Bill Nye “The Science Guy” just had the unasked for pleasure of meeting a whole lot of people who are actually in the field he has so long presented himself as an expert in. Under the hashtag #BillMeetScienceTwitter, Nye was flooded with thousands of tweets Friday from scientists around the globe who decided it was high time for Nye to start sharing the spotlight with people who are actually credentialed experts rather than former-child-entertainers-turned-hysterical-leftwing-activists.
Forbes picked up on Nye’s epic deluge of tweets and did a little digging to find out what was motivating it. The first to use the hashtag was Dani Rabaiotti, who studies the effect of climate change on African wild dogs at University College London, and apparently “wrote a book on animal farts.” Here is her original tweet introducing herself to Nye:
@EntoLudwick @drmikeographer @biotweeps Hi @BillNye I’m Dani and I study the effect of climate change on African wild dogs, and wrote a book on animal farts #BillMeetScienceTwitter pic.twitter.com/X3CMB60b3f
— Dani Rabaiotti (@DaniRabaiotti) May 19, 2017
Rabaiotti says the new hashtag was born during a discussion she had on Twitter with New Zealand-based marine biologist Melissa Marquez and Missouri-based entomologist Dalton Ludwick. The emotion behind their new social media blitz is something scientists have been quietly grumbling about for a while, Rabaiotti says:
The issue, Rabaiotti explained, is that the not-a-scientist Nye is, unsurprisingly, doing something very un-sciency: he’s presenting himself as the expert voice of the scientific topic he presents rather than deferring to true authorities in the field.
“In science what you do is say, ‘oh, that’s not my area of expertise, but here is someone who knows the answer,'” said Rabaiotti.
“In an ideal world, Bill Nye will see [the hashtag movement] and say, ‘wow, look at all these awesome scientists,'” said Rabaiotti. “But even if that doesn’t happen, there’s been a lot of engagement with the thread.”
The Twitter campaign was born out of frustration. It started when Melissa Marquez, a marine biologist, tweeted from a collective Twitter account hosted by a new scientist every week, called @biotweeps.
Bill Nye + Neil deGrasse Tyson = scientists w BIG following… but do they really engage with public or do they just preach?
— Biotweeps – Seth (@biotweeps) May 18, 2017
The question kicked off a conversation about whether these science celebrities could do more to acknowledge the limits of their expertise, or use their enviable platforms to incorporate the diverse voices of experts in the field. The gripe started a similar Twitter campaign back in February. That hashtag, #actuallivingscientist, was inspired by a survey that revealed most respondents couldn’t name an actual living scientist. Those who could, overwhelmingly named men — NDT and Nye among them. (NDT has a PhD in astrophysics, Nye has an undergraduate degree in mechanical engineering.)
The hashtag movement caught on — big time. On Friday alone, Nye’s Twitter account was flooded with what Forbes reports was “more than 3,400 tweets and introductions” from scientists introducing themselves in the likely vain hope that he would actually defer to them in future discussions on scientific topics. By Monday, mentions of the hashtag had topped 27,000. The Verge notes that some scientists who sent tweets did not intend them to be interpreted critically; however, the “frustration” driving the movement is evident.