CHRISTINA LESSA: At FLATT, we promote the concept that the “arts” in all guises, be it visual art, science or technology, is the scaffold for great change and progress. Kennedy once said, “We must never forget that art is not a form of propaganda; it is a form of truth.” FLATT believes that it takes courage to champion what is honest and real. In our current environment, it takes audacity to sponsor what scientists put forth in the world as evidence of our existence and as markers of our evolution as a society. You’ve been a champion for the notion that our children are the scientists and engineers of the future; they need to be the innovators that drive the U.S. economy in the coming decades. How can we as a society work together to promote more of an interest in arts education and its funding?
BILL NYE: Celebrate art fairs as well as science fairs in schools. Art and science go hand-in-hand in the human experience. We don’t want one without the other. This should happen without exception.
CHRISTINA LESSA: Our number one export is now intellectual property. The development of generations to come that will create outstanding key innovations in science and technology will rely on the public support, intellectually and financially, of arts education and patronage. We are falling behind and losing opportunity to foster our creative economy. As jobs are shipped overseas, how can science education in America influence the competitiveness of our population on the world stage?
BILL NYE: The only thing that keeps the US in the game economically is our ability to come up with new ideas, to create new technologies and new products. The more science education we have, the more innovation we’ll have. Because we get our lifelong passion for science before we’re 10 years old, we can emphasize elementary science and produce a generation of innovators. There is nothing that I believe in more strongly than getting young people interested in science and engineering for a better tomorrow, a better humankind. Science is the key to our future, if you don’t promote science, you’re holding everybody back. This should be a top priority: developing an outstanding, competitive public education system as well as continuing to support important science-based programs already in place such as NASA. Planetary exploration not only brings us astonishing discoveries, it inherently leads to innovation because we are solving problems that have never been solved before. That in turn creates economic growth. At the core of everything that I believe, is the notion that we are in this life together. Space exploration brings out the best in us. It imbues everyone in the country with an optimistic view of the future.
CHRISTINA LESSA: A Google economist stated that the sexiest job of the next decade will be the one held by Data Scientists. What is your opinion on the way that data has taken such a stronghold in the worlds of business, medicine, and security?
BILL NYE: We rely on our ability to share information efficiently. No one wants to go back to the bad old days of looking for phone booths, waiting for postal bank transactions, and hoping that library books will be returned. The more savvy information engineers we produce, the faster life will get better for everyone. Worldwide access to information is a key in uniting the world and raising the standard of living for people everywhere. It’s a very exciting time to be alive.
CHRISTINA LESSA: As an ambassador of the scientific community, you have exposed and promoted important truths regarding our suppression of accurate scientific education due to religious propagation. However, human beings are complex and multi-faceted. Religion has always had a role in the development of our personalities as individuals and as a society. While hypothetically a world without religion paves the way for a more rational and data-driven world, how can we imagine filling the void previously occupied by faith?
BILL NYE: I’m not sure I accept the premise that religion has always had a role in developing healthy personalities or good character. Objectively, religions have been many times more divisive in human affairs than any successful scientific theory or discovery of a natural law. In history, it’s hard to find a war, or conflict, or tradition of oppression that did not have some perceived religious value at its core. Non-believers seem to have no trouble developing healthy personalities, traditions, and legal systems. I believe people prefer rational approaches to governance, health care, and conflict resolution over any arbitrary notions of what might be right and what might be wrong. I’ve got no problem with anybody’s religion. But making claims like the earth is only 10,000 years old is just wrong.
CHRISTINA LESSA: Some people want to pick and choose convenient truths in terms of scientific fact. If they had the knowledge of how daily life is affected by science this may change. It may be helpful to provide a hierarchy of scientific knowledge that leads us to the use of things like cars, airplanes, microwaves, and smartphones. Is there such a tree of knowledge showing the dependencies across disciplines that must exist in order for us to enjoy these modern marvels?
BILL NYE: We should all have a working knowledge of scientific discoveries and facts, but far more important is for everyone to know and appreciate the process of science, the way we know what we know. Then, we could much more readily agree on the facts of climate change, human population growth, and the dangers of disease epidemics. This knowledge is readily available more now than ever. It is the responsibility of the individual to seek it out and educate themselves and the next generations.
CHRISTINA LESSA: If you could spend one day communicating with any world figure now living, who would it be and what would you talk about?
BILL NYE: I would ask the President of United States how we could make the Internet available to every person on Earth; I believe it would be an effort akin to radio broadcasts that were beamed into Eastern Europe from the West during the Cold War years.
CHRISTINA LESSA: You once said, “The trouble with engineers is that many of us are know-it-alls. We don’t get the passion. Take Faraday’s discovery that moving magnetic fields make electrical current, or Darwin’s discovery of evolution without knowing about DNA. These are astonishing things. We shouldn’t take them for granted. We need to connect with the passion, beauty, and joy.” What gives you goosebumps?
BILL NYE: We are made of the dust of exploded stars; we are therefore at least one way that the universe has come to know itself. Now that’s thrilling!