I just posted a status update to my Facebook page that said, “Bill Nye (‘The Science Guy’) was booed offstage recently while delivering a lecture in Waco, Texas for contradicting the Bible by saying that the moon does not have a light of its own but reflects light from the sun.“
It was a bit of a dirty trick I’m afraid because I basically just wanted to see the reactions that it generated. Before I go into any detail about this, I’m going to let it cook for a while on my Facebook page.
Well, hell. As experiments go, this one was pretty much a bust. Before the ink had dried on my Facebook screen (or however it works) some of my liberal friends had jumped all over it with their high-brow, smarty-pants fact checking and ruined it.
So why did this catch my attention to begin with? Because it has all the elements of the kind of manufactured outrage stories the far right puts out all the time, but this time it had a liberal slant. Here’s how these stories work:
- Start with a kernel of truth. Bill Nye did give a lecture in Waco. He did say that the moon has no light of its own but merely reflects light from the sun. Some people were offended and walked out.
- Appeal to the worst kind of stereotypes, e.g., liberals are just socialists wanting government handouts or gun control advocates want to take away all our guns. This story appealed to the image of Waco as a hotbed of Christian, fundamentalist, knuckle-draggers.
- Edit out any nuance. There is nothing in the Internet versions of the story that give any context leading up to the incident. I know that Bill Nye is passionate about the importance of science in today’s world and can be dismissive of religious ideology that hinders scientific advancement. My guess is that those who were offended enough by the seemingly trivial moon comment were pretty well primed by his previous comments by that point.
- Exaggerate the negative elements. Was Nye actually booed for his comment? Tim Woods, who reported the original story, described the reaction as more of a “low murmur” among a few in the audience.
- Add in a conspiracy. Think Atheist claimed that the Waco Tribune “mysteriously pulled its story from the online version, presumably to avoid further embarrassment.” There is nothing mysterious about it. Almost all online newspapers archive their stories once they reach a certain age, and this one dates back to 2006, so it was “pulled” just like every other story from that period.
- Throw in a lie or two just to gin up the outrage. As long as you are going to make the story juicier by describing some grumbling as booing, go ahead and make it delicious by saying that he was booed offstage.
This is typical of the kind of stories I see every day coming from the far right. This one is only noteworthy because it slants left. My hope in all this was that some of my conservative friends who regularly repost right wing versions of this story would see what they looked like from the other side.