For Those About To Rock…

November 2nd, 2006 by Ben Goldacre in bad science, not bad science | 35 Comments »

Yes! Axe-wielding glam rock astronomy PhD hero Brian May has written a new popular science book on space, time, and the history of the universe, and more than that, he has recorded a soaring multi-tracked guitar solo promo for it with Patrick Moore on drums. Epic genius, play loud:

If you’ve rocked out to “Bohemian Rhapsody” and “Another One Bites The Dust-ah” you may also enjoy Brian’s solo work, including “MGI Emission in Night-Sky Spectrum” (Nature 240) and “Investigation of Motion of Zodiacal Dust Particles” (Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society 166). Are there more rock-god post-grad scientists I have been missing out on? Galileo (Galileo) Galileo (Galileo) Galileo (Figaro Magnifico-o-o-o-o) was a talented musician too (honestly).

If you like what I do, and you want me to do more, you can: buy my books Bad Science and Bad Pharma, give them to your friends, put them on your reading list, employ me to do a talk, or tweet this article to your friends. Thanks! ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

35 Responses

  1. jackpt said,

    November 2, 2006 at 3:45 am

    Heh. I’ve got to buy this now, just to see how the rock has influenced it. The head-aches Roger Penrose’s The Road to Reality caused me were bad enough, and I haven’t finished it yet. A bit of rock and roll reading may take the edge off it.

  2. Jeremy Miles said,

    November 2, 2006 at 5:50 am

    Dexter Holland (of The Offspring) did a Master’s in molecular biology at University of Southern California, and started a PhD at the same place (something about yeast, but I forget what), but then commercial success beckoned, and he dropped out.

    I believe that the band sponsored a symposium (on yeast) there.

  3. social scientist said,

    November 2, 2006 at 9:32 am

    Not Quite so Glam, or Rock but they keyboardist from D:Ream is now an experimental physicist:

  4. social scientist said,

    November 2, 2006 at 9:35 am

    let me correct above – i have just followed the link from his website to a video of his first band – that is most definately both Glam and Rock!

  5. brett said,

    November 2, 2006 at 10:01 am


    Does Michael White qualify? Science writer, former science lecterur, and “n a previous incarnation, he was a member of the Thompson Twins (1982)”. Perhaps not so very rock-god-ish, but still …

  6. brett said,

    November 2, 2006 at 10:02 am

    That would be “lecturer”. And “in”.

  7. superburger said,

    November 2, 2006 at 10:07 am

    He went to Liverpool Poly and, I think, dropped out, but Julian Cope (ex Teardop Explodes) wrote a couple of weighty tomes on ancient stone circles and suchlike.

    He would also win an acid droping competition with Brian Wilson.

  8. Tom P said,

    November 2, 2006 at 10:15 am

    Rob Coombes, the keyboardist in Supergrass, is another Astrophysicist of Rock.

  9. bad chemist said,

    November 2, 2006 at 3:32 pm

    Greg Graffin of Bad Religion did a PhD based around evolutionary biology.


  10. le canard noir said,

    November 2, 2006 at 4:41 pm

    Looks like the government has spotted the obvious benefits to either a) physcis or b) rock music and has done the obvious…

    Specialist colleges to teach rock music and nuclear physics

  11. pronetomadness said,

    November 2, 2006 at 8:33 pm

    Theres also Milo from the descendents, who went to college and became a biochemist

  12. Dr Aust said,

    November 2, 2006 at 9:28 pm

    I think we’d have to give it to Brian May – publishing part of your Ph.D. work as a letter to Nature is not something all that many scientists achieve – most of us science lifers are NEVER going to get anything in Nature, even if we publish 50+ papers.

  13. tideliar said,

    November 2, 2006 at 9:59 pm

    Damn! Beaten to my favourite piece of Descendents trivia.

    …there was almost me too, but the bills really started piling up whilst the offers from record lables didn’t…back to science I went…

  14. brookster said,

    November 2, 2006 at 10:59 pm

    Hugh Cornwell was in the middle of a biochemistry PhD before forming The Stranglers.

  15. Filias Cupio said,

    November 3, 2006 at 12:03 am

    I hope all the URLs come through OK, given that we don’t have a “preview” option.

    A question occured to me the other day which is somewhat related to this:
    Who has the lowest sum of their Erdos Number ( and their Bacon Number ( Such a person must have published a peer-reviewed paper (prefereably in mathematics) and acted in a movie.

    Lo and behold, in the process of writing this comment, I find that others have already thought of this:

    Stephen Hawking was the only person who sprung to my mind, but it turns out he’s beaten by several people, including Carl Sagan and Richard Feynman.

  16. Silverfin said,

    November 3, 2006 at 11:11 am

    From somewhat earlier, Jean-Philippe Rameau (b. 1683).
    Writer of much harpsichord music, operas, and theorist and experimenter in the field of acoustics, credited with innovative work on the harmonic series (overtones).
    Thrown out of university for not taking his studies seriously enough and spending all his time playing keyboards in a band instead.

    From surviving portraits and documents, seems he was a tall skinny guy with long hair who wore black all the time. And makeup. Sounds like an early form of goth to me.

  17. Silverfin said,

    November 3, 2006 at 11:12 am

    Oh, and Pythagoras was a muso too.

  18. warumich said,

    November 3, 2006 at 12:27 pm

    There’s also Alexander Borodin, Russian romantic composer and a friend of Mussorgsky and Rimsky-Korsakoff. And quite a mean chemist too.

  19. MJ Simpson said,

    November 3, 2006 at 1:25 pm

    I don’t know about musicians, but in the world of low-budget movies, ‘scream queen’ Brinke Stevens ( – whose best-known films include Sorority House Massacre and Slave Girls from Beyond Infinity – famously has a Masters Degree in Marine Biology.

  20. Ben Goldacre said,

    November 3, 2006 at 2:35 pm

    Yeah, here’s a pic of Rameau playing his viola like an electric guitar. Shades of Brian May and New Model Army in there:

  21. Andrew Clegg said,

    November 3, 2006 at 4:35 pm

    Cancer, the old death-metal band, were all medical students IIRC…

    Amazing things you learn — thanks to that Erdos-Bacon link above, I now know that Natalie Portman is also a neuropsychologist and has published as recently as 2002. Cor. (Natalie Hershlag)


  22. raygirvan said,

    November 3, 2006 at 10:04 pm

    Movies again: Hedy Lamarr was co-inventor of radio frequency-hopping.

  23. CrunchyCapsicum said,

    November 3, 2006 at 10:25 pm

    More relevantly than Bacon numbers, there are Black Sabbath numbers, which you gain by jamming with or performing with someone who has a Black Sabbath number, or by being a member of Black Sabbath.

    Just as the famous conjecture has it that every working mathematician has an Erdos number of no greater than 7, it is said that every working musician has a Black Sabbath number of no greater than 6.

    Bill Clinton has a Black Sabbath number of no greater than 5 from playing his sax with various bands when on the campaign trail.

    I myself have a Black Sabbath number of no greater than 5 (it’s not too hard to get one) and an Erdos number of no greater than 9 (assuming the conjecture about working mathmaticians is right, I have published with someone who published with a mathematician), so that raises the question of Erdos/Sabbath numbers. Hmm.

    The oracle of Bacon is a wonderful resource on Bacon numbers:

    One of their results is that Kevin Bacon is actually not a very good basis for Bacon numbers. The maximum Arnie number for any Hollywood actor, for example, is lower than the maximum Bacon number.

  24. CrunchyCapsicum said,

    November 3, 2006 at 10:28 pm

    Oops, I misdescribed that research on Bacon vs. Arnie numbers. It’s the average Arnie number that’s lower than the average Bacon number.

  25. Organic Potatoes said,

    November 3, 2006 at 11:47 pm

    “Galileo (Galileo) Galileo (Galileo) Galileo (Figaro Magnifico-o-o-o-o) was a talented musician too (honestly).”

    No but his dad was.

  26. slowfugue said,

    November 4, 2006 at 8:25 am

    The real musician was his son Michelangelo Galilei. Try this:

  27. Robert Carnegie said,

    November 5, 2006 at 12:28 pm

    I just wanna see a [Never Mind The Buzzcocks] identity parade in lab coats, or geology field trip gear or Arctic expedition rig-out. I’ve watched regularly and if it’s been done I don’t recall it.

  28. NelsonGabriel said,

    November 8, 2006 at 9:43 pm

    I’m glad to be the first to point out that Kris Novoselic, ex out of Nirvana,
    has written a book on voting reform.

    Of Grunge & Government: Let’s Fix this Broken Democracy!

    You can read about it here:

    He thinks IRV is the solution (Instant Runoff Voting). I wonder if any of the stars
    are interested in Condorcet voting?

  29. griff said,

    November 15, 2006 at 8:50 pm

    Nobody mentioned US Department of Defence consultant and bona fide rock god; Jeff “Skunk” Baxter.

  30. Lave said,

    November 15, 2006 at 10:55 pm

    I shared an Office with Chris Lintott. The third, and unmentioned, author of BANG! Shame on you Dr Goldacre – once again the PhD student that did all the work gets ignored!

  31. NelsonGabriel said,

    November 19, 2006 at 3:15 pm

    And to think I forgot about Dave Smythe (D.K. Smythe). He played bass guitar with
    the Revillos, (a.k.a. the Rezillos at some stage), who had at least one big hit
    in the 1970s: song called “Top Of The Pops”, on which show they actually performed it too.

    If you go to his house (was there once) there is a bass guitar sitting prominently in the
    corner. These days he is professor of geophysics at Glasgow University.

  32. Selkie said,

    March 4, 2007 at 9:12 pm

    Will Hay, the comic actor, was a half decent astronomer, who discovered a white spot on Saturn in 1933.

    A full 3 1/2 months after the last post, she’s got her finger on the button this girl!

  33. Persiflage said,

    April 19, 2007 at 10:55 am

    The lyrics to Don’t Stop Me Now would have been different if Brian had had his way…

    I’m gonna have myself a real good time
    I feel ali-i-i-iive
    And the world’s
    Turnin’ round and round
    Floatin’ about
    In starry seas
    So don’t stop me now
    Don’t stop me
    ‘Cause I’m havin’ a good time, havin’ a good time

    I watch shooting stars leaping through the sky –
    They’re the Taurids, obeying the laws of gravityyyyyy
    An astronomer, I’m not liiike those other guitarists,
    I’m gonna go, go, go
    There’s no stopping meeeee

    Rocks burning in the sky, yeah!
    Four thousand degrees –
    But that’s in Kelvin not in Fahrenheit;
    No travelling at the speed of light,
    You oughtta know that supersonic’s best you can do!

    Don’t stop me now!
    Horizons are a flat line,
    But Earth is a ball…
    Don’t stop me now!
    When the weather’s clear at night-time
    Just gimmee a call!
    Don’t stop me now
    (yes I’m havin’ a good time)
    Don’t stop me now
    (‘cos my telescope’s so fine)
    I don’t wanna stop at all

    I’ve a robot ship on its way to Mars
    On a collision course;
    And there’s my satelites –
    They’re under control –
    And a geostationary telescope!
    Like the Hubble one,
    It watches no-o-o-o-vas explode!

    There’s burnin’ in the sky, yeah!
    One billion degrees…

    …I’ll get my coat

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