A depressing science week for me – nothing seems to be working correctly again. I told you the good times don’t last! So to go along with that, here is some depressing chemistry news.
I recently found – thanks to the chemistry subreddit – that the sweet alkali metal explosions video done by the British “Science” TV show Brainiac is entirely faked. Apparently when the alkali metal/water reactions weren’t as impressive as they had hoped, they spiced it up a little bit by just using plastic explosives and calling it an alkali metal and water reaction. Here’s a nice video that sums things up:
More info can be found here on the badscience.net site. Here’s a quote from the show airer, Sky One:
A Sky spokeswoman said: “Brainiac is an entertainment show and the emphasis is on having fun. However, all of the experiments have proven theory behind them. We’re known for our love of big explosions, our fans love them and when we add a little something to create a bigger bang everyone is in on the joke.”
This is disturbing to me on a number of levels. I get that these guys are on TV and are in the business of entertainment, and sure, everyone loves a good explosion! However, if you are going to call yourself a science show then you are at least beholden to the idea that you are going to try and teach people science along with entertaining them. I feel this is worse than a big budget movie that shows impossible or wrong science. At least with that there’s no pretending that they are actually going to be scientifically correct.
Secondly – what a wasted opportunity! The Brainiac guys went into this with a pre-conceived notion that as they went down the periodic table, the alkali metals would produce bigger explosions in water. When that didn’t happen they could have done what actual scientists might have done: figure out why! Sure the theory is correct – but why doesn’t rubidium produce a huge explosion? Some think that it’s because the sodium is smaller than cesium and rubidium so in a few grams it can produce a larger energy explosion more quickly versus the larger molecules – but we don’t really know. This would be a great opportunity to show their audience what scientists do when the experiments don’t fit their previous hypothesis; i.e. revise the hypothesis and plan new experiments!
Instead they chose the cheap and easy way to do it. They decided that because their initial hypothesis didn’t fit their experimental results, they should change the experimental results to fit their incorrect hypothesis. Ugh. Unfortunately this also gave us insight into the fact that this sort of falsification goes on entirely too frequently in the scientific community.
Anyways – I hope no one ever discovers that Mythbusters are faking their results too otherwise I’ll have no semi-science shows to watch for explosions!