November 25, 2010

Science Song of the Week #27: "A Wave of Reason"

John Boswell has taken a highly innovative approach to creating music out of science: he uses Auto-Tune software to create vocal tracks of Carl Sagan and others "singing" and creates instrumental accompaniment for their "melodies." He describes his latest piece, just released this week, as follows:
"A Wave of Reason" is the seventh installment in the Symphony of Science music video series. It is intended to promote scientific reasoning and skepticism in the face of growing amounts of pseudoscientific pursuits, such as Astrology and Homeopathy, and also to promote the scientific worldview as equally enlightening as religion. It features Carl Sagan, Bertrand Russell, Sam Harris, Michael Shermer, Lawrence Krauss, Carolyn Porco, Richard Dawkins, Richard Feynman, Phil Plait, and James Randi.

November 21, 2010

Harry Potter and the Prince of Science Songs

"Tom Lehrer, in my opinion, is the cleverest and funniest man of the 20th century." So said Daniel Radcliffe, who plays Harry Potter in the movies based on the J.K. Rowling novels, in a recent BBC telecast. Then, as if to prove his devotion to Lehrer, he performs a rushed but recognizable version of one of Lehrer's most famous songs, "The Elements."

Thanks to my friend Jeremy for sharing this.

November 18, 2010

Science Song of the Week #26: "Fossil Man"

Well, here we are already -- halfway through a year of Science Songs of the Week!

The SECOND-biggest YouTube collection of science songs of which I'm aware is that of Mark Rosengarten, who was featured in week 14. The biggest YouTube collection of all, I think, has been posted by a Bill Nye fan who has uploaded music videos from nearly every episode of Bill Nye the Science Guy.

Below is one of my favorites, a parody of the Elton John song we were just discussing.

November 16, 2010

Rocket science

I just discovered one of those Internet archives that other people have been enjoying for years: the McSweeney's collection of Pop-Song Correspondences by John Moe. These are letters imagined to have been written to, from, or about the performers of various pop hits. The titles remind me of headlines from the Onion. For example:
* James Taylor Issues an Update on "The Friendship Promise"
* Attention, Mr. Axl Rose: We Did Not Feel Welcome in the Jungle
* A Letter to Prince Regarding the Crying of Doves and the Fiasco That Resulted From the Presentation of a Speech on That Topic

Since this is a blog about science songs, I'd like to direct your attention to A Letter to Elton John From the Office of the NASA Administrator. This is based on John's 1972 hit Rocket Man, of course. I love that song, yet I've always been bothered by the lines, "And all this science I don't understand/ It's just my job, five days a week." I've seen enough NASA propaganda to know that its astronauts are highly trained in science, and so has Moe. Writing as "James C. Fletcher, NASA Administrator," he provides this hilarious rebuke:

We expect a great deal from our astronauts, but perhaps the most important part of the job is an understanding of science. For our top men -- Armstrong, Aldrin, and the like -- understanding the science is more than a 9-to-5 job; they work at it seven days a week. Frankly, sir, I doubt your scientific acumen. After demanding data from you for days, you were only able to offer this insight: "Mars ain't the kind of place to raise your kids. In fact, it's cold as hell. And there's no one there to raise them if you did." First off, if you did what? That doesn't even make sense. Secondly, we did not send you up there to evaluate whether Mars is fit for human habitation or child rearing. Thirdly, your mission was not even going to Mars.

I'm glad somebody took John to task for his portrayal of astronauts -- even if the true fault lies with his lyricist, Bernie Taupin.

November 15, 2010

A trio of new science song CDs

Just in time for the year-end holidays come new CDs from veteran science singer/songwriters Dr. Chordate, Professor Boggs, and Monty Harper. The respective titles are The View from the Pond: More Songs of Science; Round the World with Science; and Songs From the Science Frontier. Orders for each may be placed on the musicians' websites (see links above), which also contain some song excerpts and lyrics.

Below are videos for "Ain't It Beautiful" and "Eat a Toad," two of the songs included in these new albums.

November 11, 2010

Science Song of the Week #25: "Natural Selection"

The topic of this week's song is a bit redundant with SSotW #4, but the songs themselves could hardly be more different. "Natural Selection" comes from a unique album called The Origin of Species in Dub, a reggae representation of Darwin's famous book. The video is embedded below, but I recommend going to the Genomic Dub Collective's web page on this video for complete lyrics and other relevant information.

November 6, 2010

Grants for singing scientists

Last month's posts on science song trivia were pulled from the archives of a monthly newsletter that I used to write. Some other good tidbits are buried in those archives as well, and I may recycle them from time to time -- like right now, for example.

The May 2004 newsletter included a summary of all of the science song-related grants I was aware of at the time, as follows:

* The Chromatics, an a cappella group from Maryland, were awarded a NASA IDEAS (Initiative to Develop Education through Astronomy and Space Science) grant in 1997, which they used to develop a CD of 6 astronomy songs. After the grant money ran out, they continued to write and record additional songs, the end result being a revised-and-expanded CD called AstroCappella 2.0.

* Priscilla Laws, a physics professor at Dickinson College in Pennsylvania, received a small grant from the National Science Foundation in the mid-'90s that she used to finance an album of Physics Pholk Songs compiled and recorded by David and Ginger Hildebrand.

* In 2002, Carl Winter, director of the UC-Davis FoodSafe program, was awarded a 3-year, $418,391 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to improve food safety education through the use of music-based curricula. This one even spawned a couple of publications in peer-reviewed journals: "Incorporation of music in a food service food safety curriculum for high school students" (S.M. McCurdy et al., Food Protection Trends 28: 107-114, 2008) and "Food Safety Education Using Music Parodies" (C.K. Winter et al., Journal of Food Science Education 8: 62-67, 2009).

Much more recently -- earlier this year, in fact -- Wendy Silk of UC-Davis was given an "incubator" grant from NSF to develop a network of folks interested in science songs. Her proposal was "Undergraduate Biology Education - Songs for Teaching (UBEST)," and this blog is one networking/outreach activity resulting from it.

Perhaps others out there have also secured bits of funding for activities related to science songs. If you know of any, please leave a comment!

November 4, 2010

Science Song of the Week #24: "A Song About An Anglerfish" by Hank Green

I've been doing a lot of grant-writing lately and haven't been outside for two days. But things could be worse -- I could be an anglerfish.

On second thought, maybe it would be better to be an anglerfish right now. In the words of the song, "You can't hate the night if you live your whole life without light."

(Thanks to London Parker for emailing me this link!)