Friday, September 18, 2009

Why I love "Here Comes Science"!!!

My Nico would rather watch science videos than do just about anything else. The astronomy ones were his favorite for a while, but lately he's taken an interest in human body systems, especially the digestive system.

So, to listen to on our road trip, we got Space Songs: an album by Tom Glazer and Dottie Evans from 1959. I've had friends who actually remember this album from their childhood, but I learned about it through the more recent They Might Be Giants cover of "Why Does the Sun Shine?"

The problem with "Space Songs" is that some of the stuff is wrong. For example, on another science album (by the same artists, from the same period), they say "every living thing is either plant or animal." OK, well, maybe that's what people thought in the fifties and early sixties, but it's wrong. (That's the trouble with Science -- you have to keep updating!) Similarly, there's the famous opening line from "Why Does the Sun Shine?": "The Sun is a mass of incandescent gas."

Only... it's not gas, it's plasma!

Enter They Might Be Giants with their fantastic new album Here Comes Science!

The album comes with a DVD containing animated videos of all of the songs, and they are amazing! It's like a modern version of Schoolhouse Rock (which my kids already love), only better!

After their adorably old-fashioned version of "Why Does the Sun Shine?" they follow up with a charming modern response -- which opens with "the Sun is a miasma of incandescent plasma" and goes on to explain about different states of matter.

The songs that explain current scientific theories (like "Meet the Elements") are great, but I'm even more impressed with the way they explain how science works. There's a lot of concern these days about scientific illiteracy, rooted in misunderstandings (and misinformation) about science itself. This album is the antidote. Just have a look at the song "Put It To The Test" or at the first song, "Science Is Real":

The first thing to jump out at me was the following:

A scientific theory isn't just a hunch or guess -- it's more like a question that's been put through a lot of tests. And when a theory emerges -- consistent with the facts -- the proof is with science; the truth is with science.

Some people might see this as indoctrination, but really it's just a simple explanation. I am absolutely disgusted with the "Intelligent Design"/Creationist movement exploiting the fact that "theory" means something different in colloquial speech than it does in a scientific context -- using their "Evolution is just a theory!" battle cry. It takes only a few seconds to explain what's wrong with that slogan. And if people apparently have difficulty taking those few seconds to understand it, then why not simplify the task? An upbeat song to explain it is just what the doctor ordered! :D

Then there's the other controversial bit:

Now I like the stories about angels, unicorns, and elves. Yeah, I like the stories as much as anybody else, but when I'm seeking knowledge -- either simple or abstract -- the facts are with science; the facts are with science.

This is what I was trying to explain in my post I believe in Santa Claus. Basing your picture of reality on evidence doesn't in any way detract from awe, wonder, or imagination. Quite the contrary.

When you're not constrained by thinking a made-up story is real, you can let your imagination run wild with it, and invent more! And, on the other side of the coin, things that are real are awe-inspiring. The animations in the song illustrate beautifully how awesome it is to follow your curiosity and explore reality!!

My kids were thrilled by all of the different scientific theories illustrated in the song, such as using a prism to separate light into the color spectrum and looking at a cell under a microscope. Nico was especially excited about the part where the kid takes a bite of an apple and you can see it travel into his digestive system. Leo has been interested in magnetism lately, so he liked those parts. Personally, I liked the way they illustrated gravity. Unlike most cartoons, in this one the kid accelerated as he fell to the ground. I'll bet they actually had him going 9.8 meters per second per second. :D

Watching this DVD has been their reward lately for after they get their homework done, and it has been a great motivator. It's full of their favorite subjects and ideas, richly and imaginatively sung, accompanied, and illustrated.

Note: Our family got to see TMBG perform these songs live this past weekend! For pictures, see my Rational Moms post here!


Anonymous said...

I wholeheartedly agree. All their albums for kids have been great, a welcome change of pace from the typical music for kids. I can actually stand to listen to it often, kind of how I feel about the Pixar movies.

I woke up singing I Am a Paleontologist this morning.

Varina said...

Now if only they'd release another corrective song explaining prevailing theories on why it's Istanbul not Constantinople.

Holly said...

Both videos are AWESOME, though I was especially delighted by "I Am a Paleontologist." I will have to get the cd and dvd myself, and maybe as a birthday gift for a nephew or two.... anyway, I needed both the joy and the rationality of those songs, so thanks.

And, having written just written the paragraph above, I would like to underscore something that anti-science types often don't want to believe: joy and rationality are NOT mutually exclusive.

C. L. Hanson said...

Hey Holly and Jonathan!!!

I'm glad you like it too, and especially the song "I Am a Paleontologist"!

My Leo told me just this morning that that's his favorite song. And here's the funny thing -- at the concert, John Flansburgh announced that song by telling us it would be our favorite song! lol

The album had just come out, and so he joked that it would later become our favorite song some time in the future, once we'd heard it a few times. (Indeed, it was the first time we'd heard the song since we didn't have the album yet at that point.) So he told us that at this concert we were getting our favorite song plus time travel!

And as ridiculous a joke as that is he was right!!! :D

C. L. Hanson said...

Hey Sabayon!!!

They played that song too!

One of my old-time faves, so it was cool to dance to it with my little guy as it was played live. :D

Letters to the Philippines said...

This is a great videos,i also played that song too. :)


meanderwithme said...

We adore this album in our house, too -- and, yup, Paleontologist is everyone's favorite. I mean, who can't love pick-axe and shovel-shaped guitars?

I have one nit-pick -- in ROY G BIV, they totally use the wrong color for indigo. I'm a bit of a color geek, so it bugs me. Sure, magenta (what they used for indigo) looks cool, but it technically would fall between violet and red, not blue and violet!

Yeah, I know. I'm a dork.

Rebecca said...

The first review of TMBG's new album that I read (about a month ago) mentioned the 1959-early '60s albums Singing Science so I immediately looked them up. All the mp3s are available online.

My husband and I (no kids yet!) love all of these songs. We can't wait to share them with our kids one day.

C. L. Hanson said...

Hey MeanderWithMe!!!

Yeah, we noticed the color problem in Roy G. Biv as well. I just assumed that they'd inverted indigo and violet because there wasn't enough contrast between blue and indigo. My son Nico has done a lot of drawings based on this song, and he switched them back. ;^)

Hey Rebecca!!!

Yeah, those old science songs are great fun! I found their style got a little repetitive, though. IMHO, they didn't demonstrate nearly as much stylistic range as TMBG or Schoolhouse Rock.