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New Discovery Show explains extreme street dancing, is awesome anyway

At Scientific American, we don't just make science media; we're also, of necessity and by choice, avid consumers of it. We sit around making catty comments about Wired Science the way most people dissect celebrity outfits at the Oscars. We admire or dismiss the latest issues of our comrades' magazines, and we perk up when other publications redesign their websites or make questionable decisions. So I was happy to see that the Discovery Channel, which often defines science so loosely that they lose me completely (but who get points for bringing to this shore the BBC's utterly awesome Planet Earth series, which possibly got even better with the replacement of David Attenborough as the narrator with Sigourney Weaver), have decided to take the high road with their new show (mostly). It's called Human Body: Pushing the Limits, and it's basically about how incredibly capable our body is, especially when faced with adversity. Admittedly, using true-life stories of disaster -- man gets picked up and thrown by tornado, man gets crushed under giant rock, cop reacts quickly in a high-speed chase -- is more than a little sensationalistic, and those raised on Nova and Nature are going to find the presentation overblown. That said, the filmmakers get a gold star for taking some pretty hairy subjects -- aerobic vs. anaerobic metabolism; the pinhole-camera nature of our eyes and the sensitivity of our peripheral vision; the brain's ability to make inferences based on scant information -- and making them riveting by weaving them into stories of heart-pounding action. It also doesn't hurt that at every opportunity, they use CGI to strip the skin off the actors and turn them into hideously compelling animatronic versions of those plastinated corpses we've all seen at various Body Worlds exhibitions. Anyway, I learned a bunch from watching the clips they have at the show's website (did you know the fraction-of-an-inch thick cartilage in your knees can bear seven tons?) and I'd TiVo the real thing in a second if I had TiVo or bothered to watch TV. Maybe some day soon they'll get hip to this whole "web" thing the kiddies are talking about and start offering this show via iTunes or Joost. Until then you'll just have to content yourself with this clip, which I call The Science of Extreme Street Dancing. The Science part is awesome, but the Street Dancing -- well, couldn't they have picked something a little better known in the States?

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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