Although his arrival wasn’t officially connected to Stony Brook’s Earthstock festival, scientist and television personality Bill Nye was the perfect speaker to end the campus’s week of environmental education. On April 19, 2013, the USG Lecture Series presented a talk from Nye that centered on using scientific reasoning to solve the world’s problems, including those related to global warming.

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Famed scientist Bill Nye speaks to a crowd of over 500 students at Stony Brook University. Photo by Tom Johnson

The former host of PBS’s Bill Nye the Science Guy and current executive director of the Planetary Society, Nye is no stranger to explaining scientific concepts to the masses. At this lecture, he encouraged the audience to aim for “big picture thinking” while using fewer resources. Inspired by such ideas as Richard Smalley’s discovery of buckyballs and the invention of liquid metal batteries, Nye discussed a variety of ways that science should be applied to improve society as a whole. “You could give up, and you could run around screaming,” said Nye on the subject of the Earth’s rapidly-increasing temperature. “But in general, I predict that would be ineffective.”

Despite Nye’s advice, the days leading up to the lecture were marred by a certain level of student frustration and misunderstanding. Because of the nature of the contract signed, USG could not announce the event until a week before the lecture, and the SAC auditorium, which only seats about 500 students, was the largest venue available. As a result, tickets effectively sold out as soon as the ticket booth opened at 11:00 a.m. on April 17, with students forming a line hours before that occurred and many students thus left without access to the lecture.

Some vocal students expressed frustration at the nature of the event’s organization. Facebook pages like “Operation Meet Bill Nye – SBU,” created by Michael A. Seminara, were created shortly after tickets sold out, and provided an outlet for students to voice their displeasure. “Operation Meet Bill Nye – SBU” also provided a location for students to “organize and find or make a way to meet [their] childhood hero,” including arriving in a large group and surrounding the building.

Other students took to the lecture’s Facebook event page to discuss their complaints with USG members. In addition to the aforementioned issues, some students objected to their Student Activity Fee being used to fund an event that was not accessible to the entire campus community or the fact that graduate students were excluded from attending. In one argument, a displeased student even likened the practice of ticket scalping to rape.

On the same Facebook event page, CAS senator Kenneth Myers created an FAQ that attempted to calm the confusion. He explained that no larger venues were available, that graduate students could not attend because they did not pay the same activities fee as undergraduates, and that artists typically refuse to sign their contracts until a week before events. As a result, the problems mentioned were insurmountable. However, discussions continued on pages like Seminara’s until shortly before the event began.

Students started lining up to enter the event as early as five hours before it began, at 3:30 p.m. First in line was Fausto Martinez, a sophomore astronomy major clad in a white t-shirt that read “I fuckin’ love science.” Behind Martinez was the line of over 500 students, snaking past the SAC Auditorium, past the ballrooms, Traditions Lounge and commuter lounge before ending in a spiral back where it began. Police officers monitored the students in line; shortly before the doors opened, they rushed to break up a group chanting Nye’s name.

Once the lecture began, it was clearly well-received by the audience. As Nye took the stage, one fan exclaimed “You’re the reason I go here!” Most things Nye said were met with a similar level of enthusiasm. In addition to being informative, Nye was very funny, embracing the double entendres of such statements as “Everything that sticks up should be a sundial” and teasing that determining how to tell time on Mars was like speaking Klingon, “except it’ll be real.”

At the end of the lecture, Nye took questions from the enthusiastic crowd. Although he had much to say about how magnets work, the merits of bowties and why religion should be avoided in science classes, his message remained simple. “Science is the best idea humans have ever had,” Nye announced, before exiting. With it, people “can change the world.”


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