Skepticism and Science for Kids
by Eric Hall
April 20, 2013
This week I thought I'd break away from more serious themes and talk a little about introducing my children to science and skepticism. Whenever my kids ask me science questions, I try to make sure I give them a correct answer, as best I can while keeping it at their level. But I can't always hold their interest on science every day, so I am glad for one alternative which I will briefly discuss (advertise I suppose) here today.
I am sure many of you are familiar with the cartoon Phineas and Ferb. I was introduced to it by Evan Bernstein during an episode of "The Skeptics' Guide To The Universe." I am certainly glad he did. After just a few episodes, it became apparent the creators Dan Povenmire and Jeff "Swampy" Marsh are big fans of science and skepticism. While it isn't the focus of the show, I always find little jokes in each episode that make fun of pseudoscience or making fun of themselves when they choose to not follow the laws of physics during the show. I really appreciate that and it gives me an opportunity to point it out to my kids when it comes up.
For example, in this episode clip below there are two fantastic pieces of science and skepticism. The first joke at 22 seconds gets a nice little dig in at a pseudoscience. The other joke, which takes place at 40-44 seconds in the clip was one I didn't notice until just this week. It is a nice little piece of physics, but very subtle. I found it very entertaining, and it was fun to explain to my 14 year-old step-son (and my wife).
Another fantastic part of this series is their new internet show known as "Doof Daily." This actually posts weekly, but features the "evil" scientist Dr. Heinz Doofenshmirtz talking about different things he finds on the internet. Its primary focus is to poke a little fun at pop culture, but it does also feature an occasional little jab at the pseudoscience found out there. The new episode in particular spent nearly half the time making fun of the Paleo Diet. The rant starts with Dr. Doofenshmirtz making fun of the creator of the diet by stating "...he knew he was going to be on camera, and he still said it. He said, 'Have you ever seen a fat caveman?'" As Dr. Doofenshmirtz rightly points out, it would be natural to ask, "Have you ever seen a thin caveman?" It is a fantastic rant!
Certainly, we do have some fantastic resources for kids. One of the best is Daniel Loxton, who is the editor for Junior Skeptic magazine. I enjoy reading Daniel's musings on Twitter, and it seems he is a very thoughtful and reasonable ambassador of science and skepticism for kids. However, with two very young kids at home, sometimes I just need a 15-30 minute break where I can let them watch something on TV so I can get something done. Also, my younger kids are not quite ready for the level of reading in Junior Skeptic, so the television medium is a way to deliver the message in an entertaining way at this age without needing input from me.
There are other elements to the show I find very admirable. As many kids face blended families, it is nice to see the portrayal of a blended family in the show without having that be the focus or as a source of contention. The Flynn-Fletcher family is a product of two families coming together, and it works. Dr. Doofenshmirtz, the evil scientist, always loses to Perry the Platypus, the family pet. There is also a musical number in every episode, something the creators intended. It is actually fun music, and my kids and I enjoy the soundtrack together in the car. One of my favorites is the nod to 80's love ballads, the song "You Snuck Your Way Right Into My Heart" by the band "Love Handel." Disney even created a version of "Where's My Water" called "Where's My Perry" which is a great tablet game that does also provide a fairly accurate model of fluid dynamics.
To end this advertisement for my and my kids' favorite cartoon, I just want to say thanks to the creators of Phineas and Ferb for making the show fun and well rounded. I think this is a show Skeptics can feel good about letting their kids watch (in moderation of course). I hope we can all recognize the good work Dan Povenmire and "Swampy" Marsh are doing combining entertainment with little bits of education across a wide variety of fields. My only remaining question would be, "Hey, where's Perry?"
by Eric Hall
@Skeptoid Media, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit