Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin falsely said she is “as much a scientist” as Bill Nye, best known for his children’s show, “Bill Nye the Science Guy.” Nye has multiple credentials that make him more of a scientist than Palin, including a bachelor of science in mechanical engineering from Cornell, experience working with NASA and various patents.
According to multiple news sites, Palin made this statement on April 14 during the Capitol Hill premiere of “Climate Hustle,” a film produced by the Committee For A Constructive Tomorrow that challenges the scientific consensus that greenhouse gases are responsible for global warming.
Palin questioned Nye’s qualifications because she argued he is “using his position of authority to harm children by teaching them that climate change is real and man-made,” reported The Hill. Conversely, according to The Hill, she urged parents to “teach their children to doubt climate change and to ‘ask those questions and not just believe what Bill Nye the Science Guy is trying to tell them.’ ”
But it’s not just what Bill Nye is telling them. As we’ve written before, several surveys and scientific literature analyses show that roughly 97 percent of climate scientists believe human-caused climate change is occurring.
On April 13, an international team published another literature survey study in the journal Environmental Research Letters that concluded that “the finding of 97% consensus in published climate research is robust and consistent with other surveys of climate scientists and peer-reviewed studies.”
This is not the first time Nye’s scientific knowledge has been challenged. In 2013, conservative talk radio host Rush Limbaugh said, “Bill Nye is not a scientist.” Nye responded by saying, “Rush, I think you got it wrong. … What am I if I’m not a scientist?”
In a debate with creationist Ken Ham in 2014, Nye described himself as part of the “scientific community.” Since his background is in engineering, during that debate, he explained, “engineers use science to solve problems and make things.” (Starting at 1:35:38 of the video.)
Merriam-Webster’s definition of “engineer” is not far from Nye’s: “a person who has scientific training and who designs and builds complicated products, machines, systems, or structures.”
Likewise, Ginger Pinholster, chief communications officer at the American Association for the Advancement of Science, told us that AAAS considers engineering a “bona fide applied science.”
So how do Nye and Palin’s scientific credentials compare?
Palin has none. She has a bachelor’s in communications-journalism from the University of Idaho. She has spent her career in politics. In addition to serving as governor of Alaska from 2006 to 2009, she was chairperson for the Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission between 2003 and 2004 and Republican vice presidential candidate in the 2008 election, among other posts.
Nye has a B.S. in mechanical engineering from Cornell. He also has six honorary doctorate degrees, including Ph.D.s in science from Goucher College and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.
He held various positions as an engineer between 1977 to 2009, such as contributing to the designs of 747 planes for Boeing and the designs of equipment used to clean up oil spills.
From 1999 to 2009, Nye worked with a team at the NASA and California Institute of Technology’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory to design and create the MarsDial, a sundial and camera calibrator attached to the Mars Exploration Rover.
Nye also holds three patents: a redesigned ballet toe shoe, a digital abacus (a kind of calculator) and an educational lens.
Nye has written books on science, including “Undeniable” and “Unstoppable,” which cover evolution and climate change, respectively.
This is all in addition to decades of work in science advocacy and education, including acting as CEO of The Planetary Society and teaching as a professor at Cornell.
To sum up, Nye has a degree and experience working in engineering, which is the application of science. He has also spent much of his career working with and for the scientific community. Thus, his credentials make him more of a scientist than Palin.
Editor’s Note: SciCheck is made possible by a grant from the Stanton Foundation.