Pathologist sets science and disease to songs
By John Nelson
Call it songs in the key of death.
Since the 1980's, Dr. Stephen Baird, a 55 year old professor of pathology at UCSD, has
been writing and crooning songs about the nature of disease and science to help medical
students remember their lessons.
Quest: What first moved you to write about stuff like blood coagulation?
Baird: I have always thought there was an interesting difference between
scientists and artists. To become a well-known scientist, you have to convince a fairly
limited audience of the worth of your thoughts or discovery. Artists have to transmit
their works to a broader audience. I thought that by using art, I could make science more
appealing, less dry, more fun.
In high school, I wrote a lot of poems. I not a very good musician, but I enjoy doing
it. Some of the songs I write are very technical; they actually have facts in them. I've
even based test questions upon matierial in a song and found that students almost always
give the right answer.
Quest: Pathology is about understanding how and why biological organisms
become sick and recover or die. So what kind of music best captures the subject? I'm
guessing dirges, though country and western might work.
Baird: The music I use ranges all over. I've borrowed from Hank Williams,
but I tend to rely most on Christmas carols or gospel music because they're upbeat. I
don't write pathology songs to dirges because I want the music to be fun, not like singing
with the Volga boat men.
Quest: Can you sing some lyrics from one of your favorite songs?
Baird: This is the last verse from a song about AIDS, (sung to the tune of
Jingle Bells). It makes some fun of President Clinton:
If you're the president and haven't got a clue
How your time is spent with folks who work with you.
And your excuse is lame for when your memory fades
We know just where to place the blame:
It must be White House aides.
Oh, viruses, funguses, even parasites.
When immunity's depressed, they grow in dangerous sites.
If you have to T-cells or immunoglobulin
It will do no go to blame Republicans again.
Quest: What's the hardest scientific word that you've ever rhymed?
Baird: Probably australopithecines.
Quest: Any chance singing could become a full time career?
Baird: I don't think so. I do occasionally get gigs, usually for scientific
conferences and retirement parties of medical school faculty members. I had one gig at a
small nightclub in Hollywood. It was moderately successful.