The latest installment of Animated Life, a series of animations by Flora Lichtman and Sharon Shattuck chronicling major scientific discoveries from inspiration to acceptance, is about Alfred Wegener and his then-controversial ideas about Pangea and continental drift.
In this paper-puppet documentary short, Lichtman and Shattuck shine a light on three themes of discovery. First, that outsiders can contribute a lot. As they write in The New York Times:
In this film, we celebrate Alfred Wegener, who studied astronomy, worked as an atmospheric physicist, and seemed happiest exploring Greenland on grueling multiyear expeditions. How did someone with no training in geology come up with a theory that is now central to earth science? The historian Mott Greene, author of the forthcoming book "Alfred Wegener: Science, Exploration and the Theory of Continental Drift," reminds us that many great discoveries in science were made by outsiders to a given scientific field. Louis Pasteur was a crystallographer; Darwin, a geologist.
Second, that vindication is by no means a guarantee. Wegener's ideas were initially met with resistance by the fields that he was an outsider in. It wasn't until after his death that plate tectonics took off and vindicated his observations.
And third, that even a major contributor can be wrong. The short points out that Wegener was really only right that continents were moving. He was wrong about how it happened and about how fast it was occurring. And yet, if he hadn't put his conception of continental drift into the world, it may have taken much longer for scientists to investigate just how the continents were moving.
As usual, the animation is charming and educational.