There’s a message inscribed on the Mars rovers that Bill Nye said encapsulates the essence of science:
“To those who visit here, we wish a safe journey and the joy of discovery.”
This message is inherently optimistic, he said, because it implies that in the future, people will walk on Mars. In fact, Nye said to a sold-out audience in Jesse Auditorium Saturday morning, he found it reasonable that it could be someone in that room.
This optimism and emphasis on the joy of discovery were a constant theme in Nye’s speech, which was a part of the week-long symposium “Decoding Science,” which sought to create a better dialogue between scientists and the public.
Nye – an engineer, scientist, comedian, author and inventor, who is most famous for his 1990’s children’s television show “Bill Nye the Science Guy” – encouraged audience members to harness their passion for science to change the world.
Nye spoke directly the audience, rallying them to creating technology that can save the world, whether it be better batteries for electric cars or more efficient solar technology.
While Nye did address several serious environmental issues – global warming, rising population and asteroids, for example – he kept the tone of the morning light.
Before Nye could start talking, MU Chancellor R. Bowen Loftin presented him with a bowtie, the signature accessory of both men. Nye immediately switched off the one he was wearing to put on the new one covered in maps of Missouri.
Throughout his speech, nearly every point ended in some form of a joke that had the audience laughing nonstop, or led to a silly side discussion featuring stories from Nye’s childhood.
During a Q-and-A session after the hour-long speech, Nye high-fived audience members, but refused to show off the dancing skills he learned during a stint on “Dancing with the Stars” when an audience member asked him to.
His use of jokes stood in stark contrast to his serious comments on the state of the world and what he fears for the future.
“We don’t want to raise a generation of people that don’t accept the process of science,” he said sternly.
He sounded exasperated as he repeated several times that it’s impossible the world is only 6,000 years old, such as many creationists think, saying there are trees proven to be older than that.
When it comes to trying to convince people to believe in science – such as Nye did in a highly-watched, televised debate with creationist Ken Ham in February – Nye said you have to patient.
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“You have to accept that people aren’t going to get what you’re driving at the first time,” Nye said. “When you go challenging someone’s beliefs they’ve held for decades, they’re not going to change their minds in a few seconds. Go into it like you’re giving them something to think about.”
Nye talked about his concern with the rapid population growth on Earth several times. The first anecdote he told was going to the 1964 World’s Fair in New York and seeing a board with the total world’s population, which had just surpassed three billion people. As of Saturday, the population was more than seven billion people – more than twice as large as 50 years ago.
One major way of stopping this pattern is to raise the standard of living for women and girls, he said.
“When we raise the standard of living for women and girls, eventually the world’s population will go down in a controlled fashion and the quality of life for everybody will be much higher,” Nye said.
This increasing population is stressing Earth’s environment contributing to global warming, he said while showing a chart of global temperatures over thousands of years. The chart showed that Earth has been this hot in the past, but the problem is that the temperatures have never increased this quickly.
Despite the environmental damage on Earth, Nye remained optimistic that the Earth can be saved through science by people passionate about discovery.
“We’re living at a time when science is cool again,” he said. “We have to take this optimism, we have to take this passion for science, and change the world.”