They Might Be Giants, and the Self-Correcting Nature of Science

As has been widely observed, the number of retractions seen for scientific papers is on the rise. As Retraction Watch’s Ivan Oransky notes, this is “a good thing”. Aside from the obvious benefit of decreasing fraud, science is a process, and new discoveries correct previous results.

In that spirit, it’s worth noting that the always enjoyable band They Might Be Giants issued a retraction notice of their own. Back in 1993, they recorded Why Does the Sun Shine? (The Sun Is a Mass of Incandescent Gas) a cover of an obscure 1959 song based on the 1951 Golden Guide book “Stars”.

It turns out that 1951’s understanding of how the sun works wasn’t all that accurate, so in 2009, the band recorded and released Why Does the Sun Really Shine? (The Sun is a Miasma of Incandescent Plasma) for their superb children’s album, Here Comes Science. If only all retraction notices were this catchy…

About David Crotty

I am the Editorial Director, Journals Policy for Oxford University Press. I oversee journal policy and contribute to strategy across OUP’s journals program, drive technological innovation, serve as an information officer, and manage a suite of research society-owned journals. I was previously an Executive Editor with Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Press, creating and editing new science books and journals, and was the Editor in Chief for Cold Spring Harbor Protocols. I received my Ph.D. in Genetics from Columbia University and did developmental neuroscience research at Caltech before moving from the bench to publishing. I have been elected to the STM Association Board and serve on the interim Board of Directors for CHOR Inc., a not-for-profit public-private partnership to increase public access to research.


One thought on “They Might Be Giants, and the Self-Correcting Nature of Science

  1. “They” also have a great song about quantum science and it’s impact on humanity (“Particle Man”, circa 1989?), for which they have offered no such retraction…I guess, considering the ever-changing perspective on atomic/subatomic physics, that song would warrant retractions and corrections on (at least) an annual basis, which would be impractical. Then again, if one listens to this song carefully, it will be noted that They have cleverly composed their description of the quantum character in the form of questions, and so they are off the hook for accountability…In fact, the very nature of the playfully personified entity, “Particle Man”, is dismissed as wholly unimportant; perhaps this is further evidence that They were cognizant of the potential for missteps when commenting, even in an artistic sense, on highly theoretical concepts and so composed the lyrics in a manner to avoid controversy (probably as a result of the hub-bub arising from Their gaff with the Sun song….or was that recorded later?)

    Posted by marklewisgoodwin | Aug 2, 2013, 10:17 am

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