March 17th, 2014
Carl Sagan in his prime never had this sort of mass support and wild enthusiasm. Bill Nye, like him or not, is creating the “trusted and liked” broad voice that the science world has lacked. On Saturday I saw the phenomenon live and in person at the University of Missouri’s “Decoding Science” event that I took part in (which was excellent!). He filled the 2000 seat auditorium on Saturday morning where I literally arrived 10 minutes late, could not find a seat, so had to watch most of it on the TV monitor in the lobby. The audience went bonkers — cheering him for the Ken Ham debate, roaring with laughter at the corniest of jokes, then in the Q&A students asked him for Hi-fives, selfies and other hero-worship gestures. I guarantee you this is the result, more than anything else, of his having done the Ken Ham debate. I’m coming to the conclusion, goofball or not, he is perhaps more media savvy than anyone else in the ENTIRE world of science, and certainly far more than the scientists (with virtually no media experience) who have been taking potshots at him in magazines and blogs. Go Science Guy!
BILL NYE, THE MEDIA GUY. The top is my view from the doorway in the upper balcony — no seats even up there. I really couldn’t believe the size and level of enthusiasm of the audience. And he was great with them. And there’s something else — at the private lunch afterwards for the speakers and about 20 university honchos he was the nicest, humblest guy. He may be a cornball, but the fact is he’s very sincere, endlessly enthusiastic, and knows how to play into the broadest of narratives. He is the guy the science world has been needing.
SOME DAY SOON BILL NYE WILL BE ABLE TO TRAMPLE MARC MORANO
The first thing to know is that Bill Nye isn’t an overnight sensation. His media career is at a tipping point due to a masterplan he conceived of many years ago when he first created his bow-tied unashamedly nerdy public persona with his TV show. What’s more important to realize is the way he has created a “brand” for himself that he has kept rigidly consistent and is now reaping the benefits of.
The loudest media voice for the climate skeptics these days is my “Sizzle” star Marc Morano, who has appeared repeatedly on Piers Morgan on CNN. For the science community, Bill Nye is now the loudest, broadest climate voice. Gore doesn’t seem to be interested in the job any more, while none of the scientists who know the facts best have the media skills or stature to reach the masses. Bill Nye is the guy.
Previously Nye has debated Morano on more than one occasion, and probably kind of lost because Morano is such a media animal who is fun, energetic, vicious at times, and most importantly capable of explosive verbal diarrhea that can’t be contained. But I bet the day is coming when he won’t be able to hold a candle to Bill.
The defeat of Morano by Nye won’t ever happen through content — there’s no way to beat “the Gish Gallop” through substantive argumentation. But it is possible for Nye to become such a media monster that it turns into David vs. Goliath, where Morano is David who just gets stepped on. Just think of a high school kid debating Bill Clinton. The kid might get in a couple of funny zingers, but the odds are almost infinitely small that the kid could ever put a dent into such a massive media icon (though there are much greater odds today in the internet era than in the past).
Same deal for Nye. Which is why the most important scorecard from the Ken Ham debate was what it did for Bill Nye’s media stature. He’s now huge. Smart guy.