Thursday, 17 March 2011

Six degrees - the documentary you can't see

A while back the BBC put on an documentary about networks called "Six Degrees". Normally when you see a documentary about a field that you're vaguely related to you feel a bit sick because they did it all wrong.

Well I have worked in networks a bit and I thought Six Degrees was excellent. It got a great balance of the historical study of networks and then it ran its own version of the Milgram experiment which was mostly used as a plot device to keep driving the story forwards. The people involved (Watts, Strogatz, Barabasi) were all very entertaining and successfully transmitted the excitement of scientific discovery.

Suffice to say it was great. I had planned to link to it and then discuss it a little bit. Annoyingly the BBC have switched off the iPlayer version of the programme and they now appear to have shutdown the version at top documentaries.

I know the beeb don't want to give away content for free but it strikes me that a resource this useful (I'd even recommend it to scientists new to the field) should be kept live. Instead it's buried away where it's now useless. Scientists are always told about public engagement, well unblock this film - engage!

I'm going to write to them an encourage them to let it free, then perhaps instead of a rant about the BBC we can talk about some science.

As you can see from the comments, the BBC didn't make the film so they can't keep it online. I can't work out how to get a DVD yet but when I find out I'll put up a link and then can get on talking about networks. In the mean time, this book, "Small World" by Mark Buchanan is well worth a read.


  1. Dear Doug - thank you for your post. This is Annamaria Talas, director and co-copyright owner of SIX DEGREES. The film was made by independent companies and only licensed by broadcasters. I believe BBC doesn't have the right to post it on-line, could be one of the reasons why they didn't do it. There are DVDs with extended interviews you can buy from a distributor company - DV1. Any income from sales helps us to make more, equally important documentaries while illegal posting undermines our financial abilities to produce science films.

    If you need further information you can contact me on:

    Best wishes,

  2. Hi Annamaria,

    Thanks for the information, and for Six Degrees, you really nailed it!

    It occurred to me after I posted that it was probably an independent film. I've been searching all over the internet for the DVD but I'm having no luck finding it. If you have a link that'd be really useful - I'd definitely buy a copy.

    While I (clearly) don't know anything about distribution, it'd be great if the BBC or similar could work out the licensing to make this sort of quality programme more widely available. I should have been more careful with my wording "let it free". I of course mean "make it available", no one expects it to be given away.