28 October 2009

Three Must See Science Documentaries

Posted by Dan Satterfield

There are three documentaries that I think are gold standard and that everyone should see. They are all so good that, even if you are not interested at the outset, you will be drawn into them. I am sure others will have their favourites, and some may not agree with my choices, but here they are and the reasons why.

If you have read many of my posts, you can obviously guess the first pick. It’s actually a series of 13 episodes produced by PBS in 1980.

COSMOS by Carl Sagan. It may be a quarter century old, but t still stands as the definitive science documentary of a generation. Sagan left us way to soon, but he left us with 13 episodes soaked with the wonder of not just the cosmos, but of all science. It’s time for a new generation to be inspired.

Screen shot 2009-10-28 at 01.02.58You can watch the episodes online for free if you are a member of netflix. HULU has them for those in the U.S. I would go to your local video store and have them get you the entire collection. Trust me, it’s worth it. If you have kids from 9-17. MAKE them watch it! 😉

Screen shot 2009-10-28 at 01.11.21David Attenborough is not as well known in the USA as he is in the UK and other English speaking countries. That’s Sir David ,to you and me. His contributions to public science education over the last 35 years have earned him a well deserved Knighthood.

The BBC has aired most of his programs about the natural world and nearly every UK watcher of the telly has seen his programs. His best may very well be the BBC production of BLUE PLANET. No better way to spend a rainy weekend afternoon or evening than watching them all back to back. You can get it from the BBC store for 20£ and that is a real bargain. Here in the U.S.  it’s around 45$ here.

We know less about the floor of the oceans than we do the surface of the Moon. The amazing variety of life on our planet is shown nowhere better than in this series. We have named our planet Earth because we humans spend our lives on it. A species arriving from space would not be so narrow minded. They would call it water!

Never forget that if something happens to those microscopic phytoplankton in the cold waters north and south, then we will run out of air to breathe, and food to eat. The oceans truly sustain us and ALL life on this planet. What we are doing to them and the life in them is the great horror story of the 21st century.

The last documentary is going to surprise you!


Screen shot 2009-10-28 at 01.28.20Those of you in the UK are familiar with his interesting In Our Time series on BBC Radio 4. This series of videos on the history of the english language sounds at first like something you had to sit through in English class in high school! It’s not.

Melvyn Bragg has more degrees than a thermometer in Death Valley, but he does not come across as a stuffy professor! He weaves a fascinating story of the history of the English tongue.

All I can say, is try it !  You will never hear words the same way again! It’s a history lesson, not an English class!

This one is likely to be harder to find. Legally at least! You can get the audio version at audible.com here. Amazon has the collection now for 45$ in the U.S. There is a companion book on amazon here. Both together are a good buy at 57 USD. Those of you in the UK might check with ITV who aired the series, or amazon.co.uk.

Here is a brief clip from the series courtesy of Amazon.

So there you have it. Yes, there are other fabulous documentaries. March of The Penguins, and Brian Greene’s Elegant Universe on NOVA, but you may not have seen these and they are truly remarkable.