Bill Nye Opening Statement in 1998 Testimony to United States Congress

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Bill Nye Opening Statement in 1998 Testimony to United States Congress
by Author:William Sanford Nye
Bill Nye Opening Statement in 1998 Testimony to United States Congress, National Science Policy Study, Part I: Math and Science Education: Maintaining the Interest of Young Kids in Science. Wednesday, March 4, 1998. U.S. House of Representatives, Committee on Science, Washington, DC. The Committee met, pursuant to notice, at 2:05 p.m., in Room 2318, Rayburn House Office Building, Hon. F. James Sensenbrenner, Jr., Chairman of the Committee, presiding. See also: Speaker Index.

We'll begin with Mr. Nye. Thank you for being here.

Could you turn the microphone on, please.


Mr. NYE. Thank you very much for inviting me. This is quite an honor to be given a chance to speak to you. Fundamentally, I just think that we are all scientists. Every human who is successful on the Earth thinks scientifically, evaluates the world around him, decides what to do each and every day based on trial and error, and what we would call traditionally, the scientific method.

Now people ask me all the time, people ask me very often: What is your secret? How do you combine science and entertainment? How do combine a show about science with something that's so fun and interesting?

And, to me, fundamentally there's nothing more compelling, there's nothing more interesting, there's nothing more charming than science. The world is this wonderful, mysterious place and what we try to do on the show is show our viewers how exciting it can be.

So, the fundamental thing about my show that many people I'm not sure appreciate, is that it is entertainment first. Our show really is—the question about every bit that we do, every segment we do, is, is it going to be entertaining, because it's a television show. Now, in a classroom, you wouldn't necessarily want to make every moment be entertaining and exciting, but I certainly hope that you have the idea when you show up as a teacher, you've got to have some material, you have something to say, you have something to show the kids, show to your students, that's interesting and exciting.

So, to me, in science education, we have a tremendous advantage over many other disciplines, with all due respect to people who for some reason didn't choose science for a profession, is that we have props. We have gizmos and demonstrations and experiments that we can do for students. These are very important.

First of all, there's a lot of tradition in the experiments and demonstrations, and another thing along with that is the demonstrations are how we know. The way humans have come to understand the world is by doing experiments, by observing things—making observations in particular. And to this end, I look around the end, look at every single thing in this room, and you'll see that it's wooden, those are all shaped by people. The flag, the metal, the little engraved name tags that everybody has, are all shaped by humans who understood the world. Humans who took the time to figure out the way things work. So we have to provide, in my opinion, we have to provide means for every teacher to do these demonstrations for her or his students. And that takes resources, that takes money.

And along with that, we have to provide demonstrations for every student to do for her or himself because that's really the key to science. That's the fundamental thing. That's what makes science so much more compelling than almost anything that comes to mind—let's say anything that comes to mind—it's that when you do it for yourself, it doesn't matter who showed you, it doesn't matter who told you that the Earth goes around the Sun, for example. When you discover it for yourself, then it's yours. And that's the passion of science that I think we just have to be sure as a Nation to convey. It's very much in our national interest, too, as the students of tomorrow.

And another thing along the classroom venue, the classroom environment, where I don't work full-time, just now and then. The classroom, in my opinion, should be a beautiful place. It should be a gleaming place. It should be a place that everyone wants to be. The schools, in my opinion, should be the most striking architecture, the most handsome buildings, in the community. And that is the way, in my view, to attract good people to become teachers.

There's no one in a corporation in the United States who would go to work—really in a big time corporation, expecting to make an executive salary—where the roofs leak. It's inconceivable. There's no one that would go to work where there isn't enough electrical power to run computers, which are, you know, 40 watt devices, barely a light bulb.

That's just unheard of, yet we expect our teachers in this country, in many cases, to put up with these kinds of conditions in the environment. And it's just not in anybody's best interest, whether you're a Democrat or Republican, because this is our future.

Then I just want to emphasize also that science is a human endeavor. Science is not something that people were given. Science is not something written down exactly in a book. Science is a human endeavor. It's carried on by people. It's something humans made up.

So if we have a workforce, for example, that's half women, in my opinion, we have a scientific community that's half women. If we have a workforce that's what used to be called minorities, now sometimes called People of Color and so on, then we have to a scientific community that's a third People of Color. And this gets into something that is sort of a fundamental, at the base of science, that it's made up of people, so the people that conduct it have to represent our society.

And another thing that's very near and dear to me is the metric system. To have this country to be actually the last nation on Earth—the Azores, which is a string of islands, they're converted to the metric system also. We're the last nation in the world, and we're expecting to do business, expecting to carry on commerce with everybody else. It's hard to imagine, really. So, science class is where the metric system can start.

And the other thing that I really want to emphasize, whatever report this Committee generates, I think it's very important that it be in plain English. What we do on the show, we take a tremendous amount of time, we do a lot—most of our discipline, the most difficult part of the writing is in the vocabulary. The words have to be chosen very carefully to keep the show at a 4th grade level, which the reason we do the show at a 4th grade level is because it's generally agreed that's the oldest a person can be to get excited about science, so when the show was designed, that's the age we choose. And it turns out that over half of our viewers are grownups, so 4th grade isn't so bad for everybody.

My point being that if we use words that are not easily accessible to the listener in a report, or to the reader, the report will be ignored and the work will have gone to waste.

Then the last thing, I guess, is the most important thing we can teach, I think now—the knowledge is expanding so fast. There's so much going on in the world, everyday, with the electronic communication and libraries accessible to so many people, human knowledge is expanding faster than anyone could absorb it all. So what we need to teach is the process of science.

What I like to say: How do we know what we know? How do we know that dinosaurs once walked the Earth? How do we know that the Earth goes around the Sun? How do we know that Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome is a result of a virus? These are fundamental things, that the facts are very important, but the way that you come to know the facts is much more important. And this is what is currently called critical thinking, and I think it's the most critical thing that we can teach. And I hope that we can all work together to improve education in this Nation so that the United States is once again the preeminent science and technology community in the world.

Thank you. Thank you very much for your time.

[The prepared statement and attachments of Mr. Nye follow:]

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