Review of Nova (1974)

Parts only

This page describes the individual parts of Nova. The work as a whole is reviewed elsewhere.

“Creatures of Light” (2016Moving picture, 53 minutes)

Seen in 2018.

Seen edited for Vetenskapens värld.

Bioluminescence and biophosphorescence.

Beautiful, with substantial scientific depth, looking for reasons as well as applications.

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School of the Future (2016Moving picture, 113 minutes)

Seen in 2017.

Seen edited for Vetenskapens värld.

Largely shallow and uncritical, especially with regard to material reward for good behaviour and fostering blind self-esteem (positive thinking).

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“Extreme Animal Weapons” (2017Moving picture, 52 minutes)

Seen in 2019.

The evolution of horns, tusks, spurs etc.

A BBC coproduction.

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Decoding the Weather Machine (2018Moving picture, 113 minutes)

Seen in 2019.

Seen with Swedish-language narration on SVT, as a two-episode series.

Despite the Koch money, it’s a fair overview of climate-change science and general avenues of conservative mitigation, from Fourier and Tyndall to perovskite and no-till farming.

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Black Hole Apocalypse (2018Moving picture, 111 minutes)

Seen in 2019.

I saw the merged two-hour version.

Poorly named and surprisingly uninformative.

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“First Face of America” (2018Moving picture, 53 minutes)

Seen in 2019.

Seen in its Swedish-language adaptation on SVT.

Naia, an almost perfectly preserved skeleton found with the bones of megafauna from pre-human America, driven to extinction by the first people there.

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“Prediction by the Numbers” (2018Moving picture, 52 minutes)

Seen in 2018.

A non-technical introduction to probability theory as used, for example, in predicting the outcome of the 2016 US presidential election.

It’s got Nate Silver and Moneyball (2011), but it’s shallow and cheaply dramatized.

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“Dead Sea Scroll Detectives” (2019Moving picture, 55 minutes)

Seen in 2020.

The history of the conservation and forgery of (the) Dead Sea Scrolls, including some amazing X-ray tomography of carbonized parchment from the ark of a burned ancient synagogue, where the scrolls are tessellated partly by hand so they can be unfolded on computer only, and the ink is readable by its slight difference in opacity due to metal content. After all this labour, it turns out to be a scroll of Leviticus (ca. 500–400 BCE), providing another piece of evidence for when the text reached its modern forms. Other experts debunk forgeries bought by the Green family, owners of Hobby Lobby.

As usual, the overall takeaway is “Don’t put tape on stuff you’re keeping, and be careful with UV light.” There’s a fascinating chapter on the archaeology of Qumran, the monastic community to which a lot of the scrolls are attributed; it’s fun to think that such a twisted, almost bureaucratic, somewhat marginal place could have a significant influence on our ability to know what was happening to the religion, in roughly the same way as, but not directly connected to, the way the Nag Hammadi library over in Egypt popularized gnosticism. The shadiness of the Hobby Lobby smuggling scandal adds a touch of Delta Green potential to the resurfacing of these cults thousands of years later.

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“Inside the Megafire” (2019Moving picture, 53 minutes)

Seen in 2020.

I saw a version with Swedish-language narration and slight localization, including the outline of Sweden briefly superimposed on a world map.

An overview of the causes, properties and effects of contemporary California wildfires, with particular emphasis on the 2018 Camp Fire.

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“Kilauea: Hawai’i on Fire” (2019Moving picture, 55 minutes)

Seen in 2019.

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The Violence Paradox (2019Moving picture, 112 minutes)

Steven Pinker (cast).

Seen in 2020.

Seen with Swedish-language narration on SVT, as a two-parti miniseries on Vetenskapens värld.

A summary of Steven Pinker’s The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined (2011), with field trips to see relevant evidence and ongoing experiments.

The morality plays for three-month-olds are fun, but on the other hand, I refuse to believe that soccer could benefit humankind, even in Iraq.

References here: Faktafel på SVT Play.

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“The Truth About Fat” (2020Moving picture, 50 minutes)

Seen in 2020.

Seen with Swedish-language narration on SVT.

Research on human weight gain and loss, including studies on the Hadza, leptins, the hypothalamus’s memory of past weight, sumo wrestlers, various genetic deviations, evolutionary biology etc.

A fine summary.

References here: Faktafel på SVT Play.

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“Nature’s Fear Factor” (2020Moving picture, 59 minutes)

Seen in 2021.

Research on fear of predators informing the managed recovery of Gorongosa National Park after the civil war in Mozambique.

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