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April 26, 2010 2:06 PM   Subscribe

In 2001, Marc Bertrand was tasked by the National Film Board of Canada with creating 26 one-minute films about science. The only constraints were that he had to use both archival footage and animation. The result was Science Please!

And because the NFB is awesome, you can watch all 26 of them online: Part 1 | Part 2 | Or, in French

The films are fast and frenetic, utilizing a wide range of animation styles as Bertrand drew from every corner of the NFB's talented stable of animators. In a recent interview (translated from the French) Bertrand looked back fondly on his time working on "Science Please!" and announced that, after a nearly ten year delay, he is working on another series of science films for kids.

Previously: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 (because now we know)
posted by 256 (17 comments total) 36 users marked this as a favorite

wow. pretty good. except for one tiny thing. almost every fact here is totally, or at least partially incorrect. shall we make a list?

1) "nothing in the universe would exist if it wasn't for the atom!"
actually, less than 5% of the contents of the universe is made of atoms...dark matter or dark energy ring a bell?

2) 'each speck of dust is made of thousands of billions of atoms'
probably a bit more than that actually...

3)"if the nucleus was the size of a raspberry, the electron orbits would be bigger than the titanic"
bigger. by an order of magnitude or two. also, they dont 'orbit.' orbitals? anyone? nope?

4)'only 92 kinds of atoms make up all the kinds of atoms that exist'

and that's just in the first 30 seconds of this. Appalling. (feel free to continue the list, i can't watch any more)
posted by sexyrobot at 2:35 PM on April 26, 2010

That's because magnets are magic.
posted by msbutah at 2:45 PM on April 26, 2010

Oh cool, Science! Like the Anamorphic Fire Illusion.
posted by netbros at 2:53 PM on April 26, 2010

Scientific American did the same kind of thing. But the way the world is now, who has a minute for science? Can they cut it down to just a few seconds, because I have better things to do than learn about the universe.
posted by twoleftfeet at 2:56 PM on April 26, 2010 [1 favorite]

"Like the more energy. like the less stable the matter dude."

HA! So, I'm more stable than all those people who call me lazy! Right? RIGHT???
posted by Some1 at 3:21 PM on April 26, 2010

"1) "nothing in the universe would exist if it wasn't for the atom!"
actually, less than 5% of the contents of the universe is made of atoms...dark matter or dark energy ring a bell?"

possibly. but then again: is time slowng down?

dislcaimer: IANAP.
posted by marienbad at 4:26 PM on April 26, 2010

I'd hate to see sexyrobot's one minute film about the atom.

"Hey kids, let's talk about atoms! An atom is a collection of protons and neutrons surrounded by a probabilistic cloud of electrons. Unless we're talking about Hydrogen-1 or the Hydrogen Ion, but don't worry about that for now. Also, don't worry what 'probabilistic' means, we'll get back to that later. Anyway! We don't know where the electrons are exactly, but we can kind of guess using a mathematical model called-- oops, looks like we're out of time."
posted by 256 at 4:59 PM on April 26, 2010 [9 favorites]

I didn't know soap worked like that. Neat.
posted by i_have_a_computer at 5:09 PM on April 26, 2010

posted by tarantula at 6:14 PM on April 26, 2010

almost every fact here is totally, or at least partially incorrect.

Isn't that always the case with science eductation? It seemed every year in chemistry I got told that last year's model was just an approximation, and that this year they'd really tell you what's going on.
posted by pompomtom at 6:44 PM on April 26, 2010

That keeps going, pompomtom. The nonrelativistic quantum mechanics plus electromagnetism that underlies the hydrogen atom is just an approximation of quantum electrodynamics; QED itself is just an approximation of part of the standard model that contains the weak and strong nuclear forces as well; and the standard model itself is just an approximation of some higher energy theory (details to be determined).

I used to get pretty upset about this, but the thing is that it doesn't matter. All physics is an approximation of some more accurate model, but we only ever test the approximation. As long as we stay within the regime of applicability (that is, as long as we don't try to understand the inner workings of an atom by using the orbit model) everything's fine.

When you need a better model is when you do care about the corrections-- for example when you want to understand the various wavelengths emitted by a hydrogen atom, you need to do quantum mechanics and add e.g. relativistic corrections. But before you care about such details, electrons in orbit around a nucleus isn't such a bad model, really.

Certainly at the level of 60 seconds we can't expect accuracy, and perfect accuracy isn't the point of these vignettes anyhow; plus, perfect accuracy is just not achievable even if you had your whole lifetime to find it. (Modulo getting some actual working "theory of everything"; and even that wouldn't work because plenty of interesting phenomena happen not just at high energy, but when you stick bunches of complicated things all together; in other words, even if we someday understand what happens to small numbers of particles/strings at any energy, that won't mean we know all of physics!)

That having been said, there are two videos in here where I'd complain about the accuracy: wheels, which work only *because* of friction (they don't remove it!), and the moon video (actually the moon is more or less locked gravitationally such that we only ever see one side; a different amount of that side is lit up, but we're really only looking at one face of the moon, always).

And I'm annoyed at those two because I think the inaccuracies matter for a description on that level. That is, it is important even for the non-scientist that wheels need friction to work; you wouldn't wear roller skates on an ice rink, would you? Similarly, if we were looking at a different face of the moon, we'd know it; instead, we always see the same surface structures on the moon.
posted by nat at 7:38 PM on April 26, 2010 [1 favorite]

I really wanted to like this but I just couldn't. The target audience of nine-year-olds might be entertained by these clips, I don't know, but they're sure not learning much from 'em. Sixty seconds of WACKY STOCK FOOTAGE and CRRRRAZY CARTOONS illustrating a bunch of marginally-related trivia and half-incorrect facts about a given subject is not a good way to get kids excited in science. It does, however, sound like a good way to teach them that science is just like any other loud and shiny toy with which they can play for a while until tossing it aside when something else comes along.
posted by xbonesgt at 7:53 PM on April 26, 2010

possibly. but then again: is time slowng down?

possibly, but i would need a more authoritative source than an article that inlcudes a big picture of a bible, a mention of the 'end of time' from revelations and a link to a story about an "actual haunted neighborhood"...

sorry if i came off as super-bitchy earlier, but this kind of crap makes me very angry. just because it's for kids doesn't mean it's allowed to be fucking wrong. no wonder science education is in the toilet. no wonder people find science confusing. no wonder anytime i want to have a conversation about astronomy i have to tolerate some lamewad joke about 'uranus'.

i'm flatly sick of this shit.
i'm sick of abysmal science reporting everywhere...even the NYT science section is pretty damn lousy. there's no excuse for that.
i'm sick of seeing imax films about dinosours where the narrator asks 'did dinosaurs come from eggs? maybe we'll never know...' while a scientist stands next to an actual fossilized dinosaur nest.
and i'm mostly sick of one of mankind's most sensational pursuits being sensationalized. it ONLY sends the message that the subject is boring. and it's not. a good story doesn't need bells and whistles. just tell the story. i remember a series on chemistry that i saw on pbs one night, back when i was in high school. it had very simple animation, and was presented as a series of very short (~5 min) units with very simple animation. the series started with the basics of atoms (yes, including fields of probability) and worked it's way through bonds and molecules, to a bunch of rather advanced topics in organic chemistry. (if anyone knows what series i'm talking about, i'd love to see it again)...and then i realized a few things:
1) it was six o'clock in the morning, and instead of partying while my parents were out of town, i had watched sevral hours of videos on chemistry.
2) i had been taken from a middle-school to a college level in a few short hours, without confusion, without distraction, simply by being told the facts in a clear concise manner.
3) that i had never encountered education in that form before, unadorned with a bunch of useless 'jazz', and it was really exciting and revolutionary.

the real story is so much more interesting. why does it have to be stuffed up the ass of spongebob squarepants?
posted by sexyrobot at 8:42 PM on April 26, 2010 [1 favorite]

but, lol, you're probably right about my 1-minute film on the atom...although i could probably cover the orbital or the uncertainty princible in that time...
posted by sexyrobot at 8:49 PM on April 26, 2010

I can't get worked up over the "inaccurate science" when a) this might get kids interested on science, and b) the "right" science ( standard model, QED, whatever) is just the best story we can currently tell; likely, if history is any guide, to be superceded. Of course, QED is astonishingly accurate, and will for this reason remain useful. The planetary model is useful for a different reason (kids don't understand quantum mechanics), but the outcome is the same; we'll be "using" it for a long time to come.

None of which impacts on how neat these videos are for practicing my French, for which I say: thanks!
posted by Omission at 12:23 AM on April 27, 2010

I do get somewhat worked up about inaccurate information being given at an early level. I think kids can understand things like, "This is a simplification, but you can imagine electrons like planets in orbit..." Kids are pretty smart.

One of the reasons I get worked up about inaccurate info is that I used to teach writing at the college level, and a big part of my job teaching freshmen was having to deal with the wrong information they'd been given by teachers trying to make things simple. I'd sit down with a student and say, "in this paragraph, you've got this one sentence that doesn't seem on-topic, I'm wondering what you were thinking," and the student would say, "Oh, I know! But my teacher in high school said a paragraph has to have five sentences, so I had to add one even though I'd already said everything I could think of." "A paragraph should have at least five sentences" is a simplification of "a paragraph has to be sufficiently developed," but "sufficiently developed" takes judgment--sometimes that's three sentences, sometimes it's six. "Five sentences" is an easy rule for students to learn and teachers to enforce.

That's just one example.

I have had friends who taught math at the advanced high school or college level, who have also said that a big part of their jobs ends up being un-teaching the errors the kids have been taught earlier. Not things they just didn't learn, but things they were taught wrong because it's easier to teach an oversimplification that distorts than to deal with the complexities.

I'm sympathetic with teachers who are dealing with whole classrooms full of kids who have varying levels of prior knowledge and ability. But still...I have some sympathy for sexyrobot, definitely.
posted by not that girl at 6:41 AM on April 27, 2010

Omission of dark matter and probability clouds is OK for me on the Asymptotic Educational Theory. Describe what something is "like" then describe how it differs from that. As in "radio is like the telegraph, only without the wire".
posted by DU at 9:31 AM on April 27, 2010

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