Bill Nye has announced he is planning on attending President Trump's State of the Union speech on Tuesday, causing an uproar amongst the scientific community.
Nye was asked to attend the event as a guest of Jim Bridenstine, Trump's controversial nominee for NASA administrator, to help promote space exploration.
After accepting the invitation, Nye assured his fans on Twitter that his attendance "should not be … seen as an acceptance of the recent attacks on science and the scientific community."
Tomorrow night I will attend the State of the Union as a guest of Congressman Jim Bridenstine – nominee for NASA Administrator – who extended me an invitation in my role as CEO of The Planetary Society....— Bill Nye (@BillNye) January 29, 2018
…The Society is the world's largest and most influential non-governmental nonpartisan space organization, co-founded by Carl Sagan. While the Congressman and I disagree on a great many issues – we share a deep respect for NASA and its achievements...— Bill Nye (@BillNye) January 29, 2018
and a strong interest in the future of space exploration. My attendance tomorrow should not be interpreted as an endorsement of this administration, or of Congressman Bridenstine's nomination, or seen as an acceptance of the recent attacks on science and the scientific community.— Bill Nye (@BillNye) January 29, 2018
Historically, the Space Program has brought Americans together, and during his address, I hope to hear the President's plans to continue exploring the space frontier.— Bill Nye (@BillNye) January 29, 2018
But the organization 500 Women Scientists isn't buying it.
In a new blog post on Scientific American's website, the organization of female scientists has harshly condemned Nye's decision, declaring that the Science Guy "does not speak for us" and "does not speak for science."
In the article, the organization argues that by attending the event, Nye is tacitly endorsing Trump's policies and is putting "his own personal brand over the interests of the scientific community at large."
As 500 Women Scientists points out, nominee Jim Bridenstine has refused to state that climate change is driven by human activity, and he has introduced legislation to remove Earth sciences from NASA's scientific mission altogether. Plus, Bridenstine has actively "worked to undermine civil rights," pushing for stricter immigration, a ban on gay marriage and the end of the Department of Education. Not exactly what you would call "standing up for science."
"As scientists, we cannot stand by while Nye lends our community's credibility to a man who would undermine the United States' most prominent science agency," the organization wrote in the blog post.
"And we cannot stand by while Nye uses his public persona as a science entertainer to support an administration that is expressly xenophobic, homophobic, misogynistic, racist, ableist, and anti-science."
Nye, however, has defended his decision. He argues that Bridenstine and he have a "enjoyed a productive working relationship."
Nye claims that Bridenstine has changed his mind on anthropogenic climate change and is willing to work with the scientific community.
"During his recent nomination hearing, Congressman Bridenstine said that he now accepts climate change and that humans are playing a role in it," Nye told Quartz in a statement.
"He's changed his mind, and in science that's generally a good thing. I am hopeful that others will see the wisdom in the Congressman's evolving view and follow suit. Let's embrace the science and rise to the challenge of climate change."
Still, it's not just 500 Women Scientists that finds Nye's decision hard to swallow. A group of die-hard Bill Nye fans have started a petition to urge the Science Guy to stay away from the State of the Union and all that it represents.
"Bill, please be the Science Guy, not the Bigoted Climate Denial Guy. Cancel your plans to attend Trump's State of the Union as Rep. Bridenstine's guest," the petition argues.
Already, the petition has exceeded its goal of 35,000 signatures.
The Planetary Society, of which Bill Nye is CEO, has said it anticipated Nye's decision would cause controversy. Far from enabling anti-science policies, the organization sees the invitiation as an opportunity to make science bipartisan once again.
"Space exploration is one of the few areas of politics that still offers significant opportunities for bipartisan rapprochement. A shared passion for space can lay the groundwork for a relationship between individuals of very different political beliefs," the society wrote on their website.
"The current lack of mutual trust between the parties has been identified as one of the threats to a functioning democracy, and space provides a rare opportunity to try and reverse that trend."
Still, it is difficult for the scientific community to be bipartisan when one party is so clearly undermining science and science-based policymaking.
"The scientific process, in many ways, is radically optimistic," the Planetary Society argued.
"It is in that optimistic spirit of science that we support Bill's presence at the State of the Union address: to engage where possible, to disagree when necessary, and to attempt to change the world for the better."
But is that optimism radical or unfounded?
Since taking office, President Trump has not only denied human-caused climate change multiple times, he has removed the U.S. from the Paris climate accord and nominated several climate deniers to prominent positions in the federal government.
Trump may have claimed he wants to put U.S. astronauts back on the moon, but his 2018 budget proposal says otherwise. The proposal would have gutted several prominent scientific institutions, and decreased NASA's funding by roughly $200 million.
Not to mention all of the times the Trump administration has silenced science in the past year.
According to the Silencing Science Tracker, which tallies all the cuts to science agencies, all of the vacant science positions and all of the censorship of science data, the Trump administration has censored or stifled science nearly 100 times since the inauguration.
"At a time when our ability to do science and our ability to live freely are both under threat, our public champions and our institutions must do better," the Scientific American blog post concluded.