Minute Physics gets pink wrong

(Updated; see below.)

I’m surprised that Minute Physics would get this wrong:

Link: http://youtu.be/S9dqJRyk0YM

It’s true that there’s no wavelength of light that’s pink and that the color magenta is basically white light with the middle wavelengths omitted. But despite what Minute Physics claims, the color usually referred to as “pink” isn’t magenta; it’s pale red, or (in photography and videography) a mix of roughly equal levels of blue and green light plus a greater amount of red.

There are many other colors seen by humans that don’t correspond to single wavelengths, such as brown and cyan, not to mention dozens of colors women have names for and men don’t. Moreover, what we see as yellow can be monochromatic yellow (as in a pair of emission lines of sodium) or instead a mixture of red and green with no yellow wavelengths at all. (Televisions and computer monitors, for example, produce no yellow light; they fake it with red and green.)

In brief, color isn’t the same as wavelength. Minute Physics has that basic idea right at least, but the people involved, who are otherwise bright and charming, no doubt kind to children and admired even by their enemies, need to read up more on color perception and photography.

And equating pink with all other wavelengths of the electromagnetic spectrum besides green is just downright bizarre…

Update: A comment on this post form someone named Violet suggests that calling magenta “pink” is not so bizarre after all, and I must concede that Violet has a point. The subject has come up in the context of, oddly enough, British politics, as explained by John Oliver in a clip I included in this later post.

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Minute Physics gets pink wrong — 7 Comments

  1. Yes, I agree with all the points you made here. I was poking around with google to see if I could find anyone who had posted a review of this video. Now the question is, is there any value in the other minute physics video’s on more advanced topics?

    • I haven’t looked at enough of them to form a firm opinion, and I’m not a physicist in any case. (I was a physics major in college, but that was a long while ago.) But on average, I think they tend to do a pretty good job, and they’re entertaining. You might want to check out the Sixty Symbols videos (http://www.sixtysymbols.com) from the University of Nottingham, however, since they’re produced by a university physics department. There’s actually quite a lot of good educational stuff on YouTube, far more than we had back in my day. Of course, life was hard then. We lived in a shoebox in the middle of road. (Don’t believe me, see this clip.)

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  3. This is where I point out something very vital about the color “pink” as many were taught in what we thought as “fundamental” color science–Pink is red and white mixed together. Well yes, that is one kind of pink, but not the kind of pink Minute Physics is referring to. MAGENTA is a very distinguishable color that is not reproducible using “red” and “white” pigments. In fact, pigmentation in paints is often much more complicated than what we were taught in our basic elementary school classes. The pink minute physics is referring to is not the pink of equal mixes of green and blue with red, but of an equal mix of blue and red, which I like to distinguish from all of the other pinks and instead use the term “magenta.” (Saying this, however, neglects basic understanding of subtractive and additive color mixing. Spare me the pain.)

    If you want a good head start on some ideas of where to start looking for the as to how color vision works, I’d refer to HandPrint. http://www.handprint.com/LS/CVS/color.html

    While you’re at it, you might as well research how pigmentation in paints work, too. http://www.handprint.com/HP/WCL/water.html

    Or, you know, just drop me a question or two. I’ve been independently studying the properties of color for years.

    • Hi Violet. Yes, magenta is indeed a quite distinct color in human vision, and one of the subtractive primaries uses in printing and in film-based color photography. My point is that it’s almost never called “pink,” which as you note has a standard definition as desaturated red (that is, red plus white), something of course very different from magenta.

      I appreciate the link to the Handprint site, which does indeed appear from a quick skim to have quite good information on human color vision and its interaction with the physics of light, albeit with some omissions. For example, in the section on the possibility of vision with four types of cones (link), there’s no mention of the fact that some vertebrates (notably quite a lot of birds) have four-color vision, and that at least some of them can see into the ultraviolet (as can other creatures, such as some insects). On the other eyeball, that’s not really a complaint since the topic doesn’t directly relate to human vision.

      Color vision is a longtime interest of mine as well, having studied physics in college and worked as a photographer and videographer and briefly in my youth had aspirations of becoming a painter. Thanks for your comment.

    • Violet, if you happen to check back here, see the update above. It seems the question of can magenta be pink or vice versa has come up in the context of British politics, of all things.

  4. Pingback: The British Labour Party enters the pink / magenta dispute | D Gary Grady

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