America: The Story of Us

I so desperately wanted this program to be decent.

Is it decent? If you’re looking for “remastered” footage, yes, it’s decent. The presentation pace is also good. The images have been retouched a bit to get rid of the CCD blowout and other film artifacts of the era and the colors absolutely pop.

The problem is the content is crap.

The last episode supposed that a slave (Onesimus) taught his master how to inoculate against smallpox, and they make this a Guns Germs and Steel type argument for how slaves kicked off modern medicine. Unfortunately that master was none other than Cotton Mather – who was very likely either a liar or batshit crazy and he was the lead figure in the prosecution for the Salem Witch Trials.

I’m sorry, I’m watching this program going “are you serious”? There’s a big difference between inoculation and variolation. The former being invented by Edward Jenner working with the cowpox virus and involves pus for a much lesser chance of infection and the latter being practised in China and India which involved transferring the infected tissue wholesale from one person to another. When you go to the doctor, he doesn’t have meat cut off a corpse he’s trying to sell you – he has a needle.

Variolation against smallpox was invented by the Chinese or Indians somewhere around 1400AD. This is recorded history, you can look it up. The Song Dynasty encountered smallpox through trade and the Emperor lost his next in lineage to the disease. He summoned the entire Chinese medical community to the city to figure out how to prevent it from wiping out the dynasty. Your gross fact of the day is that the Chinese did not make a wound and infect it with scabs, they actually crushed up the scabs and mainlined them like so much blow. Smallpox – right to the lungs!

The Montegus brought the Variolation practise out of the Ottoman Empire, where they referred to it as engrafting. Think about that. Grafting the meat.

However, the program makes no distinction between the methods of fighting smallpox, completely ignores the Chinese and Indian medicines who were doing it for literally thousands of years before America and tries to sell you a lie. Maybe we’re all victims of oversimplication here but I really think that a channel called the History Channel should know its…. history.

BBC Fact-checking?

What the hell BBC?

There was a BBC Special on the Science of Optics.

Wow, there was a golden age of Islamic science? Really? Haven’t we read this article before?


I wrote the following to the BBC “Accuracy review” page:

A little fact checking would go a long way. The quotes here are taken directly from the Wikipedia article called CAMERA OBSCURA. The current revision is the most fact-checked, the previous revision ( has bits and pieces of your article in it. The BBC is republishing “facts” that Wikimedia debunked last year.

The current version isn’t really a shining example of wikimedia, but it’s better than the crap the BBC reposted. I suspect the current revision will be “corrected” after the BBC version.