Bill Nye: The science guy tries to save the world

A- Biographic and environmental documentary
Directed by David Alvarado and Jason Sussberg

You probably already know about Bill Nye. He’s the silly-looking dude with the bowtie who talks about science and often appears with Neil DeGrasse Tyson. In the 1990s, he had his own children’s show: Bill Nye the Science Guy.

The sympathetic documentary, Bill Nye: Science Guy, puts the engineer-comedian-science evangelist in a pleasing light (I have no trouble with that), yet wisely shows him as a flawed human being. But while he has his flaws, his messages – about climate change, evolution, and the importance of science – are right on the money.

Let me get one thing straight: As Sarah Palin loves to point out, Bill Nye is not a scientist. But unlike the fraction-of-a-term Alaskan Governor, he actually knows what he’s talking about. He studied engineering in college, and took many physics classes. He taught an American generation about science and socializes with real scientists. He’s the CEO of The Planetary Society. If there’s anything like an honorary scientist, he’s the one.

The documentary starts with young adults’ fond memories of his show. Then it covers the show itself, and goes on to what he’s been doing lately.

Much of it concerns his controversial debates with professional creationist Ken Ham. The first debate, on Ham’s own turf, didn’t change anyone else’s mind. Much worse, it raised Ham’s profile and helped him finance his absurd Noah’s Ark “museum.”

The movie shows that Nye is more than a bowtie-wearing science evangelist. We get a tour of his childhood home, and meet his two siblings. We learn that his family has a genetic disease, ataxia, which reduces your ability to control your body. Nye’s father had it, and his sister currently suffers from it. So far, Nye has not exhibited symptoms.

That’s one reason why he never had kids. But there’s another. The filmmakers show us a discussion between Nye and a neuroscientist who sounds more like a psychologist. Here we learn about his fear of commitment and intimacy.

The last part of the movie concentrates on two of Nye’s recent causes: climate change and launching a Solar Sail.

Denying evolution is just stupid. Denying man-made climate change can destroy civilization. In TV clips, we watch Nye go head-to-head with deniers, usually with news anchors on the side of ignorance.

Nye focuses in on meteorologist/bodybuilder/climate change denier Joe Bastardi. They debate on TV, and they debate on Bastardi’s front porch while sipping wine. Bastardi’s college-aged son, a Nye fan from his childhood, feels torn between two men he admires.

There’s nothing controversial about Solar Sail spacecraft. These small, unmanned spacecrafts can theoretically travel pushed by the sun’s rays as an old sailing ship can be pushed by the wind.

Bill Nye: Science Guy presents its subject as a funny, clever man, a talented teacher, the leader of an important organization, and a normal, flawed human being.

The movie opens Friday.