Astronomy on QVC

This is yet another one you might have seen already, albeit in possibly abbreviated or confused form. It's a mix of hilarious and appalling.

QVC is a television shopping channel based in the U.S. (I could describe it in more detail, but I can't stand to. Besides, there's a pretty good explanation of it in the first clip below.) This particular program features fashion designer Isaac Mizrahi and host Jane Treacy. At one point Treacy is talking about a particular piece of fashion and suggests the fabric pattern looks like the Earth seen from a bazillion miles away, as from "the planet Moon." She quickly corrects herself, saying that the Moon is not a planet after all.

Mizrahi disagrees, asserting that it is too a planet, but Treacy maintains she's pretty sure it isn't. It's most likely a star, she says, because, you know, the Sun is a star, and also she remembers learning the names of the planets in school, "and there was Uranus, there was Saturn, and the one with the rings," and she's pretty sure the Moon wasn't on the list.

Mizrahi asked someone called "Chunky" to "Google the Moon," and eventually someone off-camera announces that the Moon is a "natural satellite." I'm not sure whether this was the result of Googling the Moon or perhaps someone on the technical crew was not an idiot, but there you have a pretty good response, not that it seemed to be much help.

Meanwhile, a fashion model can be seen near the right of the screen covering her face with her hands.

The first video below is from MSNBC's Rachel Maddow Show. Maddow (who has a doctorate from Oxford) finds the whole thing hysterical and possibly one of the best moments in television history, so she gives it rather too long a setup. But if you skip past the first two minutes, you can see the QVC clip pretty much without interruption. If you want a more abbreviated version, see second video further down.


The second clip is from ABC. It shows a few key moments of the QVC discussion followed by a quick interview with someone at the Griffith Observatory followed by some reasonably bright kids and unreasonably dim adults. Then the reporter, apparently terrified of being thought a nerd for actually remembering anything he learned in grade school, jokes about not having known himself what the Moon was. (What is it about this country that even a basic level of knowledge treated as something shameful or embarrassing?)


If you're wondering how people illiterate in science can not only be elected to Congress but appointed to head committees focusing on science and technology (see this earlier post), here's part of the reason why.

Incidentally, thinking of the Moon as a "planet" isn't entirely unreasonable. While the International Astronomical Union wouldn't call it that, our Moon (3475 kilometers in diameter) isn't much smaller than the planet Mercury (4880 km) and is a lot bigger than former planet Pluto (estimated to be about 2300 km). Also, the Moon's diameter is about 1/4 that of Earth's, and no other moon in the solar system is remotely as large in comparison with its associated planet. The Earth-Moon system has sometimes even been referred to as a "double planet." A star, on the other hand, is a glowing ball of plasma, a different sort of thing altogether.

Update: Astronomer Phil Plait just published a post (link) on his Bad Astronomy blog this that's a little more forgiving than I am.

He also makes a good point about humans' tendency to want sharply defined categories when the boundaries in practice are often fuzzier. In more or less the same vein, it occurred to me a long time ago that it might make sense to classify gas giant planets (Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, and their like in other solar systems) separately from the much smaller rocky planets (Mercury, Venus, Earth, and Mars). There's some arbitrariness in deciding what to group with what. But as Plait emphasizes, our rocky, stable Moon is vastly different from a star.

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