Race for the Prize

There aren’t many mainstream songs about scientists. I only know of two. One is quite well-known but I don’t like it and it doesn’t really seem to be about science anyway. The other one is The Flaming Lips’ “Race for the Prize”. It was released in 1999 on The Soft Bulletin, and describes a competition between two scientists who are in a race to find “the cure” (not the band, all lower case).

The race is described as “dangerous”. It’s not a race against each other, they’re fighting “side by side”. Here’s a bit of the lyrics:

Theirs is to win
If it kills them
They’re just humans
With wives and children

Upwards to the vanguard
Where the pressure is too high
Under the microscope
Hope against hope

Forging for the future
But to sacrifice their lives
Both of them side by side
So determined

I always thought of their struggle as mostly metaphorical. Yes, science can be hard, but scientists don’t literally die in the pursuit of finding answers…at least not usually.

Last week, a paper was published in Science, detailing the genetics of the Ebola virus which is currently affecting several African countries. Before the paper had come out – and it was fast-tracked due to the urgent nature of the disease – five of the study’s co-authors had died of Ebola. Three nurses, a lab tech, and a lead scientist all contracted the disease while collecting the samples and information that can help other scientists find a cure.

It’s all eerily similar to the “Race for the Prize” lyrics, and from now on I’ll always think of this brave group of medical staff and researchers when I listen to this song.

6 thoughts on “Race for the Prize”

      1. Robert Pollard releases 1 or 2 albums a year, very prolific, either with Guided by Voices or solo albums.

        Here’s a link to the song on youtube. It’s not as literal as the Lips song, so wether it is really about being a “Scientist” I will admit is probably questionable.

    1. The Dandy Warhols have a different song by the same title. It was the theme song for…something. A podcast?

  1. And while I’m not really a fan, Brian May of the band Queen, has written some Science themed songs. He recently earned his Phd. In Astrophysics!

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