Scientists Singing Science

Via NPR, I’ve been introduced to the musical stylings of glaciologist Richard Alley, who seems to have a particular fondness for murderimproving Johnny Cash songs with the addition of geological information. Of course, ‘Ring of Fire’ almost demands a subduction-related cover version.


If you don’t want to plumb the depths of YouTube, you can watch and listen to his other efforts here (it seems he’s also prone to dancing). In the NPR interview, he muses that it’s a way of making his general geology classes a bit more memorable and personalised, and that possibly even some of the knowledge imparted this way might stick a little better. I’d take that with a pinch of salt, myself – but then, I don’t think I quite have the temprament, or the muscial talent, to pull off something like this without it feeling contrived. If you can, maybe it can be effective.
This isn’t my first exposure to guitar-wielding academics: one of the lecturers in my first year Cell Biology course at Cambridge, Ron Laskey, also liked to add a bit of musical entertainment to his lectures. At least one of his songs has made in to YouTube:

This performance comes to you from the Babbage Lecture Theatre, hence ‘cabbage in the Babbage’. You can actually get CDs of his ‘Songs for Cynical Scientists’, which reinforces the impression you might have formed that he tends more towards the entertainment end of the spectrum than the educational, although ‘Next Slide Please’ does rather effectively sum up years of seminar and conference talk misery.
Of course, Tom Lehrer puts both of these wannabes firmly in their place -

Categories: bloggery, general science, public science

Comments (2)

  1. Silver Fox says:

    Those are great, Chris. Thanks! I’ve got to make sure my dad sees that last one.

  2. Bob O'H says:

    I wish I could sing and perform, just so I could do The Elements as a sing-along at a chemists’ party – “Join in, you all know the words”.