Tag Archives: bill nye

Three Old Scientific Concepts Getting a Modern Look

If you have a good look at some of the underlying concepts of modern science, you might notice that some of our current notions are rooted in old scientific thinking, some of which originated in ancient times. Some of today’s scientists have even reconsidered or revamped old scientific concepts. We’ve explored some of them below.

4 Elements of the Ancient Greeks vs 4 Phases of Matter

The ancient Greek philosopher and scholar Empedocles (495-430 BC) came up with the cosmogenic belief that all matter was made up of four principal elements: earth, water, air, and fire. He further speculated that these various elements or substances were able to be separated or reconstituted. According to Empedocles, these actions were a result of two forces. These forces were love, which worked to combine, and hate, which brought about a breaking down of the elements.

What scientists refer to as elements today have few similarities with the elements examined by the Greeks thousands of years ago. However, Empedocles’ proposed quadruplet of substances bares resemblance to what we call the four phases of matter: solid, liquid, gas, and plasma. The phases are the different forms or properties material substances can take.

Water in two states: liquid (including the clouds), and solid (ice). Image via Wikipedia.

Compare Empedocles’ substances to the modern phases of matter. “Earth” would be solid. The dirt on the ground is in a solid phase of matter. Next comes water which is a liquid; water is the most common liquid on Earth. Air, something which surrounds us constantly in our atmosphere, is a gaseous form of matter.

And lastly, we come to fire. Fire has fascinated human beings for time beyond history. Fire is similar to plasma in that both generate electromagnetic radiation such as light. Most flames you see in your everyday life are not hot enough to be considered plasma. They are typically considered gaseous. A prime example of an area where plasma is formed is the sun. The ancient four elements have an intriguing correspondent in modern science.

Ancient Concept of Dome Sky vs. Simulation Hypothesis

Millennia ago, people held the notion that his world was flat. Picture a horizontal cooking sheet with a transparent glass bowl set on top of it. Primitive people thought of the Earth in much the same way. They considered the land itself as flat and the sky as a dome. However, early Greek philosophers such as Pythagoras (c. 570-495 BC) — who is also known for formulating the Pythagorean theorem — understood that Earth was actually spherical.

Fast forward to the 21st century. Now scientists are considering the scientific concept of the dome once again but in a much more complex manner.

Regardless of what conspiracy lovers would have you believe, the human race has ventured into outer space, leaving the face of the Earth to travel to the stars. In the face of all our achievements, some scientists actually question if reality is real, a mindboggling and apparently laughable idea.

But some scientists have wondered if we could be existing in a computer simulation. The gap between science and science fiction starts to become very fine when considering this.

This idea calls to mind classic sci-fi plots such as those frequently played out in The Twilight Zone in which everything the characters take as real turns out to be something entirely unexpected. You might also remember the sequence in Men in Black in which the audience sees that the entire universe is inside an alien marble. Bill Nye even uses the dome as an example in discussing hypothetical virtual reality. This gives one the feeling that he is living in a snowglobe.

Medieval Alchemy vs. Modern Chemistry

The alchemists of the Middle Ages attempted to prove that matter could be transformed from one object into an entirely new object. One of their fondest goals they wished to achieve was the creation of gold from a less valuable substance. They were dreaming big, but such dreams have not yet come to fruition. Could it actually be possible to alter one type of matter into another?

Well, modern chemists may be well on their way to achieving this feat some day. They are pursuing the idea of converting light into matter, as is expressed in Albert Einstein’s famous equation. Since 2014, scientists have been claiming that such an operation would be quite feasible, especially with extant technology.

Einstein’s famous equation.

Light is made up of photons, and a contraption capable of performing the conversion has been dubbed “photon-photon collider.” Though we might not be able to transform matter into other matter in the near future, it looks like the light-to-matter transformation has a bright outlook.

Is cold fusion possible? Myths and facts with Bill Nye

In 1989, Martin Fleischmann and Stanley Pons reported that their apparatus could produce anomalous heat by fusing neutrons at room temperature. Essentially, this was a demonstration of cold fusion. Though hyped by the press, the experiment proved faulty because of bad measurement, but to this day cold fusion excites our imagination. In a Big Think production, science communicator Bill Nye explained what’s the deal with ‘cold fusion’ and whether or not it could be possible to reach the same kind of nuclear reactions seen in the core of stars in a device that works at room temperature.

Very briefly, Nye posits that cold fusion shouldn’t work but he doesn’t assert it’s impossible.

“In order to do that, as far as we can tell right now, you need the gravity of a star — which we have at our nearby star, the sun. People have shown that you can contain fusion in a very strong magnetic field, but no one has been able to build a magnetic field powered by the fusion reaction. So, in my experience growing up, it’s always forty years from now when this will be done but recently an aircraft company claimed that they would be able to make fusion happen at room temperature. I’m very skeptical because I look at what happens in nature and with these stars,” Nye said.

“However, it’s reasonable you will be alive when people really do figure it out. It’s exciting,” Nye said answering Loki, a young man who first asked about cold fusion.

Could the movie ‘Mad Max’ ever foretell our future? Bill Nye and Neil DeGrasse Tyson discuss

StarTalk’s Neil deGrasse Tyson and Bill Nye The Science Guy sat down with Sally Le Page of General Electric to explore the science behind whether the post-apocalyptic world of Mad Max Fury Road is actually a likely scenario. You know, the movie where the world is turned into a desert and bands of lightly dressed people continually try to kill each other. While the scientific accuracy of Mad Max is highly debatable since the movie doesn’t give us much to chew on, the discussion was inevitably drawn to the risks of climate change.

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Lightsail responds after eight day of silence in space. Bill Nye: ‘it’s alive!’

lightsail gif

After a successful launch and deploy to Earth’s orbit on the back of the powerful United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket out of Cape Canaveral, the LightSail went silent for eight straight days. Spirits were high and nerves tense, but apparently the craft managed to solve the communication glitch all by itself. Like always, “have you tried switching it off and on?” Following the self-reboot, engineers immediately uploaded a new patch and hopefully we’ll see Lightsail unravel its photon harvesting wings soon enough. The LightSail, currently strapped to a CubeSat, might then be deployed through and out the solar system.

Planetary Society, a non-profit organization founded by Sagan himself and now coordinated by Bill Nye who had this to say about the recent event:

“Our LightSail called home! It’s alive! Our LightSail spacecraft has rebooted itself, just as our engineers predicted. Everyone is delighted. We were ready for three more weeks of anxiety. In this meantime, the team has coded a software patch ready to upload. After we are confident in the data packets regarding our orbit, we will make decisions about uploading the patch and deploying our sails— and we’ll make that decision very soon. This has been a rollercoaster for us down here on Earth, all the while our capable little spacecraft has been on orbit going about its business. In the coming two days, we will have more news, and I am hopeful now that it will be very good.”

Bill Nye with the LightSail, posing for the KickStarter campaign that raised more than $400,000. Image: KickStarter

Bill Nye with the LightSail, posing for the KickStarter campaign that raised more than $400,000. Image: Kickstarter

The LightSail bears a simple design and looks very much like a kite. The sail is made out of thin Mylar and when stretched out measures 345 square feet. The idea is to use this sail to harness the pressure sunlight exerts, much in the same way wind pushes sails to propel a ship on water. While this pressure is minute, the catch is that it builds momentum over time. Eventually, it could reach speeds five times faster than the fastest rockets available today, all without any need for fuel. For more on the SolarSail, read my previous post for ZME.

The total project cost is $5.45 million, and so far the non-profit raised $4.2 million. Last month, a Kickstarter campaign was set up with the goal of reaching $200,000. So far, pledges have amounted to double that figure, which is quite encouraging not only for the Planetary Society, but other non-governmental space ventures which seek to gain financial backing directly from the public.

“This democratizes space. Once you’re up there, you can fly to the moon – or beyond,” said Nye.

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Bill Nye, Science Guy: climate change will consume us like WWII did our parents

At his commencement address at Rutgers University, Bill Nye – famous for popularizing science as the Science Guy – said that climate change is the most serious crisis mankind has ever faced, liking the psychological pressure to that experienced by our parents and grandparents during World War II. He then called on the students to rise to the challenge and question those who deny the reality the planet is currently facing out of ignorance or malevolence alike.

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Bill Nye speaking in front of the Class of 2015 at Rutgers University. Credit: Rutger University

“We are now deep in the most serious environmental crisis in human history,” he said. “The oncoming trouble is climate change. It is going to affect you all in the same way the Second World War consumed people of my parents’ generation. They rose to the challenge and so will you,” Nye said.

“They came to be called the greatest generation. I want you all to preserve our world in the face of climate change and carry on as the next great generation.”

Climate skeptics are always a tough crowd, since no amount of evidence seems to suffice at times. Bill Nye offers a tip though: liken climate change conspiracies to lung cancer.

“Our climate is changing. Denying this is in no one’s best interest. If you know any climate deniers, just try asking them this question: ‘do you believe there is a conspiracy among healthcare professionals that is duping the world into thinking that cigarette smoking causes cancer?’

“The scientific consensus on climate change is at least as strong as the consensus on smoking. Climate change is a real deal. So, hey deniers — cut it out, and let’s get to work.”

The tobacco companies knew and for most part accepted the evidence that cigarette smoking was a cause of cancer by the late 1950s. Any sensible person would have in face of the evidence. However, that didn’t stop tobacco manufacturers to fund studies intended to obfuscate and prolong the debate about smoking and health. Tobacco manufacturers knew very well they couldn’t say cigarettes are good for your health (they actually marketed them this way at some point!), but any master of confusion knows it’s enough to sow dissent to harvest profit. Just make the whole thing uncertain, at least to the public.

The leading climate scientists of the world agree with 95% confidence that climate change is real and caused by man-made activities. It’s only the public opinion that’s been polarized, willfully confused by the media in thinking this is a 50/50 game. For instance, 9 out 10 climate change deniers are linked to Exxon Mobile. This year, ZME Science exposed an embarrassing scandal: one part-time Harvard scientists published 11 papers disputing climate change, but was funded $1.2 million by oil companies.The person in question, Wei-Hock Soon, would often appear on climate change skeptic TV stations like FOX, and is often cited by climate change deniers as “evidence” for their arguments. Read the ZME Science interview with leading climate scientist Michael Mann for more about shill tactics employed by the oil and gas industry and their lobbyists.

The speech was welcomed by students, with public health graduate Tanweer Ahmed saying: “We all grew up on Bill Nye, so anything he has to say we are going to take into consideration.”.

Later edit: Just so we’re clear, climate change deniers  is short for those who believe our climate is not rapidly changing due to man-made influence (greenhouse gas emissions and the likes). The climate is always shifting and changes – but typically in a geological timeframe, ie across millions of years. The warming we’re experiencing right now is measured across decades!

bill nye science guy

Bill Nye changes his mind about GMOs

bill nye science guy

Image:Credit: AP/John Davisson

Most recently, Bill Nye is famous for his viral debate against against Ken Han on creationism. The debate inspired him to write a best selling book tackling the subject called “Undeniable: Evolution and the Science of Creation”In one of his chapters, Nye argues against genetically modified organisms since their long lasting effects on the ecosystem can’t be predicted and might be harmful. In the meantime, however, it seems like he changed his mind. Backstage after an appearance on Bill Maher’s “Real Time,” Nye said an upcoming revision to his book would contain a rewritten chapter on GMOs.

“I went to Monsanto,” Nye said, “and I spent a lot of time with the scientists there, and I have revised my outlook, and I’m very excited about telling the world. When you’re in love, you want to tell the world.”


Virtually all crops, vegetables and fruits we grow today are genetically modified organisms. There are few wild varieties available today, and if you can find any you’ll notice these contain a lot more seeds or are less tasty. It’s true however that our tomatoes and carrots, while nothing like their wild cousins, have been bred through natural selection over a long time, some since the advent of agriculture 10,000 year ago. Artificial selection, or modern GMOs, breeds new crops which have modified genes or new genes coming from foreign species altogether to help these have higher yields, resist pests, hold new nutrients (like Vitamin A for Golden Rice). This makes food cheaper, because farmers can grow more, and arguably healthier since less pesticides, fungicides, and the likes are used. Nye’s concerns laid in the fact that’s difficult to assess their impact on human health and ecosystems. This sort of rhetoric has earned him a bad time with food and genetic scientists because the same can be said about “normal” crops that are naturally selected. As University of Florida plant scientist Kevin Folta recently argued, Nye was being hypocritical: “Your logic and reasoning match the fallacies of climate and evolution deniers, the people you correctly criticize.”

Nye has since changed his mind. He’s been poor with details, but he did hint that he’ll explain himself in the revised, upcoming new edition of his book slated for fall.

 

Bill Nye

Bill Nye the ‘Science Guy’: ‘It’s not a coincidence that the creationists also deny climate change’

A famous science communicator and TV personality, Bill Nye has served the world a huge favor with his programs, books and talks in which he argues in favor of science. Over the years, however, he’s had to handle all sorts of critical situations like last year’s now famous debate against Ken Han on creationism. Most recently, Nye dropped by CBS This Morning where he talked about his new book, “Undeniable: Evolution and the Science of Creation”, and invariably found himself in need to set some things straight about climate change and, of course, creationism.

Bill Nye

Credit: AP/John Davisson

“It’s not a coincidence that the creationists also deny climate change. It’s a really important thing,” Nye told the hosts. “Just look at this morning’s stories. We have the snowstorm in the Midwest. And then we have the military building this extraordinary robot for fighting a war that maybe we’re not going to fight again. You know? We don’t have people — that’s not how wars are being conducted right now. So future generations are going to wonder what we’re up to. That’s all I’m saying.”

Indeed, a lot of people wrongly confound climate change with the weather. When it’s scorching hot outside, they feel global warming is true and when they see ravaging snow storms on TV, they raise their eyebrows in doubt. Weather is influenced by climate, but they do not represent the same thing. For instance because global warming is melting ice in arctic, the risk of extreme snow storms, like the polar vortex that wrecked havoc last year in North America, has doubled! My interpretation of Nye’s analogy between creationism and climate change deniers is that both are social issues underlined by education and lack of critical thinking. More importantly, it’s an issue of people favoring personal experience and interpretation over objective observational evidence.

Nye didn’t stray too much on climate change, however, and returned to the subject of his book: creationism. He went on to explain how he became motivated to write it following his debate with Han, which circled the whole globe.

“If we raise a generation of people, of science students, who don’t understand the fundamental idea in all of life science, then they are not going to be productive members of society. They’re not going to be critically thinking voters, and they won’t contribute as much as they could. And it’s not a coincidence.”

He’s book is intended for:

“People from 14 to 114 – I don’t want to exclude anybody. I would say people who are interested in evolution. I would be delighted if creationists managed to read the book, but my experience is that once you’re a grownup, once you’ve made up your mind, you’re not going anywhere. You will outwit yourself and justify not accepting it at every turn.”

Check out the interview below. Ironically, “Undeniable: Evolution and the Science of Creation” is the #1 best seller in Amazon’s “Creationism” section.

Watch Bill Nye Explain Climate Change to GOP Congresswoman Marsha Blackburn

I love Bill Nye, and I think the world needs more people like him. I don’t mindlessly follow him, I don’t always agree with what he does, but ultimately, his reasoning and actions speak very clearly to me. You can watch the video below and I highly recommend watching it to the very end, especially if you are (or will be) an American voter. I think that everybody with common sense, regardless of his political sympathy or scientific knowledge, should understand what’s happening there, just like when he debated Ken Ham. But I want to talk about something else now – a particular media bias when it comes to climate change.

False balance on climate change

Climate change is a great example of this phenomenon. False balance is a media bias where journalists present an issue as being more balanced between opposing viewpoints than the evidence actually supports. Basically, media gives (approximately) equal time to both climate change supporters and climate change deniers, even though there’s a scientific consensus on the matter.

Wait, what do you mean there’s a scientific consensus on the matter?

The matter of man causing a significant warming on our planet, while highly discussed on the media, is a matter of little debate in the scientific community. Out of 13.950 published papers in peer reviewed magazines on climate change, only 24 deny climate change. The disparity on that is striking, it’s comparable to smoking: there is a similar scientific minority which claims that smoking isn’t really bad for you. But you don’t really see any media debate on that, do you ?

Furthermore, according to both the IPCC, the world’s leading authority in terms of climate change, and a UN panel, man-caused climate change has a certainty of 95%. So why then, one would think, is the media presenting things in an extremely biased and skewed way, when the scientific evidence is so overwhelming? The answer, in general lines, is simple: money.

Climate change has strong connections to by far the world’s most profitable industry: oil. 9 out of 10 top climate change deniers are linked with a specific oil company, and 70% of all climate change denial books have verifiable links to conservative think tanks. This is not a matter of science – it’s a matter of manipulation and media bias. Please, listen to Bill Nye; listen to Marsha Blackburn. Then take a moment to think deeply about that. Inform yourself – and in the end, judge things as you will, but do it in a rational and reasonable way. If anything, listen to what science tells you – not to the media.

The symphony of science

I was quite stunned to stumble across this video. As the name says, it’s a… well it’s not quite a symphony, but it’s definitely musical, and you can definitely learn a lot of things, or re-hear them in an unique way, if you already know them. Did I mention it’s featuring Carl Sagan, Richard Feynman, Neil deGrasse Tyson & Bill Nye?

LATER EDIT

This following video was published just a few hours ago and… it’s even better than the first one!