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Saturday, January 30, 2016

Parsing Bill Nye's Anti-Nuclear Energy Keynote Speech

Left, Flickr, Center, Simon Fraser University Flickr Creative Commons, Right, Screenshot from Pandora's Promise.

My previous article was about Bill Nye's choice to ignore the science when it comes to nuclear energy safety. I'm not picking on Bill. My critiques are in response to Nye's decision to use his celebrity status to publicly air his anti-nuclear energy beliefs. This is likely the last article I'll write about his views ...depending I suppose, on what else he has to say in public about nuclear energy. I'm bringing this topic up again because the pro-nuclear energy film Pandora's Promise (which was the target of his keynote address following the screening of Pandora's Promise at Columbia University) was also shown at the recently concluded Paris climate talks to bolster James Hansen's call for environmental groups to "let go of long-held biases when it comes to nuclear power."

You can view the YouTube video of that speech here. I don't know what the organizers were expecting, but what they got was an old-school anti-nuclear energy diatribe (where pretty much everything he said was wrong). Bill was doing his best to teach the young Columbia students in the audience (who he kept referring to as kids) what he had been taught and twice asked them to vote out of office politicians who think nuclear power plants should be part of our energy mix to fight climate change (as Obama does).

Interestingly enough, the two senators from Nye's old stomping grounds in Washington State who are big supporters of anything green, were not among the four who voted against expanding the role of nuclear power in a new energy bill, so maybe reasoned argument is starting to turn the tide:

WASHINGTON — Here’s how the state’s U.S. senators voted on major issues in the week ending Jan. 29. The House was in recess.

Boost for nuclear energy

By a vote of 87 for and 4 against, the Senate on Jan. 28 expanded the role of nuclear power in a wide-ranging energy bill (S 2012) that remained in debate. In part, the amendment directs the Department of Energy to establish a “national innovation center” at which the government and private sector would jointly develop advanced technologies for nuclear reactors.

Voting yes: Maria Cantwell, D, Patty Murray, D
 Now, of course, the entire anti-nuclear energy idea was started with some critical thinking. Nuclear energy can do harm and it isn't too cheap to meter after all. But from that point on it became a snowball rolling down hill, a bandwagon to be jumped on. Facts got discarded along the way, stories grew larger with each retelling.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Bill Nye the Science Guy Social Primate and Nuclear Energy

BillandSunnivaBill Nye photo via Simon Fraser University Flickr Creative Commons, Sunniva Rose Via Screenshot from TEDx Talk
An article last week in Business Insider discussed Bill Nye's conversion from anti-GMO to pro-GMO (genetically modified organisms). According to Nye, while attending a political rally in NYC:
" speaker insisted that the US president Barack Obama was part of a conspiracy sponsored by large agriculture companies to control minds — and received a great many cheers — somehow that passionate man at the microphone crossed a line for me."
Was it a desire to distance himself from conspiracy theorist nut-balls or was it the result of his exposure to facts by real scientists at Monsanto that finally convinced him to change his mind? If it was the latter then his stance was largely based on a lack of knowledge. Some are hoping that because Nye was convinced to distance himself from anti-GMO ideologues that he may also one day distance himself from the anti-nuclear energy counterparts, but I'm skeptical. Nye was not nearly as invested in his GMO stance as he is in his anti-nuclear energy belief.

After reading the above article I typed in the search terms Obama Nuclear Conspiracy and found an article on a conspiracy theorist website titled Nuclear Power Plants--Can We Trust Government Agencies To Tell The Truth? From that article:
"Exelon, the largest nuclear power generator in the USA, was a generous financial supporter to get Barack Hussein Obama elected president. No wonder President Obama supports and promotes building more nuclear power plants."
At the bottom was the following crass political cartoon (I've censored it for the weak of heart) which encapsulates the big three; anti-GMO, anti-vaccination, and anti-nuclear energy, oh, and fluoride.
Bill Nye the comedian celebrity version of everyone's favorite high-school science teacher, but funnier, and goofier, much goofier, still thinks nuclear energy is too dangerous while Sunniva Rose, a practicing nuclear physicist and real world embodiment of the lawyer character played by Reese Witherspoon in the movie Legally Blonde demonstrates in her TEDx talk that nuclear energy is actually (ironically?) the safest energy source we have. Click here to see a video of Nye's view on nuclear energy. A screenshot of the graphic used by Sunniva is shown below. It's a more colorful version of the one found here, and similar to one published by Greenpeace and one in Wikipedia here.


Bill Nye: "It may be that nuclear power, at our current level of understanding, is just inherently not safe enough."

Sunniva Rose: "How: is it possible to worry about global warming, and not be pro-nuclear?"

As an aside, Sunniva is also trained in classical ballet. Not to be outdone, here's a YouTube video of Bill Nye doing a series of back flips on the reality show Dancing with the Stars ...classic Nye humor. While the shock wears off, the laughing starts as you deduce that the guy doing back flips has to be a stunt double (which you then confirm with a quick Google search), but that fact was lost on the person publishing the video. In this case, all his lack of critical thinking cost him was a good laugh.