Bill Nye Science Guy to Debate GOP Rep Gohmert on Gravity

(By Juan Cole)


David Gregory’s Meet the Press today hosted a debate between Bill Nye the Science Guy and Texas Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX) on whether gravity is just a theory.

“Sure,” Gohmert said, “things fall down all the time. But that doesn’t mean gravity is a law. Look at the Leaning Tower of Pisa. It’s still there after hundreds of years. Things don’t always fall down.”

Nye pointed out that Isaac Newton discovered the law of gravity in the 17th century and it is settled science.

Gohmert challenged Nye’s certainty. “The cultists who tout science always speak as though we know for sure that scientific discoveries are true. Gravity has only been theorized for a couple hundred years. It’s too early to tell. How much money do they want us to waste on suspension bridges and other expensive technology aimed at keeping things from falling down, on the basis of a theory?”

Nye tore off his bow-tie and began chewing on it in frustration.

“Wasn’t it an apple that hit Newton on the head?” Gohmert asked. “Well, I’ve read the Bible and I know that an apple was used to tempt Eve. Maybe the Serpent was just tempting Newton with a secular humanist theory.”

Nye said, “What?”

“Besides,” Gohmert went on, “we all saw that movie ‘Gravity.’ Obviously there’s no gravity in outer space. So if the theory doesn’t work everywhere, there must be something wrong with it.”

“The law of gravity says,” Nye replied, “that ‘any two bodies in the universe attract each other with a force that is directly proportional to the product of their masses and inversely proportional to the square of the distance between them.’ Gravity works in deep outer space, it is just that bodies there are distant from the earth. And in ‘Gravity’ they were just falling around the earth, in the grip of its gravity.”

Moderator David Gregory smirked. “That’s a lot of verbiage there, Bill. If you can’t explain something clearly, maybe it’s because there’s something wrong with the theory.”

Gohmert angrily interrupted Gregory. “Besides, we all know that Muslims believe in gravity. That should make you suspicious of it, right there.”

Nye turned to Gregory. “How can you call yourself a journalist? This is a carnival with a bearded lady exhibit!”

Gregory shrugged. “Next you’ll be saying Glenn Greenwald is a journalist. I am not an activist. I don’t know whether gravity is universal. I let both sides tell their story.”

“That’s not a ‘side’! He’s just mouthing nonsense! It doesn’t even make any sense.”

Gohmert pounded the table. “This whole gravity thing is just a way for scientists to get taxpayers’ hard-won money away from them. NASA wouldn’t get all that funding for rocket fuel if people realized that ‘gravity’ is just a theory.”

Gregory turned to the camera and smiled. “There you have it, folks. Next week on ‘Meet the Press:’ A quarter of Americans think the sun goes around the earth. Could they be right? To explain, we’ll be joined by a homeless man who says he is possessed by the spirit of the ancient astronomer Ptolemy.”


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29 Responses

  1. Gregory shrugged….”Next you’ll say Greenwald is a journalist.:”
    That hit the target.
    Here is Gohmert explaining “Terrorist babies.”

    “And it appeared they would have young women who became pregnant, would get them into the United States to have a baby. They wouldn’t even have to pay anything for the baby. And then they would return back where they could be raised and coddled as future terrorists.

    And then, one day, 20, 30 years down the road, they could be sent in to help destroy our way of life, because they figured out how stupid we are being in this country.”

  2. “Nye turned to Gregory. ‘How can you call yourself a journalist? This is a carnival with a bearded lady exhibit!'”

    You described perfectly what Meet The Press has become with David Gregory, who commits journalism malpractice every week. At his Esquire political blog, Charles Pierce calls MTP “Disco Dave’s Disco Dance Party.”

    Sadly, the offerings on ABC and CBS are just as offensive. Fortunately, there’s Melissa Harris-Perry on MSNBC each weekend.

    • Gregory and the other hosts on television are not there to practice journalism. They are there to facilitate the dissemination of Establishment propaganda, and that includes MSNBC. Consider this from Mondoweiss: “Liberal MSNBC host (Melissa Harris-Perry) says Snowden thinks he’s in a Spielberg movie and Greenwald is a ‘jerk’” – link to

  3. Hilarious and really well-written, but PLEASE fix the description of weightlessness in orbit. It’s the fact of being in orbit (hence “constantly in free fall”), not of being far from the Earth, that gives the sensation of weightlessness. Objects in orbit aren’t far enough from Earth for its gravitational pull to be substantially diminished. The radius of the Earth is over 6000 kilometers. The ISS is only about 400 kilometers above the surface. 1/6000^2 and 1/6400^2 aren’t all that different.

      • In that case, my comment was perhaps stylistic rather than scientific; it read to me like “Nye” was responding directly to the claim that in “Gravity” it appears as though gravity doesn’t operate off the surface of the Earth. I guess in these debates it’s never quite clear what point(?) one should be arguing against. Thanks for the revision, and the fine writing overall!

        • Dr. Nye might have had a more concise reply to the effect that “Gravity was why they kept going around the Earth, instead of just floating off soewhere. Gravity was why George Clooney and the Chinese space station were ultimately pulled down into the atmosphere.”

  4. Is this real, or something out of “The Onion”? Not that we Brits have anything to feel superior about. A few days ago BBC Radio’s flagship news and current affairs show had a climate change “debate” involving a leading scientist vs – wait for it – Lord Lawson, former Chancellor of the Exchequer (= Finance Secretary) who, besides having no scientific qualifications, is these days little more than a paid mouthpiece for the fossil fuel industry.

      • Juan, Liked your article, even plugged it on my little blog: “Juan Cole’s post was very funny. And sad. And scary. Just like clowns! Perhaps the funniest and saddest and scariest part of it was that he had to clearly label it as “satire.” It is becoming more and more impossible to tell what is a joke these days. ” – If you’ve got a second you can check out Mr Gregory’s new suit at :)

  5. The sad thing is that I could well imagine both the debate and the David Gregory close-out tag line actually happening…it must be time for the Flat Earth Society to make a media comeback.

  6. Satire isn’t needed on the topic of willful scientific ignorance, the reality is ridiculous enough.

  7. Yeah I saw that episode with Gomert and Nye. It wasn’t nearly as good though as the debate Gregory hosted the week before between Jesus and Tom Perkins asking the question, “Should we show compassion towards the dispossessed, or hold them down firmly on the ground while billionaires urinate on them?” My favorite part was when Jesus said it was easier for the camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. Perkins accused Jesus of class warfare and Gregory agreed that we would tear the country apart with such inflammatory discourse; Gregory then asked Jesus to tone it down with Perkins barking over him as he demanded a retraction and called Jesus a Stalinist.

    Perkins then regaled Jesus with a lecture over the supreme justice and fairness of the Roman political and social system under which he lived, instructing him that the arrogance of the Roman senatorial class, including their frequent pillaging of provinces, was justified since they were the Empire’s job creators. When Jesus pointed out that many worked under the lash without pay until they suffered a lingering nasty death, Perkins denied this was in any way damaging to the stability of the empire, despite recent major rebellions in Sicily and Italy (led by Spartacus), while Gregory sat complacently by without challenging any of Perkins’ assertions or putting them in their larger contexts.

    “They just need to work harder in those silver mines and quarries and pull themselves up by their sandal straps”, Perkins continued. When Jesus pointed out most were unshod and went barefoot, Gregory accused Jesus of going off point, prostrated himself at the feet of Perkins, and begged forgiveness for his lack of fairness to the multi-billionaire. Perkins made an odd face as Gregory drooled while kissing the crimson stripe of his toga praetexta. The debate ended with Perkins washing his hands in a silver bowl after having his lictors haul Jesus off to an uncertain fate. “There’s no notion of social justice so deep that it can’t be beaten out of a man with a few rods and an ax”, Perkins was caught to say on an open mic.

    Next up, an exclusive interview with anarchist Rand Paul arguing that guvmint telling us which side of the road to drive on is tantamount to tyranny, with Dancing Dave asking the vital question, “Attila the Hun type tyranny or Caligula type tyranny?”

  8. At the heart of the debate mechanism is that the right wing is intent on defining and redifining (i.e. owning) the terms. I looked for that in this satire (funny, by the way) but didn’t see it. A “theory” in common parlance is indeed, “just” some opinion. The common parlance usage doesn’t even come up to the scientific definition of:
    1) hypothesis – a formal speculation with a means of testing it
    2) theory – a well tested and (so far) the absolute best explanation available
    Theories are always, in science, challengeable, as a means to assure us that we are always trying to get the best explanations for x, y and z based on the latest knowledge.
    That is real faith, the faith in the method to keep proving or improving our knowledge.

    Faith, as we usually think of it, hasn’t the faith in itself, to challenge its own tenets. That is because these are merely statements, claims, without verifiable evidence.

    In other words, the only way faith can participate in any such debates is to cheat, and lie and to create rules which allow only these superstitious and primitive claims. When you base all your claims on lies, that is all you have.

  9. Satire it may be (and it is very good!), but, David Gregory aside, there are all too many politicians (and voters!) who fit the image of Rep. Louie Gohmert. Think of all the climate-change deniers, all of the creationists and intelligent-designers who don’t believe that evolution is settled theory, all the conspiracy theorists who don’t believe the US landed a man on the moon in 1969, and on it goes. These rubes don’t know the difference between theory and hypothesis.

    Churchill said: “Democracy is the worst form of government, except all other forms that have been tried from time to time.” I agree with him that democracy, warts and all, is best, in spite of the fact that one must accept the ignorant along with the intelligent. But sometimes I long for rule by a benevolent philosopher-king, without the rabble interfering with settled science and inserting their crackpot ideas into school text books.

  10. On a side thought, I have wondered why religious literalists have not come out against probability. After all, probability does not take into account the Will of god. The reliability of probability is contrary to the existence of an interventionist god.

    • The possibility of randomness is sometimes viewed as necessary for the existence of free will, so can be viewed as pro-Christian if one really likes. Look up the free will theorem.

  11. During his tour at the Royal Mint, Newton embezzled enough money to set up a fund to finance “physics” research worldwide. Edmond Halley was the first trustee. He was thus able to keep alive belief in the existence of gravity, even after his death. By controlling the grants to researchers, the fund was able to steer all research along Newtonian lines and suppress competing theories. The scheme fell apart late in the 20th Century because the money was invested in Barings Bank, and disappeared when the bank collapsed in 1995. True story.

    • so, Edmund,
      when the funding dried up,
      and if the funding was keeping the theory of gravity alive,

      did the “law of gravity” get overturned ?
      How come I’m not floating up into the sky with no gravity (or gravitas) to keep me grounded ?

      • Airplanes, bugs, birds and balloons fly. If gravity really existed that would not be the case. But no, the establish refuses to Teach the Controversy (that I’ve just made up out of nothing).

    • “Why does asparagus grow up, and not down?” You clearly have no knowledge of elementary vegetables, Mr. Hansen. Asparagus, like most plants, grows up AND down. Roots, ya know.

  12. Juan, I first read it as fact, and was not even surprised since Gohmert is almost beyond parody. Thanks!

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