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Chemistry: A Volatile History | Ep1 Discovering the Elements - Comments

hairybreeks's Avatar Comment 1 by hairybreeks

Loved the program and look forward to the next episodes.
The BBC seems to have reverted to its traditional duty to "inform, educate and entertain" (having rather neglected the first two in recent years).
Strange that the Radio Times marked this new series (and RD's Nine Atheist Lessons and Carols) with a bizarre attack on RD. Is this something to do with 'balance'?
R.

Sun, 24 Jan 2010 16:14:00 UTC | #434767

Friend Giskard's Avatar Comment 2 by Friend Giskard

Poor Lavoisier.

Sun, 24 Jan 2010 16:18:00 UTC | #434768

JenniferT's Avatar Comment 3 by JenniferT

Sun, 24 Jan 2010 16:58:00 UTC | #434777

louis14's Avatar Comment 4 by louis14

Comment #454197 by hairybreeks

"Strange that the Radio Times marked this new series (and RD's Nine Atheist Lessons and Carols) with a bizarre attack on RD. Is this something to do with 'balance'?"

What were they saying hairybreeks? Is there a copy of the article online?

Sun, 24 Jan 2010 17:46:00 UTC | #434788

mordacious1's Avatar Comment 5 by mordacious1

So, Hennig Brand pissed away his wife's fortune looking for gold...

Sun, 24 Jan 2010 18:48:00 UTC | #434796

Tycho the Dog's Avatar Comment 6 by Tycho the Dog

The attack on RD in the RT comes from Howard Jacobson. Can't find an on-line version, but it boils down a sustained attack on Richard for being a nasty fundamentalist atheist, who's just as bad and stupid and those silly religious fundamentalists who take the Bible literally. Jacobson, on the other hand, is, well, just wonderful and balanced because he can see that the bible contains some lovely passages that make him feel good about himself - presumably not the murderous, spiteful, sexist, racist and homophobic bits though.

Sun, 24 Jan 2010 19:03:00 UTC | #434798

Ivan The Not So Bad's Avatar Comment 7 by Ivan The Not So Bad

Here's the iPlayer link for those in the UK (or via cunning means can make themselves appear to be):

http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b00q2mk5/Chemistry_A_Volatile_History_Discovering_the_Elements/

Sun, 24 Jan 2010 19:41:00 UTC | #434803

Friend Giskard's Avatar Comment 8 by Friend Giskard

I have a yellow question mark over my head. Are these programs (this one and How Earth Made Us) on YouTube with the BBC's blessing, or are they likely to be taken down soon?

(Someone should upload Aristotle's Lagoon. It's a good one.)

Sun, 24 Jan 2010 20:42:00 UTC | #434813

Mark Jones's Avatar Comment 9 by Mark Jones

Comment #454229 by Tycho the Dog

Having just watched Howard Jacobson on Channel 4's The Bible: A History, it's clear that the poor devil has some psychological problem with the new atheists. In it he says he is driven to *fury* by The God Delusion, but for religious fundamentalism he cannot bring himself to even feel *contempt*.

So he's infuriated by folks who've written some books but not even contemptuous of the beliefs that have caused so much violence in the world. There really is no point arguing with someone whose priorities are so skew-whiff.

Sun, 24 Jan 2010 21:42:00 UTC | #434821

beelzebub's Avatar Comment 10 by beelzebub

I liked the program, although Chemistry is not 'my thing'...

Comment #454254 by Mark Jones

Going off-topic, but I was bemused and irritated by HJ's see-sawing - god isn't real, but he is, but he is nature, but it's all true - if it makes you feel good!
He really seemed trapped between his Jewish up-bringing and his secular reasoning.
What emerged, was a man frustrated by his own equivocation, and ham-strung by his crippling indecisiveness.

Sun, 24 Jan 2010 22:57:00 UTC | #434834

huzonfurst's Avatar Comment 11 by huzonfurst

I had the pleasure of talking with Peter Atkins not long ago, before I realized how highly-regarded he is for his work in chemistry and his close association with Dawkins besides.

Chemistry is not my strong point despite having an (out of date) astronomy degree, so I immediately got a copy of his "The Periodic Kingdom" (part of the Science Masters Series by Basic Books) and enjoyed his explanations of the history of how the periodic table was painstakingly constructed and the fascinating relationships that were gradually revealed.

Richard's "River Out of Eden" is another book in this series.

Mon, 25 Jan 2010 14:09:00 UTC | #435036

Azven's Avatar Comment 12 by Azven

If you're interested in this, it's on NOW on BBC4

(Mon 25 Jan, 11:30pm, UK time / GMT)

Mon, 25 Jan 2010 23:33:00 UTC | #435223

Azven's Avatar Comment 13 by Azven

BTW, I thought "Jim Alkali" was a joke name. Deepest apologies.

Mon, 25 Jan 2010 23:49:00 UTC | #435232

smartgenes's Avatar Comment 14 by smartgenes

Another excellent documentary, which is marred by Khalili's othodoxy.

This delusion of some running conflict between religion and science throughout hundreds of years has to be put down.
Today, a generation with Google and authoritative textbooks, lacks intuitive creativity; this leads to feeble-minded individuals who, because they have Google and endless matrices of information, believe they know more than a Paracelsus or a Francis Bacon. Notice that these stalwarts who are so-often (wrongly) quoted as deliberately moving towards materialistic science, were actually spiritual men, who worked holistically and integrally.

A main theme of the documentary is of these ancients "destroying the temple of ancient elements". But the first thing we learn in chemistry in secondary school are the three states known as solid, liquid and gas. This is the very same "false" theory of fire, earth, air and water. Except someone decided to leave out fire, simply because nobody knows what it is (although Khalili pretends he knows). This is taught as the very first building block in chemistry.

Now it is considered a blasphemy to be one of those challengers of the orthodoxy of science who stands up and says maybe there is more to this theory of 4 elements that meets the eye, or indicates that our theory of evolution is incomplete, since as soon as you do, people assume you are adopting the literal nonsensical views of a Creationist. If our theory of evolution has startling gaps that don't make sense, let's work together to understand why. And let us understand that anyone who makes the statement "Experiments prove" like Khalili does, is the enemy of reason, as science is the method of test-retest: it is not a method of mathematical proof.

Exotic names like sulphuric acid are as equally imprecise as those of old (if you don't believe me, then look at the chemical equation of sulphuric acid); in science we have a whole lexicon that, when we analyse perfect meanings, serves to maintain ignorance. While it's useful to have a universal language of science, suffixes such as "algia" are too often used just to fudge lack of knowledge. As indicated in the documentary these scientists and alchemists of old were more interested in knowledge for its own sake; they weren't afraid to challenge and burn the textbooks when they knew the information was duff. Unfortunately too few people have this courage today, and so we get television like this: which provides outstanding history but doesn't expand knowledge.

Tue, 26 Jan 2010 16:56:00 UTC | #435481

friendlypig's Avatar Comment 15 by friendlypig

Comment #454229 by Tycho the Dog on January 24, 2010 at 7:03 pm
The attack on RD in the RT comes from Howard Jacobson. .... but it boils down a sustained attack on Richard for being a nasty fundamentalist atheist, who's just as bad and stupid and those silly religious fundamentalists who take the Bible literally.


It's a pity that Jacobson didn't comment on Israel Finkelstein, Professor of Archeology at Tel Aviv who, in The Bible Unearthed, and the book of the same name with Silberman, destroys the basis of the OT and thereby all of the monotheistic religions.

Tue, 26 Jan 2010 20:07:00 UTC | #435568

smartgenes's Avatar Comment 16 by smartgenes

Wow, how did he do that, via a suicide bombing mission?

Tue, 26 Jan 2010 21:20:00 UTC | #435595

Cathy Sander's Avatar Comment 17 by Cathy Sander

In response to Comment #454959 by smartgenes on January 26, 2010 at 4:56 pm::

"Khalili's othodoxy"...how strange. Considering the fact that many people either despise or have apathy towards chemistry [my favourite science!], I, for one, am happy to see something like this. There's a lot of publicity towards physics and biology--but usually, chemistry is left out of the loop.

"Experiments prove" is an abbreviation, as usual in science, for the countless replication of experiments done by many people. It's tricky, in a documentary, to have to spell out everything about these phrases, of course!

"If our theory of evolution has startling gaps that don't make sense..." I would love to know what these gaps in our understanding are [but don't give us misconceptions about how evolution works, please!]. It's a good idea to have a list of things we don't currently know, after all.

"Exotic names like sulphuric acid are as equally imprecise as those of old..." Names are just names. We don't learn much about things from them. Chemistry is a dynamic subject, which cannot be completely reduced to physics--it has its own principles and concepts which do get challenged from time to time such as the concept of an acid--we now have different ideas as to how they work.

I wonder: do you have a strange conception of history itself? Most of the time, researchers were [and still are] adding knowledge little bit by little bit. It's these things that unfortunately get side-lined by the "Big Debates" and "Big Overthrows" of popular history of science. It seems that to get an audience, generally in the media, we have to pander to the practicalities and the "big" discoveries, rather than the small stuff that is mostly what science is all about. Mind you: we pick and choose history inretrospect, much like what Dawkins said in "The Ancestor's Tale". The sort of ambition which is often laid down in these stories are mostly exaggerated.

"Unfortunately too few people have this courage today, and so we get television like this: which provides outstanding history but doesn't expand knowledge." This is not the primary purpose of documentaries: to go to the cutting edge, go and see the researchers actually doing stuff. Documentaries are there to inform and entertain the public.

Fri, 05 Feb 2010 23:02:00 UTC | #439018