Category Archives: Harmful or Helpful?

Harmful or Helpful? YouTube Edition

Author: Kelsey

Greetings friends and colleagues! Today we would like to introduce a new, ongoing segment that takes a critical look at popular cultures’ interpretation of paleontology. Someday we promise to cover the incredibly handsome elephant in the room, Indiana Jones, but today we are going to focus on YouTube videos.

YouTube is a popular, inexpensive way to convey ideas. While most of us initially associate YouTube with hilarious feats mortification or iconic movie clips, an impressive number of successful “TV shows” have established themselves from people’s basements all around the world. In fact, these shows have become so successful that they become self-sustainable and all mass media companies today make sure that they are represented on YouTube in some way.

Some of these are more or less educational and delve into the concept of extinction! If my hotlinking has not derailed you by now, here are some examples of paleontology in popular media shows:

1)      Good Mythical Morning (Subscribers: 2,072,139)

Comments: While I applaud the use of the more unusual animals, it was disappointing to see that they just Google searched for facts and images about these animals instead of reading any actual research. The also mispronounced “Miocene” and never connected the idea of extinct animals with the term “Paleontology.” Is that so hard?

Comments: Rhett and Link exonerate themselves here by linking Paleontologists with dinosaurs. Good job, boys. The Cenozoic spirit in me is still a bit disappointed. Perhaps I am being too harsh. After all, this is a comedy show first and a science show second.

2)      DNews (Subscribers: 803,950)

Comments: DNews is part of the Discovery Communications Network Inc. (which includes the Discovery Channel, Animal Planet, How Stuff Works, Hard Science, SourceFed.. etc.). The hosts are likable, come from diverse backgrounds, and share the ability to talk fast and clearly. From the look of the show they have more time to whip up sweet graphics and research. My favorite part is when they mention how much of the dinosaur was ACTUALLY found.

Another video from DNews.

3)      Sesame Street (Subscribers: 935,401)

For our younger readers, I even looked up the screamingly popular Sesame Street to see what they had to say about Paleontology!

Comments: Okay, so if I were a five-year-old I would know that paleontology is a thing, maybe something having to do with helmets and shovels. It’s also worth noting that the main topic of conversation in the comments is Elmo’s voice. Considering I start seeing red if I have to listen to Elmo longer than the length of this clip, I’m not sure how anyone can tell.

4)      Dark 5 (Subscribers: 166, 477)

Comments: To be honest, this one just creeps me out. Between the lack of a host (I’ll never understand the trend to just put up text in a video) and interpretive windchimes (plus a lack of cited sources), I’ll have to give this one a “meh.” Why does this have over two million views?

Here is another video in the same vein, this time about animals that will go extinct, thoughtfully set to bagpipe music.

5) The Brain Scoop (subscribers: 218,584)

Whew- ok, let’s end on something a bit more uplifting.


Comments:  The Brain Scoop is hosted by Emily Grasile at the Chicago Field Museum and includes a whole variety of episodes, from Q & A’s to interviews to dissections and random bits. The Brain Scoop is closely associated with a network of progressive science YouTube channels, including SciShow, Michael Aranda, Vi Hart, and Minute Physics. Emily has captured the museum side of a biologist’s (here I include paleontology within biology) life perfectly! One reason why we love our jobs almost obsessively is because it really is a variety show. There is even occassional singing and dancing (much to my co-worker’s chagrin).

And, yes, like all scientists, paleo peeps deal with social issues as well. That’s honestly my primary motivation for blogging in the first place. Now if we could just get more people to watch The Brain Scoop with dinner (or after digestion for the squeamish), maybe paleontology could become known for its content, not “what those khaki-wearing people do in action movies.”


Paleontology has a long way to go in popular culture–the standard response is still, “Oh, like Indiana Jones?” or “Oh, like Ross from Friends!”– but I think we knew that already.  The number of subscribers as well as the number of $$$ backing the show really dictates quality and accuracy.  Good Mythical Morning has the largest audience (and is easily the funniest show on this list), but is pretty lazy when it come to conveying actual facts. DNews has accuracy, but less than half the audience. Sesame Street needs to up their game if they want to create the next generation of a critical, informed public (and entertain that generation’s parents), while random people making quick pseudo-science videos add little to the conversation.

What is needed is a show that is poop-my-pants funny and accurate (The Brain Scoop, you are almost there). This is asking a ton out of society, though, so in the meantime perhaps us scientists can make ourselves more available to entertainment. Popular media has no idea how many scientists would be willing to contribute/do the writers’ work for them if given the chance. Ring me up!