What listening to Undeniable made me think about Science Vulgarization

I was very exited about reading Undeniable. Since I didn’t grew up in the US, my first knowledge of Bill Nye and his show Bill Nye the Science Guy came after I was at least in my early 20s. Hence I did not get to experience his effect on science appreciation as a kid but that is not to say I didn’t get excited about science as I was listening to his book. The fact that the book is read by Nye himself was the cherry on top of the sundae; he can transmit all of this energy and love for science a way that made me feel like a child again, learning about what makes science great.

Did I learn about evolution with this book? A little. A lot of the facts that are presented in the book are facts that, working in science, I’ve been exposed to before, albeit in a more academic background. At the same time, since I do not work on evolution myself, there were a couple of items that I wasn’t aware off or that needed refreshing in my head.

However, what I take out of this book is how good a person can be making a subject accessible without dumbing the subject down. All the information and data Nye uses are accurate and well researched, but at the same time, the tone and terminology used makes it easy to understand, especially if this is the first time you are approaching evolution.

Bill Nye has known detractors in Creationism followers. But, as a lot of scientists working on vulgarization, he has detractors in the scientific community for making science “too accessible” or for his colorful persona. Often Nye and Neil deGrasse Tyson are compared, unsurprisingly since both of them try to bring more scientific knowledge to the masses. But while de Grasse Tyson is often looked up as an astrophysicist who happens to become a spokesperson for vulgarization, people seem to forget the Nye himself is a mechanical engineer, with a big science background himself, and not just a quirky actor talking about science. The difference off course lies in their own delivery.

Because Nye’s character became famous as a children educator, people often think of him as “less of a scientist” than de Grasse Tyson. But actually, taking so many different topics and making them understandable to children takes a lot more energy and talent in vulgarization that some people might think.

We often assume that things explained to a children level are “dumb” or even too easy. Idioms such as “child play” imply that if a kid can understand it, so can an adult. But the truth of the matter is tat vulgarizing science for kids is much more complicated than it is for adults. First of all, think of the fact that a lot of notions we take for granted might not be obvious yet to kids. At the same time, treating the kid as ignorant or “not smart enough” can push him to be easily uninterested and move over to another thing. People who go for the vulgarisation level provided by someone like deGrasse Tyson are often the type of people who already have a basic knowledge of science and want to learn more, without reading a review on astrophysics. The beauty of what Nye does is that he takes the subject to the child in us, to the person who hasn’t been exposed as much to a certain topic and makes it fascinating, so much that we want to go up a next step.

So let’s give it up for all the people working on children science programs in museums, schools and TV. For those who light up the first sparks in our heads. And while we are at it, let me know who was that person for you. 


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