Now, Nye finds himself in the crosshairs of that same community after many say he spent Tuesday night hobnobbing with the enemy: Sitting next to Trump's pick to head NASA at the State of the Union address.
The conflict has been brewing for weeks, since the Planetary Society announced that Nye, its CEO, had accepted an invitation to attend the speech with Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-Okla.), whom Trump tapped to lead NASA in September.
“When a congressman and current nominee for NASA Administrator asks you to be his guest at the State of the Union address in Washington, D.C., how do you respond?” the society said in making the announcement. “For us, the answer was easy. Yes, Bill would be there.”
What has not been easy has been dealing with the fallout from a decision that has angered a vocal group of people in the scientific community.
The group 500 Women Scientists wrote in an editorial in Scientific American that Nye's presence lent credibility to Bridenstine and, ostensibly, to Trump, despite viewpoints some say are anti-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. 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.
Even before he entered the Capitol, Nye was engaged in damage control:
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
The U.S. Space Program has long been a source of American technical achievement, a symbol of our innovative spirit, and a source of national pride. There are extraordinary opportunities for our country, and for all humanity, in the continued exploration of space.— 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
Casey Dreier, director of space policy for the Planetary Society, defended Nye in a post on the society's page. He said Nye's attendance at the State of the Union does not endorse Bridenstine's opinions or nomination to head NASA. The society is “committed to working with whoever serves in that position,” he wrote.
“Space exploration is one of the few areas of politics that still offers significant opportunities for bipartisan rapprochement,” Dreier wrote. “A shared passion for space can lay the groundwork for a relationship between individuals of very different political beliefs.”
Dreier also said some people were misrepresenting Bridenstine's stances, particularly the ones on climate change.
As The Post's Christian Davenport wrote, the congressman walked a fine line on the issue during his confirmation hearing.
During the hearing, Bridenstine said he “absolutely” believes in climate change, that it is already having devastating effects and that humans contribute to it. But he demurred when asked whether human activity was the leading cause, saying more study was needed. In response to questions, he vowed to protect the integrity of NASA’s research, and to keep it an “apolitical” organization that should be driven by science, not politics.
At a time when no one here in Washington seems to want to reach out and talk to people with different opinions so as to seek common ground and enable collaboration Jim Bridenstine and Bill Nye are. And the net result? The #stopbridenstine crowd complains. pic.twitter.com/p4M0hY5eZi— NASA Watch (@NASAWatch) January 30, 2018
As Davenport wrote, “a growing chorus of opponents” has blasted Bridenstine since his nomination, including fellow house members who say his beliefs — notably opposition to same-sex marriage and the Violence Against Women Act — mean that he is out of step with the mores of NASA.
But he has also garnered the support of industry groups such as the Commercial Spaceflight Federation and of Buzz Aldrin, the second man to walk on the moon.