More Anti-Science Behavior From Bill Nye

Not long ago, I wrote a post discussing the anti-science views of “Bill Nye the Science Guy.” In that post, I discussed how anti-science it was for Nye to tell people to blindly accept the scientific consensus and stop arguing about whether or not life is the product of evolutionary processes. Well, I recently came across another example of Nye’s anti-science actions. He has no problem lending his name to an experiment that was brazenly faked.

At the 0:47 mark in the the video above, Nye suggests a “simple experiment” to show that carbon dioxide causes global warming. He says to put two thermometers into two identical bottles, add excess carbon dioxide to one bottle, put both bottles under identical heat lamps, and watch the thermometers. Over time, you will see the temperature in the excess-carbon-dioxide-containing bottle rising more quickly than the temperature in the bottle that contains no excess carbon dioxide. The video he is narrating supposedly shows the experiment and its results, proving beyond any shadow of a doubt that carbon dioxide causes global warming.

Now before I start discussing the article that shows that the experiment was faked, I want to make a quick point. I have students do a similar experiment in my award-winning text Exploring Creation with Physical Science. Unlike the one in the video, the experiment I have the students do works for most students, because carbon dioxide does, indeed, trap infrared light and produce an increased temperature in its surroundings. However, the “simple experiment” shown in the video does not demonstrate this, and anyone with a reasonable knowledge of the physical sciences should understand that.

On his website, Watts Up With That?, Anthony Watts goes through a detailed analysis that explains why the experiment shown in the video couldn’t possibly work. In fact, he later replicates the experiment as precisely as possible and shows that as described, the experiment produces results that are exactly opposite of what are shown in the video!

In case you don’t want to read Watts’s complete analysis of the experiment, let me summarize what I think are the two main points. First, a detailed study of the video shows that the results were faked. For example, the “results” part of the video shows two thermometers side-by-side, with the thermometer that is supposedly in the carbon-dioxide-containing bottle experiencing a more rapid rise in temperature than the thermometer in the other bottle. However, Watts shows that the “split screen” shot which supposedly shows the two different thermometers (starting at 1:10) is actually a shot of one thermometer that has been duplicated, and the duplicate has extra thermometer liquid digitally added to show the supposed increase in temperature!

Second, Watts explains what anyone who knows much about infrared light should know: the heat lamps used in the experiment cannot possibly produce the effect that Nye narrates. This is because heat lamps use mostly infrared light and light from the red end of the visible spectrum. Well, glass is not transparent to infrared light! This is why a greenhouse stays warm. Visible light enters the glass of a greenhouse and warms the things in the greenhouse. Many of those things release some of that heat as infrared light, but because the glass of the greenhouse isn’t transparent to infrared light, the heat stays in the greenhouse!

In the end, then, the lights in the experiment would simply heat up the bottles. They would not introduce infrared light into them! This is, in fact, why Watts’s replication of the experiment shows the opposite effect. To increase the temperature read by the thermometers in the experiment, heat energy would have to be conducted from the jars to the thermometers. However, air is a better conductor of heat than carbon dioxide! Thus, physics tells us that the experiment in the video should give the opposite results, and Watts’s replication of the experiment demonstrates this!

Rather than proving that carbon dioxide causes global warming, then, all this video proves is that Bill Nye doesn’t understand the science that he is trying to “teach” in the video. If he understood how infrared light interacts with matter, he would know that the experiment he is narrating couldn’t possibly work as described. Of course, I am sure Nye had nothing to do with the experiment itself. Indeed, he says “bottle” in his narration, when the video uses jars. I am sure he simply read a script that had been prepared for him. However, if he understood the science he was reading, he would know enough to tell the writer that the experiment needed to be changed in order to work.

Now, of course, a properly-conceived experiment (such as the one used in my text) will give the desired result. If you actually allow infrared light into a closed container with elevated levels of carbon dioxide, the temperature will rise faster than it will in a closed container without elevated levels of carbon dioxide. Does this show that carbon dioxide causes global warming? Of course not. It only shows the overly-simplistic mindset of too many people who blindly follow the scientific consensus.

The earth is nothing like a closed container! It has many negative feedback mechanisms that have been designed into it specifically to regulate global temperature. This is why the very best computer simulations of earth’s climate have been wildly unsuccessful in their predictions. They simply don’t take earth’s negative feedback mechanisms into account properly.

The main point, however, is that in yet another video, Bill Nye has shown himself to be anti-science. After all, given the fact that scientific fraud is such a serious problem today, anyone who promotes himself as the spokesperson for science shouldn’t be involved in the production of a video that shows a brazenly-faked scientific experiment!


  1. Kyle Heironimus August 7, 2013 10:30 pm

    There’s more. Bill Nye gives a thoroughly unsatisfactory reply to Watts in this blog entry.

    If he was a true scientist he would have said something like “I apologize. There is no excuse to ever fake the results of an experiment. The fact that I allowed my name to be associated with this is both embarrassing and unacceptable.” Then he could go into details about how it really should have worked.

    • jlwile August 8, 2013 7:46 am

      Wow. Thanks for the link, Kyle. You are right. That is not the response you would expect from someone who is actually interested in science. He seems to be saying, “It doesn’t matter that the experiment was faked. We know global warming is happening.” He also either didn’t read or didn’t understand Watts’s writeup, as he still seems to think the mechanism he described is the correct one for the experiment.

  2. josiah August 13, 2013 2:16 pm

    Actually he seems to be saying something very profound; neither legitimate nor sockpuppet* mistakes in a piece of evidence lessen the impact of other pieces of evidence, nor can the likelihood of the original proposition being true be reduced by more than it was originally increased by the discredited evidence.
    When it’s shown that pictures of embryos were faked to support evolution, that doesn’t mean the case for evolution from the fossil record or similar body forms is weakened. Likewise when it’s shown that moon dust could have formed over billions of years, the evidence for a Young Earth from salt in the Oceans isn’t weakened.

    * sockpuppet mistakes being where someone actually opposed to a position seeks to defend it poorly, so that the position looks pathetic. E.g.
    My Puppet: Josah is lake so dumb!
    Me: With all due respect, the weight of evidence seems to be that I am in fact highly intelligent. If I may say so, the lack of precision in your argument, and I’m loathe to mention the clear errors of grammar and spelling, suggest prima facie I’m actually somewhat cleverer than yourself!
    (And so I hide the obvious truth that I’m a right eejit! :D )

    • jlwile August 14, 2013 6:17 am

      He might be trying to say that, Josiah, but it doesn’t come across that way. He doesn’t even condemn the faked experiment. He just calls is a “shortcut.” He also claims that the experiment as described will work. However, it will not. The laws of physics don’t allow it to work. Finally, he doesn’t even bother to educate himself on the relevant physics, because he claims that the experiment as described works via the same mechanism as global warming. Global warming happens through infrared light being absorbed by carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. That’s not how the experiment as described works.

      Now I agree with you that this faked experiment does nothing to illustrate whether or not global warming is real or human-induced. I say that in the article. The only thing the faked experiment and Nye’s response show is that Bill Nye doesn’t really care to do serious science.