Ten Science Songs So Confusing They’re Not Even Wrong (Part 2)

Well hi there! Welcome to Part 2 of Ten Science So Confusing They’re Not Even Wrong, where we cover songs with science references so perplexing they can’t quite be classified.  If you missed part 1, you can find it here.

“Cosmic Thing” by The B-52s,
Nominated Line: whole song

Bethany: In the long and grand tradition of songs that just yell random words that are vaguely scienc-ey, comes a cosmic song with a wonderful chorus: COSMIC! COSMIC! WOOO COSMIC! IONOSPHERE! SHAKE YOUR HONEY BUNS!

I’m beginning to think science education may not be the purpose of this song.

Ben: The B-52s have always had a lyrical style that can best be described as “Kubla Khan, but written by a UCLA freshman taking an improv class while high on cheap ecstasy.” It’s simultaneously both unremarkable and unforgettable, and if this band hadn’t existed, I wouldn’t find myself singing “Everybody HAD! Matching TOWELS!” aloud at random and inappropriate intervals in my life.

I’m reluctant to spend much time on this song, because I’m worried that doing so will cause it to move permanently into a section of my brain, probably evicting something more important on its way in. By time this post is finished, I’ll have no recollection of the Webster-Ashburton treaty, but I will spend the rest of the month hum-shouting “don’t let it rest on the President’s desk!” Away with you, Fred Schneider! Haunt this cranium no more!

“Friction” by Echo & The Bunnymen
Nominated Line: whole song

Bethany: Friction! Hey friction! This song cites friction so much I was really excited to see what kind of physics problem they were going to throw me. There was a reference to telescopes, and I kind of thought I knew where things were going, and then we got to this line “If I ever catch that ventriloquist/I’ll squeeze his head right into my fist.”

Well then.

So the references to friction pick back up again with “stop this head motion”….then dies again with “Set the sails/You know all us boys gonna wind up in jail.” This test just got dark.

Ben: I have no beef with Echo and the Bunnymen, who I have always considered sort of the sonic equivalent of The Cure trying to create their own version of R.E.M.’s Monster (which, frankly, is sort of my jam). But there’s usually an unfascinating ambivalence to their lyrics, and it leaves the listener shrugging and going, “well, I guess it’s about something.”

I don’t know if the ventriloquist line is a metaphor, but I very much hope not. If this song was about the emotional pain that Ian McCulloch went through as a result of a dickish puppeteer upon whom he has vowed revenge, then I’m a million percent* back in on this song.

*since this is a science site, I should note that it is not actually possible to be a million percent into anything. I think.

Bethany: Wait, was this song on the Being John Malkovich sound track? I may have to rethink my review.

“What’s My Name” by Rihanna feat. Drake
Nominated Line: The square root of 69 is 8 something, cuz I’ve been trying to work it out.

Bethany: You know you’re a math geek when you hear a line like this and actually wonder why he stopped at 8 something, when there was so much more to say. Like 8.3066…..and that’s not the point here is it? No one was really going for math here were they? Well this is awkward.

Ben: It could be worse, Bethany. I had to go to Yahoo Answers in order to look up the joke. “Oh, eight as in… oh, I get it now.” Just humiliating all the way round.

It’s also a very Drake thing to throw in a bad math joke when appearing on a Rihanna song  – everything about his appearance shouts “I’m out of my league here and I know it.” Why else would he be wearing a UMass sweatshirt?

Bethany: Yeah, let’s just pretend this whole thing never happened.

“The Bad Touch” by Bloodhound Gang
Nominated Line: “Let’s do it like they do on the Discovery Channel.”

Bethany: Hey! It’s another song that’s not really wrong but makes me a little unsettled. I thought it would get better if I watched the video, but it actually got worse. The monkey costumes were actually used pretty well, which is part of the problem. Their impression of wild animals is just a little too good.

Ben: This is another song that brings up embarrassment, as I once had a pastor who emailed me to ask if I could put together “The Bloodhound Gang song” for a sermon she was doing. We had a good 36 hours of confusing, argumentative emails until I discovered that what she was actually referring to was this. We had very different cultural touchstones growing up.

This song arrived right about at the ideal point in my adolescence, as it was released during the summer I was 15 years old and working my first job at McDonald’s. I don’t think I’ve heard this song in at least a decade, but I bet if you plugged it into a karaoke machine and handed me a microphone, I could fly through the now-exceptionally-dated lyrics without barely a hiccup. “Yes I’m Siskel, yes I’m Ebert, and you’re getting two thumbs up!” The Wikipedia for this song says that it was remixed by both God Lives Underwater and Eiffel 65, which is a very turn-of-the-millenium piece of information.

My memory’s been abruptly jogged by writing this section: I did a post on this several years ago, during my “Hunt For The Most 90’s Song Of All Time!” As I recall, it scored moderately but not exceptionally highly. (I never finished the hunt, but it was clear early on that I wasn’t going to find a song more qualified than The Spice Girls’ “Wannabe.”)

Bethany: Okay, I was wondering if I should confess I know every word to this song, and you talked me in to it. I also still know all the words to “The Real Slim Shady”. That is definitely the reason I forget where I put my keys every morning.

Ben: If Smashmouth didn’t exist, I would still know trigonometry.

“Make her Say” by Kid Cudi feat Kanye West
Nominated Line: When You Used Your Medulla Oblongata And Give Me Scoliosis Until I Comatosest And Do While I’m Sleep, Yeah A Lil Osmosis

Ben: I’m ahead of Bethany again! And once again, it seems wise of me to step back and give her the lead. I’m an expert on all things Kanye, but not the central nervous system (the space for that information was taken up by the lyrics to “Love Shack”), and I better stick to my lane here.

Bethany: I’m going to start this in reverse order here. There’s an old joke in science major circles about “falling asleep on your textbook and learning by osmosis”. The proper response to this of course is “that assumes knowledge works like water, and you’re clearly not passing”. Science majors can be cruel.

Back to the beginning though. The medulla oblongata is a really important part of the brain, responsible for all sorts of nice things like breathing, swallowing, sneezing and reflexes.  I was going to give Kanye some credit here, because apparently there’s a condition called syringomyelia where the bone near the medulla oblogata has lesions and can eventually result in scoliosis….but then I realized he said that you use your medulla oblongata and give him scoliosis. I think there’s a blowjob joke in here somewhere, but frankly I’m not looking any further in to it.   Oh, and comatosest isn’t a word. You’re welcome.

Ben: We keep stumbling into accidental cunnilingus references, and that’s really not what we set out to do here (though, to be fair, I can only speak for me). A little research digs up the medulla oblongata controls a number of involuntary actions, like the um, gag reflex and, uh, swallowing, and um, I guess the point is that this might not just be blather that Ye is spitting here (pun not intended).

Basically, the more you look at this, the less it seems like a fun verse with a TI reference and you start to get focused on the fact that they sampled Lady GaGa’s “Poker Face” so that it became “poke her face” and… you know what, let’s just drop the mic and move on.

Bethany: Yeah, this is getting awkward. Science, you’re drunk. Go home.

Missed the rest of the series? Find it here!

Ten Science Songs So Confusing They’re Not Even Wrong (Part 1)

Well hi there!  Welcome back to Pop Science, the series where Ben and I take a look at the glorious inanity that happens when pop culture tries to get all science-like. The whole series is here, and we’ve focused on the good, the bad and the ugly. Today however, we’re doing something a little different: the confusing. These are the lyrics so wildly off base that you can’t even really criticize them. I mean, what does one say to “the color of the sky is 3?”. Let’s find out!

Miracles by Insane Clown Posse
Nominated Line:
whole song

Bethany: Ah, the song that launched a thousand magnet memes.

I could go through and correct this song, I could finally tell Shaggy how magnets work, but instead I’m going to give you my five favorite delightful observations they make about science:

5. “You don’t have to be high to look at the sky”.
4. “I fed a fish to a pelican at Frisco bay. It tried to eat my cell phone, he ran away”
3. “Shaggy’s little boys look just like Shaggy. And my little boy looks just like daddy”
2. “Magic everywhere in this bitch. Shit’s crazy”
1. “Water, fire, air and dirt Fucking magnets, how do they work?”

I mean, if this were a classroom, could I even kick this guy out? To say he’s high is an understatement, but is it weird it’s kind of making me laugh? I mean, it’s more entertaining than Hillary Duff, and it takes a certain amount of creativity to turn a couple of those phrases. But I can’t endorse this right? Downfall of America and all that? SO MUCH AMBIVALENCE.

Ben: I have not spent a lot of time in the discography of messieurs Violent J and Shaggy 2 Dope since my years working night shifts at McDonald’s, and inexplicably, time has warmed me to their schtick. This song drops me somewhere in a vortex between willful ignorance and playful stereotypes, and I found myself deeply charmed. Seeing Shaggy mime the act of running away while J details his story of almost losing his cell phone to a voracious pelican in a song about unexplainable miracles hits some sort of pleasure nodes I didn’t even know I had.


I wasn’t aware that ICP could be appreciated ironically, but there’s enough layers here to make an onion dip jealous. The fact that each member has no less than nine nicknames listed on their Wikipedia, all of them clearly based on some sort of unimaginable backstory. (Shaggy’s best were “Ham’d Burglah” and “Guy Gorfey,” while Violent J is also known as “Moon Glorious,” “Golden Jelly,” “Fats Pepper,” and “Bullet.” What lives these gentlemen must lead.)

College Humor has a series of videos called “If Google Was A Guy,” and I think it’s possible that ICP treats their tracks with the same sense of curiosity. They seem like the sort of people who would craft a single and shoot a gloriously expensive video just so that at some point, someone would come up and explain to them why there are rainbows. I hope someone has by now.

Bethany: Yes to everything Ben said. The science may not be there, but these guys know exactly who they are and who they’re appealing to. How else could you explain Juggalo Championship Wrestling?

The Scientist by Coldplay
Nominated Line:
whole song

Bethany: Oh Mr ex-Paltrow. You called your song “the scientist”, because, as you clarify “Questions of science, Science and progress, Do not speak as loud as my heart” . Oh good. I’ve got the whiny emo kid over here highjacking my science class. I mean, it’s like I asked for an essay on the cardiovascular system and you wrote me an essay on your broken heart. Fantastic.

This is going to be a long semester.

Ben: I’m the Coldplay stan of this pairing, but I was the one who suggested this song, since this really is indefensible. If we’d spoken up at the time, we might have been spared a number of things, including “conscious uncoupling” and the snoring mess that is A Head Full of Dreams.

“The Scientist” is a deeply emotive song, and its music video is cool as hell, but its a lyrical travesty from beginning to end. The words are structured in a way that no human has ever attempted to use as normal communication, and it makes a vague feint at rhyming that it never really succeeds at – only one word is rhymed throughout the song, and the words “heart” and “apart” are brazenly matched with “are,” and “hard.” Chris Martin is trying to rhyme mostly through a lack of elocution – which probably helps in the video, since he has to sing the song backwards, and in slow motion. You don’t want too many consonants cluttering that up.

Bethany: That is a far deeper explanation than I expected. I thought it was just one of those “I’m versatile! I can write deep and whiny songs about heartbreak from many angles! See, this one is even called the Scientist! I have a PhD in matters of the heart!”

Ben: “I have a PhD in matters of the heart” is actually my Tinder profile.

White Coats by New Model Army
Nominated Line:
whole song

Bethany: This song might be anti-science, but I can’t really tell.  Who are these men in white coats? Doctors? Scientists? Psychiatric professionals? What’s going on here?  Is this an anti-nuclear war song?  I mean, at least System of a Down had a clear thesis statement.

Ben: I can’t parse it either, and I’m not going to try. I was much too distracted by the music video, which is such a wonder of awfulness it seems impossible that it exists at all. At first I assumed that my ears were deceiving me, and despite the late-80’s sound to the song, it was a late-70’s tune, and the music video was from a pre-MTV time when bands made music videos just to have something to stick at the end of their concert VHS tapes.

But no, “White Coats” is from 1989, which may not necessarily be a peak year in music video creativity, was at least a decade into music video competence. And yet this video looks like it was shot on a borrowed video recorder by Brian, their untrustworthy roadie. Though they clearly spent a fair amount of the studio’s money on the affair, since at several points they cut to poorly executed helicopter shots of the band standing atop impressive cliff faces. I just hope they didn’t make Brian fly the helicopter, too.

Fancy by Iggy Azalea
Nominated Line: “I can hold you down, like I’m giving lessons in physics”

Bethany: Is it just me or did Iggy Azalea have one of the fastest “hey she’s cool!” to “hey she’s awful!” turns in the history of pop? I don’t really keep up with these things so much, but it gave even me whiplash.

Anyway, this video always gets some credit from me because it recreates the entire movie “Clueless”, which is actually a pretty cool concept for a video. The line “I can hold you down like I’m giving lessons in physics” however, not so much.

I mean, most physics courses do teach you something about gravity, which holds you down. But quite frankly, that works whether or not you know why, and the physics lesson itself rarely involves holding anyone down. Maybe they do things differently in Australia.

Ben: I have long been a defender of pop stars who the internet piles onto, as things get heinous so quickly, and I stick with them as long as I can (I’m sorry I had to leave you behind, Macklemore. The breakers got too big). I feel for Iggy, who somehow had a video break this month where her fiancé proudly announced that he’d cheated on her with multiple women, including a 19-year-old, and she still engendered shockingly little sympathy. The world is a callous place.

The “talentless” Azalea, who had two songs tied for number one in the summer of 2014, was introduced to us through this peppy track and its note-perfect recreation of Amy Heckerling’s Clueless (Heckerling later noted “it looks like they had more money for the video than I did the movie”).

I’m trying to come up with a defense of the line, and all I can manage is that Azalea is 5’10”, which is probably at least half a head taller than anyone she’s trying to match up against. As Archimedes would probably note, give me a place to stand and a long enough Azalea, and I can move the earth.

Bethany: By the way, I will admit I spent most of that video trying to read what’s on the white board behind her. It’s a pretty amusing list of the best all time rappers. I would have given her full credit on the physics line if it had instead been something like this:

Insert your musician of choice for Elvis, of course.

Supercollider by Fountains of Wayne
Nominated Line: whole song

Ben: I’ve somehow gotten ahead of Bethany on this one, but since I know absolutely nothing about supercolliders, or even regular colliders, I better wait for her to catch up.

Bethany: Huh, how’d I let that happen. Anyway, this whole song reminds me of this:

The use of the word “supercollider” in this song is clearly just meant to represent something vaguely spacey/sciencey, and it pretty much fails. The repeated line “Out of the blackness/Into the great big sky/Supercollider/Shooting inside your mind”.

A Supercollider actually has two technical meanings: either a programming language or a high velocity particle accelerator. While technically the latter group does shoot particles, they don’t shoot them in to the sky, nor do they shoot them in your mind. They actually shoot them in highly controlled environments in order to study their properties more closely . I mean, they could mean that they are testing their assumptions one at a time while psychologically controlling for their biases….but with lines like “Gather round the gas tower/don’t it kind of look like a bong”….I’m doubting they put that much thought in to it. I’m guessing they thought it was a little more involved in rockets or something.

Ben: My knowledge of supercolliders comes entirely from movies, where characters wander into scientific experiments and develop superpowers that are extraordinary and deadly, and also not explicitly licensed to DC or Marvel. I’m assuming that the songwriting process for this included a lot of bong hits and the viewing of some mid-90’s Michael Crichton-aping science fiction. Sounds like a good time, did not at all make for a good song.

Want part 2? Read it here.

Ten Songs That Get Science Wrong (Part 2)

Heeeeeeeeeeeeeey everybody, how’s your week been? We’re back this week with more terrible and gory “science” songs.  While Part 1 focused mostly on muppet fighting pits, part 2 takes some interesting twisting in to gravity, terminal velocity, digits of pi, and Jason Deruuuuuuuuuuulo.

(What A) Wonderful World by Sam Cooke
Nominated Line: Whole Song

Bethany: You would think this song would annoy me, but I’m still putting it above Jimmy Buffett from last week. This was actually Ben’s irritated nomination, so I’m going to let him take the first shot.

Ben: I can’t help myself, whenever I see this song title, I mentally start singing the superior Louis Armstrong song by the same title. I have to reorient myself to remember just which song we’re talking about.

First off, let’s be fair and admit the resume of Sam Cooke is unimpeachable. Even this nothing of a song has all the casual soulfulness of all of Cooke’s work. But, dear God, is it banal as all heaven. The message is supposed to be, “I may not know anything else, but at least I know that I love you,” but it fails even in that simplicity of thought. The bridge in the song claims “Now, I don’t claim to be an A student, but I’m trying to be. For maybe by being an A student, baby, I can win your love for me.” This is a pipe dream, Sam. The only fact you’ve managed to correctly assess in this song is that one and one is two, and that’s not going to take you very far. You’re a grown man.

Even the rhyming structure sounds like something thrown together by someone who just found out what a poem is. The only words he successfully manages to rhyme are “you” and “too,” which doesn’t really count. The other verses only manage one rhyme, the supremely unsatisfying “don’t know much about the French I took, don’t know much about a science book.” I don’t know which one of those awkward lines was the one forced in to create the rhyme, but neither one does you any credit.

Bethany: There is something extra irritating about a person mangling science in order to come up with a banal rhyme. Kinda like a kid advocating to write an essay in lieu of their algebra final, then producing “C” work.

Strychnine by The Sonics
Nominated Line: Some folks like water, some folks like wine, but I like the taste of straight strychnine.

Bethany: This song is some sort of terrible reverse PSA. It’s not just one line advocating for eating strychnine, it appears to be MULTIPLE lines advocating for strychnine consumption. Is this a good idea? Well, per the CDC: “Strychnine is a strong poison; only a small amount is needed to produce severe effects in people. Strychnine poisoning can cause extremely serious adverse health effects, including death.”

So no.

I’d stick with wine, and send someone over to the Sonics house for a wellness check.

Ben: There’s a real misunderstanding of how poison works in this song: “wine is red, poison is blue” – no, guys, that’s not how it works. While I’m pleased you’re not just downing Windex and antifreeze, poisons are generally not color-coded, unless you’re playing a Dungeons and Dragons game on a Windows 98 operating system.

On the flip side, we don’t need to run a wellness check on the Sonics. This song came out a full 52 years ago, and yet all five members of the Sonics are alive, recording albums, and touring. Maybe they know something we don’t.

Bethany: Well I’m glad they’re okay. I did a quick Google search to see if their bad advice had gotten them in any legal trouble over the years, and they appear to be okay on that front as well.

Swan Dive by Ani Difranco
Nominated Line: “Gravity is nothing to me, moving at the speed of sound”

Bethany: You may remember my love of Ani Difranco from Week 1 when Ben brought up a concert of hers I missed back in high school due to my tyrannical and unfair parents. I still love Ani, and Swan Dive is a great reason why. Beautiful song with just enough discordance to reflect the angst of the lyrics.

That being said, this lyric is just wrong. Things that move at the speed of sound are still subject to gravity. DON’T IGNORE GRAVITY ANI THAT WILL END BADLY. We are working on jets that go five times the speed of sound, and they still have to worry about gravity. It’s a force to be reckoned with. I mean, it lacks the cache of  the electromagnetic forces, strong force or weak force, but I still wouldn’t mess with it.

Ben: You’d think that in a song called “Swan Dive,” Miss Difranco would have a greater respect for what kind of effect gravity has. She mentions that she’s just going to “get her feet wet, until I drown.” Well, of course you are, Ani, on a swan dive you enter headfirst.


Your feet are going to be the last thing to get wet.

Ani mentions that she’s diving into “shark-infested waters,” as if that’s going to be the thing that kills her. You’re traveling at the speed of sound towards a body of water, which is almost-but-not-quite impossible. Terminal velocity for a human is 118 mph, while the speed of sound is several times higher, at 767 mph. However, mankind has broken the sound barrier in free fall before. You might remember this:

However, that man was wearing a spacesuit and had a parachute. Even so, there were quite a few things that could have gone wrong midway, such as all of his blood boiling in his body.

Even if Miss DiFranco were to make it to the water on her ill-advised swan dive, things would be unlikely to go well for her afterwards.

Bethany: In her defense, a swan dive only starts with your hands if you’re a human calling something a swan dive. An actual swan dive as done by swans involves the feet being wet already.

Also, I think I’ve found the perfect solution for Ani’s scientific misunderstanding here AND a collaborator for her next album….these guys.

Pi by Kate Bush
Nominated Line: the part where she gets the digits of pi wrong

Bethany: Ugh. Kate Bush. Really. You would think I couldn’t hate a song that contained 150 digits of pi. But. They. Are. WRONG.

Check it out:

Kate Bush (first verse) 3.141592653589793238462643383279
Real pi 3.141592653589793238462643383279
Kate Bush (second verse) 5028841971693993751058231974944592307816406286208(…)821480865132
Real pi 502884197169399375105820974944592307816406286208998628034825


Kate Bush 8230664709384460955058223
Real pi 8230664709384460955058223

My only conclusion is that she had a mild stroke in the second verse and just skipped those extra digits. Why would you do this Kate? You had to know we’d check.

Ben: Oh, cripes, this song is nine-and-a-half minutes long? I don’t have this kind of time, Kate. I can just go look pi up on my phone, provided no one’s messed with the Wikipedia that day.

This is par for the course for Kate Bush, who thrives on gibberish, in case you’ve never see the lyrics to “50 Words For Snow.” I don’t know what Kate’s end game is, but it’s possible she’s just from another universe entirely. One that I don’t want to visit.

Bethany:  Her end game may be more well thought out than we’re giving her credit for, especially since her gaff here got her a whole mathematical conjecture named after her. The Kate Bush conjecture now reads: “Kate could have sung any finite sequence of digits and it would exist somewhere in the decimal expansion of Pi.”

I feel defeated.

Algebra by Jason Derulo
Nominated Line: “I got more problems than an algebra equation, they say become a doctor, I don’t have the patience.”

Bethany: Hi Jason, can we talk? About your problems here….for algebra, you can solve as many problems (or for as many variables) as you have equations. So if Jay-Z has 99 problems, he’s going to need 99 equations to solve them. You have one equation, and therefore only have one problem. Everything else is pretty unsolvable unless you call in reinforcements.

Ben: I flinched when I clicked the link to listen to the song, because I knew it would start with Derulo introducing himself, and of course, there it was. “Jason De-Rule-Ooooooooo!” Jason, this is a song on your own album. No one is confused about who is singing this song.

You have a problem with the first line, but my issue was with the second. Jason, stop fooling yourself, no one wants you to become a doctor. Everyone is quite certain that would be disastrous. Can you imagine a sentence scarier than, “excuse me, sir, Dr. Derulo will see you now?” I’d rather be operated on by Clive Owen at the Knick. Even if DeVry University gave you an honorary doctorate that they just emailed to you, I’d still sign the online petition protesting it.

Bethany: And there you have it folks! Now you may think we’ve hit the bottom, but we haven’t quite yet. You see, these 10 songs were all wrong, but at least they were coherently wrong. Next week we take on 10 songs that hit that special balance known as “not even wrong”.  Stay tuned.

Looking for songs that aren’t even wrong? Read that here!

Ten Songs That Get Science Wrong (Pt 1)

Well hi there! Welcome back to our Pop Science series.  After two weeks working on the best science references in music (Part 1 and Part 2) , we moved on to two weeks on the most mediocre science references (Part 1 and Part 2).  If you’re losing track, I made a page for the whole thing here.  Anyway, we are now moving down the ladder one step further and heading in to the worst science references we could find.  Hang on to your hats, there’s muppet fighting pits ahead.  Ready? Of course you are!

It’s Hot by Jay-Z
Nominated Line: “.38 revolve like the sun round the Earth.”

Bethany: Okay, so let’s start out giving Jay-Z a little bit of credit here. For the vast majority of human history, this line would have appeared correct to most people. After all, from a simple “look up in the sky” perspective, it’s hard to tell if the earth revolves around the sun or if the sun revolves around the earth.  Aristotle believed the sun revolved around the earth, and it took centuries before the debate was settled.

Unfortunately for Mr Z here, this debate has been settled for quite some time.  The entire idea of heliocentrism made the Catholic church pretty cranky back in the day, but even the Pope gave up on debating this point in 1822.  Some of the greatest minds in science worked on the idea (Copernicus, Galileo, Kepler, Newton, Descartes, to name a few), and now the idea that the earth revolves around the sun is not particularly controversial.  Uncontroversial that is until a certain someone needed to rhyme the word “earth” with the word “dirt”.  Sigh.

Ben: Wow, you are way more forgiving of Jah’s lack of acceptance of one of the most basic principles of planetary orbit than I thought you’d be. It’s up to me to bring the pain.

First, let’s agree on this: this rhyming sequence is shoddy rubbish. It’s not that he uses “earth” to rhyme with “dirt” – it’s that he uses “dirt” to rhyme with “earth!” The nonsense bit of geocentrism kicks off the song’s third verse, and he rolls from that into “dirt,” “shirt,” and “hearse,” which is just a mess of a rhyming quatrain. And don’t try and tell me it’s an assonance. It isn’t.

There’s always an argument to be made about artistic license, but the rest of the verse is about guns… a word that already rhymes with “sun.” I feel this one could have been a quick fix.

Second, let’s expect more from Izzo, who proudly raps entirely off the top of his head and refers to himself as the “only n—– to rewrite history without a pen.” If you’re going to refer to yourself as an actual god, as you do in the first line of this very song, then at least meet the low standards we set for our third grade science classes.

Finally, you were 30  years old when you recorded this song, Mr. Hova. That is well past the date that you can refer to your reproductive parts as your “pee-pee.”

Bethany: It’s kind of hard to be harsh when you know there is no way someone would care about being corrected. I mean, this debate was settled 200 years ago. It’s not what he learned in school, it’s just willful ignorance. If I ran in to him, I’d probably just get something like this:

Ben: Truth. I would pay all the money in my bank account to have Jay-Z laugh the Jay-Z laugh at me.

Science by System of a Down
Nominated Line: whole song

Bethany: Man, who went and pissed System of a Down off? With lines like “science has failed our world” and “science has failed to recognize the most potent element of human existence”, I feel equal parts defensive and apologetic.  This might be a strongly religious song (“the spirit moves through all things” is repeated about a million times), I prefer the alternative explanation that Serj Tankian’s father was a robot who left he and his mother when he was a child.

Ben: It’s not just that this is a bad song (though it is), or that it’s anti-science to a truly alarming degree (though it is) – it’s the blatant lack of poeticism to the lyrics. It sounds like Serj wanted to see if he could write a song based entirely off the scribblings of a stoned high schooler’s Earth Science book cover. And I’m not sure he succeeded.

Mostly, I’m upset about the lack of evidence cited here, Serj. Tell us how science has failed us. Show your work.

Also, I set you up an appointment with the school counselor during your lunch break, just to make sure everything’s all right at home.

Bethany: I love how this series has taken Ben from a young and fresh-faced teacher to a grizzled veteran.

Ben: I’m basically Ryan Gosling in Half Nelson at this point.

Radioactive by Imagine Dragons
Nominated Line: whole song

Bethany: …..

So, um, do I actually have to clarify that radioactivity does not cause muppet fighting pits? Because I’m happy to do that, but it seems like it should sort of go without saying. That video is really weird. I’m uncomfortable now. Here, have a video about the most radioactive places on earth while I go take a shower….a shower which, interestingly enough, would help me remove about 95% of radiation if I had actually been exposed.

Ben: I, for one, welcome our new muppet overlords.

There are real questions this video fails to address: how did muppet fighting pits begin? How was the pink bear granted his X-Manesque lazer abilities? If everyone is betting on the favorite, how is anyone making money on these fights? Why is everyone wearing cowboy hats?

More confusing is the behavior of the band, who has gotten themselves into a real pickle here. They’ve somehow become trapped in the basement of the muppet fighting arena, adjacent to but not connected with the muppet holding cell. They have their instruments with them, though they seem to have been taking very bad care of them – at this point, the drummer doesn’t even have any real drums, just barrels.

Even more concerning is the lack of awareness the band seems to have about basic radiation safety. The lead singer, Dan Reynolds, is literally sweating “rust,” which, when I ran it through WebMD, the site literally suggested I was having a brain aneurysm. The very next line, Reynolds announces he’s “breathing in the chemicals,” then we hear him take a deep breath. Guys: don’t do this.

On a probably related note, the song afterwards devolves into a collection of disparate actions so bizarre they defy interpretation. “I raise my flag, I dye my clothes, it’s a revolution I suppose.” Dude, if you aren’t sure, stop messing around with paint dye fumes and check yourself into a hospital. You really might be having an aneurysm after all.

Bethany: Oddly, I thought that line was one of the most straightforward and was just a 60s throwback/tie-dye reference. The rest sort of appears to be a fever dream of someone who just watched the Care Bears and the Deer Hunter back to back. Other than that Ben is completely correct. Chemicals, radioactivity, and laser beam teddy bears should not be messed with. Someone should make a gif-driven public safety video about this issue.

Ben: Challenge accepted. It’s our job to stop this before they conquer us all.


Ice Cream Freestyle by Flexmaster Funk or Canibus or Mike Tyson or something
Nominated Line:“I can double my density from 360 degrees to 720 instantly.”

Couldn’t find a video. Here are the written lyrics.

Bethany: Back when I was in engineering school, making sure you got your units right was a BIG DEAL. Like many other students, this admonishment from our teachers always felt a little pedantic to me. I mean, if I get the number you’re looking for then what’s the big deal?  About a month in to my freshman year however, an incident occurred that forever changed my perspective on this: the loss of the Mars Climate Orbiter.  For those of you not familiar with this, it was a $125 million dollar mistake that occurred when Lockheed Martin (the designer of the space craft) neglected to clarify with the NASA folks in Pasadena, CA whether or not everyone was using the metric system or the English system. Basically, the rocket was built on one set of units and run on another, the whole thing melted down and we flushed a substantial amount of money down the drain. The moral of the story was clear: units of measure matter.

Hopefully that explains why I absolutely cringed when I heard this lyric.  While doubling 360 does in fact give you 720, density is not measured in degrees. Density is actually mass divided by volume, and this typically is expressed in kg/m3 or some other similar unit.  Degrees is either temperature or used to measure mathematical angles.

Now interestingly, I found a few people arguing that the two lines are unrelated…that he’s claiming he can double his density AND go from 360 to 720 degrees. However, that would mean he’s just spinning around in a circle twice….which doesn’t seem like much to brag about.  My preferred explanation here is that he’s actually referencing going from a wood like pine (about 373 kgs/m3) to oak (about 710 kg/m3). In the process of that, he’ll blow by 451 degrees, which is where wood starts to burn.  What? It makes about as much sense as the original.

Ben: I haven’t been this confused since the Millenium Falcon made the Kessel run in twelve parsecs.

Math Suks by Jimmy Buffett
Nominated Line: whole song

Bethany: Oh Jimmy. Oh Jimmy. I’d say I was mad, or disappointed, but the truth is….I’m not. This is pretty much exactly what I would have expected out of you. It’s tepid, it’s vaguely tropical, and it’s about as fun and spontaneous as mandatory Hawaiian shirt day at the local Honda dealership. Math suks? Okay, sure Jimmy. Whatever you say.

Have a rebuttal from a young and still uneven Jon Stewart in a segment called “Actually Math is Quite Pleasant“. He’s nowhere near his peak in this, but it’s about what you deserve.

Ben: Look at that dark-haired young Stewart, with his baggy suit and unfortunate shirt, talking to the camera over a horrendous graphics package! And the Huffington Post couldn’t write up a clickbait piece the next morning explaining how Stewart had “eviscerated” Buffett the night before. What a simple time that was.

Look, Jimmy has made quite a career of his “there’s nothing that can’t be solved by a margarita or three!” ethos, and I applaud him for it. There are times that blatant ignorance is charming, and that time is usually when everyone is lightly sunburned and clad in hideous shirts visible from space and a man turns a middle school refrain into a pleasant, touristy tune that can be played over the speakers of a Sandals resort.

On the flip side, the YouTube suggestions for videos to watch after this one were entirely for a college commencement speech that Buffett had given, which seems to be moving entirely out of his wheelhouse. Fortunately, the college in question was the University of Miami, so no harm done.

Bethany, I’m finishing my section in a sleep-deprived haze, so I’m not certain of what really happened during much of this debate. Was there really a teddy bear that could kill people with his lazer eyes? It all seems so unlikely.

Bethany: Oh it happened.  By the way, am I the only one still surprised the song “Radioactive” was never featured on the O.C.? That’s the most O.C. song ever, and it pains me it came along 6 years too late to be the soundtrack for (spoiler alert) Marissa Cooper’s death.

And on that note, we’ll see you next week folks!

Read Part 2 here.

Ten Science Songs That Are Kind of Meh (Part 2)

Hello again folks! Welcome to our ongoing journey to catalog the best, the worst, and the most blase science references in all of music.  We started out with ten good science references (Part 1 and Part 2 here), and now we’re working on those songs that get a rating of “decidedly mediocre”. We did the first 5 here, and now we’re moving on to finish off the list. Ready? Fantastic! Let’s get started:

Scientist by Dandy Warhols
Nominated line: whole song

Bethany: Wow, when Ben nominated this song, he mentioned there was not much too it. Having now listened to it and reviewed the lyrics….he’s completely right. This song keeps seeming like it will ramp up in a clever reference or two, but it pretty much stops at “we’ve got to live on science alone” and some grunting.  Also, at the 6 second mark the girl in the video drinks something directly out of a beaker, and that’s just not safe. I’m starting to doubt her credentials.

Ben: I also have real questions about her decision to avoid wearing safety goggles and spend her lab hours lounging on a uncomfortable-looking couch licking her lips at the camera. How did she ever find the time to finish her graduate degree? Her work ethic seems questionable, and her lab seems to exist solely of two beakers and a microscope. Maybe it’s a lack of funding.

I do like the Dandy Warhols, but this is a blah nothing of a song and a blah nothing of a music video, so it gets the blah nothing of a review it deserves.

Bohemian Rhapsody by Queen
Nominated line: “Thunderbolts and lightning very very frightening Galileo Galileo Galileo” (3:17 mark)

Bethany: Okay, there’s a strong argument to be made that this song should never appear on any list that includes the words “meh” or “mediocre”. I mean, it’s a great song and it was awesome in Wayne’s World. I get that. I really do. HOWEVER….this science reference is pretty lame.  While Galileo is an awesome historical scientific figure and his contributions to science are many, he does not appear to have done any particular work on thunderbolts, lightening, things that were very very frightening or Figaro.

Scratch that: Galileo did champion heliocentrism, which was very very frightening to some. I also like to hold out hope that there’s something very frightening on one of Jupiter’s moons, which he also discovered.

Ben: The problem with discussing “Bohemian Rhapsody” is that it’s impossible to talk about for more than two minutes without someone jumping in with a “GALILEO! [distant voice] galileo! GALILEO! [even more distant voice] galileo!” and then someone else coming in with “GALILEO FIGARO!” and all of a sudden it’s a contest to prove that you can sing all the lyrics all the way up until the end and I’ve lost nine minutes of my life and gotten kicked out of Arby’s.

I appreciate that Galileo discovered Jupiter’s moons, since most of our best moons are up there.

Current Moon ranks:
1. Titan, orbiting Jupiter. It’s massive, has weather, and might be a second earth.
2. Europa, orbiting Jupiter, which has a vast frozen ocean underneath.
2. Our moon, but the way poets talk about it.
3. Charon, orbiting Pluto. The best moon an ex-planet could ever have. At least they have each other.
4. Io, orbiting Jupiter, which has hundreds of active volcanoes.
5. Our moon, but the way Buzz Aldrin thinks about it.
6. Triton, orbiting Neptune. Also gigantic, and deserves to be a planet. Got a raw deal by orbiting Neptune.
7. Our moon, but the way Dean Martin thinks about it.
8. Mimas, the moon that looks like the Death Star.
9. The brief stretch we thought the Death Star was a small moon.
10. A harvest moon.
57. Phobos, orbiting Mars. If we ever fly to Mars, we’ll probably land on it first. Has no other interesting qualities of any kind.
314. Supermoon. Supposed to be impressive, but always disappointing. The Fourth-of-July parade of moons.

Bethany: So I promised up front I was going to get a little bored and space out with the meh list….BUT NOW WE’RE RANKING MOONS AND I WANT BACK IN!!! Not only am I angry with myself for not doing this before Ben did, but now I’m in “scrambling for an angle” mode. The first thing I can think of is the best moon gifs I could find on short notice:

  1. 4 of Jupiter’s moons, including Callisto and Ganymede that are feeling a little put out at Ben right now:                          
  2. Jupiter and Io, just hanging out being cute: 
  3. Our moon rotating and showing us it’s dark side and reminding me we left Pink Floyd off this list by accident: 
  4. This one, that shows moon gravity and why I should stick to earth:               

Okay, I feel better now.

Race For the Prize by The Flaming Lips
Nominated Line:
whole song

Bethany: So this song is a thoughtful meditation on scientist engaged in a race for the good of all mankind. It’s beautiful, inspiring, and really dramatizes and humanizes scientists and their struggle. So what’s my problem?

I don’t know what it’s about.

Seriously. Watch the video. There are guys running with electrodes attached and men in raincoats with tubas, but no explanation. There’s a suggestion they’re looking for a cure, but for what? Are we supposed to believe this is just how everyday scientist operate? Because it’s really not. Who are these guys? This is like having a friend tell you an awesome story about a run in with a celebrity, only to tell you that they can’t actually legally name the celebrity.  NO TELL ME THE WHOLE THING OR DON’T TELL ME THE STORY.

Ben: I like that the scientists chose to have their subject run outside, attached to a number of diodes, while they pursued him on foot wearing full-body chemical suits, but no facial protection of any kind. It’s guerrilla science. Sure, their data is unusable and they used up all their grant money, but THEY COULD FEEL THE SCIENCE IN THEIR HAIR AS THEY RAN.

I have no idea what this song means, either, but I find it somehow moving anyway. I don’t know how Wayne Coyne’s voice always does this to me. Also, who gave Wayne Coyne a trumpet for this video? Did Wayne Coyne also not know what to do with his hands? Is this how we eventually ended up here?



You stay you, Wayne.

Video Killed the Radio Star by the Buggles
Nominated Line:
whole song

Bethany: This is another song I hate to criticize because it got used well in a movie I love, but my art compels me. This is not a song about science. This is a song about the impact developing technology has on the experience of day to day life. While that’s cool and all, it’s really more a philosophical and ethical issue than a science issue. I really hate it when people try to use the two interchangeably. That’s physics for poets level crap right there. To get to the pantheon, this song would have to actually cite some of the technology used. I mean, the only advancement specifically called out is the VCR? Come on, you can do better than that. Granted not much rhymes with “farnovision“, but you could have worked something in.

Ben: Well, I might have taken some shots at this song earlier, but your intro got me into an entirely different moves. I can’t take shots at “Video Killed the Radio Star.” Not today…

rex manning

This song, permanently famous for its portentous place in MTV history, is a catchy bit of pop made by a producer who felt the winds of change coming long before they actually did. It’s so perfect as a metaphor for what happened to pop music in the following decades that it seems impossible that it really existed in its real time and place, and wasn’t written snidely after the fact as a commentary on the effects of the need for pretty faces and flashy visuals.

That said, Bethany is right. There’s no science here, unless the “supernova scene” is something much more impressive than what I imagine it to be. It’s only tangentially connected to the subject at hand, and as such, it only gets partial credit.

Bethany: Wait, what if that Supernova Scene involves a Champagne Supernova?

Also, pedants note: The line “Supernova Scene” was not in the original, but rather in the POTUSA cover.

Space Oddity by David Bowie
Nominated Line:
whole song

Bethany: Since I’m yet again complaining about a great song that simply doesn’t have enough “science” for me, I thought I’d point out that I know how ridiculous I sound:

That’s me and this song. I like you David Bowie, but you call your ship a tin can. No comment on the technological marvel that got you 100,000 miles away from earth? Your only comment on your view of earth is “it’s blue”? Really? And you’re meditating on your death and your love for your wife but not one word on what possible mechanical failure precipitated all these thoughts?

I really don’t understand why anything with even the briefest of references to something vaguely scienc-ey gets called a science song. I mean, we don’t cite “Charge of the Light Brigade” as a primer on international relations, so lets just all admit “Space Oddity” has very little to do with science.

Then again, it was pretty darn awesome when Chris Hadfield took this song up a notch with his recording of this on the International Space Station….so I’m a little torn.

Ben:  First off, let’s give a quick doff of the cap to longtime Earth resident and almost certain alien, David Bowie, who is no longer with us and has likely returned to his home world.


Second, ALLOW ME TO CORRECT YOUR SCIENCE, BETHANY. During the period of space travel that Bowie was singing about, the walls of the Saturn rockets were basically made of reinforced aluminum foil. His comparison to a tin can is apt both in visual and in practice – an aluminum soda can’s experior is about .1 mm thick, parts of the Saturn shuttles were a mere .3 mm thick. Our early astronauts really were barely more than a hairsbreadth away from outer space.

Not to mention, the Earth does look awfully blue when seen from space. And, should I ever find myself in a situation where my spaceship tumbles endlessly away from earth to my certain death, I should be pleased if my last thoughts were with those I love rather than whatever cataclysmic event had caused my death. There’s no poetry in “Though I’m past one hundred thousand miles, I’m feeling very still, and it looks like an oxygen tank has exploded and I’ve lost control of my thrusters, the hull is breached and the cabin is decompressing, I’m certain to die of oxygen loss in just a few minutes now.” At least not without a good backbeat to it.

Putting this one in the anti-science camp is the fact that it sprang from Bowie going to see 2001: A Space Odyssey “several times, stoned out of my gourd.” So maybe let’s call this one a draw.

Bethany:  You’ve kind of sold me. I feel like this is one of those songs that if I’d put it on the good list I’d regret it, and now it’s on this list and I regret it. Like many a straight man in the 70s, Bowie has left me with confused feelings of uncertainty where I’ve never had them before. I’ll give him an A-, but if any of his friends try to pass in similar work they’ll have a C so fast it’ll make their head spin.

Ben: That about wraps us up for the week. It’s downhill from here, right, Bethany?

Bethany: Oh yes.

Want to read our list of bad songs? We start that here.


Ten Science Songs That Are Kinda Meh (Part 1)

Well hello there! After spending two weeks and 3000 words praising various songs for getting science right (Part 1 here and Part 2 here), we’re now moving a step down the ladder to the decidedly mediocre. These are the songs that reference science and aren’t really wrong, but aren’t overly inspiring or interesting either.  While some of these are great songs, just know that through most of this my face resembles a bored professor teaching general science requirements to liberal arts major freshmen who didn’t figure out how to test out. For those of you never in that situation, it’s just an inner scream that looks like this:

The Math by Hilary Duff
Nominated Line:
 whole song

Bethany: Despite the promising title, this is a song that clearly exists because one of Hilary Duff’s songwriters had a crush on a guy who was smarter than her. She tries to explain love to him in terms of mathematics, but it’s the kind of math references anyone who’s passed 3rd grade would understand. Addition. Subtraction. Equal signs. THIS ISN’T GOING TO WORK HILARY. We math geeks love our references, but we like them at a level that requires more than a primary school education.

You can still turn this around though….do a follow up that references how much you’ve learned then say things like “You say it’s time to go, but with convolution time doesn’t matter”. That’ll get ’em.

Barring that, I can only say this: Why can’t you be more like that nice Josh Ritter fellow Ms Duff?

Ben: Bethany referenced Duff’s songwriters in her paragraph, which means I have to do the research into the recording of this Hilary Duff album, which was not the sort of thing I thought I signed up for.

A short history: “The Math” was recorded for the release of Hilary Duff’s first real pop album, the recording of which sounds like the sort of well-paying migraine you sign up for when you become a pop producer. Apparently, at the launch of this process, Duff was a Disney TV star who decided she wanted to become a singer because she saw pop musicians warming up before a show and it “looked fun.” A Disney executive signed her, had her start voice lessons, and launched a multi-million dollar recording session. Somewhere out there, Robert Johnson’s soul just moaned in eternal torment.

Recording was immediately troubled because Duff was “listening to a lot of Destiny’s Child at the time” (weren’t we all), so the songs had an “urban style” to them that apparently “didn’t strike a chord,” according to one of the producers. From what we know of Duff’s artistic range, I assume this is a breathtakingly dramatic understatement.

At this point, her producer asked her “what kind of music she would like to do,” which is not normally the sort of conversation one has halfway through a recording process. She mentioned that growing up, she’d “listened to a lot of rock music,” (I genuinely do not want to know who she means) and liked songs that had “a little bit more guitar in it.”

Enter Kara DioGuardi – yes, that Kara DioGuardi! Onetime American Idol judge/reluctant bikini model Kara DioGuardi! – who had written demos for a number of songs, including future Duff singles “Come Clean” and “Little Voice.” Duff recorded these as demos, and they were sent to the studio, along with “The Math,” which was not sung by Duff at all but by prolific songwriter Lauren Christy. The studio loved all three songs and the new direction, and Duff was forced to add all three to her new record.

Forced? Yes, evidently, Duff feels the same way about “The Math” that the rest of us do, calling it “her biggest mistake,” which is very strong language for someone who dated both Joel Madden and Aaron Carter. Of course, when you listen to the pop-guitar buzz and word vomit that makes up “The Math,” one understands exactly where she’s coming from.

Also, for our younger reader, to “star 69” someone meant to type that exact sequence into your phone’s touchtone pad, which would then make the landline you were on call the last person who had called you back. What a weird, old-timey thing to do! Anyway, it’s not sordid or anything. Hilary kept it clean.

Bethany: Whoa. I think you put more effort in to that part than went in to the entire song to begin with. Good show.

Rest my Chemistry by Interpol
Nominated Line: “I’m going to rest my chemistry”

Bethany: Okay, Ben’s going to have to explain this one to me. This song uses the word “chemistry” ten times and doesn’t say anything about the subject. In my world, that’s just name dropping.

Ben: As best I can tell, to “rest my chemistry” means to “not take any cocaine, at least right at the moment.” It’s like when celebrities go to rehab for “exhaustion.”

As Interpol songs go, this is fine, but it carries no weight next to, say, “Evil,” their hook-laden hit with the bizarre puppetry music video. Frankly, putting “Rest My Chemistry” in this group feels right – it’s a tune with a vague acknowledgement of the chemical makeup of the world around us, but without any actual, you know, science.

Bethany: Glad we’re on the same page here. B- to Interpol because I just don’t want to see them again next semester.

Ben: Boy, if retaking the course comes into consideration, that’s going to dramatically affect the scores the groups we’re covering in the sections to come. Unless the dean just happens to find some contraband in Thomas Dolby’s locker, of course…

She’s Electric by Oasis
Nominated line:
“She’s electric, can I be electric too?”

Bethany: Just so we all know I can criticize things I love, let’s talk about this song. Noel repeats over and over how electric this girl he likes is. This is all well and good, but then he starts wanting to be electric too. This clearly goes against all electrical safety precautions, where the goal is to not electrocute yourself along with the person you’re trying to help. It’s like he knows how it works, but like a 12 year old in his first hands on lab wants to do the exact wrong thing with the information.

On the other hand, this could be turned around with the right visuals. This could totally work in concert:

Except make it  more British-ey.

Ben: I don’t know what that visual is, but I found the perfect British person to design it.

He’s already interested in lightbulbs!

“She’s Electric” is full of bad ideas. This woman has a sister, and “God only knows how he missed her.” It seems exceptionally unwise to get involved in a relationship where you wish you’d had a go at her sister, but now it’s too late. What’s more, he doesn’t get along with her brother, who quite wisely doesn’t trust Noel, since he also has taken a fancy to their mother. Meanwhile, the girl in question is pregnant with someone else’s child, which wouldn’t be outrageously concerning except that he only mentions it in conjunction with the fact that she has a lot of cousins, making an uncomfortable inference about the perhaps-too-close relationships that hold this familial group together.

Most importantly, he’s not showing proper electrical safety, and that’s the most major concern. Noel, you know full well what’s going to happen if you try to end up “electric too.”


*Note: possibly not 100% scientifically accurate.

Noel, take my advice. Get out of there. She’s no good for you. This is a nightmare waiting to happen. But if you must, handle her carefully, and try to move her away from any electric current with a broom, like this:


Readers, if only we were all so wise.

Bethany: Ben, I see a future for you in gif-driven public safety educational videos. It’s a calling.

Ben: I probably can’t make a career out of it, but I’ll change my twitter bio anyway.

Man on the Moon by R.E.M.
Nominated line:
“Newton got beamed by the apple good”

Bethany: This line has always bothered me. Why is it there? It’s not interesting, it’s not inspired, it’s a scientific reference only in the loosest sense of the term. Isn’t this a song about Andy Kaufman? Why are we talking about Newton and apples? The story about how he discovered gravity is really famous and possibly apocryphal, but everyone knows this. What does it teach us? We get a complete biography of Kaufman in under 5 minutes and then a 5 second muttering about Newton and apples? Michael Stipe, you disappoint.

Ben: Boy, you were grouchy on this one. Until I fixed it, you’d managed to both get the name of the song wrong and misspell “R.E.M.” That’s some uncharacteristic negligence. Looks like it’s up to me to defend our favorite Georgian college-rock band.

It’s tough to make too much out of this one. “Man On The Moon” was the last song recorded for R.E.M.’s masterwork album Automatic For The People, and the lyrics of it came at the very last minute. The entire album had been finished and was to be sent for mastering the next morning.  They had recorded music for “Man On The Moon,” but the song was still without vocals, or indeed, lyrics. Michael Stipe, stymied by writer’s block for weeks, walked around the block, listening to the track, and decided to write the lyrics as a song about Andy Kaufman. The lyrics were written and the vocals recorded only a few hours later.

Or, at least, that’s what Michael Stipe says. Stipe, like Kaufman, was prone to inventing stories as a form of self-glorification, and enjoyed playing fast and loose with the truth. Much like Newton’s possible mythical apple, we will never know the veracity of the story.

In fact, that’s most likely the reference Stipe is making here: Newton’s apple, Moses bringing forth water from his stick, Cleopatra being bitten by an asp – are these historical events or falsehoods accepted as realities? Stipe even questions Kaufman’s own death – “here’s a truck stop instead of St. Peter’s” – a nod to how Kaufman’s propensity for taking a joke too far led to his fans never being quite able to accept that he was dead.

As usual, R.E.M.’s penchant to meander along line between cleverness and ambiguity is well covered over by their ear for melody, since this is a hall of fame pop song no matter how well you understand the lyrics. That baseline is an all-timer.

Bethany: Realizing I misspelled R.E.M. led to the sub-realization that their band name is a better scientific reference than this line.  Also, here’s the wrestling match from line two:

She Blinded Me With Science by Thomas Dolby
Nominated Line:
whole song

Bethany: Okay, if you thought I was grouchy about R.E.M., it’s nothing compared to my feelings about this Dolby song. Let me say this once, very clearly, so there’s no misunderstanding: THIS. IS. NOT. A. SCIENCE. SONG.

It’s not. It’s a high school kid reading his course schedule. It’s not fit to graduate, let alone be considered an anthem. This song is like a singer yelling “WHAT’S UP INSERT RELEVANT CITY NAME HERE” at a concert. There are subjects named, but no actual science….and yet because it says SCIENCE loudly and over and over, somehow it’s become part of the pantheon. Are we nerds so bad off that we will accept this kind of thing? Guys, we have to expect better than this. We’re worth it.

Ben: I was utterly unfamiliar with Mr. Dolby and his scientific affectations, and so watching the music video for this song was a bit of a rude awakening. This song is everything I dislike about pop music in the 80’s, from the off-puttingly banal Mad Lib lyricism, to the bewildering shouts of British television science enthusiast Magnus Pike, to (above all) the brain-curdling synth track, with its entirely electric violin sound fooling no one (Dolby at one point plays an actual violin in the video, and later rubs a bow across an actress halfheartedly painted to look like a violin. In neither action is he convincing).

What’s odd is that despite the song’s utter ineptitude at expressing coherent scientific thought, Thomas Dolby’s resume is somewhat reasonably accomplished. He’s an accomplished session musician, been the musical director at the TED Conference since 2001, and is now a professor of the arts at Johns Hopkins. However, it seems that rather than his hit single being the culmination of a lifetime understanding of science, his odd one-hit wonder led him to become the poster boy for science and music, and respectability followed.

The music video for this song – also featuring the truly bizarre Magnus Pike – is a mashup of every bit of awful 80’s-ness: an unappealing frontman in an unappealing outfit, frantic camera zooms, an attractive woman wearing glasses in “sexy scientist” vibe, a low angle shot of just a woman’s legs, the unjustified used of children dressed up as adults, and a film reference (the text slates seen in silent films) used with hammering clumsiness. The peak moment of this is one of the video’s final slates:

Screen Shot 2016-03-21 at 12.31.35 AM

Nerds of the world: you do not want this song representing you.

In my perusal of Mr. Dolby’s Wikipedia, I also found this:

Screen Shot 2016-03-21 at 12.34.38 AM

The only thing less surprising to me was discovering that this song went to number one in Canada. Stop playing into our conceptions of you, Canucks!

That’s all I’ve got this week. Bethany?

Bethany: Until next week and Part 2, I’ll just be here doing my nails.

Part 2 is up, read it here!

Ten Songs That Get Science Right (Part 2)

This is Part 2 of our piece on “Ten Songs That Get Science Right”. Missed Part 1? Read it here.

“Champagne Supernova” by Oasis
Nominated Line: “Like a Champagne Supernova in the sky”

Bethany: I loved this song in high school. In fact I loved this whole band, and even in 2016 two out of the last three concerts I’ve been to are Noel Gallagher concerts. Conflict of interest aside, that’s not why this made the list. It made the list because it’s the only song I know of that actually summoned the scientific phenomena it referenced in to existence….or at least got something really cool named after it. Basically, when this song was released in 1996, the term Champagne Supernova had no real astronomical meaning. That changed in 2006, when researchers discovered a supernova that exceeded the Chandrasekhar limit and decided that “extreme explosions that offer new insight into the inner workings of supernovae are an obvious cause for celebration”. Ergo, they dubbed it a “champagne supernova”. And yes, they clarified they did know the song and it was not a coincidental naming.

Can’t wait to see what a Wonderwall turns out to be.

Ben: Donald Trump is building it right now.

As someone who just aggressively defended my BNL fandom, I’m not going to sit idly by and let you feel exposed by expressing your love of Oasis and one of the Gallaghers, though I coudn’t remember which one was the good one, so I had to Google it.

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I’m pretty sure I disagree with this  – I like Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds more than I like Beady Eye – but I’d be much more interested in the opinions of my more versed colleague.

Perhaps* I am biased, but I think 90’s alternative rock has aged much better than most genres, and Oasis has aged as well as anyone. Both “Wonderwall” and “Champagne Supernova” are still magnificent recordings, and both deserve to have pieces of scientific wonder named after them into time immemorial, even though spending more than an hour or two in either brother’s presence seems like a fate nigh unto death.



Bethany: You don’t have to defend me. My love for somewhat whiny British men with livers of steel is not a thing I’m ashamed of. Also, my google says this:


C₁₁ H₁₇ N₂ O₂ S Na by Anthrax
Nominated Line: Song Title

Bethany: Do I even have to explain my love for this? It’s a chemical formula. Who puts a chemical formula for their song title? The same guy who named his bio “The Story of That Guy From Anthrax” that’s who. Anyway, that’s the real formula for sodium pentathol aka “truth serum” and the whole song is about wishing you could force someone to tell the truth. No further science references at all, just a chemical formula you have to google.  While in reality sodium pentathol probably doesnt work that well, I’ll let that slide as poetic license.

Ben: Well, this led me down a whole rabbit hole of the history of sodium pentathol and its use in police confessions, and eventually to the bizarre case of Sybil Dorsett, a fascinating story that I will never be able to work into a conversation as long as I live.

I’m no particular fan of thrash metal in any context, though Anthrax is one of the better examples of the genre, and I appreciate the cleanliness of the recording rather than hiding a lack of musicianship behind fuzz. The thing I like the most about the song is that it was recorded in 1993 – therefore, Googling or even Altavista-ing the song title was out of the question. You had to know someone else who knew what it meant, or go to an actual library. Anthrax: supporting libraries!

Well, they always did seem like a studious lot.

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“Stuck To You” by Josh Ritter
Nominated Line: whole song

Bethany: I will admit, I had never heard this song before Ben put it on the list. Color me ashamed. This is every pedantic nerds dream song, wherein a man takes common love song cliches and corrects them with more scientifically accurate answers.  It’s a beautiful thing, and a little more elaborate than just declaring someone your statistically significant other.

Ben: I found this one on a hunt for “science songs,” and while I’d listened to a fair bit of Josh Ritter before, I’d never stumbled across this one. It’s a neat, concise statement that’s both tongue-in-cheek and mournful, like a lot of folk songs used to be. I wish more artists had this sort of song in their quiver.

Bethany: Especially once we get to the next section, we’re going to look back at this song wistfully.  Spoiler alert: I will definitely use the line “Why couldn’t you be more like that nice Josh Ritter fellow Ms Duff” at some point.

“The Elements” by Tom Lehrer
Nominated Line: whole song

Bethany: How can we do a “best of” list and not include the Elements Song? I mean, I spent a whole day at my grandfather’s house one summer attempting to memorize this in the days before DVR and easy rewind. I think I broke his VHS, and he made me watch Pirates of Penzance as penance.  Anyway, this was written in 1959 and it falls 16 elements short of today’s periodic table….but it’s still a great song. Damn catchy too.

Ben: My dad and I used to listen to old comedy records together in our living room, which is a very old-fashioned thing for someone who is technically considered a Millennial to say. One of the ones we played most frequently was An Evening Wasted With Tom Lehrer, which contains such ditties as “Poisoning Pigeons In the Park,” “The Masochism Tango,” and also “The Elements,” which I saw no less than three different math majors perform at talent shows while in college. Singing all the words to this song aloud is the nerd equivalent of peacocking. In fact, here’s Daniel Radcliffe doing it right now!

Whoops, ended up on a whole celebrities-rapping-on-talk-shows YouTube jag. Got distracted there for a minute.


“Girl You Have No Faith In Medicine” by White Stripes
Nominated Line: whole song

Bethany: I’m not entirely sure about this song, but I think I like it. It appears to be a song about placebo effects, drugs that work, and people who won’t take drugs that are too familiar because they need something different. I put it on repeat for an hour to see if I ended up feeling differently, and I didn’t. I think this is an anti-alternative medicine theme song. Probably.

Ben: Like all White Stripes songs, your mileage is going to vary considerably depending on whether what Jack White does is your jam or not. I dig the White Stripes, but I have no particular feelings towards this song one way or the other. I think it fits neatly into the album, because I recall liking Elephant very much, but that was a long time ago.

I was surprised that you didn’t break down the “strip the bark right off the tree and hand it this way” line (Aspirin is made from the bark of a willow tree). That seemed like your lane.

Bethany: Ben, aspirin hasn’t been made from willow bark since the late 1800s. Don’t be a hippie.

Ben: I probably shouldn’t have forged that pharmacist’s license, then. Someone’s bound to catch on eventually.

Well, that covers the good songs, so I’m expecting this to get meaner as it goes. I’m looking forward to it.

Want to go directly to the mediocre songs? Find Part 1 of that here.

For the whole series page, go here.

Ten Songs That Get Science Right (Part 1)

Well hi there! Ben and Bethany here, and we’re counting down the top science references in popular music. Last week we went over the rules and introduced Ben, so go check that out first if you’re at all confused. We’re going to start off the rankings nice and slow, beginning with 10 songs that get science right.  These are the good guys.

“Sounds of Science” by the Beastie Boys
Nominated Line: “Dropping Science like Galileo dropped the orange” (3:08 mark)

Bethany: Ooh, we’re starting off with a good one here. Can I just say I love this line? And not just because Neil Degrasse Tyson uses it in his show intro for Star Talk. No, I love it because 1. the reference is not the obvious fruit based scientist one* and 2. it’s being used accurately and describes something not quite intuitive. The reference here is to the Leaning Tower of Pisa experiment. While the details are probably apocryphal, the legend goes that Galileo went to the top of the Leaning Tower of Pisa, dropped an orange and a grape off the side, and used it to prove that gravity was not dependent on the mass of the object. Nice high school physics callback there.

*I mean, good job on the gravity thing and all Newton, but you’re getting a little cliche don’t you think?

Ben: Bethany, thanks again for having me. This is basically everything I like to do, put together in one blog post, and the best part is I get to hand off all the tricky research parts of it to someone much more qualified than me. I’m not even certain what my Google search history would look like if I were in charge of both jobs, but my first search would probably be, “what IS science?” and that’s probably a rough place to start.

“Sounds of Science” is a collection of everything I like about the Beastie Boys – showboating rapping, frenetic changes of pace, ludicrous levels of hyperbole. They make sure to brag about their prowess in… every possible context, compare themselves to Jesus Christ, then sing a Simon and Garfunkle chorus on top of a Beatles sample. They don’t lack for confidence.

As for the science, all of it seems fair – after all, “with my nose I knows and with my scopes I scope” is certainly factually accurate. I’m glad Bethany’s here, though, because I could use an explanation of what, exactly, “the radium, EMD squared” means.

Bethany: Well in addition to rhyming with “Shea Stadium”, the radium thing appears to be an incredibly clever reference. Paul’s Boutique, the album this song was on, came out in mid-1989. We can assume most of the songs on it were written or recorded in 1988, and the atomic number of radium is…..88.   Thank God they didn’t record it earlier or later, because Francium and Actinium just don’t roll of the tongue quite as well.

Based on my research, the EMD squared thing actually should have been your wheelhouse. EMD was the distribution arm of Capitol Records, their label. The squared part of course is a reference to Einstein’s mass/energy equivalence formula.

Ben: That’s a pretty classic Beastie Boys move – it’s clever, it scans, it’s a little sloppy and doesn’t quite fit – but you can’t stop and look at it too closely, because by then the boys are three verses ahead of you.

“We Didn’t Start the Fire” by Billy Joel
Nominated line: Multiple mentions but I like “children of thalidomide” (1:50 mark)

Bethany: How do you pick a reference out of a song that is literally all references?  Arbitrarily, that’s how. Actually, this isn’t totally arbitrary. Joel’s song here is an anthem covering lots of major world shaping events, and I actually really appreciated him throwing a medical reference. Thalidomide was a drug given as a sedative that was also prescribed to pregnant women for morning sickness. Despite assurances from the company that it was “completely safe” it was actually quite dangerous and resulted in children with deformities…most notably limbs that never grew and a 50% mortality rate. It’s an incredibly depressing story, but it helped push forward drug regulation and the role of the FDA in monitoring drug development. I give Joel full credit here for recognizing the importance of this historic event.

Ben: Well, this is a bummer. I hadn’t known any of this.

You wouldn’t know how dark the lyrics are from listening to the song. I’d always been aware that “We Didn’t Start the Fire” was supposed to be a protest song, but actually experiencing the song means listening to an aggressively upbeat number that is supposed to ironically contrast with the song’s content, but mostly just turns it into a catchy can-you-sing-along? contest.

As I think will become a continual theme for my responses, I highly recommend watching the entire music video, if only for the surreal moment of watching Billy Joel play an imaginary pair of bongos in front of a flaming picture of the execution of Nguyễn Văn Lém. In fact, Joel is playing imaginary bongos a fair bit during this song, as I guess that’s his go-to motion when he gets nervous. I get you, bro.


“Affirmative Action” by Foxy Brown
Nominated line: “32 grams raw, chop it in half, get 16, double it times three/We got 48, which mean a whole lot of cream/Divide the profit by four, subtract it by eight/We back to 16.” (3:34 mark)

Bethany:  Ms Brown’s lyrics have caused quite a stir, and got her voted the all time 5th worst rap line of all time by About.com. This line reminds me of one of those stupid Facebook math problems where someone makes an equation purposefully unclear then everyone argues over order of operations like that’s a thing we really all care about. However, let it never be said that I’m not willing to take sides in an argument I find stupid. Thus, here you go:


The only slight ding I give her is changing units half way through the problem, from grams to profits.

Ben: I like how you used an actual DEA photograph of heroin for the picture. Make sure everyone knows you didn’t just have that lying around.

I think Ms. Brown is significantly mistreated for her honesty in this song. This is actually not a Foxy Brown song, but a Nas song featuring remaining members of “The Firm” (AZ, Cormega, Brown), bragging about their heroin and coke-dealing exploits. The first three rappers spend their verses explaining what kind of cars they’ve purchased, except for Nas, who seems to have a bit of a death wish and spends half his verse on the reality of response killings.

It’s clear that Ms. Brown is in charge of the day-to-day business operations, and if she’s got to cut into the purity of her product in order to make a profit, that’s something she’s willing to do. She’s a business, man. And she doesn’t mind telling you how she goes about it.

Though it does seem like it would cut into any future profits to admit that you’re not giving out top-of-the-line material. This song is basically “The Big Short,” but for drug dealing.

Bethany: Reading your explanation makes me remember all the math problems I did in high school where they irritated me by adding superfluous words to “challenge” us. I DON’T CARE WHY SUZY AND JOHNNY WANT ORANGES JUST GIVE ME THE NUMBERS.


“Why Does the Sun Shine?” by They Might Be Giants
Nominated Lyric: Whole Song

Bethany: They Might Be Giants has a whole album of kids songs called “Here Comes Science” and this is one of the most popular songs off that album.  While it plays slightly fast and loose with describing the exact composition of the sun, they retain full credit because they wrote their own rebuttal song clarifying where they’d simplified things. That actually puts them ahead of at least 30% of practicing scientists.

Ben: Guys. Guys. I learned so much from this song. Copper can be a gas?

History of Everything (Big Bang Theory theme song) by Barenaked Ladies
Nominated line: Whole Song

Bethany: If you’re a science geek, hold Sheldon Cooper up as a hero, and have an hour or two to kill, go read this post and thread to get excruciating detail on how accurate this song is. For everyone else, don’t cite it in your PhD thesis, but it’s actually pretty close. Plus, it’s popular and admire any band that can make a song with that level of detail catch on.

Ben: To all the Barenaked Ladies haters out there, you should know that I’m basically these people whenever someone takes any shots at BNL.

I’d never actually listened to the entire song before, just the short bit that plays before “Big Bang Theory” episodes, and I enjoyed yet again learning things. Our universe is going to start contracting? Guys, I have not been paying attention to anything. My mind was blown before Kevin Hearn* had even started his keyboard solo.

*Yes, I do know the name of Barenaked Ladies’ keyboardist. Don’t step to me.

Bringing up BNL actually brings up some me-and-Bethany ties, because when I was in 8th grade, my dad took me and her younger brother Tim to a massive outdoor festival in downtown Boston, dropped us off, and arranged to meet us in about 8 hours* at a Dunkin Donuts about a mile away. This was before the age of cell phones. I have literally no idea what would have happened if we hadn’t shown up. Bethany was justifiably furious, as she had been denied going to go see Ani DiFranco earlier that month with friends, and she was a high school junior at the time.

* It was a long concert. The show’s lineup was: The Corrs, Edwin McCain, Sister Hazel, BNL, and Hootie and the Blowfish. My first concert was the most 90’s concert of all time.

Bethany: Thanks for reminding me of this incident. I haven’t harassed my parents about this injustice in years. They’re due for another round. Also, Barenaked Ladies haters only exist in highly controlled lab experiments, not in the wild.

Ben: Oh, phew. I’ll put my Internet Comment Gun back in its holster, then.

In the least shocking development ever, we appear to be going a bit long here. The next 5 songs will be split off into Part 2, going up next week.  Don’t wait until then to complain to us about what we missed, feel free to start now.

Ready for Part 2? Click here!

For the whole series page, go here.

Pop Science and an Introduction

Hi everyone! After 10 weeks on basic internet science, I thought it might be fun to switch things up a bit.  For the next few weeks (more if we get inspired), I’ve invited a very special collaborator to help me put together a definitive guide to the good, the bad and the ugly of science/math references in popular music.

Say hi to Ben!

Ben is a childhood friend of mine who runs ten-four films, his own blog, is funny on Twitter, and he watches movies.  He grew up without a TV, so of course he rebelled and became a professional film maker.  He’s a font of knowledge on music in general and indie rock in particular, and is the kind of person that responds to emails like “what’s up with Rivers Cuomo?” with multi-page missives that are just a few citations short of being a media studies doctoral thesis. Since that kind of brilliant obsessiveness is one the traits I most value in others, Ben has always been one of my go tos for all things pop culture. If you want to get  a sense of where he’s coming from, check out his favorite albums, TV shows, songs, and movies of 2015.

Anything else you’d like to tell the nice people Ben?

Ben: Hello! And thanks for having me. As Bethany mentioned, this is the sort of thing I do when only vaguely prompted, or sometimes entirely unprompted, and for an audience that often consists of only myself. As Dante once noted, you have to follow your own star.*

*I’m mostly sure this is a Dante quote, but the Internet might be fooling me again.

I like appearing on this site, because it gives me a veneer of intellectual robustness, which is somewhat undercut by the fact that I had to use a thesaurus site right there because I couldn’t remember the word “robust.”

Okay, so what are the rules here?

Both Ben and I have a healthy dose of petty despot in us, so everything’s subject to change at our whim. However, here’s how we started:

  1. We kept the definition of “science songs” pretty broad. We decided to include things that referenced math, scientists and medicine, in addition to more general science stuff.
  2. We drew the line at “science”. Some people try to sneak what are basically “geek” references on to science lists. Dungeons and dragons, while geeky, is not actual science.
  3. The whole song didn’t have to be about science. I’m a pretty big fan of the one line reference, so sometimes that’s all it took to make the list.
  4. I classified how good the science was according to my own whims, Ben classified how good the song was according to his. Ben’s a filmmaker, my taste in music is terrible. It works better this way. Basically, if you don’t think the song should have made the list it did, complain to me. If you don’t like it’s order on the list, complain to Ben.

Wait, Ben, did I just make those rules up or is that how you did things too?

Ben: You made all those rules up. I just followed your lead. But I think we ended up contributing a roughly equal amount of songs to this endeavor, and I think it’s pretty telling we both had mental lists of songs in which we had either applauded or been irked by the science displayed.

Frankly, this is a pretty ideal setup, with you placing the ball on the tee for me here. I’m glad to be Waldorf to your Statler.

Now that you’re all up to speed, we’ll see you next Sunday for “Ten Songs that Got Science Right”.

Click here to read Part 1 of “Ten Songs that Got Science Right!”