Music Mondays: Lonesome Friends of Science

Once more, it’s Music Monday!

Today: astronomy, but also wildlife biology, and a little different perspective on science from John Prine.

John Prine was an absolutely wonderful singer-songwriter. He wrote so many fantastic songs over a long career, and his last album, Tree of Forgiveness, was among his best. But I don’t quite know what to think of Lonesome Friends of Science:

The first verse (after an opening chorus) is about Pluto’s demotion from “planet” to something less, and it’s fun:

Once a mighty planet there
Now just an ordinary star
Hanging out in Hollywood
In some old funky sushi bar

But the last verse is darker, and definitely anti-science:

Those bastards in their white lab coats
Who experiment with mountain goats
Should leave the universe alone
It’s not their business, not their home

We’ll leave aside the unlikely intersection of scientists-who-wear-lab-coats and scientists-who-study-mountain-goats – the lab coat is just a bit of artistic license. But what about “should leave the universe alone”? I’m sorry Prine thought that way. Perhaps he didn’t know that animal care regulations are quite strict and (these days) prohibit the kind of thing a “bastard” might do to a mountain goat. Or perhaps he had a more general objection, that scientists ought to “leave the universe alone” because “it’s not their business” – perhaps Prine didn’t like the idea of science revealing nature’s mysteries. I don’t know, and we can’t ask him (sadly, he died last year of Covid-19, before science gave us the capacity, via vaccines, to stem the pandemic).  Whichever one it is, though, we need to remember that it’s not an isolated opinion; and therefore, we’re all faced with the challenge of countering it.

And now for this week’s I-just-like-it bonus: as I write this, I really should be checking proof for The Scientist’s Guide to Writing’s second edition.  That’s my new book – and here’s Greg Brown’s My New Book, from his 1994 album The Poet Game 

He’ll unwrap her broken heart
And smile the weary smile of the crook
I’ll tell it all in my new book

Well, that’s Brown’s new book. But I guess mine isn’t that different: it does cover broken hearts (via journal rejection) and crooks (plagiarism). Among other things.

See you for more next week.

© Stephen Heard  August 23, 2021

Image: Mountain goats on Sepulcher Mountain; Diane Renkin, Yellowstone National Park, public domain via


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