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Hey Bill Nye! If Scientific Discoveries Are Dangerous, Should They Be Censored?

There is censorship in science, admits Bill Nye – but not nearly as much as there should be.

Taylor Packard: Hey Bill Nye it's Taylor Packard. I was wondering what you think about the censorship of scientific discoveries if the discovery could be used in a hurtful way. If there were censorship how should the censorship process be designed and what groups should be involved in determining what the public does and does not get to know? Thanks so much.

Bill Nye: Taylor. Taylor. Taylor. We in the scientific community have this process, we have this censorship process in the sense that we have what's called peer review. This is where somebody comes up with a scientific claim or belief or test result, experimental result, other people read it, read the paper, study his or her results and see if there's any validity to them. And then if there is that paper or that information gets published. So there is in a sense scientific censorship in a sense. If someone makes an extraordinary claim that's silly or can provably wrong there are systems in place to point out that this thing is not true and ignore it, it didn't work, it's not relevant.

However, we're living in a time when there's virtually no censorship. Everything ends up on the World Wide Web. Information is available to everybody. So the real challenge is not censorship, it's what I would call critical thinking or self-censorship where you need the ability, we all need the ability to read all this information or be exposed to all his information and decide whether or not it's true. As we record this right now late in the year 2016 there's a spate or a fad or a trend of news sources which aren't real. We here at Big Think like to think we're super real. This is it. This is the place to tune in. But there's a big trend right now to create false news, things that look like real news that aren't. The journalistic traditions, which are consistent with the peer review process in science, are being overwhelmed or overrun by the ability of anyone to put anything he or she wants on the electric Internet.

So it is up to you Taylor to learn to sort this stuff out. Now, along this line if you're talking about secrecy, secrecy is a big deal in the military. I had security clearance very briefly and you just take it really seriously because you think the security of your native country is at stake. And along this line the real places you need security are no longer really satellite photos and the top speed of certain aircraft or how long a submarine can remain submerged, those aren't the secrets that are concerning us now, it's what's on the Internet, what information is stored electronically, the Department of Defense or the European Space Agency or what have you. That's the information that needs to be secured now and when you say sensor I heard you refer to who's going to adjudicate it or who's going to be at the top, who's going to make the decisions. And those traditions of secrecy I think, in the military anyway, will be there for a long time. But the real problem is the lack of censorship. All this information is everywhere so we need to find ways to sort it out because there's no stopping it.

When you try to retract something that's been published electronically it's very difficult. What we need is people to notice that whatever was clearly false that was published was clearly false. That is a great question and it's one for your generation Taylor. Use your critical thinking skills. Evaluate evidence. Don't believe everything you read or see. On the other hand, there are some things that you can read that are true. Atomic number of rubidium is one of my favorites. It's 37. You can look it up. Thank you.

There are certainly some science labs and military research projects that are for classified eyes only, says Bill Nye, but in his view the more pressing issue regarding science and censorship is the proliferation of exaggerated and twisted science studies, and outright pseudoscience on the internet. It's a topic particularly relevant in the wake of heightened fake news awareness. We ordinary citizens may never crack the code of the secret projects government scientists may or may not be working on, but we can get busy educating ourselves and fine-tuning our critical thinking skills so we aren't led astray by false stories.


Bill Nye's most recent book is Unstoppable: Harnessing Science to Change the World.

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