Everywhere you look, it would seem like another facet of ’90s educational programming is making a comeback. Thanks to Netflix, Ms. Frizzle will soon be revving The Magic School Bus into gear, while Carmen Sandiego is set to remain elusive as ever. But before those arrive, none other than the Science Guy himself, Bill Nye, has a new mission: saving the world.
Over the course of 13 episodes, Netflix’s Bill Nye Saves the World sees the popular mechanical engineer dedicate a half-hour to subjects deemed particularly controversial in today’s world, be it climate change, video game addiction, and anti-vaxxers. With the show hitting Netflix today, EW caught up with Nye to discuss his new show, why albegra is important, and of course, just how we can save the world.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: There have been a lot of scientific developments since you last had a show in 1998. Was there anything you were particularly excited to tackle for an audience?
BILL NYE: Artificial intelligence has come a long way. We did a show in 1997 about computers, but now, we have artificial intelligence where computers are able to learn, and systems that learn, and as far as anybody can assess and can make decisions in a way a sentient being can. Everybody thinks that’s cool, and a lot of people think it’s scary and apocalyptic.
Where do you fall on that?
The answer is clearly without question: It depends. You don’t want machines that will kill you. You want machines that save you time, effort, and energy.
On the show, you’re delving into a lot of topics that are controversial. Why go into issues like climate change and vaccinations?
The business that we’re in is to get people to look at issues in society from a scientific point of view. Our claim, in nerd fashion, is that a reasonable and good thing to do is to look at the world from a scientific standpoint.
How do you think comedy can help make science more accessible?
Any TV show has to be entertaining first. Whatever else you do is good, but to make it entertaining you can’t beat being funny — or being funny on purpose.
What about your correspondents? How did you go about finding them?
We went looking for people who had experience on camera, who were funny nerdy, and are interested in science. We found them. In his world, Derek Muller is a famous guy on his Veritasium website. Emily Calandrelli has her own Fox kids show. She’s the real deal. Nazeem Hussain is just a funny guy, and Joanna Hausman I think is brilliant. Also Karlie Kloss. You know she made her reputation as a terrific model, and she did a fine job. She’s great.
Was there guest in particular who you were excited to have on the show?
It was cool to meet Alton Brown. That was really fun.
That’s so cool. Because he tends to explore the science of food on his show.
Exactly. You’ve crystallized my thoughts.
Your last show got a lot of kids into science and excited about it. What do you think you have to consider when trying to do that for today’s generation of kids?
The Science Guy show, made 22 years ago, is being viewed by more kids than it ever has been. It still freaks me out a little. People are still watching it in elementary school. I’ve met many teachers who grew up watching The Science Guy show who are now using it in their classes. These are young people in their early 20s who are professional elementary, middle, and high school teachers. I was in Britain about a month ago, and all the school kids in Britain are watching it. It’s crazy. So people are still watching the old show. But Bill Nye Saves the World is intended for people who want to think more deeply about subjects that don’t have a clear-cut yes or no. Each show does have a point of view. Like being an anti-vaxxer, nowadays, is bad. That’s the point. Pretending that climate change isn’t happening for a short-term benefit for your family is wrong. It’s not in anybody’s best interest.
What advice would you have for people now, who are excited about science and want to get into the field?
Watch my show! Binge! That’s my advice. The other thing is if you want to get into science, really, make sure you learn algebra. I’m not joking you. Algebra is probably the single most reliable indicator of whether or not a person pursues a career in science. It’s not clear whether or not it’s cause and effect. That is to say, it’s not obvious that algebra causes you to pursue a career in a technical field. But it is generally believed that being able to think abstractly about numbers enables you to think abstractly about all sorts of things. It’s an exercise in thinking.
The show is called Bill Nye Saves the World. What are some of the things you have to consider when trying to inform people about science in order to save the world?
We always say in science education especially, you want to show, then tell. You don’t want it to be just telling, and telling, take my word for it. You want to show it. The quality of evidence for most of us depends on stories, and the stories have to be told by authorities, people whom we believe to be authorities. On the panel of each show, we have three authorities on each subject, so they have to be compelling and convincing. What we want is for the viewers to develop the critical thinking skills to evaluate the evidence presented by the person who would be the authority. In other words, we want everybody to learn to evaluate whether or not somebody knows what he or she is talking about.
Tell me about your book, Jack and the Geniuses.
I’m very proud of it. There’s three things we want for everybody in the world: clean water, renewably produced reliable electricity, and access to the Internet — or whatever the future of electronic information is called. This will enable even rural communities to get educational resources to girls and women which will ultimately slow the rate of growth of human population to provide more resources for everyone. In the first of the three in the series, maybe we’ll get renewed for dozens, the characters work on clean water, the second they work on renewable reliable electricity, and in the third, they’re going to work on using space assets to provide Internet access to remote people in the Amazon. It’s all part of one giant master plan.
Bill Nye Saves the World is currently available for streaming on Netflix. You can also preorder Jack and the Geniuses here.