Friday, September 19, 2014

Dear PBS Nova: Details Matter

My screen cap of this image is dated April of 2012, and I did in fact send an email to correct the Nova team. Never got a reply.

The image you see is from an episode of PBS' series Nova, and this show was about elements.

The problem is that they use a 1943 United States Cent to illustrate the use of copper. In 1943, the United States was at war, and copper was considered too valuable to the war effort to use in cents. So they made them out of steel. They even stick to a magnet.

People collected the unusual cents in huge quantities, and you can still get a steel cent in pretty good condition at any coin shop for less than a dollar. Steel in 1943, guys. Not copper. Better luck next time.


Jake said...

Ok to be fair, there are something like 40 copper 1943 cents known to exist. Apparently there were a few left over copper blanks in the hopper and they slipped into circulation with the rest.

Still, sloppy. Get it right or go home.

Eric said...

I'm surprised at that particular argument that Nova had failed. I would expect something about how the majority of the metallic content of a penny is currently something else (mostly zinc). They're still a good example of what copper is because the part that you can see is the part that is copper.

Jake said...

Since 1982, US cents have been 99% zinc with a 1% outer sheath of copper.

So you're right that a current cent would have at least given the right point.

I really think they chose the 1943 cent because the silver color makes it photograph well. So they had a good shot of a 1943 cent and colored it copper.