‘Animated Life: Pangea’

This animated documentary tells the story of the polar explorer Alfred Wegener, the unlikely scientist behind continental drift theory.

Comments: 50

  1. Brilliant! Thank you.

  2. Simply marvelous! Thank you.

  3. So delightful ... the artwork so laboriously charming.

    One might hope that this will shed some light on why curiosity and scientists give us all so much!

  4. Susan as I have already noted at blackmamba's comment, wouldn't it be wonderful if there were videos like this that somehow could magically be devised and then used to help our NYT commenter challengers to understand the subjects we have struggled to explain in these comment columns.

    Curiosity or its absence in some of my fellow human beings remains the great puzzle for me, you, blackmamba I suspect, Curiosity brings to NYT Opinion every morning and it is what makes living so great, but I still encounter people week in and week out who seem to lack the curiosity "gene".


  5. Very well done. It should be 7 minutes viewed in all schools. Thanks

  6. Simply marvelous! Thank you.

  7. What a revealing story! A reminder that scientists are human, and sometimes fail to live up to our ideals of how scientists should react to a new theory. Naturally, some new theories are simply wrong. But Wegener patiently discovered multiple lines of evidence for his theory of continental drift. He did not have absolute proof of an energy source able to move tectonic plates, but that was asking a bit much of him.

    How do geologists tell Wegener's story today? I heard a lecture by a prominent geologist who blamed Wegener for his failure to be more convincing. That strikes me as blaming the victim for the arrogance of the professional geologists, who could not imagine that an amateur could possibly have outsmarted them.

    But we shouldn't be too hard on geologists. Study the history of any scientific field, and you are likely to encounter similar stories.

    In the humanities, something similar is happening now, as "professional" Shakespeare scholars dismiss and ridicule us amateurs who have presented multiple lines of evidence that "Shake-Speare" was a pen name, probably of Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford.

  8. You're right that we shouldn't be hard on geologists. We should give them a break since they have rocks in their heads.

  9. After reading your comment, I was intrigued with this idea that William Shakespeare was not the true author of the plays and works attributed to him.

    "The Oxfordian theory of Shakespeare authorship holds that Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford, wrote the plays and poems traditionally attributed to William Shakespeare. Though most literary scholars reject all alternative authorship candidates, including Oxford, popular interest in the Oxfordian theory continues. Since the 1920s, the Oxfordian theory has been the most popular alternative Shakespeare authorship theory.

    The convergence of documentary evidence of the type used by academics for authorial attribution—title pages, testimony by other contemporary poets and historians, and official records—sufficiently establishes Shakespeare's authorship for the overwhelming majority of Shakespeare scholars and literary historians, and no evidence links Oxford to Shakespeare's works."


  10. Not to get off topic here, but ... the Earl of Oxford (or someone else) just happened to take a pen name exactly the same as a William Shakespeare who we know existed and whose baptism, marriage and children were officially documented, who was involved in the London theater of his time, and who was a member/co-owner of the Lord Chamberlain's Men players?
    What a coincidence!
    I'm sorry, Dr. Waugaman, but the historically arrogant (and outright illogical) behavior of some professional scientists does not prove that all academicians are automatically wrong in rejecting hypotheses that don't explain the known facts. The point about Wegener is that his continental drift theory DID explain a wealth of the known facts.

  11. Darwin a geologist? Nope. He may have take courses in Geology but he never was a geologist. As for Wegener, his theory did solve some mysteries in other sciences (especially in paleontology) but it required a mechanism to explain how on earth (pun intended) continents would move. Until some mechanism was proposed (let alone demonstrated), the theory actually created more problems than it solved.

  12. Darwin was a very skilled geologist. He was the first person to accurately describe the process of coral atoll formation. Darwin was closely associated with the prominent British geologist, Sir Charles Lyell, who wrote probably the most influential geo-book ever--Principles of Geology.

  13. This is so beautiful!! It brings important basic science information for the general public presented in an elegant, inventive art form!
    Those huskies! that polar bear!! the crevasses!! Bravo!!

  14. Nicely-done film. A couple of things about the article, though: biology actually does not have much to teach us about the origin of life, as opposed to all the things that happened to life after its first billion years or so. Also, I have to say it: Darwin was no geologist. To his great credit, he was familiar with and receptive to the new geologic principles of Lyell (sp.?), which greatly influenced his thinking about life's diversity and how it might have arisen over enormous time periods and dramatic environmental changes.

  15. As another comment has noted Darwin was not a geologist. However his thinking was greatly influenced by geology especially what the fossil record said about the age of the Earth.

  16. What a superb presentation of how science happens outside the lab. This should be shown as the short feature before movies so everyone, science education or not, has a chance to see how imaginative graphics can both charm and teach!

  17. When I was a child, 50+ years ago, before continental drift was widely heard of, my siblings (also children) and I happened to be playing with a world globe when we noticed that the continents "fit" together across the Atlantic. It was clear to us that they had once been together. Look at a globe, it is almost obvious. Strange that that simple observation eluded, or was ignored, by scientists for many years before Wegener. He had the vision to see beyond the mundane, steady state to envision an extreme event, the motion of continents.

  18. That "simple observation" was noted by many scientists before Wegener. The first mention of it, by my reckoning, was in 1596 by Abraham Oretlius. Others who noted it include Francis Bacon, Benjamin Franklin, Antonio Snider-Pellegrini, Frank Bursley Taylor, Eduard Suess, and Roberto Mantovani (with some of them attempting to explain how the continents drifted apart).

  19. It was ignored because there was no plausible mechanism to drive plate movement. Same as evolution prior to Darwin figuring out natural selection. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. Starting with the discovery of sea floor spreading in the 60s, the scientific world quickly fell behind plate tectonics.

  20. Scientist are first and foremost human beings.

    Albert Einstein was a theoretical physicist and mathematician. Einstein did "thought experiments" which experimental physicists have confirmed by actual experiments and observation. Einstein thought that quantum mechanics was nonsense. And Einstein denied his own theoretical analysis that pointed to dark energy and dark matter and black holes by making up the "cosmological constant" and ignoring the implications of his own theories.

    Einstein deplored both Werner Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle and Kurt Gödel's Incompleteness Theorem which showed the limits of our knowledge. Perception is not reality. And science is neither logical nor illogical it is just our provisional best current explanation for the available natural data and information. Imagination and intuition are all too human challenges to our ignorance. But they are neither the solution nor the answer.

    That is what separates science from faith, theology and mythology. Faith rests on the supernatural immutable eternal "truth".

  21. beautifully stated, blackmamba. Imagine if there were comparable videos dealing with another subject dear to your heart and mine that could help our fellow commenters understand.

    You and gemli remain the two commenters whose anonymity I accept in the belief that maybe if the Times made you reveal your identities you would drop out as commenters.

    And reading your Times Pick this morning led me finally to order Nadifa Mohamed's (born in Somaliland) first novel Black Mamba Boy which preceded her extraordinary The Orchard of Lost Souls.


  22. Lower-case blackmamba just to let you know that my Swedish book company will have upper-case Black Mamba Boy in my mail box tomorrow. Maybe you should have a copy.

  23. A stunning documentary — should go up for a short animated film award.

    Not only a celebration of Alfred Wegener's exemplary life, but of all life. An inspiring message for people of all ages, young and old.

  24. Wegener also made ground breaking advances in meteorology. His balloon flights in the clouds led him to explain the critical role of ice in summertime rain formation.

    High in the cloud, supercooled water drops (unfrozen water drops with temperatures below zero centigrade) evaporate, with the resultant water vapor condensing on nearby ice crystals, which rapidly grow large enough to fall to the earth, melting on their way down.

  25. neat. Thank you

  26. Everyone in my 4th grade class knew about continental drift because we could see how South America fit into Africa. Then we tried to figure out the rest of it.

    This didn't take a scientist to see what had happened, just a bunch of 4th graders looking at the obvious. Didn't everyone know it, just by looking at a world map or a globe as we did?

    Anyone who disputed it must have had serious idiot problems.

  27. You need to remember a time before there was GoogleEarth and satellites curling the earth. MAps have come a long way in the last 100 years.

  28. Hi Porter,
    Another fun part of science, is when things look like they should fit together, but are entirely different. When people see a female sugar glider and a female gerbil, both curled up asleep, the two might seem very similar. But when the sugar glider spreads her feet, you can see she has furry, wing-like skin, and a pouch for her baby to ride in, when she glides from tree to tree. So the key is to see similarities, and then to investigate whether they really are what they seem to be. :)

  29. Yes, easy to see in hindsight, but observing that the continents appeared to fit together wasn't the issue. Rather, it was explaining why they had broken apart and making the critical insight that the crust floated on the mantle. It's the explanation that made Wegener the scientist, not the observation alone.

  30. Love it -- Flora, Sharon, and all credited at the end. Beautifully dynamic stuff. Recognizing such a vital jigsaw puzzle piece -- continental drift/plate tectonics -- to figuring out our world, history, science, etc., etc., etc. & such nice storytelling, animation/puppeteering, teaching, etc., etc., etc. Ready for more!

  31. This is terrific work. Beautifully and accurately done. If a Pulitzer or Emmy for lay science videography exists, Flora Lichtman and Sharon Shattuck should win it. Personally -- as a geologist who came of age when plate tectonics was newly accepted and Wegener was still controversial among old timers -- I was deeply moved by this visualization of his work. Thank you, authors and NYTimes.

  32. There have been a number of comments about children seeing that the pieces fit together. I remember as a kid reading about about the land bridges between Africa and South American to explain the fossil record. Even as a 14 year old who loved science, I had a "now, wait just a minute here" moment when seeing the drawing of how this was suppose to work. Even I could see that explanation was just silly. Sometimes it does take an outsider to see, and say, that the current theories and explanations just could not work.

  33. It's an interesting video. A good story. But the title is wrong. It's not "animated." It's a puppet show. The five seconds that show the continents drifting together is animated. The rest is puppetry.

  34. Thank you for a fascinating blend of art and science. Perfect.

  35. "Believe in science" That is just wrong. One believes in God--or not. Science has facts, evidence, that are organized to make a theory that can be proved or disproved. Wegener did have paleontological as well as continental geological evidence for how the now separate continents could have fit together. What he did not have was a mechanism that worked. Continents do not drift through oceanic crust. They are carried along passively as the plates of the earth's crust move. The evidence for this mechanism was not available until the oceans were mapped after WWII. (Required for the Cold War and nuclear submarines.) Of course, none of that excuses the fact that Wegener was treated abominably by the geologic profession, but that is a different story.

  36. "Louis Pasteur was a crystallographer; Darwin, a geologist."

    True about Pasteur; not so much about Darwin. In fact, he was "bored" with geology and never pursued it even slightly. Rather, his earliest interests were zoology (invertebrate) and botany. However, once he started down his ultimate path, Charles Lyell (the father of geology) became one of Darwin's two primary mentors (the other being Asa Gray).

  37. Quite a delight!

    As a geologist I have a particular fondness for this guy. I remember how much one of my profs. hated Wegener for "polluting" the science with his ridiculous idea--how could anyone believe the continents moved in any way other than up and down. Myself, being one who could not understand the physics of this elevator, cleaved to the new idea much to the profane disgust of my prof., but who is laughing now?

  38. I'm trying to picture said professor (and I'm assuming he was born after 1900). . . and having a very hard time!

  39. In common with dig30, I love it (the video) and I also love the comments, of a sort we do not get the chance to write very often. And I especially love blackmamba's elegant statement about science.

    Never got to use that word, "love", 3 times in a NYT comment, and probably never again.

    And a footnote from a geologist who never was quite satisfied with his (my) interpretation of the geologic evolution of eastern Connecticut that I worked on for many years. Only when some US Geological Survey geologists applied isotope geochemistry methods many years later to my rocks was the puzzle explained. The various pieces of that area came together in the same manner shown by the beautiful graphics in the video.

    Thanks Lichtman, Shattuck, everybody including Wegener for such an enjoyable way to begin a day with the NYT Opinion Pages.

    Professor emeritus, Earth and Environmental Sciences, University of Rochester and here in Sweden thanks to having been Fulbright Lecturer in Oulu, Finland where they wanted me to teach what Wegener laid the ground for so many years earlier.


  40. Beautifully done!!!

  41. This is excellent, and great timing: my 6th grade daughter just learned about continental drift in science class. We watched this together I asked her if she had ever heard of Wegener (I hadn't), and she replied, "Of course! He's the boss!"

  42. "Animated Life: Pangea" is a triumph of medium over content.

  43. Very well done! I loved this gem of a mini-documentary!

  44. As a geologist, this is awesome! I loved it!

  45. Delightful & educational-a winning combination!

  46. Beautifully done and very moving. As a scientist I can appreciate the need for persistence and dedication in the pursuit of an idea. The dance of the continents indeed.

  47. I think the continents do move, it's just plate tectonics that makes it look like they move.

  48. After watching the video I have grown a respect for Wegener and I think If you always try you can never fail on your hopes and dreams and no matter the genders.

  49. What does this have to do with genders?

  50. I found the video interesting and I loved the way it was presented for viewers to understand it easily. Although I felt they left out some details. For example: They had no explanation for his heart attack and details from his theories were left out. I would have liked to know the changes in his theories throughout his books
    and more details of his thoughts in the matter.