Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Look Out, Nonsense: Here Comes Science!

They Might Be Giants really took a page from the theists' playbook with their latest album, Here Comes Science: hook 'em while they're young (the Jesuits were famous for saying, "Give us the child for his first seven years, and we will show you the man"). I've been listening to Here Comes Science more or less every day since I got it. I know, I know, it's supposed to be children's educational music. But I like it! And it's a breath of fresh air! And it's a big "fuck you" to a whole bunch of superstitious nonsense without even making a big deal out of it! OK, it probably wasn't meant as a "fuck you," but still, that interpretation is available for almost every song (well, sixteen of the seventeen "real" songs, anyway). Here, watch:

1. Science Is Real: The message is clear in this song: "Science is real, your superstitious crap is imaginary." And people complain about this, which is awesome.
2. Meet the Elements: This one's kind of a stretch, but a belligerent interpretation is available. I imagine this song undermining homeopaths and other such hokum. Everything we think of as an "object" is made out of elements: nutrients are elements, medicines are elements, poisons are made out of elements, pizza places are made out of elements. It's all chemicals, and "chemicals is just chemicals." Keep in mind here that there are people who seriously believe that there is a difference between the ascorbic acid you find in an orange and the ascorbic acid you find in a vitamin C tablet (pro tip: there is no such difference, because ascorbic acid is ascorbic acid no matter where you get it from).
3. I Am a Paleontologist: One line: "It's so fun to think about how a species has evolved." Field scientists are the rock stars of their respective fields of inquiry, because they're out in the (sometimes literal) trenches looking at the world, and showing that to kids will help prepare them to laugh off Creatards & IDiots who don't know just how awesome a dig really is. Or all the science behind it, and all the science that goes into analyzing and interpreting whatever is found. For further reading, see Ardi's recent news spotlight on Easy Mode or Hard Mode, as well as PZ's coverage of the media circus to see the landmark discovery ignorantly dismissed as trivial, and abused to support homophobia.
4. The Bloodmobile: (Right song, but couldn't find the actual video.) Blood is life, which at least one holy book can tell you, but no holy book can tell you why. This song explains why. Oh, and all that crap you hear about "toxins" and whatever? Yep, that's what your blood is for. No pseudoscientific woo required, your body already takes care of it!
5. Electric Car: I love this song because it's unapologetic propaganda for electric cars. Y'know, to counterbalance all the anti-electric-car propaganda... right, guys? But you see, the USA makes guns which it sells to certain oil-rich nations (as Pat Condell put it, "It would be hard to think of a more oily place than Saudi Arabia"), and things like electric cars are inimical to such profitable business relationships. Y'know, now that I'm actually writing this, I can't say that this one is anti-superstition, but it is counter-anti-scientific progress, so I don't care.
6. My Brother the Ape: (Live performance.) All the world is kin, the end. We are not only related to apes, we are apes. Naked, brainy, hifalutin apes; but apes nonetheless. The best part: "They all kept saying how much we look alike. I don't think that we look alike at all, but I'll admit that I look more like a chimp than I look like my cousin the shrimp, or my distant kin the lichen, or the snowy egret, or the moss." Tru fax - the very truest.
7. What Is a Shooting Star?: (Live performance.) Oh, man! I'm excited about this one! See, there's this building called the Kaaba, the most sacred site in Islam. It's so fucking holy, it's why Muslims face Mecca to pray, no matter where in the world they are. So what's so goddamned special about it? Its eastern cornerstone is a black stone, which according to legend is a "piece of Heaven" that fell to Earth, showing Adam and Eve where to build the first shrine. Piece of Heaven? Fell to Earth? Sounds like a meteorite to me, or the firmament is falling! But Hell, it might just be obsidian or pumice instead - we haven't exactly been able to do any proper science to it, for stupid, stupid reasons.
8. How Many Planets?: One of the great things about science is that it is self-correcting (ideally). Rather than claiming absolute authority forever, scientists instead make provisional claims about what they can test and show. So when the IAU revised just what it means by the word "planet" back in 2006, they realized that they'd have to either cut out Pluto, or welcome in a bunch of other stuff, or engage in some rather egregious special-pleading shenanigans. Well, they picked option one, to the outrage of third-graders and small-minded adult-type persons alike. This song shows that reality is fuckin' complicated, and that planets aren't people and thus can't get their feelings hurt.
9. Why Does the Sun Shine?: This is just a groovy song. It also shows that the Sun is not a god, it's a naturally-occurring object just like any other star. The Universe has a few of them about, you see. One more metaphysical explanation supplanted by science!
10. Why Does the Sun Really Shine?: ...And one more scientific explanation revised by better science! Like How Many Planets?, Why Does the Sun Really Shine? shows explicitly that science is self-correcting: "The Sun is a miasma of incandescent plasma, the Sun's not simply made out of gas. The Sun is a quagmire, it's not made of fire, forget what you've been told in the past." Because, you see, we have something better now.
11. Roy G. Biv: Rainbows occur as a necessary consequence of the properties of light and water vapor in the air (such as after a rainfall). Rainbows are absolutely not the sign of a covenant between God and humanity to not blow up the world again because some people stick it in the naughty place. Besides, we see how well God's plan to wipe out evil forever has worked... over and over and over again. What a fuck-up.
12. Put It to the Test: When I'm away from my computer at work, the screen flashes with my favorite line from this song: "Find a way to show what would happen if you were incorrect; a fact is just a fantasy, unless it can be checked." I can't install electric sheep at the office, you see, so I put up something else that makes me smile instead. But yeah, falsifiability is important - I recently raised this point with cl, the idea being that a god who cannot be detected is epistemologically indistinct from a god who does not exist.
13. Photosynthesis: (No video available.) This one is pretty obvious. "Photosynthesis is why plants need light, and photosynthesis is why humans need plants, because through photosynthesis plants make oxygen, and humans need oxygen to breathe." But you see, there are some tool-bags who believe (as this person evidently once did) that it doesn't matter what we do to the planet because Jesus is returning soon, or even that the environment's decline is a sign of his impending arrival! ("So many incidents and elements that indicate the end of times have been taking place. First sign is the depletion of our natural resources...") Yeah, so... 'nuff said. Nutters.
14. Cells: (No video available.) Life, which includes people, is made out of cells. Not dirt, or clay, or mud, or spit, or ribs, or anything else that could be sculpted by an intelligent and magical creator. Just cells.
15. Speed and Velocity: Surprise, kids! Some words which are used interchangeably in common parlance have specific meanings in scientific contexts! It's an amazing fact, I know, but as it turns out, we sometimes need to watch our mouths when discussing matters if we wish to speak of facts and not bullshit. Because, y'know, words have meaning & all that jazz.
16. Computer Assisted Design: "See how you get from a thought to an object." It's not "God said 'Let there be light,' and lo, there was light." It's more like, "And humanity said, 'Let there be stuff,' and lo, with the aid of machines, there was stuff." No magic required!
17. Solid Liquid Gas: (No video available.) Yeah, so I spent this whole time trying to think of how the three (most commonly encountered) states of matter is anything in the face of superstitious nonsense. I got nothin'. Not even a stretch. Anyway, I hope you enjoyed what videos there are, and you should go check out the album, it comes with a DVD with all the videos that you can watch at your leisure under the intoxicant of your choice!

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