Open University plays fast and loose

I’M ASTONISHED to see that the Open University has suppressed a comment I left pointing out a basic error on one of its new YouTube videos. Universities are supposed to be about sharing knowledge, not suppressing it, and the OU of all establishments should be promoting free speech rather than indulging in Stalinist suppression of dissent.

My comment pointed out a mistake made in this video, part of a new series of 60-second science films. Watch it first, enjoy the stylish graphics and David Mitchell’s talented narration, and see if you can spot the error.

Now then, what’s wrong with that? In the opening sequence, the moon is shown phasing from ‘old’ moon to ‘new’ full moon. In the real universe, of course, it goes the other way. The lit part of the moon starts on the right, as viewed in the northern hemisphere where both I and the Open University are based, growing to illuminate the whole disc, and then retreating to light only the left hand part. The cycle then starts again on the right. The lit part of the moon never moves left-to-right, always right-to-left, unless you are among the roughly 10% of the world’s population living in the southern hemisphere.

It’s a simple enough phenomenon to understand, but one commonly misportrayed on TV and video. As it happens, I had just filed my latest column for Laboratory News (not yet published) which discusses this and other basic scientific errors seen on TV, when I checked the OU video and found that the comment I’d left earlier today had been removed. It wasn’t in any way offensive, merely a gentle tease that the animation was wrong and we’d expect rather better from a leading UK university.

What we don’t expect is suppression of valid criticism. Really, OU, do you think you can stifle the truth just because you are embarrassed that you made a mistake in a cartoon? That is shameful.



1 comment for “Open University plays fast and loose

  1. RS
    20 February 2013 at 18:55

    After posting this I saw a response by email from David Rothery, saying my criticism “would be correct if the scene were explicity set in northern temperate latitudes”. My comment remains deleted, presumably by him, and I remain appalled by this.

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