.

        On another note, I will admit that I went looking for the original comment thread and couldn’t find it, by the way. His comments since indicate that he deleted it and re-posted it in another thread for increased visibility. He then deleted that post (although I have it in browser cache), and may or may not be posting it again elsewhere. So there’s that.

        • For archival purposes, in case I accidentally close the tab, /u/Bpoag’s “revised” comment, as posted at https://www.reddit.com/r/OutOfTheLoop/comments/7bqfhm/why_is_bill_nyes_ama_so_heavily_downvoted/dpky52o/?context=3 , in response to the question of why the Nye AMA has been downvoted so much:

          “Because Bill Nye, right now at least, is a fraud.

          “Nye has a bachelors degree…and that’s it. A simple undergraduate degree.. Not even a Masters degree, let alone a Doctorate. It’s not even a bio sciences, space sciences, or an atmospheric sciences degree–His degree is in mechanical engineering. For all intents and purposes, Bill Nye is basically a guy with an opinion who dresses up in a lab coat.

          “…Yet, he injects himself into various public policy debates on subjects he has absolutely no formal education, experience or training in, and doesn’t particularly care to correct the public’s false belief that he’s an actual scientist. Basically, his presence is considered by many legitimate scientists to be noise and distraction. At the very least, he’s sitting at at a table he has absolutely no business being at, which which takes a seat away from actual scientists, who we all agree need to be heard.

          “Whether Nye happens to be right or wrong on any given issue is beside the point; if you know that millions of people falsely believe you to be more qualified than you truly are, and yet you do nothing to fix that false perception….that’s a problem.

          “I honestly wish Nye would just drop the whole “science guy” routine, and just return to playing to his strengths as a comic actor. He could have a legitmate, perfectly acceptable, and relevant voice in that arena, and be just as visible, without being dogged by a false persona. I’d love to see that. Nye’s early material is actually pretty hilarious.”

        • “Uh, no. Honorary degrees are awarded in recognition of achievement or accomplishment in a field — such that, in theory, anyway, said achievements or accomplishments demonstrate the right of that person to be considered a peer of those with formal degrees…”

          Hide your head in a sack; that is literally the stupidest thing I’ve read all week, and it’s been a stiff competition.

            • In theory nothing, in practice, nothing. You cannot be a lawyer with an honorary law degree, you cannot be a doctor with an honorary medical degree, and I challenge you to find a single institution’s honorary degree outlines that refer to honorary recipients as PEERS of graduates.

              • Ben Affleck, who spent time at multiple universities but never completed his bachelor’s degree, was presented with an honorary doctorate degree from Brown University in 2013.

                William Shatner graduated from McGill University in 1952 and post fame got an honorary doctorate of letters.

                The University of Pennsylvania gave Bono an honorary doctor of laws degree.

                Arnold Schwarzenegger was made an Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters from his alma mater, the University of Wisconsin Superior. The award recognized Schwarzenegger’s contributions to health and fitness, speaking out against prejudice, and creating positive opportunities for inner-city children.

                Mike Tyson- Boxer and High School dropout received a Doctorate in Humane Letters in 1989 from Central Ohio State University.

                George Foreman received an honorary doctorate from the Houston Graduate School of Theology on Saturday for his charity work with children.

                In short, it means you’re famous, that’s all. At least when the recipient is a performer or an athlete. Or a Muppet: In 1996 Southampton College at Long Island University awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Amphibious Letters to Kermit the Frog.

                • ”In 1996 Southampton College at Long Island University awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Amphibious Letters to Kermit the Frog.”

                  Compared to the following, the talented Dr. Frog is eminently deserving.

                  Someone (let’s call him “Al”):
                  *gets a “D” in Earth Science at Harvard,
                  *thinks the earth’s core is “several million degrees,”
                  *comes out with an Academy Award winning schlockumentary slideshow (which can’t be shown in the UK without 9 disclaimers),
                  *claims an expected ~ 7 meter SL rise while owning a Bay Area oceanfront condo a mere 3.5 meters above SL,
                  *claimed the arctic would be ice-free in 5 years…9 years ago,
                  *claims Ursus Maritimus (currently…um…suffering from a ~ 550 % population increase since the 1950’s) is “threatened
                  *owns a TN mansion that uses 20 freakin’ times the average energy consumption,
                  *owns a 100 foot houseboat which runs on a fuel that the only marina on the lake where it’s berthed doesn’t stock,
                  *is partner in Generation Investment Management which sell ‘carbon indulgences,”
                  *sold his unwatchable Current TV to Qatari EVIL oil money,
                  *claims his gargantuan carbon footprint is “offset” by his purchase of carbon indulgences,
                  *doesn’t even “purchase” said offsets, they’re gratis as part of his benefit package,
                  *expects the great unwashed to sacrifice while he lives like a Pharaoh, infinitum, ad nauseum.

                  “Al” owns an honorary doctorate (Laws and Humane Letters in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology) bestowed by the UT-Knoxville.

                  UT-Knoxville Chancellor Jimmy G. Cheek slobbered effusively at the award ceremony about “Al” and his selfless accomplishments as self-anointed “P.R. Man For The Planet.”

                  Makes one wonder if the Chancellor’s nickname is “Tongue-In.”

                • It’s my understanding that honorary degrees are used in lieu of honorariums ($$$$) in order to get famous people to show up and speak. Ben Affleck may not put Brown University on his schedule for $50,000, but an honorary degree will do the trick. Brown saves money, Ben is happy. No one takes the ‘degree’ seriously.

              • Do you honestly think they’d use that wording? No — they tend to be a bit more subtle. Take a look at the academic dress guidelines and the seating arrangements, for instance. Hell, take a look at the policies on post-nominal lettering.

                Of course, some universities are even more explicit than that — take Universidad Azteca in Mexico (because I had their guidelines page open through coincidence and it’s relatively clearly written):

                “The Doctor of the University is awarded by Universidad Azteca under the terms of its charter, may be considered to have technically the same standing as the official doctorate, and to grant the same privileges and style of address, except where explicitly stated that it is a university own degree without RVOE.”

                They do go on, of course: “In practice, however, such degrees may not be considered of the same standing as doctoral degrees earned by the standard academic processes of courses and original research, nevertheless, based on the Universidad Azteca evaluation, the recipient has demonstrated an appropriate level of academic scholarship that would ordinarily qualify him or her for the award of an official degree….”

                To go beyond that sort of thing, you have to take a look at the history of the concept. The first honorary degrees — going back to the 1470s — were considered full degrees, carrying all privileges and recognitions associated with them. In one case that I’m aware of (in 1605), the university explicitly noted this in the awarding. To this day, they are typically considered by the university to have the same standing as more typically-awarded degrees except when noted otherwise (usually in the awarding or the school charter).

                Benjamin Franklin received two honorary doctorates, for instance, in 1759 and 1762, and preferred to be called “Dr. Franklin” ever after (despite having no formal educational credentials in the modern sense). I rather doubt anyone familiar with his accomplishments will claim he didn’t earn them.

                That was very much the spirit of the things until… well, mostly the last century or so. They’ve been watered down a good bit, although the theoretical idea is largely the same.

                … and some universities are really, really explicit on the “when noted otherwise” bit, but that’s neither here or there.

                • Res Ipsa Loquitur…. Only someone who knows nothing about the system, or someone desperately trying to warp reality to fit their narrative would say these things. It’s embarrassing.

                  I have two real degrees, and if someone with an honorary tried to say they were my peer in my field, I’d laugh at them until I felt good. If they tried to practice in my field, they’d be arrested. And I don’t give a damn what the honors meant when Ben Franklin was alive, or the hell Aztec University in Mexico says, at the end of the day, you know very well that you aren’t going to lay back on an operating table and let Dr. Foreman take out your appendix.

                  • … okay, at this point I’m beginning to think that you’re being deliberately obtuse. Not only do they not award honorary medical doctorates that I’m aware of (things like Yale’s honorary doctorate in the medical sciences are something else), but a relevant degree is only the beginnings of licensure requirements in literally any licensed field. Simply put, I wouldn’t “lay back on an operating table and let” some random freshly-graduated M.D. take out my appendix either.

                    Hell, they only really learn to perform operations like that in residency!

                    And no, an honorary doctorate isn’t supposed to make you the peer of the holders of regular doctorates in a field — it’s the achievements which get you the honorary doctorate which are supposed to do that: the honorary doctorate is simply an acknowledgement or statement to that effect. I mentioned Michelle’s case in my first post, but there are other, more famous ones.

                    Frank Lloyd Wright, for instance, only took two semesters of college classes before dropping out, but if he was still alive, who would you rather learn to design houses from — him or some random architecture Ph.D.?

                    He received several honorary degrees relating to architecture — can you honestly say he didn’t deserve them? Do you honestly think that any architecture Ph.D. would fail to recognize him as at least a peer in the field? Do you think that almost any Ph.D. would not want him standing with them in ceremony?

                    That’s what an honorary doctorate is supposed to represent. Whether it actually does is another question entirely, of course, but colleges have generally tried to at least provide lip service to their ideals (even if this is increasingly breaking down nowadays).

                    And that’s why I even briefly touched on their history, establishing that they originated as actual doctorates, considered equivalent to the more normal ones in every respect. The way they’re viewed now is a simple result of the process having been abused and twisted, as many politically-mediated processes have been in recent history.

                    As for Aztec University, I explicitly stated that I simply chose it for convenience purposes: I had their statements on honorary doctorates already open in another window for largely unrelated reasons, and simply copy/pasted it because it was available.

                    One of Nye’s honorary degrees is from Rutgers — would you prefer their statement? It’s a bit complex, but:

                    “Criteria for Awarding an Honorary Degree by Rutgers University

                    “The nominee for an honorary degree from Rutgers University:

                    “1. Must evidence outstanding achievement in the humanities, arts, or sciences, or in a profession; in government, public affairs, education, or religion; in industry or commerce; or in an auxiliary field or endeavor.
                    “2. Must evidence distinguished service and performance in his or her accomplishments that support the ideals of Rutgers and serve as an example to our students, our alumni, and society.
                    “3. Must evidence in his or her life a commitment of service to humankind.

                    “Honorary degrees will be bestowed by the President, the Rutgers University–Camden Chancellor and the Rutgers University–Newark Chancellor at their commencement ceremonies, or by the President, or a designee, at other ceremonies or special events. Degrees may be awarded in four categories based on the specific criteria listed below:

                    “Doctor of Science

                    “Distinguished service to science, coupled with personal qualities and a kind of learning that entitles the recipient to recognition by a learned educational body of high standing.”

                    Which… doesn’t necessarily mean “scientist”, I will admit, but sure as Hell provides a resounding note of disagreement to /u/Bpoag’s commentary from within the halls of academia.

                    In short, though, the general problem with your assertion that my commentary twists reality to fit my narrative is simply that you’re not paying attention to what said narrative actually is.

                    • “In short, though, the general problem with your assertion that my commentary twists reality to fit my narrative is simply that you’re not paying attention to what said narrative actually is.”

                      This whole conversation is dumb. “What the narrative actually is” my ass. You’re working off what the narrative was two generations ago. It’s like you hopped in a time machine from a time when what you say might have actually held water, to now, where it obviously does not. Did you just conjure the ghost of Frank Lloyd Wright to make your point? He’s been dead for 60 years! They didn’t have bloody color TV for another 10 years after he died.

                      I’ll get off your lawn now, and don’t worry, I’ll watch out for the dinosaur shit.

                    • “Distinguished service to science, coupled with personal qualities and a kind of learning that entitles the recipient to recognition by a learned educational body of high standing.”

                      Which sounds completely appropriate as an honor to award an actor who competently hosts a TV show that gets children interested in science and promotes science through public appearances and publications.

                      Tom Selleck is dong a great job of PR and public education about the police profession, and James Franciscus deserved honors from the educational professionals for showing how dedicated teachers behave. Raymond Burr as Perry Mason made thousands and thousands of kids want to be lawyers.

                      All wonderful things to honor.

                    • No, you’re ignoring that I’m talking about what honorary degrees are supposed to be, not what they are or how they get used. You are arguing points that are several steps removed from what I’m actually saying, not addressing what I’m talking about at all.

                      Despite how it’s breaking down nowadays, academia is weirdly conservative despite its infamous liberalism — the basic structures, ideas, and ceremonies haven’t changed much in centuries except in the trappings (and even those are blatantly derived from… I think it was the 14th century or so? Wikipedia indirectly says High Middle Ages…).

                      That’s why I chose Frank Lloyd Wright — simply as an example of one awarded the way it should be. I also mentioned a modern researcher in my first post, then echoed it just above, noting that hers was awarded in 2013.

                      The degeneration of the honorary doctorate — and the derision they get — isn’t due to the idea of them, which has remained relatively constant; it’s to the way in which the mechanism of them has been eroded and abused through frivolous (or even flat-out joking) awards. Jack’s mentioned Tyson and Kermit; I was honestly surprised he didn’t mention George W Bush (whose award sparked protests) or Robert Mugabe (who had several of his honorary degrees revoked for political reasons which did more to reveal the motives behind awarding them than anything else).

                      Oddly enough, at least one of Jack’s examples was of an award that I’d argue was given properly: the honorary doctorate in the fine arts awarded to Ben Affleck. Note what the doctorate is in, then note that this encompasses film and theater.

                      But, all of the above? I’m not really introducing anything new — I just have to explicitly ask: Are you being deliberately obtuse?

  4. Did Bill Nye write a master’s thesis or a doctoral dissertation? The answer is no. I’m sure he’s a great engineer as evidenced by his important patents but he is not a scientist. The term does get a little cloudy when you consider the scientific contributions that Nicola Tesla made however: Alternating current, radio, particle beam research, etc. I don’t think he ever insisted on being called Dr. Tesla though.

  5. Regardless of our own personal opinions regarding if Nye is a “Science Guy”, the redditor’s argument was a huge ad hom, appeal to authority.

    That said, what then must “science guy” mean?
    Is a PhD in a STEM field a “Science Guy”?
    Is a PhD in a STEM field a “Science Guy” if he is coding at a Frisco Startup?
    Is a PhD in Gender Studies a “Science Guy”?
    Is a BS in Gender Studies a “Science Guy” if xe is working in a Biology Research Lab, co-writing peer reviewed works at Nature on transgenetic implantation of Planaria?

    Bill Nye, with his BS in mechanical engineering, his patents, his work in Educational TV focusing on Science, his scientific policy positions at the Planetary Society is a Science Guy.

    He’s an a**hole too.

    • What? There isn’t a single authority referred to in the entire post!!! How do you appeal to authority without appealing to authority? Appealing to credentials is not an argument fallacy. You can’t be a lawyer without the proper credentials.

      From the comment thread on this on another blog: “We can quibble over Nye’s educational background, but a “scientist” is generally someone who “does science”. Bill plays a scientist on TV.”


  6. I don’t question him being a scientist. I mean, I think the average intelligent person can autodidact themselves into a solid understanding of the scientific disciplines enough to be conversant as well as able to to work in any particular field.

    I do not think it makes him expert enough to weigh in on much of anything if it affects policy.

    I mean, some people think you have to have advanced seminary degrees to be a Theologian, yet, as soon as the average shmoe asks “who is God?” the first serious thought given towards an answer makes them a rudimentary Theologian.

    The same holds true for Science. As soon as the average shmoe notices consistent events and begins to draw conclusions from those events, or attempts to replicate an observable event in order to draw a conclusion (which we ALL do, on basic level instinctively many times a day), that shmoe becomes a rudimentary Scientist.

    I think we can reasonably consider Bill Nye to be an amateur scientist…but by no means should he be an advocate of supposedly science-based policy.

  7. Frankly, I don’t care if he’s a scientist or an engineer. He’s beclowned himself with his arrogant assuredness. Anyone who’s as confident as he is in a hypothesis is a joke.

    • ”Anyone who’s as confident as he is in a hypothesis is a joke.”

      “Uncertainty is an uncomfortable position. But certainty is an absurd one.”–Voltaire.

      Son: “Dad, I’m gonna flunk that math test tomorrow.”
      Dad: “Son, think positive.”
      Son: “Dad, I’m certain I’m gonna flunk that math test tomorrow.”

  8. Well, this is rather absurd commentary, since people on this blog feel free to opine on climate change all the time. And most of the people here have even fewer credentials than Nye.

    I also find it ironic that many here like to point out intellectual snobbery at the expense of Democrats unless it suits their purposes.

      • He’s being roasted for being an actor who uses his role to wrap himself in false authority. Actors do this a lot, but usually while being clear that they are still just actors. Nye holds himself out as a scientist. He has never been paid as a scientist in his life. He is paid to pose as one for educational purposes.

        • Yet, he still knows a lot more about science than either of us. One can be a scientist without a degree. One can be an actor or a singer without a degree. Unless, your degree is licensed by the State (e.g., law or medicine), you can be self-taught and an expert.

          • “Yet, he still knows a lot more about science than either of us.”

            Does he? I mean… Why do you think that? Sylvester Stallone played a judge in that one movie, you think he knows more about the law than you do?

              • No, really… Nye has been caught on multiple occasions getting material facts wrong, objectively. He reads off a script prepared by people too lazy to do a Google search. Why do you think that this guy knows more about science than you?

                • Spartan is assuming that a person that does experiments on TV to inspire children in science is a scientist and knows more about science than most of us. A person with a degree in basket weaving, acting, philosophy, auto mechanics that possesses a charisma that works well with children can do the exact same experiments and get the exact same results. Do these these know more about science than the rest of us because they can follow a predefined script/instructions and perform experiments?

    • What? Nobody on this site is a paid advocate for scientific policies, or claims special expertise in the matter. They do have about as much expertise as the journalists and politicians who announce that there is no reason to doubt climate change models that still don’t work.

      Bill Nye has been a guest on major news shows to talk about climate change. When I’m a guest on a show, I only talk about my genuine area of expertise and the source of my livelihood. I wouldn’t even appear on TV or radio to talk about the relevant law a legal case, even though I’m a lawyer, because I don’t practice law, and I’m no expert.

      Bad cheap shot, Spartan.

    • Sounds like rationalization to support Bill Nye and attack those that oppose his point of view on climate change.

      Why don’t you compare the vast swath of intellectual “facts” that Bill Nye the Science Guy, with his national exposure, choose to present to something like this Climate Change piece I wrote a while back that doesn’t get the same kind of exposure.

      Side note: You didn’t say a word about this piece I wrote either time it was presented here on Ethics Alarms but now you choose to whip out snide little rationalizations aimed at those here that choose to voice their opinions about climate change.

      So Spartan; other than your snide little remarks, you’ve failed to answer Jack’s question and I think at this point you should answer it,

      “Was it fair to confront Bill Nye this way?” Yes or No.

      • Well, I usually don’t comment on your posts at all Zoltar — I imagine that silence will continue.

        My remark wasn’t snide — it was an observation. Republicans — most, although not all — like to poke at liberals and their fancy degrees. So much ink has been spilled here and by pundits generally that a degree does not equal education or knowledge. You can’t have it both ways. Either a degree is important or it isn’t important — and your position cannot be one of convenience based on the politics of the person in question. (By the way, I don’t think a degree is necessary either. My brother is brilliant but failed at college. He is the only engineer at his company without an engineering degree. I think he would be pissed if someone told him he wasn’t an engineer because he doesn’t have a diploma.)

        But, if forced to answer Jack’s query, I would say that any public figure is going to face fans and critics — it comes with the territory and is the price of fame. Because of this, the question is neither fair nor unfair — such a standard does not exist in this strange new internet world we live in. As long as people are consistent with their position on degrees, quite frankly I don’t really care one way or the other.

        BTW — I’m not a Bill Nye fan. But every time I see someone suggesting that a degree doesn’t make one knowledgeable here, I think I will simply post “Bill Nye” as a comment.

        • Still Spartan wrote, Because of this, the question is neither fair nor unfair…”

          I’m a little confused at your answer; I think I know what your answer is but I better ask to be sure.

          Are you saying that Jack’s question “Was it fair to confront Bill Nye this way?” is neither fair or unfair, or my question “Yes or No” is neither fair or unfair, or were you trying to say that it is neither fair or unfair for the commenter to confront Bill Nye in the manner in which he did?

        • Still Spartan wrote, “My remark wasn’t snide…”

          So you really don’t think your comment was being a little snide?

          Still Spartan wrote, “…it was an observation.”

          It’s my observation that you were being snide.

        • Overall Spartan, It seems to me that you’re trying to rationalize Bill Nye’s scientist portrayal and subsequent opinions because others also have opinions. He has every right to share his opinions as a concerned citizen, even as a famous person, but what’s happening is that he is being fronted as a real scientist. Do you know that the Smithsonian has the gall to identify Bill Nye as a “famous scientist”; Nye is in fact NOT a scientist he is just another a famous person that has portrayed the part of an inspirational children’s scientist for years and he’s using that perceived clout to regurgitate the “settled science” nonsense to the world as a “Climate Change” scientist.

          I know some real genuine PHD research scientists that laugh aloud at Nye, “scientist – that’s a laugh”.

          Do you even know what Bill Nye presents as Climate Change “settled science” without zipping over to Google and looking it up? Think of Al Gore for 3rd and 4th Graders, it’s activist propaganda.

          • Circular. He is a self-proclaimed scientist, just as Jack is a self-proclaimed ethicist. Jack has a law degree, not an ethics degree. He can himself that though because he has chosen this as his field of study. If Nye has chosen science as his vocation, then yes, he is a scientist. Bill Gates doesn’t have a degree — can he call himself a computer scientist.

            • I was waiting for that. I’m an ethicist because I make my living as an ethicist, and am recognized as an authority on legal ethics. No special degree is required, just study, a track record, and the work. I’m also a professional stage director, not because I am “self-proclaimed,’ but because I direct plays for professional theaters. I consult on ethics, prepare ethics programs, testify in court on ethics, and teach ethics–for compensation. Bill Nye does not make his living as a scientist, and never has.

              • I’m not suggesting that you shouldn’t call yourself an ethicist, but I think Nye studies science as much as you study ethics.

                • Still Spartan wrote, “I think Nye studies science…”

                  Operative word in that statement is “think”. In other words Spartan you assume that Nye is studying science and not just a front guy following a predefined script created by others.

                  All of us around here knows for a fact that Jack studies ethics on a daily basis, this blog is evidence to that fact, we do not have this kind of factual evidence about Nye, we only assumptions about what an actor does behind the scenes; you know what they say about assuming.

          • Indeed, read Jack’s bio.

            “My name is Jack Marshall. I’m an ethicist, which means I make my living teaching, consulting, speaking and writing about ethics. ….”

            Now, let’s replace a few words.

            “My name is [Bill Nye]. I’m a [scientist], which means I make my living teaching, consulting, speaking and writing about [science].”

            Here are a few other “scientists” without science degrees:

            Antonie van Leeuwenhoek
            Benjamin Franklin
            Michael Faraday
            Charles Goodyear
            Charles Darwin
            James Prescott Joule
            Gregor Mendel
            Richard Leakey

  9. Presenting Bill Nye the Science Guy as a science expert for adults was always a strange choice. It’s like trotting out Captain Kangaroo as an expert on kangaroos.

  10. Well, I finally have an answer to Jack’s quiz. As a typical lawyer, the answer can never be yes or no — we’re just not wired that way.

    My answer is — now having read the Q&A on Reddit — that the possibly unethical question that Jack reposted here might have been one of the nicest questions that Nye was posed that day. So, I am leaning toward ethical.

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