The Decline of Neil de Grasse Tyson

Neil de Grasse Tyson has arguably overtaken Bill Nye as the popular face of science.

Photo of Neil de Grasse Tyson from

As one Redditor explained quite eloquently, Bill Nye is losing some longtime fans.

I’ve been a huge fan of Bill Nye since I was ten. Bill Nye the Science Guy was entertaining and educational. Bill Nye Saves the World is neither. In this show he simply brings up an issue, tells you which side you should be on, and then makes fun of people on the other side. To make things worse he does this in the most boring way possible… He doesn’t properly explain anything, and he misrepresents every opposing view.

Another Redditor said:

I was hoping for a science show meant for adults – the audience they had constantly laughing and making sounds looked like adults… but the content of the show was something you’d expect from a grade 6 science class.The show just felt all over the place, using stupid skits, forced audience reactions, and the most basic science concepts.

At first, Neil de Grasse Tyson (NdGT) seemed to avoid this pitfall by being “that chill science guy.” Now some fans are wondering whether he’s any less pedantic than Bill Nye. They complain that he got people excited about science, only to say, “Being excited by science is MY thing! Let me shut you down real quick plebs!”

For example, during the recent eclipse, he told people to stop being excited — because, statistically speaking, eclipses are not rare.

Tyson became the posterboy of /r/iamverysmart, a subreddit dedicated to “people trying too hard to look smart.” It got so bad that moderators were forced to ban any mention of NdGT because such posts are “low hanging fruit.”

If his own fans dislike NdGT’s newfound pedantry, you can only imagine how conservatives feel. (Bill Maher jokingly introduced him to a conservative guest as someone he should be worried about — because he’s “black and a scientist.”) Breitbart called NdGT “an attention-seeking media troll who courts adoration from bloggers, students, and hipsters while picking off low-hanging fruit and mocking people he doesn’t like.”

Not everyone can be a Carl Sagan, the kind of science popularizer who shares his zeal without alienating, politicizing, or self-serving.

When I listened to Carl Sagan speak, I felt like I was listening to a man who had a genuine love for and interest in the material he was sharing. I feel the same when watching David Attenborough, Brian Cox, or even Michael from VSauce. I used to feel that way about Bill Nye. Today’s Bill Nye seems so arrogant and caught up in his own celebrity. He and Neil de Grasse Tyson strike me as two people whose main objective is to feel smarter than everyone they talk to. If that’s how they want to carry themselves, fine, but when it comes to something like climate change, when we need to convince certain people that it’s the real deal, Bill’s demeanour hurts more than it helps.

Brian Cox is an English physicist often described as the British NdGT. Cox, who once “rebutted” Neil de Grasse Tyson’s suggestion that lightsabers wouldn’t work, is frequently suggested as an alternative for the popular face of science.

Science needs popularizers who can share the wonders of science in a way that’s not about proving their intellectual superiority.


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