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Wheezy Waiter announces the SciShow nominees for "Worst Science in a Film," & Hank talks about the bird flu and shares two sounds that had never been heard by human ears until very recently.

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Special thanks to Craig Benzine AKA Wheezy Waiter:

[Culture Medium]

Craig WheezyWaiter: Hello. I'm wearing a suit. Introduction over!

So a week from Sunday, "the Academy" will be handing out their Oscars for Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Non-Sporting Group, Best Herding, Best Terrier Group -- those last three are for the Westminster Dog Show. But we're going to help Hollywood with a much needed category: Worst Science in a Film.

This envelope is gold, so you know it's a big deal. There's a long history of horrible science on the big screen. There's 2012, for instance, in which John Cusack watches the world fall apart because it's 2012! And the 1998 space-ball disaster Armageddon is so bad that NASA actually uses it for its management training program. They ask prospective employees to point out as many of the 168 scientifically impossible things that happen in the 150 minute movie. That's 1.12 falsehoods per minute!  Which is one tenth as many as in my job resume. It's a video resume. I may have taken a few liberties with my skills and appearance.

So what were this year's horrible scientific Hollywood atroshi--atro--[bleep]. So what were this year's horrible scientific Hollywood atrocities? Well, without further ado, here are the SciShow nominees for Worst Science in a Film of 2011.

Melancholia: Danish director Lars von Trier's latest attempt to make us all feel terrible about ourselves and humanity. With that title, he's not even trying to hide it anymore. His next film should be called [sobbing sounds].

This one's a bit more science-y. In it, a rogue planet is on a collision course with Earth, causing strife for Kirsten Dunst. So inconvenient. I can't tell you how many times I was late for the bus because I had to dodge a planet.

There are two big problems with the science in this one. First, no one has seen the planet, which is called Melancholia, approach because it was hidden by the sun. Well, as some of you might know, the Earth actually orbits the sun, so it wouldn't be invisible for too long.

Two, once Melancholia passes the sun and is visible in the sky, it takes way too long to cause damage on Earth. In reality, things would get bad real fast. In fact, the crazy gravitational distortions would cause Earth to basically melt into lava ,killing us all way before the collision. So if all the drama in that movie made you feel bad, don't worry, they would have melted away into lava long before that. Happy days.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes: Now the non-science side of me actually liked this movie. But don't be fooled, there are a lot of things that are wrong, wrong, wrong. Evolution becomes revolution is an awesome tagline, but it is quite inaccurate. And there are two big flaws in the story here, scientifically speaking. First, Caesar, the star chimp, supposedly inherited high intelligence from his mother, who was given a new gene therapy to help the brain heal itself. And the mother received this new wonder drug after she conceived. The idea that Caesar would inherit traits acquired during a parent's lifetime is called Lamarckism, and it was disproven by a guy named Darwin. Charles was his first name. Or Chuck. I like to call him Chuckie. But he never calls me back, because he's been dead for about a hundred and thirty years. Oh, Chuckie Darwin, I miss you.

Another flaw in the story is that Caesar gives the drug to all his friends who become super intelligent overnight. That's not called evolution. That's called magic. So the tagline should have been something like magic becomes revolution. Or magic, the gathering, because they're all gathering. I, uh, I don't know.

Transformers: Dark Side of the Moon: Now I realize this is easier than shooting fish in an aquarium that transformed into a barrel, but when the scientific inaccuracy is in the freaking title of the film we can't ignore it.

In this case, Apollo 11 astronauts went to the moon to investigate a Cybertronian spacecraft. But they have to wait for the moon to rotate to the dark side so that no one on Earth knows what they're doing. But the moon is tidally locked with Earth, so that means it doesn't rotate to the dark side, it's always facing right at us. The same side. Just like how I'm always faced at you. See, I'm like the moon. I'm like the moon. I'm like the moon.

We're not even gonna get into the bad science of robots turning into vehicles. My father was a robot that turned into a vehicle, and it's a touchy subject. He didn't know how to turn back.

So, the moment we've been waiting for. The winner is... it's empty. Oh yeah, you're voting for it.

Which of these three movies is the most scientifically egregious? Egregious means super bad and stuff. Cast your votes by naming the movie's full title in the comment field below. You can vote until next Friday, February 23rd, at noon mountain time. And then the winning movie will magically appear in this envelope March 2nd, and that's when we will announce it.

I realize we don't deal in magic here on the SciShow, we deal in science. So I'm just gonna put my iPhone in this envelope, that's how it will appear. So vote now! I'm standing up over here, so you can see the full suit. Because I put on black shoes and gray socks and everything. You wouldn't have been able to see it otherwise, so.


Everybody, Wheezy Waiter. Thanks a lot. I can't wait to find out who the biggest loser is. Now while we're talking about problematic science, I thought I'd give you a booster shot on facts behind a huge scientific controversy that you may have already heard about.

It's about the bird flu, otherwise known as H5N1, a deadly virus that can be contracted by people directly from birds, but it hasn't been readily transmissible between people. Until now. Probably.

Two weeks ago, experts in medicine and public health met in New York to debate the revelation made by two teams of scientists that they had successfully mutated H5N1 so that it could be transmitted between mammals. The two teams, one Dutch, the other American, have argued that given how deadly this disease has been so far, we have to figure out how the viruses can be transmitted so that we can start preparing vaccines and other defenses.

In fact, that's exactly what the Dutch team was paid to do by the U.S. National Institutes of Health. Now the bigger controversy here is that the scientists also want their methods to be published in full, so that more people can help with this effort. But lots of others, including maybe a piece of me, have responded that the teams should not publish the details of how they mutated this virus because, you know, there are lots of people out there who are both smart and totally fricking crazy.

So yes, there are now strains of bird flu that are contagious among mammals locked in labs in Rotterdam and Madison, Wisconsin, but before you start stocking your basement with purified water and canned ham, let's go over what we know.

There are three main types of flu, called A, B, and C. Types B and C are like ehhh, but type A is like, uggh. H5N1, and probably almost every other flu that you've ever complained about, is a type A virus. Type B is exclusive to humans, seals, and ferrets, and I don't know why just the three of us. But the fact is that both the teams that mutated H5N1 did it using ferrets, because apparently they have immune systems very similar to ours.

And to understand how the virus was changed, it helps to understand its structure. A viruses are categorized by two types of proteins that they have on their surface. Hemagglutinin is a protein that allows the virus to stick to the inside of your cell membrane while it's infecting you, and neuraminidase, another protein, helps to release viruses created in the host cell back into your body to continue to infect more cells. We call these proteins H and N, and we name the flu virus by which kind of each protein they have, named in order of when we discovered them.

So H1N1 was then the first flu categorized in this way, and it was studied a lot because it was horrible. In 1918, a strain now remembered as the Spanish flu infected about 27% of the world and killed about a hundred million people.

Now everything I'm about to tell you here is public information, I'm not giving away any national secrets. I'm not endangering you. But the American team was able to make H5N1 contagious by taking the H5 hemagglutinin gene from H5N1 and splicing it on to the remaining genes from H1N1 2009. H1N1 2009 is the virus that caused the so-called swine flu pandemic in 2009. The result was a strain of H5N1 that's contagious among ferrets, but none of the infected animals died and scientists were actually able to use a vaccine to prevent other ferrets from getting infected.

The Dutch team, on the other hand, did things a little bit differently, and the results are a lot scarier. Basically, what they did is they just kept passing the virus from one ferret to another until it adapted to the ferrets' immune systems. By the end, a healthy ferret could get infected simply by sharing a cage with a sick one, and the results were fatal.

When it comes to determining how dangerous bird flu actually is, it depends on how scared you actually want to be. The most widely used estimate is that 60% of reported cases end in death, but research suggests that that's an exaggeration because a lot of cases probably aren't reported, or aren't that severe. So the case fatality rate may be more like 14% to 33%, but still, by comparison the Spanish flu was thought to have a fatality rate of about 3%. So yeah, there's that.

Scientific journals haven't yet said whether they'll publish the details of how the mutations were created, but apparently all you need is a flu virus and a bunch of ferrets. But the question is, should they publish that research? Are we more afraid of it happening naturally and not being prepared for it, or creating something that will be unleashed upon us by some idiot jerkface.

I'm interested to know your opinion because I'm having a hard time forming one of my own, so please, leave your thoughts down in the comments.

[Data Points]

Finally, two data points I want to leave you with this week, the oldest sound, and the newest.

Point One: A sound was heard last week that has never fallen on human ears before. The love song of Archaboilus musicus, a species of katydid that lived 165 million years ago. Scientists were able to recreate its mating call thanks to a fossil of the insect found in China that was exceptionally well preserved. Especially the rigid part of the wings that males rub together to make their come hither chirp. By studying these structures and comparing them to other known katydids, scientists came up with this sound.

[A. musicus chirps]

Not bad. Researchers say that this shows that musical calls were an early innovation among katydids, also known as bush-crickets. And they also note that this ancient chirp was about half as high in pitch as today's katydids. It was a tone, they wrote in the journal PNAS, that was well adapted to communication and the highly cluttered environment of the mid-Jurassic forest produced by coniferous trees and giant ferns. Cool.

Okay. Point Number Two: The latest animal sound to be discovered is one that this cute slash messed up little primate called a tarsier has been making for a long time, we've just never been able to hear it.

A team of U.S. scientists studied tarsiers in the Philippines and found that they can hear and make sounds at frequencies that no other primates can.

Seriously, researchers thought that they were just yawning, until one scientist had the presence of mind to record it. And then if you slow it down by a factor of 15, this is what the tarsier's call sounds like. But you may want to pause, turn down your volume, definitely take off your headphones.

[tarsier sound]

Much less pleasant. Scientists are not sure yet what the tarsiers are using this noise to communicate. But frankly I am not sure that I want to know more. You can learn more about it in Biology Letters, which we will link to below.

All right, friends, that is it for now. If you have a tip, an idea, a question you'd like us to answer, you can contact us through Facebook or Twitter or of course in the Youtube comments below. Don't forget to post your opinions of the worst science in cinema, and the controversy of the artificial bird flu.