Bill Nye 'The Science Guy' provides critical thinking on the pandemic

Bill Nye 'The Science Guy' provides critical thinking on the pandemic

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Since early March, national arts reporter Geoff Edgers has been grounded by the coronavirus. So he's launched an Instagram Live show from his barn in Concord, Mass.

Every Friday afternoon and on most Tuesdays, Edgers hosts an hour-long interview show he calls "Stuck With Geoff," with whoever will take his calls. So far, that has included comedian Tiffany Haddish, television journalist Katie Couric, actress Pamela Adlon and musician David Byrne.

Recently, Edgers chatted with Bill Nye "The Science Guy," whose "Science Rules!" podcast has launched a twice weekly coronavirus series. Here are a few excerpts from their conversation.

Q: Can you speak to the controversy about the effectiveness of masks?

A: Intuitively, if both people - that is to say, the infector or infectrix and the infectee - are both wearing masks, you've got to think you're coming out ahead. The other thing is it's just so-called awareness when you're wearing a mask.

Q: Yes, it's a signal to others that you take this seriously and that you are a serious person and you care about them.

A: Yeah. Well, the other thing that's really important for people to understand is that it's not about you. When you meet people who are against vaccinations, they're missing a fundamental point. It's not that a person actually does not have a right to not get vaccinated. Actually, because I have rights when you don't get vaccinated. When you don't get vaccinated, you become a petri dish for the mutation of a virus or bacterium that can go and infect me. And the analog to this is that you are not allowed to dump your garbage on my porch in front of my front door. We have rules against that. And so in the same way, we have rules. It's a very serious thing when people don't get vaccinated.

Q: As I heard on your podcast, we're all in it together. One of your guests, Michael Osterholm (the director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota), said we're in a civil war. The idea that there are two parts of the country. And one part believes one thing and one part believes another.

A: He used the expression guardrails. If you're on a street, on a highway, you can bounce off the left one or the right one. In mathematics, we might say boundary conditions. Or if you're just a regular person, you would say there are two extremes. The first is everybody shut down all the time for the next year and a half, in some places in China. The other extreme is "OK, everybody, let's go to the beach, party on, let's just see what happens." And neither of those extremes are probably in anybody's best interest. With the first one, everybody's going to go out of business. Who's going to farm? Who's going to deliver the food? What's going to happen? And the other extreme, everybody goes to the beach and gets sick and let's see what happens.

Each of us has to decide how much risk we're going to take. And I really recommend you follow the guidelines, because the problem is if too many of us get sick too fast, we're just not set up to have that many people get sick that fast.

Q: It's very scary. And, you know, we talk about how everyone is holding out for the vaccine. "Oh, we'll just get the vaccine, 12 to 18 months." But, you know, that's not science. Hope is not science. And when you say that 60 percent of us are going to get this, I find that terrifying.

A: Oh, no. That's a good thing, because everybody's going to have to get antibodies eventually. So what you want to do is do it in a managed fashion. Another idea along with vaccines, where you get a shot and your body develops antibodies, is therapeutics, where you would give people a big dose of antiviral drugs, things that suppress the virus. So you could, in other words, in the same way you live through the common cold, you would live through the coronavirus, managing it with therapeutics, with these other style of drugs. This would enable us over the next couple years to get many, many, many people immune. Then you would get to this mythic thing - people find this word very troubling, but it's kind of cool - herd immunity, where the herd, the herd of humans has so many immune people that the likelihood that you'll run across an infected person gets really low.

Q: Children everywhere look up to you. I'm wondering if you've thought about how we translate this or explain it to our children.

A: I say be honest with kids. I also discourage anthropomorphizing the virus, making the virus mean, making the virus have intent like a virus has a plan. Everybody loves this word agency. The virus doesn't have agency. It doesn't make agent-like decisions. It's just we're all in this together. Viruses, germs. And as thoughtful animals who understand science, we have discovered what's going on with these germs and viruses and how we can protect ourselves. And this gets into the mythic expression, wash your hands, because one of the greatest things you can show people is soap. Soap is freaking amazing to me.

Q: I have always been a fan of soap.

A: One end of the soap molecule sticks to the virus. The other end sticks to the water. It's amazing.

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