Cosmic Queries: Bill Nye Edition

Credit: BillNye.com

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About This Episode

We asked you for Cosmic Queries specifically for guest host Bill Nye, and you responded enthusiastically. In this episode, the Science Guy takes the mic to answer your questions on subjects he’s passionate about, selected by co-host Chuck Nice. Starting with evolution, you’ll find out what “survival of the fittest” really means and why sex is the most effective way for a species to evolve. Bill talks about immunity and natural selection, altruism and society, and why he feels technology is enhancing evolution, not replacing it. You also asked questions for Bill in his role as CEO of The Planetary Society, including what’s next for human space exploration and how we can cope with challenges like bone mass loss and food and water supply on a human mission to Mars. Bill discusses the problems with the Mars One project and the moral aspects of privately funded space exploration. On a lighter note, find out Bill’s favorite episode of Star Trek: The Orginal Series and what he feels is Leonard Nimoy’s greatest contribution to science.

NOTE: All-Access subscribers can listen to this entire episode commercial-free here: Cosmic Queries: Bill Nye Edition.

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  • Ilyasse Liver

    There are no aliens in space. But there is no proof exists already in the Koran

    I know Wajid planets and dive into the depths of space

    But the question remains where to lead the whole Hedda?

    Baldhafah Wright on the worldwide telescope site. Planet Gemini in the landfill (the sun) that there are four planets

  • vajoiner

    dandilion sex!

  • Tim Christoffersen

    Like most others, Bill Nye has misunderstood the concepts of Evolution.
    From an evolutionary point-of-view, it doesn’t matter how well or how bad you fit in to your environment. Not at all.
    Evolution rewards those, who has the most success at reproducing; putting their genes into the next generation.

    If you have a certain gene that, for whatever reasons, gives you an advantage in reproducing, that gene will be passed on to some, or most, or your children.
    Those of your children who has this gene, will maybe also have better odds reproducing, and so on.. Over time, this “new” gene will be present in the entire population.
    And, *WHOOP*, you have a new species 🙂

    Technically, this has nothing to do with being the fittest.
    Humans are very good at reproducing, and back in the days when we lived in caves, it was the most aggressive males who had the most luck in breeding.
    Which is all to evidently in humans today 🙁

    • lewis

      You sound stupid if you can’t survive in your environment then you will have trouble reproducing. Or say your an asswhole chances are no one will want to reproduce with you conversely if another organism fits in its environment better and out competes you for resources say to the extent that you die before you can successfully produce and raise offspring then your species will have a greater chance of failing to persist. So fitting in to your environment is an essential part of evolution.

      • Locke Frost

        Yes, of course you have trouble reproducing if you’re an A-hole, but not to nearly the amount expected. Also, the point Tim was trying to make (to my understanding) was something more like humans who have higher degrees of education have less children- so, is being smart an evolutionary good trait? On average, smarter people life longer and healthier lives, but they have less kids. So no, being ‘fittest’ ie most able to get resources and remove competition is not *directly* what’s important- if some trait ( ex. being well-educated) gives you all kinds of good benefits (longer healthier lives, financial stability etc) but doesn’t increase your offspring, then in terms of evolution, being educated is a bad thing. So yes, for once, I will say that someone’s post to a comments thread is completely right. *applause for Tim*

    • Kevin

      Crazily enough, it’s not Mr. Nye who has evolution wrong. You are failing to grasp that in order to reach sexual maturity and reproduce, you must first survive. Then, you must survive with a greater fraction of your available energy budget to put into mating and breeding than your competition. Perhaps you might wish to actually read Nye’s book, Undeniable, before criticizing it for being scientifically inadequate. I assure you, the gene changes poduced by natural selection are NOT limited to being more fecund than your local competition.

      • Johnny Le

        The thing is, does our society still require big muscles to survive? We’re living in the age of the geeks. So the fittest is not muscle but brain.

        • startalkradio

          Good point, Johnny. What Bill says in the episode is that fittest doesn’t mean “physically fittest”, it means “fits best in the environment.”

      • Johnny Le

        The thing is, does our society still require big muscles to survive? We’re living in the age of the geeks. So the fittest is not muscle but brain.

    • Kevin

      As motorsports teams might say, “in order to finish first, you must first finish.”

    • Kevin

      As motorsports teams might say, “in order to finish first, you must first finish.”

    • rrt

      The only way to reproduce is to survive until you’re able to reproduce. That means surviving until sexual maturity. Evolution isn’t really about reproduction per say, it’s more about how organisms can survive until reproduction takes place. If your genes (or even just dumb luck sometimes) can’t help you survive until that point, then, they don’t get passed on.

      It’s also not one single gene that’s responsible for “success” in reproduction. It’s the organism as a whole being able to handle the current conditions it finds itself in. I use quotes around “success” because the word is misleading in terms of evolution. It’s more about having genes that are good enough to survive the current environment. You don’t have to be amazing, incredible, whatever, just ‘good enough’ to make it past a threshold. Genes/strengths that worked in the past also lose potential if conditions change.

      • Tim Christoffersen

        Then, please explain to me, how come that many organisms live to reproduce, even if they’re not the fittest?
        Some of then are even on a direct path towards extinction, but they still live to reproduce.

        So, THAT can not be a factor of evolution. Only thing that matters is, who has the most luck in reproducing.

    • rrt

      The only way to reproduce is to survive until you’re able to reproduce. That means surviving until sexual maturity. Evolution isn’t really about reproduction per say, it’s more about how organisms can survive until reproduction takes place. If your genes (or even just dumb luck sometimes) can’t help you survive until that point, then, they don’t get passed on.

      It’s also not one single gene that’s responsible for “success” in reproduction. It’s the organism as a whole being able to handle the current conditions it finds itself in. I use quotes around “success” because the word is misleading in terms of evolution. It’s more about having genes that are good enough to survive the current environment. You don’t have to be amazing, incredible, whatever, just ‘good enough’ to make it past a threshold. Genes/strengths that worked in the past also lose potential if conditions change.

    • Jesuitical

      Can you possibly think that Bill Nye does not know the rudiments of evolution. What is worse is your sophomoric explanation for the fact of evolution.

    • Mickey

      Hello, just wanted to point out that you are not wrong but neglected or simply were not aware of some of the other factors in long-term evolution. You are quite right in pointing out that sexual reproduction, in essence is the theory. However, other factors such as the fittest you pointed out do play a role. An example is the white and brown mice which live in the Arizona desert. The desert has different patchy ground, some of it dried mud, other parts exposed rock. This creates a different backdrop for creatures traversing it. So let’s say a brown mouse who looks camouflaged just fine with the dried mud and shrubbery crosses into a large area of lighter colored rock. Making itself quite exposed. Predators such as Hawks, will almost instantly spot such critters and kill them off. This location will cause mice in one terrain to be dominantly one color. Those who stand out against their backgrounds will unlikely survive to reproduction or if they do, they and maybe their kin, if they inherit their parents shade, will be less successful as their cousins.

      Hope this helps clear things up. Best regards~

    • Krissy H.

      Since many others have already addressed the misconceptions you have (of Bill Nye’s misconceptions?), I’ll just say think Bill Nye understands it perfectly well, but didn’t articulate it well off the cuff. I think he would have better answered the question just by presenting the tenets of evolution by natural selection: that more offspring have to be produced than can survive, that genetic variation has to exist and be heritable, that there is a difference in the survival of the organism due to those traits, and that isolation will ultimately produce a new species. Hope that helps clear things up.

      And since no one else has mentioned it so far, there is no evidence (as far as I know, and I stay fairly up to date on human evolution stuff, but correct me if I’m wrong) of “aggressive males” being the most successful in reproduction in early humans. I think we could be safe making a guess that aggression is likely to have been a factor, but there was most certainly a plethora of traits influencing sexual selection in early humans.

      • Tim Christoffersen

        Well, that is obvious. But many individuals live to reproduce, even if they’re not the fittest. So, how exactly is that a factor?

        Please, re-read what I wrote.

  • Radgast

    The best thing about science is time is on its side.

    • Anthony

      Yes and no, the entire universe will become are form of energy in billions/trillions of years (I do know the estimation) from stars releasing the energy during fusion, as well as the release of energy from black holes in the form of Hawking Radiation. But as for us figuring out the answers to life/the cosmos’s deepest questions, then yes.

    • Taxil Necrobane

      Until the going theory is disproved and has to start all over again.

      • Radgast

        that is called learning

        • Taxil Necrobane

          That is one part of it yes. For example, the recently debunked ‘Big Bang’ theory, is a prime example of of the flip side of it. The several generation of students who was taught that it was the only widely accepted origins of our universe are feeling dismayed, various degrees of betrayal, and a general ‘What did I squander my time learning that for?’ feeling. All the books written about it. The videos produced explaining it and teaching it. All that time, money and effort promoting the big bang theory wasted. The large Hadrian collier was built around the Big Bang theory being true, but now it’s not. Now I have no idea what we could find when it’s finally fired up, and that concerns me even more of what it might produce.

          To summarize my thoughts is that any major theory that is brought up and pushed to be widely accepted with little question (climate change for example), should be be questioned and tested. Tried, poked, rechecked, and opened to other competing theories. This should be done for a long period of time and I still don’t feel like we are working hard enough to test the theories as we should. The end result is if the theory is flawed, it will be corrected or discarded before we invest our precious time, money and effort in teaching it.

  • Manuel

    Methane is odorless Chuck. Both for farts and for natural gas, smell is caused by volatile sulphur compounds, so you can happily go sniff for methane.

  • HistoryChannelGuy

    Why not make a small utopian location and expand.(52:30)
    Is there a plan yet? What are the steps planned? Have you taken the first step? A small city off the grid with autonomous transportation and grocery and fueling and as many things as possible all “off the grid”?

    • Taxil Necrobane

      Utopia that can be achived in the here and now is a myth and can never be created with our present technological level.

      • HistoryChannelGuy

        There you go. Take a word I used and exaggerate its use in the word block.

  • Jim Johnson

    Bill Nye is sharp!

  • James Coultas

    They answered my question! Figured the answer would be “far out””.

  • IDisnotscience

    I like Bill and Chuck. This would be a great team going forward now that Neil is off on other duties.

    • startalkradio

      Just to be clear, Neil isn’t going anywhere. He’s still the host of StarTalk in all its forms… including our upcoming StarTalk Live! at the Apollo Theater that we just announced. But we agree that Bill and Chuck make a great team when Neil can’t get into the studio, just like Bill and Eugene do!

      • Taxil Necrobane

        With his TV gig, Live on stage shows, and his weekly pod casts, when does Neil has the time to get real science done? And I am sure he also wants to spend time with his family as well. I just can’t believe he can juggle all that in his time table and be happy or in good shape at his age. I am worried NDT will hit that burn out point real quick.

  • Joshua Smith

    Man, Bill, TERRIBLE choice of a flower! Dandelions, or at least North American dandelions, are a classic example of a flowering plant that does NOT reproduce sexually!

  • Pingback: Why Bill Nye Makes the Perfect Leslie Knope | Nagg()

  • James Anderson

    Science is like betting on horses. Sure another may pull ahead but you have to stick with the current top horse to match reality as best as we are able. Paranoia about wrong answers is a destructive impulse that freezes improvement.

    • Taxil Necrobane

      From how I am seeing things, we are betting all of our money on that one horse and pray that horse doesn’t lose the race or trip and break it’s leg. It is irresponsible. if we are to ‘bet on horses’ then don’t empty our bank account on that one pony. In fact, it would be better to spread out smaller bets on a number of them and keep good deal of our money in our bank account. That way any losses would be easier to take.

      • James Anderson

        The analogy falls down here Taxil, keeping your money “in the bank” is equal to what made the dark ages. Another good tool for understanding the powerful tool of Sciences manufactured results is accept at 90% any give result as well as believe the proven wrongs as still being possible at a 10% chance. There was a famous physicist who wrote a paper on the impossibility of sustained electric light just before Edison and his carbon filament proved the exception.

        • Taxil Necrobane

          I wasn’t using analogy, because I meant what I said. Money. Science doesn’t happen with out money and our world economic situation is nearly at critical mass and will likely blow up at any time. Many people spent a lot of money and their limited time they have in this world on promoting and furthering the Big Bang theory. All that waste is a tragedy. I just wish we can weed out the weakness in major theories before we all embrace them as a ‘truth’.

  • Paco Cabello Lara

    Hiya… Most of the people working on the great works in Egypt weren’t actually slaves… It was more an obliged community work…

  • Hector Velazquez

    Is God real

  • Hector Velazquez

    Is there life in space

  • Thanks for answering my question!

  • Why haven’t we thought of a spaceship construction station in space itself, sort of like the ISS, or perhaps an extension of it? Is it more to do with lack of knowledge of chemical and metal conditions in zero G and such, or is something else the reason?

  • Damnit, now I have one more question, sorry, should have put it with the first. There’s some research that shows that historically, full bodied women were taken as an attractive figure, that being judged as the societal standard of attractiveness and even being wanted to men, which is a vast paradigm shift in comparison to today’s world. If we can take such a change as granted, and drawing a paradigm of men thus preferring slim women (from the statement your trainer made that all women love muscles), wouldn’t it also make muscles a possibly replaceable phenomenon in terms of attractiveness? Age is a generally highly sought out factor by younger women, for example, due to its assumptions of experience and maturity, or do you think those are just psychological variations more than a genetic pattern?

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