How fun animations can teach you important ideas about the world
Updated: Sep 29, 2021
Today we’re sharing with you what we think is one of the most fun ways to learn quickly about important topics like nuclear power, organic farming and drug legalization. Kurzgesagt, German for “In a Nutshell”, is a Munich-based YouTube channel that presents animated, educational content in an easy-to-digest and entertaining format. Their videos cover scientific concepts, philosophical theories, and topics of political debate. If you’re looking for short, evidence-based summaries of the pros and cons on a subject, Kurzgesagt makes content we think you’d enjoy watching. Sometimes it seems that Kurzgesagt sacrifices precision in favor of approachability, so we’d encourage viewers to be wary of taking everything they say at face-value. The topics they tackle are complex and they don’t get the answers right on every subject, although we’re encouraged by the effort they’re making to be upfront about they way they collect their evidence. We talk about this in more detail below, but if you want to jump right into watching some of our favourite Kurzgesagt videos, take a look at this list we’ve compiled for you:
Is Organic Really Better? Healthy Food or Trendy Scam? This video weighs up evidence on organic crops to see if they actually do benefit our bodies and the environment in the ways that advertising implies. It explains what it means for food to be “organic” and compares data on the presence of antioxidants, nutritional value, pesticide use, and the environmental impact of organic and non-organic produce. Why Meat is the Best Worst Thing in the World A sobering explanation of the impact farming meat for slaughter has on the planet. This video acknowledges the appeal of meat while explaining the inefficiency of its production, including extensive land-use, feed and water-consumption, greenhouse gas emission, and the cruelty of factory farms. The video concludes with suggestions for how to decrease your meat intake if you’re not ready to give it up yet. 3 Arguments Against Legalizing Marijuana Reviewed This video tackles three well-known arguments against legalizing marijuana: that increased levels of THC make it a strong drug, that it encourages the use of other, more dangerous, drugs, and that it is addictive and unhealthy. Kurzgesagt suggest that increased regulation would make marijuana safer to use and allow more effective support for those suffering the negative consequences of the drug. Are GMOs good or bad? Genetic Engineering and Our Food As in the previous video, this is more one-sided take on GM crops, explaining and debunking the main objections to genetically modified crops - it covers the unintentional spreading of GMOs through breeding with traditional crops, potential toxicity to humans, and how pesticide-resistant plants allow certain manufacturers to monopolise the pesticide industry. 3 Reasons Why Nuclear Energy is Terrible! A summary of arguments against the use of nuclear energy, including the proliferation of deadly nuclear weapons, the problem of nuclear waste storage, and the risk of large-scale disasters. 3 Reasons Why Nuclear Energy is Awesome! A summary of arguments in support of nuclear energy, including preventing deaths from the burning of fossil fuels, the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, and the emergence of new technologies which could make nuclear reactors much more efficient. These suggestions are just a small sample from Kurzgesagt’s YouTube channel, which has over 80 videos on all kinds of interesting subjects. If you fancy something less scientific, check out their video on Optimistic Nihilism, which gives an uplifting take on the human condition. Why should you pay attention to Kurzgesagt? There are several reasons that we think the work Kurzgesagt does is valuable. They aim to take a balanced perspective on the issues that they discuss, presenting sources and further reading alongside each video. Not all their videos present both sides of an argument and we’d like to see more content like their analysis of organic farming and nuclear energy. Kurzgesagt also try to make clear when they’re expressing opinions instead of facts; they recently deleted two of their most popular videos (an explanation of addiction and an explanation of the European refugee crisis, totalling 31 million views) after deciding that their content was misleading and did not present unbiased, factual information. It's great (and rare) to see an organization admit their mistakes, especially when those mistakes are still driving viewership! They announced this via the video Can You Trust Kurzgesagt?, which detailed their research practices and the standards that past and present videos would be held to. In cases where their earlier videos were less rigorous, they have added additional comments and sources to explain as such. Of course, that doesn't mean they won't mistakes in their work in the future. Some of Kurzgesagt’s content is commissioned: their video on Egoistic Altruism (A Selfish Argument for Making the World a Better Place) and tropical diseases (The Most Gruesome Parasites) are funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The biggest criticism of Kurzgesagt is that their explanations and arguments are often simplified for the sake of brevity. With videos between 6 and 12 minutes long and complex topics whose history covers decades, if not thousands of years, their analysis is never going to be as nuanced as the research that their work is based on. For example, one of their most popular videos makes a mistake and gives different numerical figures from the science it was based on. At ClearerThinking, we’re very familiar with the struggle to ensure everything we’re saying is as accurate as possible. In 2016, we published a post about what we learned making our Common Misconceptions tool (a quiz which exposes some surprising facts and non-facts). We received corrections on the tool for months after it launched and dozens of respectable sources that we had based our information on turned out to be wrong. The truth can be hard to figure out, especially when creating understandable content for the public. For those of us who won’t get around to doing the research ourselves, Kurzgesagt is a fun, engaging way of absorbing information. Be encouraged by their willingness to consider the facts, but don’t assume they’ve got everything right.