NOVA ScienceNOW is one of the best series that PBS has. Whereas NOVA is more documentary style programming, NOVA ScienceNOW is more accessible to average viewers. Host David Pogue introduces topics that would have otherwise been presented mainly as a documentary in NOVA, and makes it easier to understand in this series, thus really making science fun. And the program, What Makes Us Human? Is proof positive of that fun.
In this latest presentation from NOVA ScienceNOW, Pogue asks the question, what is it that sets humans apart not only from other animals, but from our ancient ancestors. He examines our differences from the noted categories first by studying the factors that made early humans and Neanderthals different. This first investigation is a wonderful tart to the presentation. Audiences will laugh out loud as Pogue is first turned into a Neanderthal by a group of art students. The makeup and prosthetics used to turn Pogue into a Neanderthal were based largely on a discussion that Pogue had with a scientist who has studied the cranial differences between humans and Neanderthals. This mix of entertainment and educational content are just the first step in the enjoyment of this feature. Viewers will also love watching Pogue try his hand at making a primitive hand axe.
From the ability to make primitive tools and natural adaptations, Pogue notes more factors that set us apart from both Neanderthals. One of those factors is the ability to communicate vocally. He examines how something as simple as a bone and the ability to laugh set us apart from our Stone Age ancestors. This is examined through the comparison of the “vocal abilities” of baby primates and baby humans. As Pogue notes, who doesn’t love the sight and sound of a baby laughing. Footage of babies laughing in various situations from YouTube are included to help highlight this portion of the discussion on what sets humans apart from the rest of the animal kingdom. Again, something as simple as this make this feature much more relatable and accessible to audiences, and thus more enjoyable.
The content of What Makes Us Human? makes it another wonderful addition to PBS’ Nova ScienceNow series. On a more level, the manner in which each section of the feature is separated is another positive. Rather than just going from one topic to another, the near hour long feature—it actually runs just over fifty-three minutes not counting credits—is broken up using slates introducing each section. These momentary breaks make the program that much easier to follow for audiences of all ages. And it is also another way in which the Nova offshoot separates itself from its “parent” product yet makes itself just as enjoyable, if not more enjoyable. Along with the viewer friendly content, it shows once again the value of not only Nova ScienceNOW but of programming in general on PBS. This program is available now online and can be ordered via the PBs online store at http://www.shoppbs.org.
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