Why Science Is Important in Italian

By Phil Plait | March 17, 2010 12:30 pm

Actually, science is important in any language, but in this case, Paolo Navaretti took my video about why I think science is important (I originally wrote about it here) and added Italian subtitles. I assume what he did is correct, since the only Italian I know is how to say "I am wounded," which I learned from my dad’s WWII phrase books he had.

Anyway, if you’re Italian or know an Italian or play one on TV, then you may enjoy me making faces with Italian words flashing by underneath.


Comments (26)


    Phil, like in those Spaghetti Westerns, the dialogue in that video is out of synchronization with your lip movements.

  2. TheInquisitor

    I hope someone does one in Klingon.

  3. Russell

    I just realized that your blog is not supposed to be just said “bad astronomy,” it’s really “bad ASS-tronomy.”

  4. CS

    As an Italian I can confirm that Paolo Navaretti did a very good job with the subtitles.
    It’s not easy, because more often than not Italian requires more words than English.

  5. Thameron

    Once upon a time it was possible for one human being to comprehend all of the science known to our species. That day passed, but it was still possible for one human being to understand most of the science known to our species. That day passed as well. Now it is only possible for any one human being to know just a tiny slice of current science and that slice shrinks by the minute. So if you go to the common person on the street and tell them that ‘science’ is important will you similarly tell them which parts of it are important enough to learn and which are less important? That might not be self-serving of you considering that aside from the rocks and slushballs flying around the solar system which might impact the planet and the behavior of the sun there really isn’t a lot beyond the atmosphere that will change the choices they make whereas biology, physiology, geology, ecology, meteorology and chemistry will certainly have a greater impact on their lives and they could spend the rest of their lives just trying to catch those trains.

  6. AV

    To reiterate what CS said above: as a native of that Mediterranean peninsula, the translation is a fine job. He even employs a very good Italian (using ‘congiuntivo’), something that is not often heard in today’s television or street conversation.

  7. Kenny

    Until science lets me fly to work, or even teleport… Science has failed!

  8. @Thameron
    Life is easily long enough to get a good digest of the major sciences, and places like this make it easy to keep on top of most new discoveries. There certainly isn’t time to specialise in each and every specialism, but unless you actually want to do research that isn’t necessary. Most importantly though, an understanding of the scientific method is key, and you don’t need any specific cutting-edge knowledge to learn that.

  9. MarcoDL

    Good job in putting the subtitles on your video, let’s hope that many professor use it during their lessons in school.

    Science is not easy in Italy due to lack of funds and of structures, without mentioning the lack of wit of the government and many politicians; Italy is a net exporter of brains.

    Ah, I forgot to mention that the vice-president of the CNR (National Center for Research) is a tough-line creationist


  10. Rob

    I’m Italian and I agree with you. This is a very good job a part the translation of the pay off at the very end. :)

  11. John Baxter

    Phil, may you never have to make use of the ‘I am wounded’ phrase. In any language.

  12. DaveS

    Kenny, you can fly to work today. You just live and work in the wrong place. For example, until the disgraceful Mayoral crime in Chicago, Meigs field hosted a LOT of businessmen who would fly to work from a runway-neighborhood in Wisconsin every day.

  13. John Paradox

    I remember two phrases from my High School French (sorry to change the language, but they are both Romance Languages). They are, in English “I don’t know” and “Where’s the bathroom?”. Of course, if you think about it, knowing the latter is kind of silly, since I couldn’t understand the answer(unless it was the first phrase, which would leave me in just as bad a shape)!


  14. This got me thinking about translating it into Arabic. I realized two things while watching it again:

    1. Phil talks pretty fast.
    2. A lot of the technologies he mentions and certain idiosyncracies in his speech are cumbersome in translation and it’s going to require some imagination.

    I don’t know any Italian, but just based on just those two things, good work Paolo!

  15. Mike from Tribeca

    A few years ago on a whim I took Italian lessons, and it was one of the most fun things I’ve ever done. My wonderful professoressa was a ringer for Claudia Cardinale, which as my nephew would say was all good. At least 70% of the language seems to be street slang, and most of it is funny and punny as all get out. Check out the two volume “Street Italian; The Best of Naughty Italian” books by David Burke, published by Wiley Books. They’re funny as heck and molto cattivo! Italian truly is the language of the sweet life.

    Oh, and thanks for the video link too!

  16. MadScientist

    Ah, you should visit Italy, BA. If you go to the south the first word you learn is “domani”. Ask anyone to do something and you get a very friendly “Si, domani!”

    So while waiting for domani (and as Shakespeare put it: domani and domani and domani creeps in this petty pace …) you can suppress your frustration with the Birra Locale and, depending on the season, the Vino Locale. If you’re in Sicily have a Granita; if you happen to be in Nicolosi try the Maccheroni con Pistacchio – it goes well with the horse antipasti.

  17. brad

    You really want to be in a Symphony of Science video, don’t you?

  18. Thameron

    @ Paul Duffield
    I have seen Dawkins make a similar argument to this in favor of the common person knowing science and it seems there are really two arguments going on. One is that you should know science because it is relevant to your life and the decisions that you will make and the other is that you should know science because it is interesting. I think the first stands a decent chance of success, but since as I pointed out you can’t know all of science you have to start with the most relevant sciences and work your way down to the least relevant and once you have established that there are no imminent planetary threats about which something could be done the relevance of astronomy drops dramatically and we should all go off and learn biology since we will be making biological decisions on a daily basis (like what to eat for example).

    The second argument, that people should learn science because it is interesting, is I believe essentially futile. Those who are interested already are and those who aren’t aren’t. I know for my own part that no amount of enthusiasm on the part of jazz aficionados or sports enthusiasts will ever make me spend time with either of those things because I am just not interested in them.

    As far as knowing the scientific method goes unless you are actually using it (and how many people commonly do?) most of the time your model of reality will come down to a matter of results and/or trust. If they announce that they have found the Higgs boson at the LHC we will pretty much have to trust them because none of us ordinary folk will be reproducing their results in our back yards.

  19. Diego

    Many thanks from italy, we follow you down here too !

    btw :
    “sono ferito”

    ciao and keep up the good work !

  20. Thanks everyone for the praises (and to Phil for the original material ;-)).

    @The Chemist: those were two of the major difficulties. Lack of time was the third one ūüėČ

    @IVAN3MAN: I know… the fact that the audio track is out of sync really annoys me, but as this was my first experiment with video editing (on a Mac) I really did not know how to quickly solve the issue. I have no idea where the delay comes from, but it was there ever since I’ve imported the video in iMovie. Any suggestion? Please? :-)

    On a slightly different note, when some years back I went to Hungary for the total solar eclipse (it was AWESOME!) I had a guide to the country that at the end had a section with “useful sentences” in the local language and one of those (right after the magyar word for “condoms”) was: “I am a powerful wizard”! Strangely enough, I never got to use it.

  21. @Thameron
    I agree that it’s hard/impossible to learn all science, and also agree with you about the reasons we should be learning and the limitations in getting uninterested people interested, but you (perhaps unintentionally) make it sound like those limitations make it futile to even try.

    I can see why that might be a valid conclusion if you think the scientific method can’t be useful in every day life, but if that’s our opinion, it may be that you’re too eager to equate science with complexity. As far as I can tell, various parts of the scientific method can be (and are, unconsciously, by everyone) employed in all sorts of facets of living, from basic decision making to figuring out what the causes of personal health problems are. Understanding it just helps to formalise any process it applies to and avoid making errors of judgement.

    As an analogy to your LHC argument, maths can be used to help me balance my accounts and save money on an accountant, but it can also be used to try and prove the Riemann hypothesis. I’m not going to be proving the Riemann hypothesis and will just have to trust anyone who says they have, but that would be a stupid reason not to learn maths and keep my own books. Maths and (assuming that you accept what I’m saying about applying the scientific method to everyday life) science can both be useful mental tools, and the fact that they can also be dedicated careers involving pure research doesn’t change that.

  22. Cochise

    That’s great, a video with Italian subtitles. I’m deaf, and would love to see more English subtitling for online videos. Sometimes I feel like the online community and the video game industry are forgetting about the deaf population.

  23. Great! Now we have it in English, Spanish and Italian! :)

    BTW, I’ve played the Spanish version few days ago, as the introductory part for an astronomy 101 lesson. People was silently listening and watching a bald guy with glasses talking about… well…science :p

    At the end of the lecture, I made a brief introduction to DEATH while saying: “Ok, do you remember the bald guy from the beginning? He wrote this book and you better have it if you want to survive the End of Everything”

    IŠłŅ glad to say that many of them approached and skimmed its pages, asking where to obtain it.

    Clear skies!

  24. Thameron

    @Paul Duffield

    I do want to be clear that I favor the instruction of critical thinking and certainly the scientific method as part of that. The gold standard of science though is the double blind peer reviewed study and there aren’t too many people out there doing that if they are not paid for it. There is a certain amount of trust that we have in the system. I also favor a good knowledge in basic science so far as it applies to you, but my point about the amount of science to know stands. When you talk about knowing ‘Science’ you have specify which parts of ‘Science’ you are speaking of. Is it really any wonder that the worldview unchanging, ungrowing religious systems that one human being can master are popular? One thing that should definitely be taught to children and which is loosely related to science is scam avoidance. Snake oil salesmen, in the form of homeopaths, naturopaths, astrologers and psychics etc. abound. Children should be taught how they an their inevitable successors are wrong.

    Now as to the question of whether it is futile to try to get people uninterested in science to be interested I will have to say I don’t think it is possible, but I will go with the data. If the evidence suggests that it is possible to get those uninterested interested then I’ll change my view. Until then all I have is anecdote. From a very young age I was interested in science, but neither of my parents was a scientist and science was not emphasized in our household. For that reason I tend to believe that the interest is inherent. I was born with an interest and if you are born without it then no amount of Hubble pictures and astronomer enthusiasm will change that. So yes, I think the argument from interest is futile. For the interested it is unnecessary and for the uninterested it is unconvincing.


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