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‘Bill Nye Saves the World,’ starting with Netflix in 2017

Bill Nye, the Science Guy, is getting a talk show on Netflix next year — great news for fans of Bill Nye, and probably bad news for the Science Guy’s blood pressure.

Nye might just be the most frustrated man on the planet. He seems physically incapable of backing down from science denialism. It’s like he’s Marty from Back to the Future, and Ken Ham called him a chicken. When Bill Nye hears someone spouting some Facebook-meme pseudoscience garbage, you can see him tense up from head to toe. You can see him despair at ever triumphing over the depth of ignorance that could have birthed such insipid mouthnoises, betokening such a signal lack of critical thinking. He’s lost in the swamps of Dagobah, and there is no Yoda. But then he straightens his bow tie, sets his jaw, and heads back once more into the breach. So it sounds about right that somebody finally oughta pay him for fighting the good fight in the name of science.

The Netflix synopsis for the show, called Bill Nye Saves the World and by way of IndieWire, reads like this:

“Each episode will tackle a topic from a scientific point of view, dispelling myths, and refuting anti-scientific claims that may be espoused by politicians, religious leaders or titans of industry.”

Netflix promises to deliver Nye’s “unfiltered style,” but also experiments, demos, and special guests. By “unfiltered style,” they mean things like this: If you’re the kind of person who loves it when people get inarticulate with frustration, in this clip (language NSFW) from Comedy Central’s Inside Amy Schumer you can watch Nye get so completely done that he actually nopes out of frame.

Nye is a legend among the twentysomething set, many of whom grew up watching him after school as the zany Science Guy on his parent-approved version of Robot Chicken, along with Wishbone, the storytelling Jack Russell. The Science Guy has been immortalized in an Epic Rap Battle (against Weird Al as Isaac Newton, no less!). But the Disney show was aimed at kids, with commensurately tiny attention spans. Whether Nye can move smoothly into a more adult-oriented program while avoiding becoming a smarmy apologist like Bill Maher or, worse, a condescending jerk like Richard Dawkins remains to be seen. He’s got the motivation and the drive to teach. Now he just needs a nearly inexhaustible ability to let anti-science pablum roll off his lab coat like water off the proverbial duck’s back.

Phil Plait from Slate’s Bad Astronomy column is the head science writer, according to the credits. Plait has his own independent science credentials, having worked on the Hubble project with NASA and done peer-reviewed research on supernovae. This bodes well for the snark quotient of the show, but also for a gentler approach that makes science fun and engaging again by piquing the childlike curiosity in all of us.

Bill Nye himself is no stranger to anti-science claims, by the way. For a while he was an outspoken anti-GMO advocate. But the cool thing about science is that when new facts present themselves, you can change your ideas to fit the facts. Nye changed his tune on GMOs — and that implies that the rest of us, too, can change our minds as we learn about that and other polarizing topics. That’s the hope for the new show: opening minds through reasoned discussion, and teaching people how to talk about topics that need fact-checking. And, when minds can’t be changed, the other hope is the intensely satisfying, snark-rich, mic-dropping smackdown that only comes out of someone who’s both deeply frustrated and in the right.

With luck, while he’s busy Saving the World, Nye will also get to show the audience his sense of wonder. While his mission is, basically, getting people to think scientifically about the world, it’s been proven over and over that confronting people with rebutting evidence just entrenches them further in their beliefs. Inspiring people to wonder, though — that’s what makes Ohio the home of the John Glenn Space Center instead of just thousands of miles of road construction that make some residents want to flee the planet. In terms of what’s actually best for science and the future of our species, Nye may have more luck courting our desire to dream.

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