For the last couple weeks, right-wing trolls have been delighting in what they consider to be a "gotcha" moment against Bill Nye the science guy. But the irony of this whole mess is that their campaign has only served to reveal how dedicated Nye is to science, and evidence, and how willing he is to be swayed by facts rather than public opinion.
It all started with this meme:
The image on the left was purportedly a screengrab from Nye's 90s science education series Bill Nye the Science Guy, while the image on the right is from his new Netflix series Bill Nye Saves the World. This image was mostly shared on social media, including on the ever-popular Donald Trump subreddit r/the_donald
This image conveniently started making the rounds around the time of the March for Science, an event Nye was publicly involved with, and many right-wing trolls touted it as evidence that Nye wasn't very scientific, since he had flip-flopped and succumbed to liberal media pressures.
It was soon revealed that this image was a hoax. The text on the image is not a transcript of what Nye says in the episode. You can see for yourself:
But, not to be deterred, right-wing bloggers and trolls quickly pointed out that in a different episode of Nye's 90s show, there was a segment that did state that gender is determined by your chromosomes, and there are only two options. That's true, the segment does exist. You can watch it here:
Much ink was spilled over this discovery, and the reveal that the episode of the 90s show with this segment on Netflix doesn't include this part of the original broadcast (which has led to accusations of "censorship" from right-wing commentators). That episode is about probabilities, not biology, and given that the gender-chromosome information is outdated, it's not surprising that Netflix or the company from which it bought the rights to the show cut that segment.
But it does highlight a major change in messaging when compared to Nye's new show, which includes an episode about sexual identity and gender fluidity. Nye is obviously anti-evidence, right-wing writers said, look at how easily he's swayed by feelings over fact.
"In an episode of his show Bill Nye the Science Guy, circa 1996, the message is loud and clear: biology says chromosomes determine if people are male or female," wrote Bre Payton for the right-wing blog The Federalist. "This message contradicts the liberal malarkey Nye has been pushing recently. The real question is clear: Why is Nye campaigning so hard against science lately?"
But there's still a problem: Nye directly addresses this contradiction in his new Netflix show Bill Nye Saves the World, because Nye does care about science—and the reality is that science evolves.
"We have to listen to the science, and the science says we're all on a spectrum."
There are lots of things we believed in the 90s—like that Pluto was a planet, for example—that is different from what we now understand. The beauty of science is that the more research we do, the more nuanced our understanding of the world becomes. We get to discover new things and expand our knowledge. There was a significant period of history when prominent scientists believed, based on the evidence at hand, that the world was flat. As Nye says in his episode about gender, we're still figuring a lot of this stuff out.
"Science is the process by which we understand nature, by which we understand our place in the world, how we all fit in," Nye says in the human sexuality episode of Bill Nye Saves the World. "We used to think it was pretty straightforward. X and a Y chromosome for males. Two Xs for females. But we see more combinations than that in real life and even for people with just two sex chromosomes, hormones can vary widely, so can anatomy. What makes someone male or female isn't so clear cut."
These days, scientific and medical professionals distinguish between sex and gender. Generally, sex refers to a person's biological makeup, including chromosomes and reproductive organs, but those combinations make up a variety of possibilities along a spectrum between male and female. Gender refers to the identity you present to the world: male, female, or somewhere else along the spectrum. Sexual orientation, meanwhile, refers to who you're attracted to and is a completely separate concept from both sex and gender.
It's this willingness to look at new data, new research, emerging evidence, and reconsider his beliefs—rather than adhering to a dogmatic, unchanging belief system—that makes Nye a true scientist. They may not accept the evidence in front of them, but the right-wing rage machine has only served to demonstrate Nye's better qualities as a science educator.
"People, we have to listen to the science, and the science says we're all on a spectrum," Nye says in his new show. "It's more complicated, but it's also a lot more honest and it's more interesting."