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Bill Nye Drops the Ball on DeflateGate

The one person who really looks bad in the whole DeflateGate scandal is Bill Nye.
No matter how you feel about Bill Belichick, Tom Brady, and the Patriots, one good thing that has come out of the DeflateGate scandal has been a national discussion of the ideal gas law, thermodynamics, and air pressure. When is the last time you heard anybody outside a high school or college science class bring up PV=nRT?

And people aren't just discussing it, they're passionately arguing it, doing experiments, making calculations - it's amazing. Then along comes Bill Nye to throw some icy cold anti-intellectual water on the issue.

I never could before have imagined Bill Nye being anti-intellectual, but here's the proof. See the portion beginning at 43 seconds in.

Nye is critiquing Belichick's, admittedly somewhat amateurish, attempt to scientifically explain how the balls could have started at a regulation minimum 12.5 psi when checked by the officials, but later end up at lower pressures on the field.

Whether you believe Belicheck or not, one statement in the above video is patently, totally, completely, unabashedly, embarrassingly false. It's Nye's claim that, " . . . to really change the pressure in the ball, you need one of these - the inflation needle."

In one flip comment, Nye undermines the cool conversation we've all been having while totally discounting a whole lot of physics. The fact is you can change the relative pressure in the ball by changing the temperature of the gas inside, by changing the properties of the the material the ball is made of (getting it wet and potentially making it more stretchy, perhaps), and changing the pressure of the atmosphere outside the ball (can you say "barometer," Mr. Nye?), or by changing the shape of the ball (as might happen when 300+ pound offensive players fall on it time and time again, or after the spiking that followed a whole mess of touchdowns).

It's possible that none of these factors explain away DeflateGate, but to unimaginatively dismiss them the way Nye did utterly undermines his cred as a science educator. Really?!?!? All it takes for him to go totally anti-science on us is to be a fan of the Seahawks?

Please, Mr. Nye, step back, think about what you did for a moment, and then  try again.


  1. completely agree. It was totally disappointing, as was deGrasse Tyson.
    Please, guys, science is about experiments.

  2. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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  8. Looks like you don't know a lot of physics/thermodynamics.

    "The fact is you can change the relative pressure in the ball by [...] changing the properties of the the material the ball is made of (getting it wet and potentially making it more stretchy, perhaps),..."

    This is incomprehensible gobbledy-gook, not scientific explanation. PV = nRT. There you have it. All you have seemingly said is that you can change pressure by changing volume, but in a way that is rather off-the-cuff and hypothetical.

    Ummmm, talk about not understanding the ideal gas law. The whole point is that by looking at pressure, volume, and temperature (and assuming the ideal gas law is a good approximation for football use), you can determine the quantity n. Which is what is at issue here. Did or did not the Patriots add or take air out between measurement and use. Which is pretty much what Nye said, if not so elegantly.

    But your idea that changing the skin elasticity is going to affect pressure significantly is unsubstantiated hand-waving if not nonsense. Not to mention, if you're concerned about how easy it is to grip the ball, then skin elasticity is one of the PRIMARY things that should concern you, not the secondary effects on pressure.

    And did anyone ever tell you that you have the finest sock-puppets posting slobbery ass kisses in essentially every comment here?

    1. Do you even math, bro? Try rearranging the equation

      => P=nRT/V
      => P is inversely proportional to V
      => increasing the volume, say by deforming and abusing the ball, will decrease the pressure, yo

  9. It's crazy how many people make egregiously fallacious arguments. I realize this is going to be overkill but sometimes it's worth showing how bad/lazy/confused/incorrect/etc etc an argument is, even if it takes being a tedious jerk. Too many times people make stupid logical mistakes when arguing and someone has to point them out.

    Here is what Nye said:
    " . . . to really change the pressure in the ball, you need one of these - the inflation needle."

    Now, the writer even described this comment as flip, a derivative of flippant, which basically means to be approach a subject with a perceived (obviously in this case, perceived by the writer) inappropriate level of serious, sardonically commenting on the subject. So, he basically says, Bill Nye not treating this but that comment is wrong! If he wasn't being serious, what the does it matter if he was wrong? He wasn't being serious!

    But that's not even close to the logical error. Watch the video where Nye says this quote and see the context in which he delivers the statement. Then, look at the statement again. When he says "to really change the pressure in a ball" he's obviously saying that to change the ball pressure in a meaningful way, beyond what any meteorological event could accomplish, "you will need one of these - an inflation needle." In the he entire video up to that point, he talks about how it's unreasonable to assume any of the things this writer goes on to mention could affect the ball beyond the margin, beyond what the change the balls experienced. It's as if the writer didn't watch the video at all. Now, I am not saying that Nye is correct, that doesn't matter in this. He could be wrong that only an inflation needle affect a ball to the degree in which it changed but that's not what the writer argues. And it all rests on the word "changed."

    See, when Bye says change, he is using it in the context he setup; the context tells you that the change he is referring to is that amount which the actual footballs changed. The writer is talking about ANY change. He even qualifies his change by calling it relative change. Now, I believe this to be the incorrect word, as all change is relative; if something is different, it can only be different in relation to what it was before so... I would say what the writer meant was maybe marginal, as in you can change the marginal pressure. But, basically, he says the same thing twice, which isn't really pertinent but it is stupid, so...

    Anyway, yes, there are factors that can change the balls pressure that aren't an inflation needle. But the writer's argument is that Nye was saying that this wasn't true. The fact is, Nye made it clear that ball pressures can be affected by many things but to get the DEGREE OF CHANGE (which is obviously what he meant when he said change) you would need an "inflation needle", ie human intervention. Whether this is true or not is not of consequence; this guy obviously missed a reading comprehension test somewhere, along with 90% of Americans. Good night and good luck.

  10. You took a very long walk to defend Bill Nye. The fact is, he said you need an inflation needle to change the pressure in a football. And that is simply wrong.


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