Scientific controversy, children’s music and shaping a world view

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Karessa Weir

Karessa and Alec Weir

My kids may not learn everything they need to know from kindergarten but they are learning a lot about science from the ‘90s alt-pop band They Might Be Giants.

The duet of John Flansburgh and John Linnell, following up on their kids’ album “Here come the ABCs,” released “Here Comes Science” late last year.

The album is amazing. I could listen to “Electric Car” all day long and “Meet the Elements” prompted my six-year-old Elliott to download, print and tape to his bedroom wall a periodic table.

But it is a pair of songs about the sun that really gets me thinking. The song titled “Why Does the Sun Shine?” is number nine of the DVD. It is a fast-paced hard-rock song with the chorus of “The sun is a mass of incandescent gas. A giant nuclear furnace. Where Hydrogen is built into Helium At a temperature of millions of degrees” Check it out.

It is catchy and cool, accompanied by animated felt creatures. I love it.

But number 10 on the DVD is titled “Why does the Sun Really Shine?” Here TMBG slow it down a bit, make it a little psychedelic and include the lyrics: “The sun is a miasma of incandescent plasma. The sun’s not simply made out of gas, no, no. The sun is a quagmire; it’s not made of fire. Forget what you’ve been told in the past.”  Listen here.

So if the sun is NOT a mass of incandescent gas, why did they leave song number 9 on the disc?  Are they purposely trying to confuse small children?

A little research resulted in learning that the first song is a cover of a 1965 song by Tom Glazer. The second song is a TMBG original, created for the express purpose of correcting several factual errors in the original.

But the same question — “why does it exist?”  and “why does it get the attention it gets?” might be asked of a lot of “not quite true” science floating around out there. I often wondered why there are so many disputes in science — it should be about cold, hard facts, right? Either it is true or false — that’s science. So why are people still debating things like evolution and climate change?

Maybe, like TMBG, they just find their version a little more catchy — a little easier to dance to — a little bit easier to fit into their own world view.

But I think, among all 19 songs on the DVD, the lesson  that I’m taking from this is that different versions of science can exist side-by-side, given the proper context, of course.

One thought on “Scientific controversy, children’s music and shaping a world view

  1. I read in an interview that They left WDTSS? on the disc because the artist, Hine Mizushima, had already made them a video for it that was really beautiful, & they didn’t want to let her down. also, it’s one of their most popular songs. They’ve been playing it for years & years. I’m pretty sure that’s why they decided to put it on their Science album to begin with. If they had left it off, I think a lot of their adult fans would’ve been disappointed.

    They’ve been hearing from scientists for years that WDTSS? was factually inaccurate. That’s why they wrote WDTSRS?.

    Science is constantly evolving. New things are discovered all the time. In the years since WDTSS? was written, scientists discovered that the sun was made of plasma, not gas. I doubt anyone even knew what plasma was in 1965.

    There are one or two other minor inaccuracies on Here Comes Science, but I don’t remember all the facts, so I won’t go into it here.

    Anyway, I’m glad your kids like it. Just think, by the time they’re all grown up, there’s no telling what new things we will know. :-) I raised my own kids on TMBG’s adult songs. They were already grown by the time TMBG started making albums for kids. They turned out awesome though. (Even considering the depressing topics & death imagery that are in a lot of their adult songs. I never censored my kids musically)

    Have a rockin day!

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