Bill Nye Wants To Wage War on Anti-Science Politics, Make a Movie—And Save the Planet From Asteroids


William Sanford Nye (his friends call him "Bill") made his first mark on history while sitting in a college classroom in 1976.

It was just another day at Cornell University for Nye as an energetic, Ultimate Frisbee-playing undergraduate student. He was chatting with fellow students when in walked their professor—the legendary astronomer and author Carl Sagan—with an unexpected request. Sagan asked the class which Chuck Berry song should be included on the Voyager Golden Record, the collection of songs and images placed aboard the two Voyager spacecraft launched in 1977. (If extraterrestrial life forms ever encounter the Voyager spacecraft, the Record is intended to reflect the culture and diversity of Planet Earth.) Sagan was chairing the committee responsible for selecting the music for NASA, and he told his class that he thought Berry's 1956 hit "Roll Over Beethoven" was the song the aliens should hear. This was when Nye and his classmates led a much-needed revolt.

"We all said, 'No, professor!'" Nye recalls. "'It has to be 'Johnny B. Goode! That's the definitive Chuck Berry song!'…Berry was the guy who took blues and turned it into rock n' roll, after all. So we thought we needed to send a message on that spacecraft."

Sagan took his students' advice, and to this day, "Johnny B. Goode" is aboard the Voyager spacecraft, alongside the work of Bach and gospel blues artist Blind Willie Johnson.

Sagan left an indelible mark on Nye, but his his love for science and engineering was inspired much earlier. "The spark was before kindergarten," Nye says. His mother, Jacqueline, was a codebreaker during the Second World War, fighting fascism with math and science. You can see evidence of some of her work, declassified in 1992, at the NSA-affiliated National Cryptologic Museum in Maryland. The Smithsonian in Washington, DC, had an exhibit dedicated to enigma machines, and it included a photo of Jacqueline. "She worked in a bunker, waiting for Nazi bombs to drop or something," Nye jokes. Meanwhile, his father, Ned, was held in a Japanese prisoner of war camp. "Now that sounds like it sucked," Nye says. "If you ever have the chance, I wouldn't recommend it. Not one bit."

Written By: Asawin Suebsaeng
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  1. Oh yeah, it had to be “Johnny B Goode” .

    I’ll dig it out this evening and have an earfull; I’ve got it on vinyll!

  2. Oh, look! A man with lots of great ideas and the initiative to stick to his beliefs and get things done shaking another man’s hand.

    BTW, I would have voted for “My Ding a ling”

    When I was a little biddy boy
    My grandmother bought me a cute little toy
    Silver bells hanging on a string
    She told me it was my ding-a-ling-a-ling

    I want you to play with my ding-a-ling
    I want you to play with my ding-a-ling

    Then mama took me to Sunday school
    They tried to teach me the Golden Rule
    But when the choir would stand and sing
    I’d sit there and play with my ding-a-ling-a-ling


    Then mama took me to Grammar school
    But I stopped off in the vestibule
    Every time that bell would ring
    Catch me playing with my ding-a-ling


    Once I was climbing the garden wall,
    I slipped and had a terrible fall
    I fell so hard I heard birds ring,
    But held on to my ding-a-ling-a-ling


    Once I was swimming ‘cross Turtle Creek
    Those snapping turtles were snapping at my feet
    Sure was hard swimming ‘cross that thing
    With both hands holding my ding-a-ling-a-ling


    This here song it ain’t so sad
    The cutest little song you ever had
    Those of you who will not sing
    You must be playing with your own ding-a-ling

  3. I like the idea of making movies (YouTube and higher) showing politicians making fools of themselves with their anti-science statements, and irrational beliefs. Then all we have to do is promote the links at election time. Or maybe when a vote is being taken where science is involved.

  4. I liked his little animation of “Laser Bees” as an asteroid deflection system. I have linked to this project on earlier discussions, but it needs development BEFORE we find an asteroid heading for Earth. – Laser Bees
    A New Way to Deflect a Dangerous Asteroid

    We’ve been working with a team at the University of Strathclyde and the University of Glasgow in Scotland to study a new technique which uses concentrated light to gently move an asteroid — a project we called “Mirror Bees” — using mirrors on several spacecraft swarming around an asteroid to focus sunlight onto a spot on the asteroid. As part of the initial Mirror Bees project, researchers found that lasers are more effective than mirrors and can be used from greater distances. So, now the project is called “Laser Bees.”

    The researchers at the University of Strathclyde and the University of Glasgow, under the leadership of Massimiliano Vasile, became interested in this approach when they set out to compare nine approaches to planetary defense. To their surprise, one of their results was that Mirror Bees would work more quickly and effectively than all but nuclear warheads. (But unlike the use of nuclear explosions, there would be no risk of breaking a huge asteroid into any number of equally deadly smaller asteroids, nor would the procedure face as many political and bureaucratic hurdles.)

  5. In reply to #6 by Fritz:

    Should have been “Cosmic Debris” from FZ’z ‘Apostrophe’!

    FZ’s “Dumb All Over” (“You are what you is” album) would have been a better description of humanity…. although an alien civilization hearing it would probably be compelled to “exterminate this dangerous species”… 😉

    However much I like FZ, I think that something like Chuck Berry’s JBG is more representative of the roots of Rock’n Roll. My personal choice would have been either “Sunshine of your Love” by Cream or “Purple Haze” by Jimmy Hendrix, they are from a later period but they’re two of the most iconic pieces of 60’s British and American rock IMO.


    “The House of The rising Sun” by Eric Burdon & The Animals, “A Whiter Shade Of Pale” by Procol Harum, “Won’t Get Fooled Again” by The Who, “Gimme Shelter” and “Ruby Tuesday” by The Rolling Stones. Oh… and “On A Clear Day” by The Peddlers.

    My personal favorites Zappa songs are: “Dumb All Over”, “Heavenly Bank Account” and “Jesus Thinks You’re A Jerk”. My favorite instrumental piece is “Be-Bob Tango” with “Alien Orifice” a close second.

  6. Zappa would be my choice, too!
    I love penguin in bondage, heavenly bank account, a token of my extreme, heavy duty judy….It goes on and on!
    In reply to #8 by NearlyNakedApe:

    In reply to #6 by Fritz:

    Should have been “Cosmic Debris” from FZ’z ‘Apostrophe’!

    FZ’s “Dumb All Over” (“You are what you is” album) would have been a better description of humanity…. although an alien civilization hearing it would probably be compelled to “exterminate this dangerous species”……

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