While by now Bill Nye’s absurd video, “Can We Stop Telling Women What to Do With Their Bodies?” has been pretty much reduced to ashes, there is one point I haven’t seen anyone mention yet. There is precious little science in Nye’s random ravings, but what tiny amount of science he uses can only be called “science” in the way that an orc can be called an elf – by virtue of having tortured and ruined something good to make it a bizarre and repulsive shadow of its former self.
My interest today is in Nye’s opening statement: “Many, many, many, many more hundreds of eggs are fertilized than become humans.”
Let’s set aside the fact that Nye probably didn’t say what he intended to say, and probably meant, “Many hundreds of times more eggs are fertilized than become humans.” (Notice how adding the word “times” in there helps?) But let’s assume that Nye merely misspoke, and that he is actually intending to describe the ratio of fertilized eggs to those that implant and lead to birth, which seems more pertinent to his point. Let’s even set aside the fact that fertilized eggs really are human beings for a second. There’s no doubt that Nye’s claim sounds scientific, because he says things like, “science” and words like “fertilization” and “implantation,” and appears to even use numbers like “hundreds.”
Actually, it’s this “many hundreds” that makes Nye’s statement less a deliverance of the science we all know and love, and more a grotesque and desperate characterization from a man woefully out of his depth on the subject and yet still trying to be relevant.
Let’s do a little “back of the envelope” math and work the scientific method, shall we? Bill Nye claims (or at least apparently intends to claim) that the ratio of fertilized eggs to fertilized and implanted eggs is “many, many, many hundreds” to one. Now, I don’t know how exactly he’s quantifying the word “many”, but even if he’s using the bonehead counting scheme that goes “1, 2, many”, he still probably means at least a ratio of 300:1. However, let’s just round way, way down. Let’s be conservative and suppose that he means a ratio of only 100:1.
Those numbers would imply that, on average, a non-sterile, sexually active woman who was not using any form of contraception could go over 8 years and 4 months without getting pregnant.
Let me repeat that: If Nye’s numbers were accurate, a non-sterile, sexually active woman who was not on birth control could expect, on average, to go over 8 years and 4 months without getting pregnant.
How do I get those numbers? It’s pretty simple, actually. If the ratio of fertilized eggs to implanted blastocysts was 100:1, then that means that the probability of any particular fertilized egg implanting is 1%. Let us make the generous assumption that every single egg released is fertilized. Since generally one egg is released every month, implantation (pregnancy) would have a time expectation value of 100 months. That’s 8 years and 4 months.
Of course, since not every egg is fertilized, the actual number of pregnancies would be less than this. And, of course at least 10 – 20 percent of pregnancies end in spontaneous abortions, meaning that we could expect that only every 9 years and 3 months to 10 years and 1 month would we actually see a pregnancy carried to term. Now you know why I wanted to round that ratio poor Bill gave us way, way down. Because, if the ratio were 300:1, a fertile woman could literally have sex for her entire child-bearing years, from puberty to menopause, and expect to get pregnant only once.
This is where we see the scientific method come in as part of hypothesis testing:
Hypothesis: Many hundreds of times more eggs are fertilized than implant.
Observational consequence of hypothesis: The average fertile, sexually active woman should only get pregnant every 9 or 10 years, if not longer, without contraception.
Observation: The average fertile, sexually active woman takes much less than 9 or 10 years to get pregnant.
Conclusion: Bill Nye doesn’t know much about the birds and the bees.
In case these numbers aren’t really clicking with you, or aren’t obviously completely contrary to observation *even given the number of infertile women, women using contraception, and women having abortions*, then I encourage you to try this simple experiment: tell your husband or wife you no longer want to use any form of birth control, because of Bill Nye’s “science”, “facts”, and “research.” (Sadly, this blog is not endorsed by the Catholic Church.)
Are more eggs fertilized than implant? Sure. The actual ratio is something like 4 or 5 to 1. Is that a case against the pro-life position? Not at all. But let’s just admit it: What Bill Nye is sharing isn’t science. It’s a gross distortion of the facts to pursue a political agenda by giving it the veneer of science. Isn’t that what liberals accuse conservatives of doing?