In which science geeks and ecclesiastical cross-dressers rock Kentish Town

My non-scientist colleagues are often surprised to find out that I sing in a band. Granted, ‘singing in a band’ might sound a bit more edgy than the reality: a bunch of aging scientists, ex-scientists, Nature editors and miscellaneous non-sciency friends who get together once a month or so to practice cover numbers for low-key charity gigs and the odd small festival and private party. It’s not exactly sex, drugs and rock-and-roll; although we do the rock-and-roll thing pretty well, the sex is entirely burlesque, in the form of a male percussionist who likes to dress as a nun with gold lamé disco boots, and the hardest drugs you’ll see circulating on stage on the night are Boot’s nasal spray and extra-strength Strepsils.


Frank-a-delic storms the Bullet Bar, Saturday

In fact, probably the closest we get to the real scene is in our practice space, The Premises in Hackney. The Premises is an anomaly and a great leveller: it’s both highly professional and extremely affordable. On its famous daily room-allocation board at reception, you can see who else is sharing the building with you at any given time. It’s always a kick to see the name of our band, Frank-a-delic, scrawled beneath the likes of The Arctic Monkeys, Razorlight or Lily Allen. People eye each other as they queue for tea in the attached café, trying to look cool and wondering who is famous and who is just a wanna-be. As you walk down the corridors, snippets of music leach through the sound-proofed rooms – tantalizing bits of every sort of style under the sun.

Should I be surprised that people are surprised I sing in a band? I suppose not. This is, after all, the same city that produced the following sneering précis in the daily science section of Friday’s London Metro:

I despair sometimes, truly I do. So that’s why I’m going to keep on singing.

About Jennifer Rohn

Scientist, novelist, rock chick
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51 Responses to In which science geeks and ecclesiastical cross-dressers rock Kentish Town

  1. Richard P. Grant says:

    University of Sydney.
    Well, of course, we don’t do anything worthwhile here.

  2. Jennifer Rohn says:

    Were you talking about the research or the second cohort in question? Only curious, mind.

  3. Richard P. Grant says:

    I’ve said too much. Why do you think I’m leaving?

  4. Åsa Karlström says:

    haha, no need to comment on the fact that they compared “art students” with “science geeks” ;) Clearly it would have been different results with “science students” …. maybe…. haha :)

  5. Henry Gee says:

    I guess you had to be there…. :)

  6. Richard P. Grant says:

    “If you can remember it, you weren’t there”?

  7. Eva Amsen says:

    Not surprised, just reminded once again that I’ve been sitting on a project for months – two projects, even – related to science and music, and I finally have time to work on them. Expect exciting things, soon!

  8. Mike Fowler says:

    Reminds me of the classic toilet cubicle joke, usually scrolled above a bog-roll dispenser:
    “Pull here for arts degrees”

  9. Jennifer Rohn says:

    Richard, seeing as how it hails from your hallowed institution, do you know who did that research? Jokes aside, I am very curious how they define a ‘male science geek’ and I’d like to see the original paper. Because stereotypes aside, I am not convinced.

  10. Richard P. Grant says:

    mm… no. I did see it reported somewhere more ‘serious’, but didn’t pay it attention. For obvious reasons.
    I can look, though…

  11. Richard P. Grant says:

    Got it
    drop us a line if you want the full, um, text.

  12. Jennifer Rohn says:

    Someone has to defend the honor of male scientists! it might as well be me. Thanks, Richard.

  13. Mike Fowler says:

    Jennifer, you’re so chivalrous. Thank you ever so! swoon

  14. Mike Fowler says:

    From the report’s abstract:

    “Arts students were younger, more likely to be sexually active and to report having little or no knowledge of chlamydia”

    see my earlier post.

  15. Jennifer Rohn says:

    Only skimmed the paper, but as there were only 40 men in the study and it wasn’t designed to test sexual activity, I think the U Syd PR people got just the teeeeeniest bit excited over a load of clap claptrap. You sort of have to hand it to them for having made an international story over absolutely nothing that the researchers actually intended.

  16. Henry Gee says:

    A very old joke. An arts student goes into the Student Death Health Centre and asks for a ‘contradictive pill’.
    “You arts students!” fumes the medic, “you’re so ignorant
    “Yes, I know,” replies the student, “but only ten weeks.”

  17. Richard P. Grant says:

    Song of Bernadette:
    “We found what?!”
    (See here)

  18. Cristian Bodo says:

    I’ll be interested in checking out their “geekness criteria” for the study. Do you get points for wearing a lab coat at the time of the interview? Reporting a liking for the novels of Iain Banks? Being able to identify obscure literary quotations without googling?

  19. Henry Gee says:

    No, geekiness should be defined as having sex while still wearing your lab coat, complete with pocket protectors. And a slide rule. And at the moment of climax, not saying ‘did the Earth move for you?’ but ‘Ah – I reckon that was at least Magnitude 5.4′.

  20. Jennifer Rohn says:

    Christian, surely you mean Iain M. Banks, which is the far geekier incarnation.
    No, the study just questioned male students in the sciences. As you can see, the MetroCOSM’s assumption is that all science students are geeks with no life — because it’s ‘bleeding obvious’, right?

  21. Henry Gee says:

    What we want are pictures of crazy Paul, both in ecclesiastical garb – and after his disrobing.

  22. Richard P. Grant says:

    Um, no. No we don’t, Henry.

  23. Scott Keir says:

    I think the U Syd PR people got just the teeeeeniest bit excited over a load of clap claptrap.
    I can’t find the press release for this, but the abstract as scribed by those innocent scientists says:
    Science students were also less likely to have had sex compared to their counterparts in other faculties.
    Which is what the Metro summary is directly reporting. (And others – though they at least mention it is a pilot study.)

  24. Jennifer Rohn says:

    Ah! I dove straight into the results section — that’s funny. My bad for missing that. Still, I don’t think the instrument was designed to test that question, and 40 self-selecting people in a cohort is pretty small, no?
    I have some pictures of the nun in action at home…but I might frighten the horses.

  25. Henry Gee says:

    You mean the nun was, how did you put it? Ah yes, ‘in action’, in Rohn/Day Towers? If I were a horse, I’d be frightened, too.

  26. James Aach says:

    At the risk of pushing tasteful boundaries, I’m wondering how much memories factor into this discussion. Based on the picture above, as an attractive female, I’m guessing Jenny’s opportunities in this area (note that I did not say “activities”) might have been greater than the norm. Or, perhaps, if you happened to have maintained a steady relationship throughout the academic process it probably seemed a more sex-saturated environment. On the other hand, I wonder if the student ratio in the “pure” sciences is more conducive to this sort of thing than the highly male-skewed ratio in the technical college I attended. That would surely make a difference. (My not being a fresh young graduate might as well – oh, those kids these days….)

  27. Cristian Bodo says:

    But shouldn’t self-selection in this case skewer the results in the opposite direction? After all, if you’re a science student and managed nevertheless to actually have sex…wouldn’t you want to brag about it?

  28. Jennifer Rohn says:

    Let me be perfectly clear: what I was objecting to was the Metro’s patronizing and offensive spin, not the study results per se (which may reflect reality, though I question their sample size).

  29. James Aach says:

    Yeah, Jenny, I certainly agree with you on that aspect. The headline is rather mean-spirited. In a perfect world the IT guys at the Metro will strike back against the perpetrators.
    Note to self: read comments more carefully before adding to firestorm.

  30. Richard P. Grant says:

    If you’re risking pushing tasteful boundaries, James Aach, perhaps you shouldn’t.
    In fact, your comment is verging on salacious.

  31. James Aach says:

    Yes, sometimes my profound thinking is best left unshared – - especially if I have to modify it with disclaimers. I’ll stick to energy and politics from now on – topics the whole family can enjoy.

  32. Richard P. Grant says:

    So is that an apology?

  33. James Aach says:

    To be honest, in the context of the posting and the comments made up to that time, I’m having some trouble grasping that my own comments would be considered misguided or inappropriate. They were intended to look with a different angle at an issue that appeared to be under discussion. However, if my writing and use of examples was bad enough that my intent was lost and instead the meaning came across in a way that caused some offense, then I do regret that. And if I didn’t read the comments close enough before responding, well, then I’m the one who looks silly. That’s about as close to the “A” word as I can come on this one.
    I think I’ll go watch a Star Trek now. I find Mr. Spock a very comforting presence.

  34. Richard P. Grant says:

    In other worthwhile Australian research, it appears that sarcasm could be a useful diagnostic tool. For a mere three thousand of your British pounds I’ll explain it to you.

  35. James Aach says:

    While it appears it’s too late to help me, I do appreciate your sharing the timely reference, and perhaps others will benefit…..

  36. Henry Gee says:

    James – please don’t worry about Richard. He’s plainly not getting enough.

  37. Jennifer Rohn says:

    Richard, what an interesting piece of research. Now I know what’s wrong with HR!

  38. Henry Gee says:

    Richard just emailed me to say

    I’m having difficulty imagining in what form “You’re hot, I bet you

    had lots of opportunity for sex” is going to be an appropriate thing
    to say on Nature Network-or anywhere, really.
    Being the shy, retiring person he is, he didn’t want to air this publicly. I. however, have no such scruples, and am always eager to help a buttoned-up Brit adrift in the colonies. I deserve a medal, I really do.

  39. Richard P. Grant says:

    Actually Henry, I was trying to be subtle and point out to you, privately, that that was what Aach was in effect saying. I was saying it was inappropriate, and that your was comment similarly so.
    Unfortunately, you reposted a private comment in public and have made yourself look like a fool.

  40. Richard P. Grant says:

    that should of course read “that your comment was similarly so”

  41. Henry Gee says:

    I apologise for my offensive and inappropriate comment, Richard. Of course I do.

  42. Richard P. Grant says:

    Apology accepted.
    I love Siege of Stars. Go and buy it, everyone.

  43. Henry Gee says:

    I’ve looked back at James’ comment, and, frankly, I’m not sure what he’s saying.

  44. Jennifer Rohn says:

    Can we just drop the subject, please? And for future reference, this is not an appropriate place to publicize correspondence that was obviously meant to be private. You can do that on your own blog.
    Thanks.

  45. Henry Gee says:

    Ouch. Wrist duly slapped.

  46. Kristi Vogel says:

    Wow, for a moment I thought I’d clicked my ScienceBlogs bookmark by mistake this morning. My bad.

  47. James Aach says:

    Yikes! I would never, ever, ever intend for a comment I made to be considered in inappropriate taste or otherwise clog up this worthwhile blog, and for that outcome I am truly sorry. I did lose some sleep over it. I hope Dr. Rohn can just delete the whole pile of chat starting with my own. My attempt at discussion clearly veered off from what her intended topic was. I’m just going to back away now with my hands in the air.

  48. amy charles says:

    Good God. Knickers, twist. People say that sort of thing to me all the time. Well, used to, anyway.
    That’s the problem, Richard, we get used to it. Gives bag heroes like you a bad name.

  49. amy charles says:

    Anyway, that’s not what I came here for. I want an audio file. And not just any audio file.

  50. Jennifer Rohn says:

    Ah, but Frank-a-delic is a multimedia experience. Not sure a mere audio would do it justice. For starters, you’d miss

  51. Ben Gilliland says:

    Hi, I write and illustrate the MetroCosm page and would like to say that the No sh*t box is just meant to be a bit of fun… It is a shamelessly trivial and superficial look at science research. Basically a cheap laugh.
    I am a bit of a science geek also and would like to think the above statement was not true.
    Ps, I know this is an old thread and this post will most likely pass unheeded but I despise causing offense (unless I intended it of course)